Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"An Underground View" of the 2009 ISCSC Conference

By William McGaughey; edited by Michael Dudley (This is a greatly abbreviated version of McGaughey’s narrative. For the full version, please see his World History website)

Thursday June 4th Program - Morning

It started at 9:00 a.m. in the Kirsh auditorium at the Fetzer Center. ISCSC President Andrew Targowski Targowski’s presentation was titled “Will Business End or Revive Western Civilization? From Malthusian Trap to Business Growth Trap.” Targowski observed that business was important to civilization from its beginning considering that most scholars believe it began with irrigation projects in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Also, he said, business is the “religion” of global society. While per-capita wealth increased by 153% between 1000 A.D. and 1820 A.D., it increased by 800% between 1820 and 1998. Economic growth is the “religion” of business. Yet, growing population reduces per-capita wealth. If the earth reaches its carrying capacity of 8 billion persons by 3000 A.D., we will need two additional planets to support these people in comfort; and that is obviously impossible.

Targowski presented the concept of a “death triangle” facing humanity in the convergence of growing population, destruction of the natural environment, and shortages of energy and other resources. In other words, the current growth model of business cannot be sustained. He said the United Nations Millennium goals do not address the real problems. Its goal with respect to providing clean water to people is unrealistic. As a refugee from communist Poland, he was not recommending communism but capitalism in a moderate form. The capitalist system needed to promote “sufficiency” in use of resources rather than unbridled growth.

The Session A presentations beginning at 10:45 a.m. In a talk titled “Globalization and International Development: Critical Challenges of the 21st Century”, Dr. Asefa argued that foreign direct investment and international trade were more potent tools for reducing poverty in the poor nations than foreign aid. Asefa believed that globalization is a force to reduce wealth disparity around the world. His main point was that the anti-globalists failed to balance the benefits of globalization with the cost. He favored further globalization, debt relief, and campaigns against infectious disease to aid the poor.

Dr. Lee Stauffer next spoke on “the origin of civilization in ecological crisis.” She teaches at Northern New Mexico University in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Her main point was to challenge the prevailing view that civilizations began when irrigation projects in the near east required large-scale political organization. New Mexico also experiences arid conditions. In her experience, small communities with informal political arrangements can adequately address water shortages. Stauffer also noted that civilizations tend to develop in areas of ecological instability. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers, as well as the Nile, have an irregular flow of water. Either there is flooding or drought. The rivers often change course. In India, society has to contend with the monsoon seasons.

Finally, Michael Dudley, the city planner from Winnipeg, spoke on “Cold war, hot war: city planning in times of crisis.” He compared the current push for “green cities” to meet the environmental crisis to the proposed design of cities to avert nuclear catastrophe during the Cold War in the 1950s. Then the object was to disperse populations from the urban core so that a nuclear-tipped missile delivered to a city would not destroy its entire population. Now the object is to increase population density in the city so that mass transit can be more effectively used and the surrounding lands are preserved. Today, we are trying to combat runaway suburbanization. The main argument was that planning solely for a “green” urban form is not sufficient for planning a sustainable civilization.

Thursday’s Program – Afternoon

For the afternoon session beginning at 2:00 p.m., I picked one of the book-review sessions. In her review on “The role of race and prejudice in the Russia-Chechnya conflict” by Mariana Tepfenhart pointed out a long period of conflict between Chechens and the Moscow government, going back to Peter the Great. Today Chechnya remains a member of the Russian Federation. A Putin-appointee, Ramzan Kadyrov rules the country with an iron hand. The professional class has largely left the country. Chechen militants are largely discredited after the 2004 hostage-taking incident in a Beslan school. The challenge is to build the Chechen economy.

The 3:45 p.m. session was titled “Origins of Civilization” and was chaired by Anthony Stevens-Arroyo. David Maurer led off the session. Much of his talk had to do with archeological evidence of stages in the development of early civilization. The hunter-gatherer society had existed for millennia. Starting around 9,000 B.C., archeologists found evidence of agriculture, domestic animals, and primitive urban culture; but not until the Uruk culture in the 4th millennium B.C. did they find anything suggesting “command economies” and forced labor that are associated with civilization. Maurer uses terms such as “aristocrat/tribal society”, “aristocrat/peasant society”, and “democratic/market” society” to describe civilized societies as they become socially more advanced.

