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PARIS, Oct 18 2011 (IPS) - Ten years from the attacks of September 11 and three years from the collapse of Lehman Brothers, what are the features of the new “global system”?

The current mode is shocks -climatic, financial, stock market, energy, food, communications, technological, social, and geopolitical (like those underlying the “Arab spring”).

There is a lack of general visibility. Unforseen events erupt with terrific force without anyone, or almost anyone, suspecting they might occur. If governing is seeing ahead, we live in an apparent crisis of governance. The current leaders fail for foresee anything. Politics proves impotent. The state as protector of the people no longer exists. There is a crisis of representative democracy: at uprisings around the world the people are repeating the same charge, “They don’t represent us.” Moreover there is a lack of political leadership at the global level. The current leaders are not up to the challenges.

The rich countries (the US, Europe, and Japan) are undergoing the largest economic-financial crisis since 1929. For the first time the European Union sees its cohesion and even its very existence threatened. The risk of a major economic recession is eroding the international leadership of the US.

In a recent speech the US president announced that he considered “the wars of September 11th” over -meaning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and against “international terrorism” that have characterised the past decade. If these can be considered victories, they are pyrrhic at best: to a certain degree Al Qaeda has done to Washington what Reagan did to Moscow in the 1980s when it pushed the USSR into an arms race that bled the Soviet Union dry and led to its implosion. The “strategic downgrading” of the US has begun.

The last decade has confirmed the emergence of new poles of power, especially in Asia and Latin America. The world is growing de-westernised and increasingly multipolar. China is growing in importance and has emerged in the beginning of the 21st century as the apparent great power. The stability of the Middle Kingdom is not guaranteed because it embodies both the most savage form of capitalism and the most authoritarian form of communism, for the moment. But while the power of the US declines, that of China is growing.

The social repercussions of the economic cataclysm are of an unprecedented brutality: in the European Union, there are more than 23 million unemployed and 80 million poor. The young are the primary victims. This is why from Madrid to Tel Aviv, from Santiago de Chile, to Athens to London, a wave of outrage is sweeping the youth of world. But the middle classes are also frightened because the neoliberal model of growth is leaving them behind.

The financial powers have taken control of political power and this has rattled the people. No one can understand the inertia of the governments in the face of this economic crisis. The people are demanding that politicians step in and do what they are supposed to do: right the wrongs. But it won’t be easy because economics moves at the speed of light while politics creeps along at a snail’s pace.

In reality we are suffering not through a crisis but rather an accumulation of crises so closely interwoven that it is impossible to make out cause and effect. The effects of some are the cause of others and together constitute a real system. In other words, we are facing a systemic crisis of the western world that is affecting technology. economics, trade, politics, democracy, war, geopolitics, the climate, the environment, culture, values, family, education, youth, and more.

We are living through a period of strategic ruptures the importance of which we cannot yet grasp. Today the Internet is the vector of the majority of the changes. Almost all of the recent crises have some relation to the new communications and information technologies. The financial markets, for example. would not be so powerful if the buy and sell orders did not circulate at the speed of light via the Internet. More than a technology, the Internet is an actor in the crisis. It is enough to consider the role of Wikileaks, Facebook, and Twitter in the recent democratic revolutions in the Arab world.

From an anthropological point of view, these crises are producing a rise in fear and bitterness. Massive panic is unleashed by vague threats, like the loss of employment, technological and biotech shocks, natural disasters, and general insecurity. All of these are a threat to democracy because the fear transforms into hatred and rejection. In many European countries, this hatred is directed against foreigners, immigrants, and those who are different. The rejection of all “others” (Muslims, gypsies, subSaharans, “illegal” immigrants, etc) is on the rise as xenophobic parties grow stronger..

Another grave problem for the planet: the climate crisis. The danger that global warming represents has extended its reach. Problems related to the environment are becoming extremely strategic. The next World Climate Summit in Rio de Janiero 2012 will present the fact that the number of natural disasters has risen significantly as has its spectacular nature.

The course of globalisation seems to have stalled. People talk more and more about deglobalisation and negative growth. The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of neoliberalism and now can swing back the other way. It is already not taboo to talk of protectionism to limit the excesses of the free market and to end outsourcing and the deindustrialisation of the developed countries. The hour has come to reinvent politics and reengage the world. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Ignacio Ramonet is editor of “Le Monde diplomatique en espanol”.

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