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Elena Alekseenkova

PhD in Political Science, Head of the Center for Italian Studies, Senior Research Fellow at Department of Black and Mediterranean Sea Studies, Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, RIAC Expert

In the historical-philosophical perspective, one has every right to consider the transformation that has thrown the Middle East into chaos as the revival of premodernism and the primordial forms of societal organization. However, the epoch of postmodernism is not over and will not come to an end until the Western world exists as the most vivid manifestation of pluralism and postmodernism.

In the historical-philosophical perspective, one has every right to consider the transformation that has thrown the Middle East into chaos as the revival of premodernism and the primordial forms of societal organization. However, the epoch of postmodernism is not over and will not come to an end until the Western world exists as the most vivid manifestation of pluralism and postmodernism. In actuality, the heart of the matter lies in the fact that postmodernism suggests the simultaneous existence of multiple narratives and practices, the multiplicity of forms and foundations for social integration. At the same time, similar to the modern society that preceded it, the postmodernist arrangement generates more ancient and deeper forms of social integration that are seen by a modern individual as something archaic and irrational. In fact, this appears to be exactly the phenomenon we can currently observing in the Middles East.

We have definitely seen all of this before. And I do agree with Vassily Kuznetsov, who has launched this discussion, that history has already experienced ultra-leftist movements in Latin America, fascism and leftist terrorists networks in Europe (remember the Italian Red Brigades and German Red Army Factions), the Sicilian mafia and kindred organizations that have attempted to supplant the state. History has also seen numerous endeavors aimed at questioning the existence of modern and postmodern states and offer new forms of social integration. And it is this very experience that makes us ponder over the wrongs of the civilized world that could produce monstrosities of such scale.

Why Things Go this Way or What Grand Narratives Imply

Any form of social integration suggests that an individual has to sacrifice a portion of his privacy. Part and parcel of the society, we have to observe its norms and allow certain interferences, sometimes even essentially physical, into our private dominion. For example, we allow and deem fair incarceration if certain violations take place, we allow certain dress code limitations, we are used or, on the contrary, not used to openly expressing sexuality, attitudes toward the opposite sex, etc. The existence of societal norms has been invariably supported by a narrative, a certain set of meanings, and a certain cognitive basis, which actually shape the worldview. This very narrative legitimizes intrusions into one's privacy and the constraints that the individual must observe since one is willing to exist in a certain society. This very narrative is driving us to give voluntary consent to subjugation that everyone feels when existing in a society. It seems relevant to always have clear-cut grounds for sacrificing some of one's liberty. However, the postmodernist state of today regrettably fails to always provide an answer, but instead offers permanent interference into one's privacy.

By turning to the science of ethology we see that legitimization and trust make up the basics of the behavior of any social animal. Every individual within a community of social animals allows intrusion into its physical space only to those trusted. Social animals display trust based on recognition of a friend, which has been imbedded into the social hierarchy and supported by clear-cut norms. This is something that makes possible social integration and coexistence within a society.

In pre-modern society, the role of the integrating narrative was given to religion, which legitimized intrusion into the private sphere of an individual. Access to the secret knowledge served as a substantiation for belonging to the authority, while the ruler possessed a monopoly of communicating the meanings and images to maintain social integration.

Modern society has attempted to revise the fundamentals of social integration. Human behavior was proclaimed rational, while religion has lost its monopoly for governing the meanings. The magic of authority intrinsic to the pre-modern epoch and possessing irrational fundamentals was destroyed. However, the modern epoch did try to devise a new formula of authority that would allow it to re-monopolize the generation of images and meanings, with the inventions boiling down to the model of the liberal state and democracy.

The system of liberal democracy by definition does not have a monopoly for the production and communication of images and meanings. Pluralism suggests that every human has a right to generate images and meanings, which actually hampers social integration. "I have my own truth, and you have yours." As a result, such a society often functions as an agglomeration of social networks full of their own circulating meanings and images. This is something we call postmodernism that which a multiplicity of narratives, none of which can boast a right for supremacy. However, trust-building between these networks, integrated by differing narratives, has become considerably complicated, because trust requires substantial similarities in worldviews. Moreover, no kind of trust can emerge if political elites incessantly manipulate an assortment of discourses and narratives, which are frequently mutually exclusive. In the past decade, the domestic and foreign policies of Middle Eastern leaders have offered excellent examples of this phenomenon. There have also been several instances and consequences in the post-Soviet space. Incidentally, it was the frequent elite and political orientation changes, as well as the detachment from social expectations that in the 19th century gave rise to the Sicilian mafia as an alternative form of social integration. Of course, we can observe mafia-style principles of organization in quite a few failed states.

REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
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The belief in the individual's rationality seems to have played Old Harry with mankind, as people tend to interpret reason to their own liking. However, it was inadmissible to qualify any kind of behavior as normal because the result would be an all-out war. Hence, the modern state had to devise the phenomenon of structural violence, which presents a method for isolating those whose behavior was deemed deviant. Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben used to write a lot about such practices applied in the cases of insanity, psychiatry, incarceration, detainment, etc. Essentially, the modern and post-modern states appear to have handled the problem in principle, with structural violence plentiful in our civilized society.

At the same time, the state has failed to tackle another major problem, i.e. the problem of integrating those who refrain from breaching the norms but mistrust both the state and other members of their society. But a human is a social animal and cannot survive on his or her own. Hence, the trust-building process is moving ahead on the grounds (narratives, images and meanings) that lie beyond the state control. Consequently, social integration is returning to its basics specific for the pre-modern society. And these are irrational religious conceptions, fears, physical strength, sexuality control, distinct symbolism in the friend-or-foe designation, etc. These grounds are fundamentally more potent because they are much older, irrational and based on the deep-lying roots of human behavior. If such a community becomes integrated, the violation of the order by destroying the civilized world and proclaiming one's own right for a place in the sun can easily offer a holy cause. In fact, this is happening to the Muslims who live in Europe with EU passports but then surprise their co-residents by blowing up arenas and airports.

What we see today in the Middle East is a manifestation of the limited rationality, i.e. the rebirth of pre-modernism and deep-rooted principles of social integration. The Islamic State’s ideology rests on a request for profound social integration, distinct rules of the game and an unambiguous narrative. At the same time, it appears to reflect the need for stringent guidelines, as well as strict criteria for black and white, friend and foe, and the righteous and unrighteous. To this end, we are definitely facing a challenge to postmodernism.

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The limitations of rationalism and the need for deep social integration are plainly visible in internal organization of the Islamic State which is making mincemeat of the individual's private world, since the violation of the strict code of behavior is punishable by assorted torture and even public execution. We have already observed this approach in different historical periods; suffice it to recall the organizational principles like the genuine Arian criteria under fascism and codes of honor of the Sicilian mafia, plus the penalties for breaking the rules. The civilized world seems flabbergasted by the readiness of these communities to observe the norms and codes which bring about the absolute rejection of privacy. this it happens due to the existence of the worldview and the narrative, which refer to the deep-set basics of social integration and thus build trust inside the community. To this extent, the pre-modern narrative is much more efficient than the multiple narratives of postmodernism that have effectively failed to preserve societal trust.

Besides, history has played yet another nasty trick by providing postmodernism and the technology era with numerous ways for self-expression and the dissemination of the narrative. Hence, the pre-modern substance of the Islamic State is spreading though totally postmodern channels, allowing public executions to be displayed via the Internet rather than in crowded squares.

What to Do

As of today, the civilized world seems to be fully deprived of countermeasures. We respond to this stringent hierarchy and deep ontological integration by confusion, ab inability to join forces, and the absence of an alternative project for social integration. And the most spectacular proof appears to lie in the decades-long inability of the West to handle the migration problem. The civilized world cannot offer a new religion, which would provide society with the degree of social integration it craves after being a social and not quite rational creature. Moreover, the liberal society of today seems unprepared even to discuss the matter and is staunchly defending and cultivating individualism, secularity, rationalism and multiple narratives.

With basics as feeble as that, the choice for pining hopes seems unfortunately limited to predominant military, financial and technological assets.

1. Sergeyev V.M., Alekseyenkova E.S., Rushing toward the Middle Ages // The World Keyed up: the Spring is Releasing. – Moscow, E-Publishers, 2015. – (Valdai Club: Discussing the Global Order). - Pp.44-59.- ISBN: 978-5-699-84382-4.

2. K. Lorentz, On Aggression, 2001. St. Petersburg.

3. Alekseyenkova E.S., On the Cognitive Nature of Power or How Power and Democracy are Related / Alekseyenkova E.S. // Politia - 2007. - № 4(43). - Pp. 6-21.

4. Alekseynkova E.S., The State and Alternative Forms of Social Integration: Structural Violence against Omerta/ Alekseynkova E.S. // Politia - 2009. - № 1(52). - Pp. 22-44.

5. M. Foucault M., Abnormal. St. Petersburg; Agamben G. 1998. Homo sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford.

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