A key point made in Maurer’s presentation was that a temple culture preceded royal government in the development of civilizations. It was the priests who first developed the command structure that was able to force peasants to surrender grain to the central authority, whose surplus permitted other arts to flourish. Coercive power vested in a hierarchy is the defining mark of civilization. Kings later took over that function. When kings in turn rewarded their followers with grants of land or other wealth, an aristocratic class appeared. The essential function of civilized society was to create a pool of surplus wealth from grain confiscated from peasants so that the higher functions could be developed and maintained.

The panel chair, Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo, spoke next on the subject of “eschatology: the mysterious internal dynamic to the rise and fall of civilizations”. He gave a history of Jewish prophecy and its Christian consequence. The third speaker in this panel was Anne-Marie Oulai, an African American who teaches at Western Michigan University. Her topic was “From Tom-Tom to Wireless Communications: Advancing African Civilization into the Global Civilization.” She described how telephone service in Africa was originally provided by the government and was bureaucratic and ineffective but now cell phone service is cheap and convenient for [hundreds of millions of] people living on that continent. The cell-phone phenomenon belies our image of Africa as an economically backward place.

Friday’s Program - Morning

The “Rise and Fall of Civilizations” session included three speakers [including myself]. David J. Rosner, speaking on “Conservatism and chaos: Martin Heidegger and the decline of the west”; me, speaking on “Why civilizations decline”; and Donald G. McCloud, speaking on “Globalization - the rise, decline, or mutation of western civilization.”

David Rosner argued that in the early 20th century western civilization seemed to be falling apart. The old values were disintegrating and no replacement values were in sight. Facing a spiritual “abyss”, humanity sought solace in archaic images reminding one of a lost “golden age”. There was the idea of “rootedness in the land”, the Folkish movement, and racial nationalism. He was referring, of course, to pre-Nazi Germany. But then came the resolution of this cultural anguish in Hitler’s promise of a strong leader who would revive German power and prestige after the debacle of World War I. Militarism gave the illusion of strength. In fact, it led Germany and the world into still deeper troubles.

[In my session] I aligned myself with Spengler and Toynbee who believed that civilizations followed life cycles. They rose and fell according to a natural progression of events but, likewise, could be extinguished if external catastrophes such as conquest by another people or mass starvation occurred. I then discussed consciousness and self-consciousness. Using my own scheme of civilizations, I explained that the Crusades and other troubling events in the Middle Ages discredited the Papacy and led to the replacement of religion-centered culture during the Renaissance. So also the next civilization, Civilization III, was replaced by a civilization based on entertainment in the aftermath of World War II. (Anyone wishing to read my entire talk can go to my world history website).

The third speaker, Donald McCloud, discussed whether globalization would replace or alter western civilization. Today, we are seeing the global trading system that emerged after World War II replacing older modes of business. We can now move money globally without banks. Technological knowledge spreads quickly. McCloud discussed the idea of “global cities” which he said were places which had the intellectual capacity to create a new global culture. There were also cities, without this capacity, which acted as “service centers” for global culture. The key to creating global culture was education of the young. Such education allowed young people to step beyond their national identities and see themselves as citizens of the world.

At 10:45 a.m. I went to Session C, “Economic Issues”, which was chaired by Dong Hyeon Jung, a South Korean economist. The first speaker in the economic session was Cheol Hun Park. His topic [related to] authoritarian [governmental] leadership [in the economy which] seemed to be required to combat economic instability. The questioning concerned the need for authoritarian government in nations that industrialized rapidly and also the phenomenon of corruption.

I left this session early to attend Session A – Scholarship issues. Vladimir Alalykin-Izvekov's talk was focused on his unified theory of evolution of cultures and civilizations and used as a point of reference concepts of Pitirim Sorokin, Samuel Huntington and other eminent scholars of civilization of the 20 century. To illustrate the main stages of the cultures and civilizations evolution, the speaker had presented a number of diagrams in which cultures and civilizations could be seen and mapped as containing the elements of systemic and differential nature, as well as "congeries." Vlad argued that the evolution of cultures and civilizations appears to follow a certain predictable sequence with creative fluctuations and cycles throughout the process.

David Wilkinson, who is the book editor of Comparative Civilization Review, gave the next presentation after I arrived. His talk concerned the ideas of major thinkers in the field: Hegel, Danilevsky, Spengler, Sorokin, Toynbee, Caroll Quigley, Matthew Melko, and Samuel Huntington (proponent of the “clash of civilizations”).

