Still on the topic of the imminent collapse of the existing world order. Perhaps I’m totally wrong about it and there will be no crash but two things are indisputable – there will be a crisis of some sorts, they always happen, and the current world order is unsustainable. It might just take a lot longer for it to be replaced by something else. In that case the change will be slow and evolutionary, which is probably the best outcome for ordinary people.
Let’s recap. 2008 crisis exposed flaws in US financial system but affected the rest of the world just as hard. Practically every country realized the need to be protected from external shocks like that. China and the rest of Asia diversified their trade and sought new partners all over the world to diminish their dependence on the US. Financially, countries diversified their portfolios from holding solely dollar denominated assets to currency baskets.
It was all half measures so far and there’s still no alternative to dollar based financial system. Only in the past couple of years alternative institutions started to materialize but they haven’t brought any benefits yet. That new Chinese initiative, AIIB bank, is about to sign up Germany, France, and Italy, in addition to the UK. Australia will also likely to jump aboard. No actual projects have been financed, however, and I have no idea when the bank will start lending.
So, what happened after 2008 was that US has lost moral right to lead the financial world but the physical instruments are still in American hands. Next crisis will probably take this de-facto leadership out of American hands for good. It will be extremely painful for everybody because of everybody’s exposure to dollar – every country’s paper wealth is going to be wiped out – and so this might be the reason even Russia and China would rather see a gradual transition and would try to avert a crisis as much as possible.
The inescapable reality, however, is that unipolar world is going to be the thing of the past regardless. The US simply doesn’t have political, economical and even military leverage to run the entire world. All their democratization projects for the past twenty years failed miserably, their military couldn’t solve any problems, except overthrowing regimes, which created even more chaos.
No one wants to get in their sights but seeing how the US is unable and unwilling to fight and win its wars anymore it’s only a matter of time before countries will start to assert their independence.
Same thing will happen with the US financial grip – seeing how they are unwilling to put money where their mouth is countries will simply defy the US and do their own thing. I mean that war in Syria is sponsored by Arabs, not Americans. Egypt is propped by Arabs, not Americans, and Ukraine, the country that placed all its faith in democracy and Western protection, is not getting any financial help, none whatsoever, only IMF loans that are used to pay off debts to Russia.
Okay then, what does it mean for us, for ISKCON? How will this transition to multi-polar world affect us and our mission?
The bad news first – we ARE the American project. If America goes down so will our credibility. In 1960s Śrīla Prabhupāda wisely observed that if one wants to influence the whole world he should start with winning over America, not Britain. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī was sending preachers to the UK and Europe but after WWII it became clear who the world leader was, and it wasn’t the Old Continent.
It worked like magic. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s American disciples quickly took over the world, in just ten years they established ISKCON centers in all major countries on all continents. Sure, Prabhupāda had disciples from other countries, too, but they all came from American vassal states, vassal societies that bought American values wholesale – democracy, capitalism, culture, jeans, everything.
I mean, by all accounts, Prabhupāda had mostly western disciples and in this context there’s little difference between western and American values.
No wonder ISKCON didn’t get a lot of traction outside the western world. We didn’t impress anyone in Russia, Kṛṣṇa consciousness being presented by Americans didn’t help a lot. There was some initial success in Iran but at that time Iran was run by a pro-American shah, I don’t think we survived Iranian revolution there in any shape or form. India deserves a special mention here but probably not now.
Of course we later had an explosion in former Soviet Union but we should also remember that it was a personal plea by Nancy Reagan that put a stop to prosecution of Hare Kṛṣṇas. The campaign to release them from jails was also run by western playbook, with protests outside the embassies and writing notes and letters.
It’s also worth noting that Moscow, by far the biggest ISKCON center there, still doesn’t own a temple, devotees are simply not allowed to. In the entire Russia there’s only one Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa temple somewhere in Siberia, and we all remember Church’s attempt to ban Bhagavad Gītā as extremist literature. We are not loved there by powers that be even if no one sees devotees as CIA agents anymore.
ISKCON has changed since 70s, Americans and other westerners are probably a minority now even though they still control the GBC. There are signs of cultural divide between them and devotees who come from more traditional backgrounds, or who want to return to traditional culture. The entire female dīkṣā guru issue is the most glaring example.
All this women equality is such a western idea and so it faces strong resistance everywhere outside western circles. Indians will have none of it and so there are rumors that GBC is prepared to have separate female dīkṣā guru rules for countries that are “prepared” for this equality and countries that aren’t. I used “prepared” in quotes because there’s an implication that equality is a natural evolution of society and Indians and other traditionalists are simply backward people that will eventually come around.
To be honest, there’s nothing good coming out of America these days. They gave us fascination with māyāvadī kīrtanīyās, they gave us temples that will not admit association with Śrīla Prabhupāda, they made ISKCON temples into Hindu affairs with demigod worship and weddings for non-devotees. They also make a bulk of ISKCON critics, which is not surprising given that it’s the America that saw a massive exodus of devotees in the 80s.
So, what do we do now? The cultural wave that carried Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciples is not there anymore, the devotees who were carried on that wave are not with us, what should be the soul of our movement then?
We can say that ISKCON is transcendental and so we don’t need to attach ourselves to any particular ideas, be it democracy or equality, but I think we would be lying to themselves. As a preaching movement we need to speak the language of the people outside and we need to present values that are appreciated by general population. Some of our old ones are not so valuable anymore and we might need to start looking for replacements.
To put it simply – we can’t be seen as too American in neither Russia nor China, nor any other country that is outside of American sphere of influence.
Anyway, I think I’ve said enough for today, seeking our soul, in a material sense of the world, is beyond me at the moment, will continue tomorrow.