I’m going to tell you what no one is saying out loud. In a world with Covid, rising nationalism, and war, society will not sustain progressive idealism for long. Many of the most popular digital age beliefs will become irrelevant in a world where basic needs are no longer certain. And this simple truth will impact how the world will develop deeper into the digital age.
Put another way, the war in Ukraine and the economic fallout that follows will pressure society to set aside many “developed” world beliefs. These “luxury beliefs” are a form of higher-order motivations, the things we prioritize, value, and advocate for in a world of abundance. The things we believe in when we don’t worry about things like food insecurity.
In the short term, we can expect a reorganization of priorities and a breakdown of the values that many people believe civilized society should have.
These new priorities will set a new foundation for the next phase of the digital age. A time when society emphasizes local community priorities above all others while maintaining connections to the global order through digital technology.
In the long run, if our collective course doesn’t change, the world is will steadily towards totalitarianism.
A totalitarianism born from fear of the breakdown of modern society. We’re entering the beginning of a new version of globalism and a multipolar world order. Here’s how and why this will come to pass.
War & Covid Breakdown Our Integrated Society
War and Covid work in tandem to break down the connections of our developed and abundant society.
Lockdowns, fear of viral contagion, destruction of property, loss of life at the hands of violence, and supply chain disruptions all impact “normal life”. It affects how goods, services, and people move around the world. The point is that these macro problems don’t exist as separate problems. They combine and act as force multipliers on one another. And as they combine, they lead to a shift in society’s priorities from global integration to localized and xenophobic.
As a result of these “events”, the world is suffering rapid price shocks and shortages. And for the first time in years, there are many people in the developed world that must now worry about safety, food security, and whether or not their financial position is as secure as they once thought it to be.
This reality changes how people view the world.
In short, war on any sizeable scale forces a quick remapping of human motivations and incentives. Our morals adapt to the times we live in, and our higher-order beliefs take a back seat to necessity. Our perception of what we want becomes less important than what we need.
With heightened fear of war, of viral contagion, of energy and food shortages, the desires of society change.
Look To Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs To Understand Why & How Motivations Change
Think of modern progressivism and digital age beliefs as societies higher order motivations. These are the motivating factors at the top levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Our higher order motivations are the things we want out of life. Love, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Our motivations of necessity are the things we need like basic physiological needs and safety.
We can focus on higher-order motivations when our basic needs are met. But when war, viral contagion, and food insecurity challenge our lower-order needs, we then shift our focus back to our baseline needs.
These higher levels are literally luxury beliefs.They require an abundant and prosperous world.
Luxury Beliefs Are Incompatible With a Scarce World
Most progressive beliefs are incompatible with wartime life.
Because the combination of a pandemic, supply chain issues, and war harms the stability of our lower-order needs. Food, safety, shelter, etc. And most people, therefore, are unable to worry about higher-order motivations.
Who really cares about the environment when you’re under rocket attack or in the process of starving? Most people would rather burn all the world’s coal if it meant they’ll be able to afford heat in winter. Global warming is just one of many examples, but if you stop to think about other modern belief systems, how many would hold up in times of war and famine?
The answer to that question is telling.
It reveals an important truth about the digital age. Progressive ideology, digital age beliefs, and higher-order motivations only work in a highly developed and relatively stable society. Most of our modern wants require a highly integrated and “developed” society to ensure all lower-order needs are met. And when stable society becomes unstable, the ideological underpinnings of progressivism fail.
The bottom line and the lesson we learned countless times over the Covid Pandemic: most people willingly sacrifice freedoms and morals to address their fears. They yield power to governments and support government mandates to do whatever is necessary to ensure our baseline needs are secure.
Remember Covid led to lockdowns, mandates, and firings for people that did not comply. It led to Canadian asset seizure, jailing, and travel restrictions. Apply Maslow’s Pyramid to these events and you’ll understand more about why people willingly gave up civil liberties. (Civil liberties are a higher order motivation)
Take this truth and view it from a lens of globalization. When nations of abundance try to interact with nations that lack abundance. Their motivations are often incompatible.
