Two worlds are colliding, and the collision is raging through Ukraine. The outcome of Putin’s war in Ukraine can be a total disaster, not just for Ukraine, but for all life on the planet, but it can also be a turning point for humanity towards substantial change and a meaningful future around the globe.
World war is usually thought of as a war covering most of the world, or at least a substantial part of it. As the war in Ukraine seems to escalate day by day, and as Putin now turns his attention and anger towards “Western” attitudes within Russia, the outcome of the war in Ukraine may still be this kind of world war.
I would like to offer another definition also, though: A world war is a war between two worlds; an old world and a new world. Right now, a fault line between an old world and a new one is running through the war in Ukraine.
The old world is the world of the modern, industrialized society. In its extreme form, modernity becomes a hypermodernity that has no love of life, no joy, only contempt and force. Putin’s attack on Ukraine is hypermodern, as was Hitler’s attack on the rest of Europe and on humanity itself. Putin’s hypermodernity is a relic of the Cold War, and the hot wars and the Holocaust that went before it. It shows the dark side of modernity where technology at an industrial scale is used to kill freedom, beauty, and life itself.
The Ukrainian people, their freedom, their path to the future, their 21st century opportunities, and the immense beauty of their country are now being bombed to death. The shear ugliness — ugliness of power, ugliness of destruction, ugliness of military equipment and the rubble and dead bodies they leave behind — is crushing to the human soul. Meanwhile, it is inspiring and giving so much hope to see how the Ukrainian people are taking up the fight for their freedom and democracy.
And here is the fault line:
Putin’s military war represents the past. On several levels: ideologically, militarily, politically. It represents a hypermodernity where technology, brute force, anger, hate, and contempt offer only ugliness.
The Ukrainian response and the response of the EU, the US, and NATO are taking place in both the old world and the new world:
The old-world response is the scramble to supply Ukraine with weapons to fight the war of the old world: the hypermodern, material war. The EU, the US, and NATO are doing everything they can to stay out of this war, not out of cowardice, but out of refusal to escalate the old-world hypermodernity. Yet, we cannot do nothing.
The new-world response is an economic and cultural shutdown. It is a non-violent suffocation of the flow of symbols: money and culture. Of prosperity and beauty. It has also been unusually swift, and the collaboration among states has been exemplary.
World War I led to the League of Nations, which eventually failed. World War II led to the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the EU and NATO, and a whole new world of institutions, collaboration, order, prosperity, freedom, beauty, and peace. Now is the moment to not let them fail, and the resolution among Western and other world leaders, including business leaders, has shown that politics and commerce can in fact be about what really matters, not just about money.
Change is possible
Let us therefore strengthen that which the new world ought to be and create new collaboration and new institutions for it.
COVID-19 has been handled very differently by different countries, but two consequences stand out around the globe: Suddenly, humanity was literally connected through our breath, and a global awareness of a new kind emerged. Not in any spiritual or peace-promoting sense, but in a very literal sense of “Wow, that travelled fast! The other side of the globe is really not that far away!” The other consequence was that many governments, not least in the West, that had previously focused mainly on the economy and economic growth were suddenly capable of putting other issues first, such as health.
The Russian war in Ukraine may have devastating consequences not just for the people of Ukraine, their beautiful country, and their cultural heritage. It may also affect the environment and global food production. Ukraine produces 10% of the world’s wheat and an even larger percentage of the world’s sunflower oil.
The Russian war in Ukraine has already redefined European energy policies. If Western politicians are interested in global stability on the other side of harvest season 2022 when 10% of the world’s wheat may be missing, they start transforming agriculture and food production away from animal production towards vegetarian production now — which would have several environmental benefits.
There is absolutely nothing that can justify the Russian invasion of Ukraine. There is absolutely nothing that can justify the military murder of Ukrainians. But it may be the wake-up call that gets the wealthiest countries in the world to change their political path away from unsustainable lifestyles and towards stronger collaboration. It may also be the wake-up call that gets the Western middle-class to re-realize that democracy and freedom are not in any way the politcal default. It may get the most complacent Westerners to wake up and take responsibility for the future of freedom, democracy, global stability, global economic development, the planet as a whole, and beauty.
COVID-19 and the Russian war in Ukraine have shown that political power can change its path, it can change fast, and it can change the world.
One day, the Russians will wake up and realize what kind of crime against humanity their political leadership is currently committing. The guilt and shame that hit the Germans after World War II, will one day hit the Russians too. Perhaps even harder, since in our time there is really no excuse for not knowing what goes on in the world.
It has been noted that Russia has no allies. Russia, the state, has no friends: Belarus is a vassal, as are a few other states, and China is a polite acquaintance of convenience. There needs to be justice, and the Russian leadership that decided to wage this war must be taken to court. But there also needs to be a path for Russia to connect with the friendly collaboration of the new world. There needs to be a way out of hypermodernity for Russia. Russian beauty, freedom, and prosperity need to flourish too.
Rising above ourselves
After World War II, the US saved Europe, including Germany, from itself by creating the Marshall Plan. Leaders from around the globe also came together and created the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
As a species, we need to rise above ourselves and our old ways again. It must be the hope and aspiration of every human being around the globe that there is an end to all wars, not just to the one in Ukraine, but particularly to the one in Ukraine where there is the risk of it becoming a nuclear war. We must avoid the Holocaust and avoid the hypermodernity that is currently the path of the Russian war in Ukraine, and we must go directly to the aftermath of the war when the new institutions and higher ethical standards are created.
A fault line between the old world and a new one is running right through the war imposed on Ukraine.
We all have an obligation to choose on which side we stand. We live in such an inherently beautiful world, and for three weeks, Ukraine has stood up for it for all of us.