Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Role and Purpose of Europe

In all the worries about the inefficiencies and shortcomings of the European Union as we know it, we must recognize that it is the most noble and significant endeavor by this century’s generations. The example, if not necessarily the template, of Europe is the key to building a global society that would implement our greatest humanitarian desires. In a very practical way.

The succession of supranational entanglements that eventually became the EU was envisioned as a safeguard against war on the continent, making any such action detrimental to the actor’s own interests beyond his borders. The EU’s remit is far greater today, but the method has proven itself. Another, related, factor is the return of an increasingly ethical colonialism (where ethics are at least partially driven by a deeper application of capitalism, prosperity in the colonies being recognized as the precursor of a new affluent market). Between them, these two offshoots are a viable framework for avoiding war among the Golden Billion altogether:  not only is armed conflict prohibitively damaging to an integrated infrastructure, but is simply unnecessary. Projection of power and exercise of influence can be accomplished through trade sanctions and benefits. The resource that a rival nation possesses no longer needs to be taken and held – no unique pleasure remains closed off to anyone with a desire backed by cash.

The conflicts facing the Western world today are not insurmountable; it is vital to recognize that they are also not intrinsic, nor intractable.

Climate change, even at its worst, entails an extreme inconvenience to our meta-infrastructure (such as settlement patterns), but it is not a threat to humanity’s existence. Sustainable energy is a problem that has long-term solutions today, what we lack is the consensus and political will; as technology advances to make our lifestyles more efficient and desperation increases over the difficulty of exploiting new resources, there will be a point where something – be it the mass adoption of nuclear power to drive electric vehicles with vast battery capacities, or a way to produce liquid fuel from coal and shale with a minimal environmental impact, or something else altogether – is accepted as the way forward. If the seas rise, Dutch civil engineers will be in great demand.

The world’s greatest problem today is not the technological or geological obstacles, but the social ones. While opportunity and access is greater and more universal today than at any time in our history, there is still a stratification that is not acceptable. We must not be blind to the lessons of our own past, specifically those of the seemingly eternal differences between distinct neighboring tribes right here in Europe: the English, French, Germans and Italians may never stop disliking each other, but they have found a way to exist within one structure, to their undeniable individual benefit. Interpersonal differences between nations can be set aside. Hatred is driven, ultimately, by envy (a type of which is insult).

The Western world does not have any significant internal conflicts; those it does can be managed. Threats to global stability and prosperity come from the conflicts between elements of the Western world and elements of humanity that have not (yet) been incorporated into the swelling Golden Billion. The quintessential conflict of our time, that of the Middle East, is based on envy of disparate living standards and insult over resource exploitation; the transient nature of the juxtaposition between radical Islam and the segment of humanity that Europe belongs to is proven by the very fact that no such all-encompassing enmity existed before the middle of the last century. (Historic wars between Europe’s ancestors and various caliphates, even crusades, were ultimately about land – i.e. resource; even the seemingly irresolvable quagmire of Palestine is a question of land.)

The solution to social conflict can be found in the example of the European Union. For two decades it has devoted vast treasure and toil to establishing prosperity in territories where established wisdom was diametrically opposed to Western ways.  It has done this while remaining benevolent, with a strict self-conscious restraint on cultural imposition. Its success is unassailable. Comparing European elements of the former Second World with those of Central Asia – which have either significant natural resources, or direct access to dynamic trade partners, or both – proves that no country that accepted Europe’s help would have been better off without it (and even the holdouts long held as skeptics’ examples, specifically Iceland, are now asking embracing Europe). The associated loss of sovereignty remains almost entirely ephemeral, and is indeed trumpeted rather more by populists in Old Europe than the overwhelmingly pragmatic population of New.

The European Union cannot expand without reservation, but it must continue to expand. The incorporation of the Balkans will make their issues with each other as theoretical as those between Ireland and England today. Further out, the eventual incorporation of Turkey and perhaps even North Africa will prove to more troubled areas that they too can see prosperity within their lifetime. The practicality and inevitability of success is the means by which we will convince the world’s disillusioned to beat their swords – not into plowshares, but into netbooks.

Europe does not need to be the world’s dominating force. It is the example of the EU that counts, not our specific set of values – after all, our primary message is that of allowing each society to maintain its values without sacrificing prosperity. Our success will only be strengthened if a Latin Union cements around Brazil, if South-East Asia becomes the battleground for revenue records between the confederacies of moderate Muslims and capitalist Chinese.

But it is Europe’s role, purpose and obligation to lead our brothers and sisters into this better world.

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