The Crucial Question of our Time

Humanity is at risk of self-destruction. The threat of an environmental disaster is the most obvious manifestation. The second is wars, and nuclear weapons in particular. The third is the growing global inequality. In spite of all its progress, humankind is increasingly self-destructive, and increasingly irrational.

Immediate action to combat an environmental disaster is necessary, but not enough in itself. Every educated and responsible citizen must ask themselves: what is the cause of humanity’s self-destructivity? That’s the crucial question of our time.

This question is a challenge for all enlightened and responsible people. In viewing it, the division between left and right loses its meaning. Everyone has to rethink the fundamentals of their worldview.

The question is also compelled by events of the 20th and 21st centuries. They have surprised all currents of thought and the parties that represent them – be it the collapse of the Soviet Union, the 2008 financial crisis, Brexit, or the crisis of democracy in general.

Further, our knowledge of prehistory and the difference between human and animal has changed profoundly. The various disciplines studying these topics have made breakthroughs, the full significance of which cannot be understood solely on the basis of these empirical sciences. What is needed is a new philosophical summary of history, first and foremost a new view of human nature.

Many prehistoric scholars refer to Carl Linnaeus, who defined the human beings as Homo sapiens, adding in his definition the ancient wise men’s message, “Know yourself!” The human species is wise only if it knows its history. The ultimate way for humankind to overcome its tendency towards self-destruction is to unite to study its own journey. Purpose and means become the same.

The Essence of our Era

We live in an age when humanity will unite. We will perish or thrive – together.

The information technological revolution has increased the threat of self-destruction, but also provided tools to counter it.

The global integration of humankind is already a reality in many ways: the establishment of the UN, the strengthening of international law, the growing importance of human rights in international politics, the public apologies of heads of state for human rights violations by their predecessors, the increasing interdependence of states as a result of globalisation of the economy, the new participatory powers that the Internet offers to citizens, global cultural phenomena and, in a way, the EU.

Disintegrating tendencies have also intensified: In the economic sphere, globalisation has taken place on the terms of international banks and large corporations, which has increased inequality, the threat of a climate catastrophe and social contradictions in many countries. Traditional professions have disappeared and traditional communities have disintegrated. The Internet has facilitated the spread of hate speech and fake news. Intra-EU conflicts have escalated.

The Crisis of Democracy: who Decides on Globalisation?

Democracy is in crisis. The clearest example of this is the 2008 financial collapse. Speculative financial capital was allowed to take the global economy to the brink of destruction. The big international banks that caused the crisis were “too big to fail”, so they were rescued with taxpayers’ money and bank executives were not held accountable. Even in democratic countries, political decision-makers and the judiciary have been submitted to speculative financial capital.

Speculative financial capital (SFC) has increasingly become detached from the real economy. Global financial speculation moves by far larger sums of money than the real economy and generates profits many times greater compared to it. Unreasonable risks continue to be taken. At the end of 2017, for example, German Deutsche Bank had derivatives in its balance sheets more than ten times the total value of German GDP. They were mainly investment products used for speculation.

SFC has a twofold approach to the rule of law: on the one hand, it requires the stability and the protection of property that legality brings; on the other, it wants to operate as unregulated as possible.

europe-day-2014.

Europe day 2014. PHOTO: DG EMPL, Flickr

In the operations of SFC, the boundary between legality and illegality is often blurred. The financial collapse showed that major international banks cannot know whether they are financially sound or not, meaning that the whole financial system is fundamentally illegitimate. New financial crises are inevitable.

Citizens, even in democratic countries, have little say in economic globalisation. Consequently, dissatisfaction with representative democracy has increased. In many countries, it has brought to power demagogic politicians and parties who do not shy away from undermining the foundations of democracy – the independence of the judiciary, freedom of the press, the rights of NGOs and the protection of minorities or from denying the threat of an environmental disaster. Calling such an activity “nationalistic” is an adaptation to the language used by demagogues.

Demagoguery can only be countered by defending the rule of law against the threats posed by speculative financial capital. It is the most important political issue in advanced democracies.

Moreover, there are forces within SFC that are pushing decision-makers to loosen regulation and to overthrow the entire rule-based world system, thus facilitating further environmental destruction, tax evasion, money laundering and corruption in general.

The European Union: an Ambitious Enterprise – Resulting in a Legality Crisis

The EU as a whole is the best that humanity has achieved so far in social development and political integration in the era of the IT revolution and globalisation. Especially in the old, western EU Member States, the quality of life is on average higher than in the rest of the world, with a higher life expectancy, a better standard of living, smaller income gaps, stronger democracy and civil rights, etc.

Nevertheless, the EU has run into as-yet unresolved problems. The background to this is the legality crisis: there are no laws to control the performance of the official duties of the highest EU decision-makers and officials – they can break EU treaties without fear of punishment.

The EU is a new kind of politico-administrative structure. European financial capital and large companies wanted the highest possible degree of economic integration. However, a majority of EU citizens did not want a federal government. The EU became a supranational organisation, more close-knit than a union of independent states, but without the solid constitutional structures present in all democratic federal states. In the EU Treaties, the essential principles of the rule of law are absent. In this respect, EU decision-makers deceived themselves, and EU citizens.