In the discussion period that followed, some suggested that other scholars of civilization such as Lewis Fry Richardson (who studied the causes of war), Fernand Braudel (an economic historian, author of “Civilization and Capitalism” ), and Feliks Koneczny (a Polish philosopher and scholar of civilizations) ought to be added to our list of landmarks.

Friday’s Program - Afternoon

Matt Melko addressed a plenary session at 2:00 p.m. on the subject of “war, peace, and civilization.” Over many years, Melko had attempted to correlate the outbreak of wars with other conditions. Peace was the prevalent situation but wars frequently occurred throughout history. It was sometimes hard to distinguish war from peace and harder still to provide explanations. Matt Melko at least had attempted a systematic study of this subject.

At 3:30 p.m. the Session B, “Books: Mediterranean Area”, session was chaired by George Von der Muhll. The other reviewer, besides Von der Muhll and myself, was Midori Yamanouchi-Rynn.

Midori Yamanouchi-Rynn led off with two book reviews. The first was of a book by Vassos Karageorghis titled “Early Cyprus”. The east Mediterranean island of Cyprus exported copper to Sumer (Mesopotamia) in the 18th century B.C. It later provided timber to the Minoans on Crete. There was brisk trade between Cyprus and Egypt during the reign of Pharaoh Ikhnaton.

The other book reviewed by Midori Yamanouchi-Rynn was Sybile Haynes’, “Etruscan Civilization”. The Etruscans were a people who controlled central Italy before the Romans. They are sometimes called “Tarquins”. Toynbee connects their civilization to that of the Hittites in Anatolian Turkey.This book may be the definitive visual collection of artifacts gathered from Etruscan society.

My review of Andrew Targowski’s “Information Technology and Societal Development” came next. Targowski’s computer background shows in the organization of this book, I said. It was filled with flow charts and diagrams of various sorts. I was critical of some of the categories used to frame the discussion and of the mathematical formulae that quantified concepts but, on the whole, praised the book as a comprehensive study of development in computer technology [and] how this technology was being applied to functions in contemporary society.

George Von der Muhll reviewed Kevin Butcher’s book, “Roman Syria and the Middle East.” This was a study of Roman rule in territories now including Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq, but not Egypt, from 63 B.C. to 636 A.D., when Muslim armies conquered the area. The three themes explored in the book as stated by Von der Muhll were: (1) organizing time and space, (2) economic production and consumption, and (3) construction of communities.

At 3:45, Pedro Geiger’s paper ran through the history of world politics starting from a Marxist perspective. Karl Marx had predicted that socialism would replace capitalism and the changes would occur internationally. Geiger conceived of a three class system: capitalists (who own the businesses), wage managers who are educated people running the businesses, and uneducated wage laborers. The wage managers are the new element in the equation. They are the CEOs, managers, and professionals who are siphoning wealth out of the economy to benefit themselves. Geiger also saw a convergence between the new left and new right, both having fascist tendencies.

The formal dinner started at 7 p.m. Michael Andregg introduced our speaker, Michael Palencia-Roth. He has a distinguished background as a professor of comparative literature at the University of Illinois in Champaign. A native of Colombia, he was fluent in several languages. Palencia-Roth had been president of the ISCSC for six years, between 1986 and 1992, right after Matt Melko.

The topic of his after-dinner talk was the origin of our organization, the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations. It grew out of a week-long conference held in Salzburg, Austria, between October 9 and October 15, 1961. The theme of the conference was “The Problems of Civilization”. In 1964, the proceedings of this conference were published in the Netherlands. Palencia-Roth passed out a sheet which listed, on one side, the participants at this conference - 26 persons in all - and, on the other side, the conference schedule of events for each day.

Arnold Toynbee and Pitirim Sorokin were the two big guns. Both actively participated in the conversations, sometimes clashing in their points of view. There was a different chair for each day’s session. The topics of daily discussion were, in sequence: (1) “the ‘reality’ of civilizations”, (2) “the study of civilizations”, (3) “civilizational encounters”, (4) “the problem of universal history”, (5) “the future of civilizations”, (6) “one world: the contribution of the human sciences to the peaceful unification of humanity”.

