Anyone vaguely acquainted with the theory of international relations and geopolitics would be aware of Huntington’s theory of the Civilisations Clash. In fact, Huntington’s model is probably the first thing any student of International Relations learns in the universities.
Huntington identified a major shift of economic, military, and political power from the West to the other civilizations of the world, most significantly to what he identifies as the two “challenger civilizations”, Sinic and Islam.
It must be noted, however, that Huntington believed the clash would happen along the cultural lines. After researching 9 major civilisations described by Huntington, we can also gather that the clash between those cultures would likely remind a scrimmage in the kindergarten rather than a full-fledged war we are facing today.
What we can see now is the ravine between the models of society rather than pure cultural differences. And this is where the benign friction has the potential to turn into the war for an absolute domination.
Indeed, while there exist start cultural differenced throughout the world, humanity has managed to take advantage in those differences rather than suffer from those. Cultural richness of the world and various described civilisations brings world citizens a plethora of choice and opportunities for self-discovery. Even when talking about the three major civilisations according to Huntington, – West, China and Islamic world, – we can clearly see an ongoing civilisational dialogue:
Chinese students learning in the best American and European universities and Western academics taking advantage of China’s rich AI & biotech funding.
Thousands of Islamic migrants coming to Europe and US in search of a better life and hundreds of Westerners opting to live in UAE or Saudi for economic and tax reasons.
Obviously, all of the above works well as long as people accept the cultural norms of the receiving party and pay respect to the host culture.
No one has the right to play the God and decide which model of culture or civilisation is the ideal one. And unlike Huntington predicted, there is no major civilisational conflict happening along the cultural lines.
What we are witnessing instead is the current obvious split between the Oppression and Freedom forces – the split visible throughout all societies and all civilisations on the Planet.
The definition of these forces is very straightforward:
- The Forces of Freedom are created and enacted by the societies who use them for the creation of conditions favourable for the benefit of the majority of populations in those societies
- The Forces of Oppression are created and enacted by the few who use them for the control and enslavement of the majority of the population for the sake of these very few
We can see the forces of oppression gaining more momentum with the spread of Surveillance Capitalism and the solidification of wealth among the “1 %”. The main manifestation of these forces, however, can be observed in the dictatorial societies where the absolute minority has managed to exercise the granted political forces to usurp the whole mechanism of power and create a self-replicating mechanism of oppression and terror with the combined use of technology and propaganda.
It is worth noting that the current struggle between these two opposites is not a novelty, but rather a rule by which civilisations rise, develop and fall.
The most recent universal manifestations of this battle have obviously been the two World Wars, where the Forces of Oppression managed to solidify the powers within their respective zones of influence fast enough to try to impose their force and ideology onto the others.
It is worth noting that any Oppressive Society must create the “Narrative World” to justify its usurpation to the masses as well as use those very masses to reinforce their control and potentially expand their zone of influence. Nazis narrative of Jews’ inferiority is probably the best example of how one civilisation’s “Narrative Reality” can drastically interfere with the world of another civilisation, potentially wiping the other one off in its entirety.
In its essence the “Narrative World” is very similar to the Virtual Worlds we see being created today. Narrative Worlds exist as carefully crafted creations of their masters, the same way Virtual Worlds are created by engineers and VR designers.
Both worlds are highly subjective, and their very purpose is the existence in detachment from the objective reality.
It must be noted, however, that by their very nature, “Narrative Worlds” are made to restrict the vast powers of the people, while Virtual Worlds are built to enable people to do things otherwise impossible in the physical domain:
“Why would you choose to inhabit the world full of limitations and disappointments when the possibilities to do whatever you please in the virtual realm are pretty much unlimited?”
Indeed, in the parallel worlds where you can let your guard off and stop observing the social constructs and rules, most of humanity can finally become free.
Main caveat to the expression of freedoms in the Virtual Domains would be very similar to the ones we have in the physical world ever since the creation of the world religions:
Individual freedoms end where the freedoms of another person start
While the virtual reality offers unlimited opportunities to wreak havoc and let your desires, sexuality and drives loose – some participants’ actions should be restricted to the Virtual Environment and replicating AI personas.
As soon as violence and abuse are spilled onto another IP-possessing player without their consent the MetaWorlds must be policed. When more and more humans, especially children with unformed and unprotected psychology, enter the MetaWorlds – the need for proper policing and rules enforcing becomes tantamount.
It is worth noting that many companies will be involved in the self-policing of their Virtual Worlds, and, most probably, specialised companies will be created to enforce the rules in the interconnected fabric of the MetaUniverse.
Now, any world is the space where the subjects are choosing their surroundings, duration in the game and the rules by which they abide.
If we look at the world in its entirety people are predominantly free to choose the country they want to live in, people can have a say on the duration of their lives by choosing a healthy lifestyle or by deciding to commit suicide, equally they are free to choose the moral compass, values or religions to follow.
If we look at individual countries, – people are equally relatively unrestricted in the exact location they choose to purchase the real estate or build a house, they can end the game by leaving the country and moving elsewhere and they should be able to have a say in the direction their country is going by exercising their power to vote or protest.