In a traditional constitutional state, laws, including constitutions, are formulated scientifically and unambiguously. The legislation consists of a hierarchy of laws. Each authority is subject to legal supervision, and the consequences of breaking the law are precisely defined.

The EU Treaties lack a hierarchy of laws, and their key articles are presented alongside less important ones. Besides, many articles of the Treaties are open to interpretation, which makes it possible to apply them arbitrarily.

The EU’s “fundamental values” are unconnected to the legislation. They have no power of law behind them, so they have only the value of pious wishes. Many Member States openly defy them.

In the context of eastern enlargement, the EU Commission and its officials disregarded the membership criteria, the most important of which – i.e. the rule of law – are inscribed in the Treaties. Countries which did not meet the key criteria were accepted as members. Also, to the Monetary Union, countries that did not meet the membership criteria were allowed to join. Major international banks helped some economically weaker EMU countries to distort their economic figures and granted them generous loans. The banks were then jointly bailed out, in contravention of the Treaties, and Greece was made a scapegoat. Greek democracy has virtually been abolished, and the unborn generations of the country are tied to paying the debts to the EU and the IMF.

Brexit – an “Existential Crisis”

Goodbye to Britain, Brexit.

PHOTO: Max Pixel

In the Brexit referendum, neither side pointed out the dominant role of the SFC in globalisation, as exemplified by the structures and practices of the EU that violate the rule of law.

Thus, neither party really knew for what they were voting. The referendum was at least misleading, if not absurd. The actual problems are ahead, whichever form Brexit takes – and even if it would be cancelled altogether.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the then President of the EU Commission, said after the Brexit referendum that the EU was facing an “existential crisis”. Juncker did not know how right he was. However, the view was forgotten by him and other EU decision-makers as soon as it was presented. – The EU leadership was and is in as an irrational state as the British leaders.

Both the EU and Britain – as a matter of fact, all democracies – are in an “existential crisis”. The polarisation in politics has intensified everywhere, and in Britain, hate crimes increased sharply after the referendum. Such a development is inevitable as long as politicians tackle only the consequences instead of the main problem.

The right question for both Britain and the EU is: how should parliamentary democracy be reformed to meet the challenges of the era? How nationally, how in the EU? – We need a broad public debate on the nature of the era, the development of the EU, and the state of the modern world.

Western democracy needs thorough reform. It is possible to carry it out through discussion, moderately and peacefully, crossing party lines and other ideological boundaries.

How? – We have a proposal.

A Truth Commission as a Permanent State Body

States pursue their interests, as perceived by their leaders, against other states, if necessary.

Those in political power tend to, due to human nature, acquire privileges to themselves, and defend them against the rest of the society. Covering the facts, circumventing the law, and even outright violations of law are part of the very essence of states.

These are universal features that can be seen in different forms in all states, regardless of the social system.

The overall good of humankind is, at best, only occasionally reflected in the actions of states.

In a globalising world, the fundamental nature of states must change: representative democracy must be developed. The EU must set an example in this. Otherwise, it is in danger of falling apart. That, in turn, would result in an unpredictably deep systemic crisis and chaos in the Member States – this is one of the lessons of Brexit. It is questionable whether traditional democracy in its present form can withstand a new financial crisis, a local climate disaster or a new flood of refugees.

What is needed is a permanent constitutional body – a new kind of a truth commission – to deal with social injustices that have become, or are about to become, a custom in the country – an institutionalised lie, which is believed not only by politicians but also by the judiciary, academics, the media, and eventually the public, for their own benefit and usually self-deceptively.

Citizens’ Truth Forum and Debating Encyclopedia

Truth Forum Graffiti by Otto Toivainen. PHOTO: New History Association.

The Truth Commission – and the preparation for it – requires a broad public debate, organised in a new way. Our proposal, the Human Path Debating Encyclopedia, is a new kind of social media platform and a new kind of popular education movement. It is intended for politicians, academics and ordinary citizens alike.

Its purpose is to educate the public debate so that participants learn to form their opinions in the most independent and judicious way possible and to notice and resist all kinds of demagogy, false news, and slander, including their own.

The basic idea is simple: users are encouraged to present their views as sharply as possible (unlike in Wikipedia, for example), and as many articles/speeches are published on each topic as there are different opinions. From these publications, users assemble debate panels, where they moderate and lead the discussion themselves. They set up their personal pages, alone or together with others, concerning an argument, opinion, or theme, and thus build, piece by piece, a conscious worldview based on studying, independent judgement, and listening to the opponent.

Users get the advertising revenue from their personal pages for themselves and can engage in a variety of business activities. The basic principle: “One must get paid for truthfulness, solidarity and a sense of justice.” Promoting an honest debate culture is one of the most important criteria for financial rewards.

Britain is facing the same problem as the EU as a whole: the influence of speculative financial capital must be limited. We believe that the EU will be able to reform if enlightened public opinion challenges it. The British have recently gained first-hand experience of the necessity of some kind of a truth commission and a social media platform for civilised public debates. Perhaps Britain will show the way for the EU.

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