Past, present, future (Le passé, le présent, l'Avenir)

The balance of power: continuity and fundamental change

The Persian Gulf is hot from the frictions of geopolitical competition. Plainly, there’s a contest over the relative balance of power between the world hegemon – the USA – and Iran. Iran is struck and it strikes, move after move wagers are made for the preservation and expansion of particular interests. These interests are vested with authority by the nation states’ civilian and military leaders. They are rooted in sovereignty, over the nation, over a region, and over the breadth of the planet: where power permits. The scope of this sovereign interest proscribes and is bound by the particular structure of power that it breeds in. It gives it name: nation-state, regional power, and world hegemon.

One party’s world is another’s region. Power must match ambition for that vital step: transition from aspiration to strategy. Iran’s immediate world, its zone of influence, is regional, although reduced scope of actionable capacity never excuses the measure of a political trajectory. Oceans are ponds to the US, and its proliferation of military bases are but lily pads.

Wrong is often heaped upon wrong. There’s utility in following the thread of wrongs, in order to reveal to oneself and to others the process by which narrow interests fight each other over the small and large worlds of our strained planet. But, the weave of our existent situation is not made of a single thread. The weave appears at times chaotic, the accumulation of historic tectonics. History is not neat and tidy; it’s tumultuous, overlapping, and framing. Many forces collide, converge, repulse, and associate with one another: this is an interplay. It’s a dynamic coherence that presents not only the present: it recasts the past and gives it new framing.

So, the current bellicosity of Iran and the US relates to Saudi Arabia’s battle over the kingly succession, to China and Pakistan’s budding relationship, to the fracture of Ukraine, to the arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer, as well as to the centrifugal and centripetal forces that tear at and concentrate the European Union.

The US dollar is on the precipice of imperial twilight. Will it tumble or pull back? Will it jump, slip, recoil, or climb atop a new formation of its sovereigns’ regime? A regime that is a new world order styled on the last, perhaps crowning some new princes but doing so within the evolved rump of a persistent logic of rule, holding the old masters at the core of its council. This is one of the central questions of our time. And what a question: seemingly obtuse, overly technical, losing sight of the real for the focus on economic abstraction.

The dollar is no simple unit of measure, nor just any means of exchange. It’s more than any other storehouse of value. By its grace flows the international relations of global capital. It embodies and is embodied by the political and economic interactions of planetary scale. It carries through the process of social relations. It’s a part of the story of politics today: regarding Iran’s place in West Asia, vital to China’s trajectory, and underpinning the very nature of the world’s economy and with it the ecological condition of our living planet. The dollar sneezes and workers continents apart catch their death.

Crucially, the situation that’s animated by and that simultaneously animates the possessing and the dispossessed structures and reproduces them. Kindness and moral righteousness is no inoculation. Just as feudalism circumscribed the cosmology of its time, capitalist society conscripts its own members as proprietors and as human commodities. When that system is in equilibrium, when it hums along, it does so while invested with gross in-built social inequalities. The processes at work there help to inform the currents and tendencies of international relations as well as the working conditions of a supermarket attendant who assists the function of an automated checkout machine.

We are at a historical inflection point. We and our descendants will look back and see a pivot in time. I am writing of this time of times from the very wellspring of its coming to have been. It’s difficult to see the present because doing so demands that you project into the future in order to judge a thing and to make changes big or small. Yet, it must be done. We must grasp for understanding in order to have an analysis of things as they are. Then, we can struggle to construct the desired future. Let us be bold. Let us be so because we have the chance to reside in a period of historic transition. A new world emerges and no matter what we’ll be subject to its outcome. This outcome must be ours to make, so that it doesn’t only make and unmake us.

Past, present, future (Le passé, le présent, l'Avenir)
Past, present, future (Le passé, le présent, l’Avenir). / Image by Honoré Daumier, Public Domain.

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