Freedom and space enable one to thrive. This applies to both individuals and nations. What matters is how one utilizes these assets. Although America affords itself the freedom and space needed for economic and social viability, its foreign policy is quite different. Support for dictators and mafia groups which stifle economic and social development overseas has often been a facet of American foreign policy. Also. the policy of “Divide and Conquer” which has been adopted after the demise of the British Empire — along with the subjugation and force used to sustain global hegemony — cannot overcome the natural inclination towards interconnection and interdependence between peoples and nations. Being a minority in America and being ignored and shunned because of all the fear and paranoia that pervades this society is itself a source of motivation to prompt an analysis and critique of a world system that is in need of changes and reforms.
World systems theories that were once developed by the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Janet Abu Lughod, Immanuel Wallerstein, and Andre Gunder Frank give contemporary thinkers an idea of where things are headed in the international system. Theories are parsimonious, which mean they cover virtually all nuances and details. However, social science theories cannot be tested in a laboratory or in the real world. But some theories withstand the test of time, and some do not. What is certain, however, is that women like Thatcher and Abu Lughod were by no means myopic and they were incredibly different than the women of this day and age.
World systems analysis is an attempt to study and integrate the totality of what has been put forth by all the various human sciences. Thus, it is an interdisciplinary field that transcends economics, politics, and sociology, which are the three fields that form the “trinity” of social science. The three most prominent world systems analysts of the 20th century were Janet Abu Lughod, Andre Gunder Frank, and Immanuel Wallerstein. For his part, Wallerstein has defined the world system as “a unit with a single division of labor and multiple cultural systems.” The division of labor is based on core states which gather capital from peripheral states.
Although there are many others — including myself — who have merely dabbled in world system analysis in an amateurish fashion, these three individuals stood out the most for their contributions to this rich and unique knowledge movement. All of us amateurs pale in comparison to these greats, and the very little that we know comes off the backs of these intellectual giants and legends. World systems theories try to predict what hegemonic powers like the United States and China are doing through their positions in the international system. One can anticipate, for example, American military planning through the employment of a world system theory. Coincidentally, US weapons sales — which make up 40% of all US exports — mostly go to South Asia and the Middle East. But reducing an American footprint in the three most volatile regions – namely, South Asia, Northeast Asia, and the Middle East – would perhaps boost weapons sales. Either way, the American weapons industry wins.
The same goes for Europe. Reducing an American footprint in Europe boosts weapons sales to Europe especially when Europe is considering the development of an all-EU military force as a counterbalance to Russia. In sum, the global situation is incredibly fluid. Nothing is set into stone per se. But in a nutshell, the weapons industry is the main constituent of the American government, and this industry stands to gain whether there are American troops overseas or not. One can infer this merely through the employment of a world systems theory.
It is also perhaps more lucrative for the American weapons industry if an American footprint overseas shrinks. America’s approach to the world is based on realpolitik (war-manufacturing). Although a world system theory based on commerce, trade, interconnection, and interdependence which has been developed by the likes of Abu Lughod is both possible and viable, the American realpolitik approach towards the world has hijacked the international system since the end of the Cold War. All was largely quiet at the end of the Cold War, with the exception of three small pockets of violence, namely, Afghanistan, the Balkans, and Rwanda. The first two came to a close in 1996, and the last one got out of hand because no one cared. It goes to show that opium and weapons can find a pretext and shape a global system at the expense of all other individuals and groups.
But now that China has regional hegemony by virtue of its growing sphere of influence in Southeast Asia, America needs to reclaim its own regional hegemony and its own sphere of influence within the Western Hemisphere and then compete with China everywhere else on the map in an effective way. Saudi Arabia’s importance will diminish if America can open a door to Venezuela, which has the world’s largest oil reserves. The question remains about Afghanistan as a supply chain for American technology industries. Zimbabwe is a peer competitor of Afghanistan which America has totally neglected. Thus, the moral of the story is that America invested too much in Afghanistan and the Middle East. And in the process, America lost regional hegemony and thus compromised its major power status. The reset for American engagement with the world would be to re-establish hegemony over the Western Hemisphere and then compete with China everywhere else.
Perhaps the final inference one can make from a world system theory and the most basic analysis or critique one can make of the world system as it stands is that there are two primary forces which govern the world system:
1. Competitive capital accumulation on the part of core states, with capital being derived from peripheral states (Greed)
2. Hegemony-rivalry, with hegemony being limited to a regional scope, thus falling short of global or super hegemony (Hedonism and War)
Climate change, disease, financial crises, inequality, ignorance, and violence are the inevitable outcomes of a world system shaped by the twin governing forces of competitive capital accumulation and hegemony-rivalry. But no one has been able to come up with effective ways to change the system given that there is a zero-sum psychosocial paradigm that undergirds the primary forces which shape the world system.
Unless Beijing, Brussels, and Washington – which are today’s three core states – find ways to cooperate in conjunction with competitive capital accumulation and hegemony-rivalry, the current system and the usual way of doing things will have adverse biological, ecological, economic, psychological, sociological, and security implications for everyone. What we need is a leader or a collection of leaders who can bring these competing core states together to save the world from itself. As the late Zbigniew Brzezinski once said: “Lead, but don’t be the leader.” This advice applies to all the people from various generations and walks of life who are working hard to change and reform the system despite the obvious limitations that are put on their work due to human nature itself.
The battle is essentially against human nature, because it is human nature which impacts and shapes the world system. Change and reform will not occur overnight. But due to our a priori understanding or notions of ideals such as change and progress, we are perhaps approaching these ideals albeit in an incremental way. Nevertheless, an analysis and critique of the world system is a means of fostering awareness of where we are and what the outcomes could be.
Anticipating outcomes can then prompt the changes and reforms needed to avert decline and stagnation while directing a focus towards evolution and socioeconomic development. Without changes or reforms, the world will enter into a situation known as “techno-feudalism,” where wealth will continue being siphoned off to the top 1 percent and everyone else will eventually be left with nothing. People at the top must start investing in people and the environment in order to avert another political and social crisis.
No longer can we remain complacent with a laissez-faire approach that is now unwieldy. The global situation must be managed and ordered, lest chaos and disorder prevails. Thus, the Keynesian approach towards managing and ordering global affairs has more merit than ever before. Profits, savings, revenues, taxes, and ‘Return on Investment’ (ROI) should be allocated towards charitable endeavors such as environmental sustainability and social responsibility to a certain extent as opposed to spending everything on hedonism and war.
In the end, there are only four things we can do with money and wealth. We can either spend, save, give to charity, or invest. Spending and saving should be conjoined with charitable efforts as well as investments tailored towards environmental sustainability and social responsibility if we wish to maintain a habitable planet. Climate change is on the radar of some of the biggest minds dealing with social activism, and the only way to overcome this challenge is by overcoming the aforementioned primary forces which shape human nature and thus the world system.