In the same fashion Virtual Worlds allow people to choose the game and the skins, the duration of their existence in the game. Most often than not Virtual Worlds will be bound by a set of rules, imprinted in its design, or enforced by the MetaPolice. Alternatively, the players can be involved in the creation and improvement of the MetaWorlds by using the available open-source tools and building upon the core design.
The problem we encounter with the civilisations ruled by the Forces of Oppression and creating “Narrative Realities” is the inability of the players to choose the surrounding, rules and duration in the game. Oftentimes millions of people are trapped in the fabric of the never-ending game they have no say or freedoms to change or leave.
Another problem arising from the “Narrative Realities” is when its participants are being actively used to restrict the rights and freedoms of other players, who do not belong to the “Narrative Realities”, – this is what has been happening with the two world wars, Russian aggressions towards Chechnya, Georgia, and, most recently, a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, as well as China’s tortures and discriminations of Uighurs minority.
So far, the only people suffering from the North Korean “Narrative Reality” are North Koreans themselves, but there is no guarantee their subjective reality won’t touch other players in the world.
What makes the current clash of world orders so dangerous and distinct to any conflict humanity has ever encountered is the fact that all Forces of Oppression have the weapons of mass destruction. There is no guarantee the Oppressing Forces won’t use their nuclear arsenal if it means the intimidation of the others and a potential survival of their regime.
Never in the history of humanity the fall and failure of one civilisation meant a potential destruction of all of them.
Weapons of mass destruction bring a new dimension to the previously simple struggles for resources and territories, which led to the creation and fall of numerous world civilisations throughout history.
The current conundrum means that any influence one or other force must exercise have to be channelled at the destabilisation of the opposition camp with the direct conflict used as means of the last resort.
While economically inferior, so far, the Forces of Oppression are clearly leading in the destabilisation game. Hybrid warfare and cyberattacks, cyber espionage, creation of numerous world conflicts targeted at increased migration to the liberal democracies, never-ending infiltration of the West with their agents and spies, open nuclear blackmail, and threats, unpunished violations of international law and norms – all this is showing the unpreparedness and weakness of the Forces of Freedom. Dictatorial nature of the Forces of Oppression means they can exercise control over the direction of their forces much better than more liberal and dispersed Forces of Freedom.
Moreover, dictatorships and authoritarian governments become more successful at suppressing any type of internal dissent by restricting social media and the rights to free speech.
Paradoxically as it might sound, it looks like Virtual Worlds might provide the only possible escape from the suffocation of “Narrative Realities”. Equally, they might prove the only viable way to destabilise the opposing force without the need to resort to the weapons of mass destruction.
Virtual Worlds will become the only safe way to gather and express your views if you happen to inhabit the territories of the “Narrative Realities” – something akin to the role Facebook played in the Arab Spring revolutions.
There is an amazing description of such a virtual world in Cixin Liu’s masterpiece – Three Body Problem:
An organisation that was supporting the arrival of an alien civilisation has created the Virtual Play of Three Body where only pre-approved members were allowed to proceed to the later stages of the game. From time to time Three Body members held virtual meetings to regroup and discuss the strategy and the next steps.
In case of Cixin Liu’s militant and semi-secret Earth-Trisolaris Organization (ETO), their main goal is the elimination of humans by helping the Trisolaris army to arrive and take away humanity’s inhabited Planet. There is little surprise such organisation has been deemed extremist and was persecuted by all states of the Planet Earth. In the modern world, however, in most cases those are the oppressed liberal elements that would be most likely to take advantage of various virtual plays and metaworlds, as the only way to escape persecution and imprisonment by a perfected machine of oppression in their home countries.
Clearly, the dictatorships of China, North Korea and Russia are the best candidates for the use of virtual worlds as the platforms for self-expression. These countries are so good at stifling any form of dissent at the earliest stages of its development that the only way for people to see and learn of the true scale of dissent and their civil powers would be to see the representation and the number of IP-holders in the virtual spaces.
It must be noted that the success of dissident virtual realities would be possible only with the possibility of absolute anonymity of the IP-holders. As soon as oppressive regimes learn of the existence of opposition-enabling virtual worlds they will endeavour to obtain full information about its participants. Moreover, as the controllers of overwhelming technological powers in those states, they will strive to infiltrate, disrupt, or compromise the flow of the game. In case of their inability to extract the IPs and locate the players those powers will use any means to sabotage the virtual worlds, e.g. – hide the real number of participants, create bots to demoralise the gamers, distort the quality of the game to discourage participants from playing, create hazards and obstructions to a previously safe havens of the game.
Equally, if the governments find the location of the servers, they will be able to disrupt the game easily and potentially irrevocably.
