LIVE TUESDAY CALL NUMBER 27
The conflict in Ukraine is emblematic of the ongoing struggle between pre-modern and modern altitudes of development going on in key areas throughout the world.
Modernist thinking (orange altitude) is a huge achievement of humanity; it came online slowly over 300 years, creating the Enlightenment in Western Europe, and leading to the French and American revolutions. The seminal idea of modern thinking is that sovereignty resides in the individual and not in the state or in the church. Therefore individuals are free to say and think whatever they want, and to associate with whomever they choose provided they follow the basic rules of civility (such as The Ten Commandments, which is a great achievement of the previous stage of development, the amber altitude or traditionalism).
In terms of culture (the lower left quadrant) modern people treat each other as equals. Again, this is a huge leap forward in human evolution, because for most of history people sorted themselves according to castes, bloodlines and hierarchies, and all were beholden to their elders, warlords or kings.
In terms of social and economic structures (the lower right quadrant) the rules of modern society strive to create a fair and equal playing field for all citizens. Pre-modern economies, on the other hand, are based on patronage, which from a modern point of view is known as “corruption:” I scratch your back you scratch mine. I get you this and you get me that.
In the Ukraine, apparently, corruption was/is rampant, as exemplified by the recent revelations that the son of Viktor Yanukovych, the deposed president of the Ukraine, is estimated to be worth over $500 million (and he’s a trained dentist).
This revolution in the Ukraine was led by modern people who want to live modern lives. A beautiful and simple statement of what is in the hearts and minds of these people was expressed in “I Am A Ukrainian“, a YouTube video which has become an Internet sensation, with currently over seven million hits. Here is the key part of the two-minute script:
I am the Ukrainian, native of Kiev. I want you to know why thousands of people all over my country are on the streets.
There is only one reason.
We want to be free from dictatorship, we want to be free from politicians who work only for themselves. Who are willing to shoot, injure and beat people just to save their money and their houses and their power.
I want these people [the rebels] who are here – who have dignity, who are brave, I want them to lead a normal life. We are civilized people, but our government are barbarians. We are not the Soviet Union. We want our courts not to be corrupted. We want to be free. We have held this freedom inside our hearts, we have this freedom in our minds, and now I ask you…share this video with your friends, your governments and show that you support us.
It is fascinating and affecting to see these people access their own power. The New York Times featured an short profile of Anton Contorog, a 23 year old computer programmer, who had just joined the rebel militia:
“Mr. Chontorog said that he had been in the square many times as a protester, but that after the violence on Thursday [where the police killed over 70 protestors] he wanted to commit himself to the fight, which meant following orders from the commander of his “sotni” (hundred men) units that take their name from a traditional form of Cossack cavalry division. ‘A volunteer just shows up to help,’ he said. ‘The difference is that a member of a hundred has obligations.’”
Reading this I recalled the haunting words of Wael Ghonim, the young Google executive who found himself in a leadership position among the modernist rebels in in Egypt during their Arab Spring in 2011. In an interview with CNN he said simply, “We decided that we would rather die than live like this.”
When you get computer nerds who are dressed in button down shirts and chinos – and who are willing to die – then you have a formidable revolutionary force.
And yet, what we have learned from the recent “Springs”, particularly in Egypt (and indeed in 18th century France), is that simply overthrowing the king or dictator is not enough to ensure that modern social structures arise.
It turns out that there are other strata in the field that have to be reckoned with: the amber and red altitudes. These are people who do not identify as free agents in a dispassionate world, as modernists do; they see themselves primarily as part of a group, ethnicity or religion. In the Middle East, for instance, we have the Islamists, who are not interested in the rights of man but in submission to God.
In the Ukraine, on the other hand, the amber and red altitudes are populated by ethnic Russians as well as radical nationalists such as Nikolo, a 25-year-old Ukrainian rebel wearing a mask and fighting on the streets of Kiev, who gave the New York Times a “blunt summary of his cause: ‘Nationalism is what I believe in … the nation is my religion.’”
Nikolo may have been fighting on the same side as Anton, the modernist computer programmer, in the first battles to bring down the dictator, but he and Anton won’t have much in common when it comes time to decide what’s next.
This is the one of the key problems of overthrowing a dictator: the disharmonious strata of development that were kept in line by the autocracy are now freed to fight among themselves.
Which means last week’s revolution in Ukraine is a chapter in a longer story of the evolution of the country. Already, as this story is being posted, ethnic Russians in the eastern part of the country are pushing back again the overthrow of the Russian-leaning Yanukovych government. Militants — including white supremacists — are flooding in from outside the border. Russian President Putin on one side and the Europe and the US on the other, are lining up their assets to influence the outcome in the Ukraine, turning it into yet another proxy skirmish in the ongoing struggle between the East and West.
But in my view the end is assured. At some point people want to be free. And once the taste for the dignities of modernity comes online it becomes harder and harder to satisfy it. The fight to create a more just and fair society is an evolving one, and is by no means over in the West as we struggle to create a society with not only equal rights, but equal opportunities as well.
The young Ukraine modernists and their astonishingly successful past two weeks reminds us that the fight is meaningful and winnable, battle by battle.
Listen to an excerpt here. The full audio is on Integral Life.