In fight for values, people are talking back in anger

Regardless of the age we live in, power games determine winners and losers and the distribution of benefits and burdens

By Joergen Oerstroem Moeller

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Published: Wed 23 Aug 2017, 10:00 PM

Last updated: Thu 24 Aug 2017, 12:00 AM

The world is moving into the era of value-driven societies replacing an era of economics, the industrial age and materialism - a seminal shift in culture, attitude and behaviour not seen since the second half of the 18th century with the French Revolution and the arrival of manufacturing and industrialisation.

Social networks cut across time, geography and national borders. Non-economic social and cultural values confront economic values of business and commerce. Political ideology focusing on distribution of wealth is yielding ground to humanistic attitudes and a rollback of spreading denaturalisation. Recalibrating is found in business ethics in support of human rights, including drives to battle child labour, pollution and global warming.

Opponents appeal to nationalism and fears about change. The legacy from the Age of Enlightenment ­- objectivity - for now has given way to subjectivity, and reality is what one can convince sizable numbers of people to accept as reality. All countries have been hit, but the main victims are the United States and Britain. China, despite political leaders raising barriers for cross-border communication, may prove decisive for how fast the revolution goes or, alternatively, be stopped in its tracks with unprecedented political repercussions.

Regardless of the age we live in, power games determine winners and losers and the distribution of benefits and burdens. Until now, power broadly speaking had three parameters: military, economic tools and persuasion. Values and the principles by which we live can override each of these parameters - the ability to shape perceptions by capturing the curiosity and trust of citizens, defining what is right or wrong, permissible or not, and ultimately drawing lines for what can or cannot be achieved. Leaders occupy what once was called the moral high ground, but now define the terrain.

The 2016 US presidential election demonstrates the strength of this power parameter and how it was wielded. Saboteurs - for the purposes of this argument, it's irrelevant whether it was Russian interference or Trump campaigners - relied on an onslaught of insinuations, disparate and scornful language, and spurious comments to shape an image of leading candidate Hillary Clinton as unelectable. She was forced to chase down unrelenting ghosts to repair a tainted image while Donald Trump had free hand to suffuse and hijack debate with superficial and freewheeling assertions, brushing away demands for evidence to support his claims.

Inevitably the rules for exercise of power, the institutional structure and players are redrawn. In global politics the demise of the nation-state establishes this changing paradigm, linked and geared to project hard power through the military power parameter. But shaping perceptions signifies that power is projected more via soft power, often across borders, where the nation-state is increasingly challenged to justify its prerogative or monopoly.

Before his election, Trump promised to take the US out of the Paris agreement to combat global warming, and he kept his promise. But that does not mean that the US has effectively reneged on its commitments. During Trump's announcement, he argued that he was elected to serve Pittsburgh, not Paris. Even so, 30 mayors from US cities including Pittsburgh, New York and Washington confirmed that they would continue work to curb climate change. They were supported by 80 university presidents and more than 100 businesses. Soon afterward, Jerry Brown, governor of California, visited China to discuss merging carbon trading markets.

In Europe, Brexit illustrates a similar trend. Most people view the negotiations as the exclusive competence of the British government and Parliament, but this is incorrect to say the least. In July, the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, received Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Wales' First Minister Carwyn Jones who explained their nations' positions on negotiations to remove the UK and Northern Ireland out of the European Union. All parties stressed that the meetings were not negotiations, not yet.

Cross-border social networks and values can aggressively be used as foreign policy instruments by anyone. Daesh offers the caliphate as a non-nation-state concept, and the Christian right in the United States and operatives like Steve Bannon, former advisor in the Trump administration, attack critical journalism and praise crackdowns on homosexuality in Russia, openly admiring President Vladimir Putin and urging the United States to follow his lead. Many groups in the United States and elsewhere are tempted by illiberal democracy as seen in Russia and Turkey and reliance on strongmen who support their populist causes.

Irrespective of nationality, people reach across borders, united by common values, to defy policy positions adopted by their own governments. - Yale Global

Joergen Oerstroem Moeller is a visiting senior fellow with ?ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

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