All the above means that for the successful creation and operation of dissident safe havens several conditions will have to be met:
- The dissident society must be so advanced and technologically adept as to conceive of such an opportunity and possess the technological ability to create a fully firewalled virtual world
- The dissident society must be able to meet physically or use the encoded messaging platforms a certain number of times to ensure the bare minimum for the creation and sustaining of the metaworlds
- They must be well-connected and well-funded enough to ensure the necessary redundancy of the data and the uninterrupted work of the servers
- The society must possess an exceptional degree of integrity and morale to preserve the worlds from traitors, double agents and people who would give out the source codes to the authorities
Unfortunately, the rigidity of the conditions means that the grass roots nature of such a technologically advanced endeavour is almost impossible.
In Cixin Liu’s book the Trisolarans teleported technology and continuous spying after humanity was a huge help to the creation of Three Body worlds.
Due to the de-facto closed nature of North Korean society we are not able to assess the technological readiness and abilities of the population even remotely. The scariest part in the North Korean example is the chance that the whole population is so embedded into their “Narrative Reality” we might not encounter the mildest opposition or questioning.
As George Orwell said:
‘The masses never revolt of their own accord, and they never revolt merely because they are oppressed. Indeed, so long as they are not permitted to have standards of comparison, they never even become aware that they are oppressed.’
I remember once I read a horrifying fact about a North Korean camp prisoner who decided to escape only because someone has told him people can be free. If you live in the world of darkness and hopelessness knowing nothing else, how are you supposed to question or strive for change? Our objective reality, after all, is the representation of our subjective understanding of the world.
The nature of Russian and Chinese regimes is in no way different to North Korea. The populations are brainwashed into believing their misery is a necessary precondition for the collective good, they are brainwashed into believing their “ways” represent the only “healthy” alternative to the “rotting and disintegrating West”, they are fed an Upside-Down narrative describing dictatorships in other societies, they are being primed to fight an “existential enemy”, who in most cases does not even have these countries in their agendas.
George Orwell famously described those societies in his dystopia:
The narrative style of Russia and China is identical to the North Korean.
Main and key difference, however, is the temporarily open nature of those autocratic regimes.
This openness to otherness was what has built and empowered both regimes to advance technologically, – by stealing and copying the innovations, otherwise reserved only to creatively minded free societies.
The same way Russian and Chinese citizens can travel, work and study in the Western societies, for the technological benefit of their regimes, the West should use this openness to look over and beyond the physical firewalls being erected in these autocracies.
Nothing exists in the vacuum. And there is no action without the reaction. The relative openness of Russian and Chinese regimes gives Western societies the powers of the Trisolaran civilisation from Cixin Liu’s book.
It must be noted, however, that the West has a very limited window of opportunity for the destabilisation exercise. With the increased paranoia among Russian political elites and an ongoing closure of the borders the tunnel between the “Russian World” and liberal democracies keeps narrowing.
China is investing heavily into the creation of its MetaVerse with total potential market of the Chinese metaverse estimated to be around $8trn by Morgan Stanley.
If Russia is defeated on the battlefield, which is pretty much impossible, accounting for its nuclear status, the Chinese dictatorship will probably chip in to keep the 2nd biggest oppressive regime in the world, legitimising its own rule.
Thus, the West must act fast and decisive. The speed and efficacy of Russian propaganda machine presently outweigh anything Nazi Germany could have dreamt of. While perfecting the radio as a propaganda tool, Nazis clearly lacked the technology and visual element capable of distorting pretty much any fact about the objective reality:
News, texts, films, and images are created, altered, and destroyed according to what is best for Big Brother. The goal of the Ministry of Truth is to make it seem as if Big Brother is always right.
(George Orwell, 1984)
The only thing left to the Russian citizen is the subjective world of paranoia, hate and self-righteousness that, if reinforced correctly, leaves no doubts or way outs into the objective reality.
With the world increasing turning against Russia, even the very last critically minded individuals who could successfully form the core of the dissident movement will be forever cuckooed in the “Narrative Reality” created by the Forces of Oppression.
The point of no return for those oppressed societies would leave limited options for the Forces of Freedom:
- Decision to convert to the winning ideology and establish their own “Narrative Realities”
- Leave the Earth in search of other habitable worlds
- The need to resort to the weapons of mass destruction if the “Narrative Realities” keep extorting their power to limit the freedoms of the rest of the world
Various technology articles say it would probably take 6 to 10 years to create an advanced functioning MetaVerse. The advent of something akin to The Ready Player One world is still decades away.
It is possible, however, that the increased investments into the MetaVerse and accelerated construction of Virtual Realities are the only ways to illuminate the darkness encompassing millions of people trapped in the “Narrative Realities”.
And those are the advanced liberal democracies who must take this technological leap. Equally, it is them who must infiltrate the Forces of Oppression, find, or cultivate the critically minded dissident elements, and empower them to act.
It is easy to stay complacent and hope for the best. It is easy to enjoy your freedoms and mind your psychological well-being.
Freedom, however, is a very recent and very fragile concept, – most people in the world are taking it for granted.
“No one is free until we are all free.” — said Martin Luther King Jr. He was assassinated shortly afterwards.
He fought for freedom and justice, – the fight that is very far from being over.
The outcome of this fight will dictate the future of humanity for centuries to come. In fact, the outcome of this fight will be the decisive for the definition of the human civilisation itself.