Between Two Ages – Zbigniew Brzezinski

Brzezinski’s hope for a technetronic utopia and its Orwellian fear.

In a Jan’2012, Foreign Affairs issue, Brzezinski in his essay ‘Balancing the East, Upgrading the West’; stresses on the fact that in order to retain its supreme position the United States need to revitalize itself domestically as well as internationally in order to promote a larger West and bolster a balance in the Eastern hemisphere to accommodate China’s fiery draconic global status. This is certainly, a far cry from Brzezinki’s Trilateral Commissions days where he alongside his politically potent coterie emphasized on strong American –Japanese correlation for a stable political environment. I first read this book in 2004, when Thomas Friedman was considered to be at the helm of international politics, Nye’s “soft power” concept was gaining momentum and “terrorism” was a pivotal word in the political circles and the PATRIOT ACT appeared like a page from Orwell’s doctrinaire to civil libertarians. Brzezinski’s philosophical analysis on the advent of scientific stage in life as we experience enhancing political and social reforms revolves around the idea of technology being the pivotal resource of libertine equalization freeing man from social incongruity and forming a global political cohesion of sovereign states.

The third revolution in the American society or as Brzezinski preferred to label it – technetronic age; is a post-industrial Technetronic age phenomenon where scientific aptitude becomes the deciding factor in societal progression. Knowledge is the new “think tank” of social innovations and political stabilizations.

The Technetronic era :-‘a society that is shaped culturally, psychologically, socially and economically by the impact of technology and electronics – particularly in the arena of computers and electronics.’

The book begins on a sanguine observation the evolution global political process and its effects on domestic and international politics. The comprehensive assessment of the industrial and the post-industrial eras brings a constructive outlook on Brzezenski’s ideology of human race needing structure and communal equilibrium to thrive in the burgeoning international political atmosphere. The written text elucidates the onset of an electronically enhanced era that undervalues the archaic industrial age. Knowledge becomes the ultimate power and the mass media its weapon, Widespread and free education may lessen racial segregation, the emergence of television may diminish immunity to foreign problems and the idea of a global village dissolves the concept of “we” and “they”. Charts are drawn and statistical graphs are calibrated to specify the rise in mass media communication. The discussion in overcrowding cities leading to pathological and violent is a bit outdate, yet holds true in the current social functioning. The rural to urban shift has been on the rise since the industrial revolution and with the uneven mass to density population equation, the existing tranquil consistency is bound to be disturbed. The apparent rise in urban violence, drug crimes and other related issues has been a determining factor to Brzezenski’s concern of overcrowding outburst. However, before 2001, American domestic progress showed a positive census with increase in social prosperity, personal security and vast opportunity asserts the advantage of the technological era. The political and cultural pessimism that followed after September 2001 clearly depicts the problems of a technocratic environment wavering in the manipulations and false perception of mass media, once again putting American foreign policies in the Lippman’s gap whirlpool. (Lippman’s Gap – “consists in bringing into balance, with a comfortable surplus of power in reserve, the nation’s commitments and the nation’s power.” If this balance exists, the foreign policy will command domestic support. If commitments exceed power, insolvency results which generates deep political dissension”

The assertive propagandas expressed in the book may look fruitful, but one fails to see the loopholes in Brzeznski’s elitist ambiguous dogma. The debate of “internal man” and “external man” fulfillment stretches to a point of totalitarian madness.

“The possibility of extensive chemical mind control, the danger of loss of individuality inherent in extensive transplantation, the feasibility of manipulating the genetic structure will call for the social definition of common criteria of use and restraint….while the chemical affects the individual, the person is significant to himself and to society in his social context —at work, at home, at play. The consequences are social consequences”.

Is Brzezinski inferring that only through the creation of a “zombieland” can science achieve human homogeneity? Potentially, do governing elites need to resort to genetic and chemical alterations of human mind to bring societal equilibrium? This can be however dismissed on the grounds of futuristic possibilities of one man’s political buoyancy. Nevertheless, on the domestic front, Brzezinski makes a promising analysis on how the use of advanced scientific intelligence can minimize the gap between governmental and non-governmental institutions, reduce the racial conflicts and promote rationalization of humane values. Techetronic era aligns on equivalent information age planar. Indisputably; America is global identity for excessive personal freedom, homogenous existence and highly advanced in scientific technology. Hubert Vedrine verifies Americans being powerful entities as they can “inspire dreams and desires of others, thanks to the mastery of global images, through film and television and for these same reasons, large numbers of students from other countries come to the United States to finish their studies”. The soft power argument persuades the important reality of reinforcing adequacies in political agendas in the current ‘information age’ analogous to the tangible power of knowledge of Brzezinski’s flourishing technetronic era. The argument over the shift from balance of power to global governance falters effectively on the probability of the explosion of counter coalitions lest a leading nation adheres to hegemonic predominance. Brzezinski observation of the new global world lacking identity and cohesion and in need to discover harmonized stability, curtly suggest that globalized homogeneity is still a far fetched dream.

