The Financial Express


Johann Galtung—the Pied Piper of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

| Updated: October 25, 2017 00:15:38

Johann Galtung—the Pied Piper of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Johann Galtung of Norway is not a household name, certainly not outside academia and specific peace groups. Even if he was selected as the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize-winner, many would still be asking Johann who? Given the excoriation of Aung San Suu Kyi's Nobel Peace prize in the last Scopus piece (September 26), Galtung's name should stand out as a more credible laureate: clearly his four-decades of work and more led many top-notch academics to nominate and support his candidacy, presenting him as the founder of the entire peace movement. Many of his articles indicate why and elaborate his multiple theses over the multiple avenues to peace.

Many have discussed at length how more than a handful of his predictions and prognostications have come true, from such cataclysmic events as 9/11 to others still unfolding, such as the inevitable shift of the United States towards a fascist society (as some suggest is happening with Donald J. Trump's accession to the US presidency role), and with it, the irreversible shift of the United States away from the world leadership mantle.

Fascinating readings though they may be, this article is not at all about any of the above. It is about his forecasting of a less well-known dimension of developments: the unfolding Fourth Industrial Revolution, with Johann Galtung as its unbeknownst Pied Piper.

As we are all familiar with by now, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is all about artificial intelligence (AI), a topic so concurrently relevant that the peak global association of businessmen dedicated their 2016 Davos annual gathering to this very subject. I am not sure if Galtung has ever included the 'fourth industrial revolution' concept in any of his writings, but in a penetrating 1971 piece, entitled "Structural theory of imperialism," he unwittingly paved a pathway that unregulated AI implementation may already be treading.

To be sure, his structural theory broke imperialism down into various approximate chronological stages: military, political, cultural, economic, and communications. It is this last stage that is being put under the microscope here. Just to dispense of the others (to make the 'story' fuller), and as we know from either first-hand experiences or historical accounts (or even both together), given our British Empire backdrop, imperialism in the modern era begins by planting the flag, typically by fighting natives (military), followed by the stationing of defenders and administrators (political), before extraction begins (economic), all of which also engage cultural control efforts, from language-substitution and obeying that flag (and all it stands for), to all forms of communications, consolidation, and conversions.

These phases acquire meaning within the framework he postulated. It broke society into a 'core' and a 'periphery', and every society into a 'Core' and 'Periphery' (capitalised first-letter for the country, smaller first letter for the class within the society). His imperialism began when the centre group in the Centre country (cC: the East India Company of England, in our case) establishes a working relationship with the centre group in the Peripheral society (cP: let's say the Mughal Emperor in India, or any of his lieutenants, like nawabs). History books narrate how the border outposts (say, ports), eventually led Robert Clive to defeat Nawab Serajuddowla at Plassey in 1757, then, after withstanding the Sepoy Mutiny a century later, shifted the Viceroy and Governor General headquarters to New Delhi in 1911).

Centre-peripheral relationships are among the simplest to explain: they resemble and sustain the lord-peasant (nawab-farmers), man-servant (sahib-chakor, or patron-chaprasi) format familiar to all, and fairly understandable under military (victor-vanquished), political (winner-loser), economic (manager-workers), and cultural (values of Party A being imposed over those of Party B).

Communications represent the details that make it the devil. Imperialism here boils down to controlling information: some get it (the center of the Periphery from the center of the Centre country), others do not (the periphery of the Periphery from either the centre or the periphery of the Centre society). We may all be familiar with information manipulation: who or what company owns any specific medium, for example, CNN, guides us into hearing what that medium says; and with our own built-in blinders, we reinterpret what is being said in our own way before we accept or reject it. If we accept it, we slowly become servants to that medium, whatever it may be

This is the underlying AI dynamic: just as robots reproduce and replicate certain specific functions (let us say, mass production without a holiday or any break), for mass consumption, modifying the genes also help weed out the deformed or under-capacity genes so that only the healthy and advanced genes operate. In the process, Charles Darwin's key thesis is both vindicated and catapulted to the highest level: the fittest will survive not only in physical terms, but also socially (build a 'pure' race), culturally (let the weaker languages, for example, disappear, not by suppression, but by attrition), and in terms of communications (the teacher deciding what to teach and who to direct the teaching to).

These are inevitable Fourth Industrial Revolution outcomes, which we can already note taking shape slowly but profoundly before our very eyes (for example, the neo-liberal economic approach; democracy, in which equality means the fittest will remain the fittest-no evenness of society expected). Galtung did not say it in so many words, but it is evident: communications will be the final form of imperialism (since it will transcend national boundaries, class divisions, ethnic demarcations, and intellectual propensities), ironically putting the oldest human inequality (physical/economic/cultural) in new and better clothes. There is more to it: political imperialism must work against finite territory, economic imperialism with finite resources, social imperialism within social limits, for example, of the number of languages available for conquest, and culturally similarly with the available traits than can be counted, specified, and conquered. It is only with communications imperialism that we confront infinity: it will go on forever, even if with bumps, since we are always teaching/learning and wanting new information; and ultimately it leaves us more defenseless than with any other type of imperialism.

No matter how 'civilised' humans become, Thomas Hobbes may have hit their underlying logic more pointedly than others: we not only live in anarchy, but that it is also perpetual.

Dr. Imtiaz A. Hussain is Professor & Head of the newly-built Department of Global Studies & Governance at Independent University, Bangladesh.

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