How Russian Sanctions Will Reorient Global Morals & Beliefs
Think about this compression of the hierarchy of needs in the context of Russia’s invasion and subsequent sanctions. Ie: the massive sanctions designed to harm the entirety of the Russian population.
This economic warfare acts as a crushing pressure on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for the Russian people. Sanctions designed to restrict Russia from global supply chains, harm them economically, and ultimately through this pressure, convince them to end the invasion of Ukraine.
But this strategy completely ignores the realities of Maslow’s Hiearchy of Needs.
If the Russian people are starving or basically financially insolvent, they will adapt their morals to suit their immediate needs. Ie: sanctions will likely remap the average Russian citizens belief systems. They’ll rationalize that the world is taking away the financial security of millions of Russian people. This will likely radicalize them against the world that has harmed them as opposed to Putin. It may even convince them to work with Putin in exchange for basic rents. (Payments in food, shelter, security)
And this is the reality of how most totalitarian regimes form.
A government in power is able to coerce populations via severe restrictions, censorship, but also cultivating loyalty by exploiting rent seeking behaviors.
The sanctions on Russia will radicalize many Russian people and create a totalitarian force within the country. Russian people will start to wonder, “why am I being punished for Putin’s actions? I don’t deserve this.”
They’ll have few options but to rally together behind the current regime and fight back against the west. (Rebellion is an option as well but I believe it’s less likely than most people think. A lesson from Covid and history is that people look to authority to provide answers before they look to overthrow it).
This is a similar scenario to how the German people rallied against WWI war reparations. People are more likely to submit to a totalitarian rule when it ensures their needs are met. They’ll rationalize a new set of morals to fulfill their baseline needs.
And that is a general truth.
If society’s lower order needs are not met, we become willing to sacrifice our higher-order beliefs in exchange for security. This means a willingness to tolerate totalitarian rule.
But here is the kicker. What no one is actually saying out loud.
The Russian sanctions will also impact the rest of the world. Breaking down global supply chains and causing overall price increases for the transport of basic goods. It also means rising fuel and commodities costs will create global stagflation and famine. Crushing the world’s higher-order motivations and rewriting our morals in pursuit of basic security.
How many people will feel the pain of food insecurity and ask to give up power and influence to their government with a mandate of doing whatever it takes to make this problem go away? People will demand their governments do something to address the high prices and lack of food. That eventually means a new type of capital control. Food controls. Whereby it becomes a crime to export food materials. And when society sacrifices civil liberties and other progressive beliefs in exchange for basic security, we find ourselves on a path towards a more totalitarian world.
Thus, reinforcing trends of rising nationalism, global disunity, and a push towards totalitarianism around the world.
What About A Peace Deal?
Ok, but what about when they strike a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine?
The die is already cast.
Can you imagine the world governments and businesses wanting to engage in business with the Putin regime moving forward? Will we all just magically forget what has taken place in Ukraine? What happens when the “breadbasket” of Europe misses the planting season?
More importantly, can the financial damage of sanctions be unwound quickly? And will nation-states decide to revert to the old ways or continue to insulate themselves from the weaponization of the financial system? Will the penalties placed on Russia’s central bank force nations to make significant changes to shield themselves from similar financial warfare in the future?
The point here is that unless Putin and his government are completely removed from power, it is unlikely that the world will “go back to normal”. Even then, it seems as though the consequences of this war piled on top of the consequences of Covid will have permanent ramifications.
Weaponization of a globally integrated economy incentivizes disintegration of the system.
If the sanctions remain in place and war continues for long, the global economy will suffer. Pulling out major food supplies from the global economy and driving up fuel costs.
And so, the die is cast. Every day that goes by makes it harder to walk back what is already underway.
The questions that remain: How long will this all take to develop? How many weeks of sanctions before we breach the point of no return? And when do the totalitarian measures start to emerge in earnest?
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