What is westernization to the West , is imperialism to the rest. (Samuel Huntington).

Brzezinki specifies the onset of world-politics and the crucial task of technology in acquiring information of global realities. The 19th century represents the quest for liberty, the 20th century strived on the quest of equality, but what the political analysts fail to foresee was the thirst for identity politics that emerged at the start of the 21st century. Brzezinski’s elitist attitude in correlating the usage of technology to lessen social and political fragmentation birthing global homogenous ideologies dangle on a skeptical edge of cultural clash. The escape from freedom v/s escape from reason debate assesses violence clashes and revolutionary rebellion that were ripe during the 1960s and 1970s, were termed as socio-psychological in origin and vaguely moralistic in content. Contrary to what Brzenski had inferred the world still in chaotic morality distinctiveness.

Brzezinski’s utopian analogy comes to an abrupt end when he affirms a possibility of universal homogeneity. The term in itself is flawed as when applied on a global platform that streams of varied tribal cultures; liquefies the idea of a homogenous existence. . Huntington in his cultural epic, “Clash of civilizations” elucidates the modern and post-modern generational discrepancies. The text delineates the dilemma of those whose study abroad in American universities and absorb Western cosmopolitan ideologies and language find themselves in a parallel world compared to the generation who studied in their homeland diluted with the metropolitan culture and “knowledge is indigenized by means of translations. The problem arises when the former have to find means to assimilated in their parental societies to accommodate their societal values. The resulting insecurities and segregations may not be conducive for the notion of a homogenous world that Brzezinski’s technetronic optimism thrives for. Nevertheless, if applied to domestic policies expectation of a homogenous existence in a multiracial country like the United States sounds more plausible than creating a universal religion which is itself a call for social instability.

Since, this book was written years before the disintegration USSR as a sovereign state, Brzenski’s adherence to socialism seems a natural outcome for his solution to a post-communist world.

“The desire for equality has made most of the leaders of the new stated embrace socialism. They see in socialism a vehicle for ensuring the objectives which most of them shares….flowering of their nations, own distinctive cultures, national economic development and the gradual erosion of internal inequality”.

This is quite puzzling and simultaneously contradicting. At this juncture, Brzezinski favors socialism as a tool to modernize the advancing societies and yet his push for a technologically privileged homogeneity makes the stated doctrine appear nonsensical in a world that may turn into a scientific autocracy dominated by a certain politically influenced “elite”.

“More directly linked to the impact of technology, it involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled and directed society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite whose claim to political power would rest on allegedly superior scientific know how. Unhindered by the restraints of traditional liberal values, this elite would not hesitate to achieve it sends by using the latest modern techniques for influencing public behavior and keeping society under close surveillance and control”.

The question of liberal democracy then arises masking a Orwellian future. An Orwellian The section on Liberal Democracy in this book puts forth an interpretable passage on Revolutionary Activity of the Violent Left, suspecting if Brzeznski had calculated the onset of global terrorism early on in this psychologically philosophized ultramodern vision.

“Revolutionary activity—through terrorism, sabotage, selective assassinations, and urban guerrilla strife— is possible and even likely in the early 1970s. It will come not from the New Left but from its emerging successor—the professionally Violent Left; Not from the idealistic young people who infuse it with zeal and confusion but from those among them who have been hardened, disillusioned, and embittered by their experiences in prisons and penitentiaries”.

The onset of global terrorism:-

“Persisting social crisis, the emergence of a charismatic personality, and the exploitation of mass media to obtain public confidence would be the steppingstones in the piecemeal transformation of the United States into a highly controlled society.”

The perennial debate of PATRIOT ACT( TITLE II) ; its application to counterrrorism v/s violation of civil liberties.

“The emergence of a large dominant party, alongside the more narrowly focused and more intensely doctrinaire groupings on the right and the left could accelerate the trend toward such technological managerialism. The inclination of the doctrinaire left to legitimize means by ends could lead them to justify more social control on the ground that it serves progress. The conservatives, preoccupied with public order and fascinated by modern gadgetry, would be tempted to use the new techniques as a response to unrest, since they would fail to recognize that social control is not the only way to deal with rapid social change. The American transition also contains the potential for an American redemption.”

The bursting of a methodological utopian equivalence and the predominance of Orwellian hegemonic opprobrium translates Brzezsinki’s technetronic ideology as an optimistic survival mode for the United States in an illusionary superlative international community while trying to define its national interests. However, this book is not some symbol of hope for policymakers or as the author himself assures for the text not being an exercise in “futurology”. Hence, Brzezinski optimism can be seen as a political reverie or a philosophy to crony capitalism and institutionalized democracy. Lastly, as the prose concludes, in technetronic era, philosophy and politics will be crucial as globalization only brings free markets but not cultural homogeneity.

3/5***

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