In Epilogue II of War and Peace, which often goes unread, Tolstoy berates modern Historians who “ought to be studying not the manifestations of power but the causes which create power” if they are to provide a “description of the flux of humanity and of peoples”. Alas they act “like a deaf man answering questions no one has put to him.” This serious methodological defect highlighted by Tolstoy over a hundred and fifty years ago is still often committed not only by historians but by many of their colleagues in the social sciences. The results of such flawed cognitive processes dominate the field of Economic Development, Environmental Studies and what passes for analysis in the ubiquitous phenomenon of Globalization to name just three areas.
One illustration of the shortcomings of such models can be seen clearly in the efforts of The Group of Industrialized Countries, G 8, to deal with the ever spiraling level of poverty and deprivation on the African continent. The G 8 decided in 2005 to stem this downward cycle by lending its strong approval to the UK’s “Commission for Africa” plan spearheaded by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown and the support of the PM Tony Blair in addition to the rather lukewarm support of the US administration. Fundamentally, the plan was based around the idea that a write off of the debt of the countries in question is the prescription for leading these countries out of poverty and dependency. Unfortunately, this scheme of increased money grants has been tried before with dire results.
The level of sincerity of the G8 nations is not questioned; their ability to differentiate between “manifestations” and “causes” is. There is no doubt that if an individual/country/institution has a lighter burden of financial liabilities, then they would be better of temporarily. But if the initial conditions that resulted in the debt in the first place have not been removed, then do we have any right to expect a different outcome the next time around? Of course not. Since it is safe to assume that neither countries nor individuals within countries will freely choose to live under inhumane conditions of deprivation, misery and squalor, then such outcomes are imposed on the unlucky recipients by a set of rules that demand such outcomes. Outcomes do not just happen; they are dictated by the prevailing social, economic and political structure; by the mode of production. Outcomes change only if we make changes to the world system.
Environmental studies is another field that is replete with policy suggestions that commit the fallacy that Tolstoy warned against. Despite the clear conclusions of large scale scientific studies that global ecological resources are under severe stress the global community and the United Nations proceed to work on peripheral issues . We have chosen to address symptoms instead of causes when we know that any meaningful relief demands a fundamental change in the conduct of economic, social and political affairs. Anything short of a radical change in the architecture of the world system is a palliative measure that would be doomed to fail and to only aggravate the problem that it was intended to resolve.
Whether it is global warming, the ever shrinking rain forest, desertification, endangered ocean fisheries, urbanization , water scarcity, pollution or declining biodiversity, just to name a few of the major environmental issues, it is clear that all of these problems are generated as a result of the global community’s unrestrained obsession with material accumulation. Again the solution is clear and obvious but the global community chooses to concentrate on “manifestations” instead of the real “cause”, economic growth. But to renounce growth and advocate redistribution is an unrealistic expectation from within the confines of the current paradigm that is constructed on the unrealistic assumptions of infinite growth and an economy that is not subject to any form of ecological constraints.
Globalization is yet another area whose analysis lacks distinction between symptom and cause. Recommendations and policy suggestions emphasize the superficial aspects of the phenomenon in question, proceed to describe in great detail its outer appearances, then conclude that globalization’s demands must always be accommodated since the process of globalization is inevitable and even irreversible. No attempt is made to explain the cause of globalization, its ultimate goal or whether that end is worthwhile. Globalization, to this group, is the order of the day, it can never do any harm and it must be unquestionably accommodated. A slight variation of the above admits to the possibility of generating unpleasant outcomes from the globalization process but believes that the structure is amenable to adjustment. It believes that reform could produce globalization with a human face thus creating a win-win solution for all stakeholders. This level of analysis is equally unsatisfactory since it does not delve into a meaningful analysis of the reason globalization arose, what is its reason d’être and whether it is amenable to reform.
Globalization in its entire facets, political, social, cultural and economic, is ultimately the result of a unique project due to the nature of capital accumulation on a world scale and the need for capital to dominate and homogenize. As production and consumption become alienated from their local surroundings, then this pursuit of global commodification will result in delocalization, desocialization and deterritorialization. Globalization results in less diversity, less control and a loss of identity. None of these unhealthy effects of globalization can be eliminated if globalization is maintained.
Change, if it is to come, will only occur when the victims decide to take action in order to vanquish the world system that has produced an environmentally unhealthy ecosystem and a humanly unjust society.