Saturday’s Program – Morning

Laina Farhat-Holzman, gave a “Keynote Address” starting at 9:00 a.m. in the Kirsh auditorium entitled “Will Religion Mitigate the Clash of Civilizations?” Farhat-Holzman pointed out that religious or cultural conflict exists between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria between Muslims and Hindus in the Indian subcontinent, between Muslims and Buddhists in Thailand, and, of course, between Muslims and Jews in the Middle East. She characterized religious militancy as a minority of believers becoming caught up in an idea. Often religious orthodoxy masks greed and the desire for power. This led to what Farhat-Holzman called “irrational history” which was a main theme of her talk.

Can religion mitigate the clash of civilizations? On the whole, Farhat-Holzman thought not. Irrational religion would eventually alienate its own supporters as people grew tired of the culture of death and Arab regimes lost the ability to finance religious wars when “green technology” replaced petrochemicals as a source of energy.

Session C, “Russian Pedagogical Issues” was co-chaired by Liubov F. Mihaltsova and Olga A. Milinis. For both talks, we had the text of the speaker’s presentation on a screen in front. Some [of the themes in the Mihaltsova’s talk] were: What does it mean to be a Russian? Why is Moscow the Russian capital? What is the most respected icon in Russia? What state is Christianity borrowed from?

The next presentation by Milinis was similar to Mihaltsova’s but placed greater stress on the importance of moral development in a creating healthy life as the President of Russia has been emphasizing the importance of moral values. Milinis went into some of the problems facing Russia today. Dissatisfaction with self is the core of these problems. When people face spiritual crises, Orthodox values can help to bring them back to a healthy condition.

Sunday morning - We wind up the conference

Most of the conference participants had left by Sunday. Scheduled events included an 8:30 a.m. breakfast for those with meal tickets at the College of Arts and Sciences, 20-minute presentations by six students at Western Michigan University who were winners in a competition sponsored by Targowski, lunch at noon, and then two more student presentations. The conference would officially end at 1:50 p.m.

The student presentations, beginning at 9:00 a.m., took place in the Putney Lecture Hall. Luydmyla Pustelnyk spoke on “The Orange Civil Society or the Orange Social Movement”. It concerned the citizen uprising that occurred in 2004. The theme of Pustelnyk’s talk was the difference between a “social movement”, which could unite people around temporary grievances, and “civil society”, which had staying power.

The next student, speaking on “Carbon credits and the global trading market”, was Steven Srivastava, who is enrolled in the Engineering College at WMU. His was a detailed presentation of a new economic invention, the carbon credit, which grew out of international treaties to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions. The basic idea was that industrial and other enterprises that emitted such gases would receive an allowable limit in the discharge of carbon dioxide or “equivalent GHG” emissions.

Benjamin Roush, a sophomore at WMU, next spoke on “Viable solutions for sustainable water systems”. Clean water is an essential but sometimes ignored resource used by human beings. Needed improvements to urban water systems are being postponed. A key concept in Roush’s talk was that waste water needs to be recycled according to its subsequent use. Drinking water needs to be processed to a higher degree of cleanliness than water which will be used in industrial processes, toilets, canals, and rural irrigation. Save the “good” water for drinking. Most rainwater can be immediately used for non-potable uses.

Next, Richard Seims spoke on “The New Enlightenment: The Age of Consilience in the Sciences.” Seim suggested that we are entering into a new period of enlightenment today mainly because the separate academic disciplines are beginning to work together. There is a unification of the natural and social sciences. Such convergence of academic disciplines is called “consilience”.

Michael Kreutzjans talked on the “credit crisis demystified”. It concerned the invention of derivatives. Of what economic use are these financial instruments?

After this came Carrie McDonald Swift’s talk titled “Barack Obama: a prospect for a new enlightenment or just another superstar CEO.” Was President Obama an example of “transformational leadership” or was he simply a “charismatic” leader. In Obama’s first hundred days, it was hard to tell which kind of leader he was. The important thing was that the presidential administration have an ethical focus and pursue policies that benefit society over the long term.

The final talk of the day was delivered by a student in the School of Education whose name was Masashi Izumi. Its title was “Role of world teacher’s summit to improve educational context.” The speaker had taught school in Japan for ten years. He was troubled by the growing lack of discipline among students. These students skipped classes, smoked cigarettes, destroyed school property, and often argued with teachers. How could the schools deal with delinquent youth? Izumi thought that one answer, implemented in American schools, was to establish separate schools for delinquent students. Japan has a single set of schools for everyone.

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