There is always something rather complicated going on when we talk of living fossils: There are no such thing - merely successful species. The line is surely all the open to abuse when it is applied humanity. That is when (traditionally) almost 7/8 of humanity where thought to be lesser developed or some how back in the darkages (with guns). It was so convenient for the west to believe this myth - for it meant we could strip the countries of their resources, cobble together unlikely boarders, support nasty regimes, safe in the knowledge that we were not rapping the land mass, merely helping other nations in someway or other develope.
But of course our tender conscious never really were happy with this- we did so want to be being good as well. and even more to be seen to be good. A desire that grow ,ore stark after the cold war ended. In a new world order we thought we as the winners ought t share in the political fruits of our victory- a victory we chose to understand in terms of political triumph and ideology (and not economics (it was both). The lesson then we took for the world was that it wanted, as Eastern Europe yearned for true democracy: Democracy an the ill defined idea of freedom that went with it, became the second position in the exploit versus develop rule book.
We aid - we make you western by, the argument went, giving what you really want- political freedom. no matter then that democracy makes you weak and corrupt and so open to big business to come in and exploit (yours or ours no matter then that crushing need and political freedom are odd bed fellows, and that traditionally democracy is the affitation of the wealthy. It is what all other nations want, we claim, what they really want (alongside some food, and so it is what we will give them.
At which point of course our bluff was called:that other model- the one based on material prosperity but no real political freedom, the model of Singapore and then China, and to a degree Russia has offered the opposite pole- a pole that is ripping through Africa,giving real progress, and being adapted in different ways (more democratic) in India and South America. the tendency of third world countries to have the party linked to a freedom struggle as the dominant one, becomes then itself a strength, as this party can get organized - get plugged in to this global growth machine, and do so in spite of the west.
nor should this move really surprise us very much. It has been an old old argument in philosophy that small scale local freedoms to consume what and when one liked) are always likely to be more powerful that large scale abstract freedoms. What is shocking was that the west thought this had changed. or perhaps merely that it thought it could palm the rest of with abstract (cheap) freedoms and deny the rest actually material change (which costs).
A world then emerges that is multi polar where one cannot say the west or even the Western political system is best. a world where wealth might well pull anywhere and everywhere: Th west has discovered it was no parent merely a spoilt eldest child.
The trouble then is always how on earth to we think of the existence of this multi polar many voiced worlds. the problem here is complicated: Just as the world has become more 'global' it has become also and even more strongly more regional, more multi voice with many economically powerful areas wanting to make their mark. The old tradition one world language of freedom and peace look utterly lost. The trouble is the newer languages of global warming or else global responsibility or a war of terrorism have not really caught on. They all stress when all is said and done the global over the local, and yet it is the local (in these sense of the regions growing strongly for the first time) that matters in this world of ours- that is where the voted are : New fridges and sewers matter more to those who have never had them, than abstract arguments about global warming that appear to the poor to be yet another reason to avoid development.
At which point as capitalism like nature abhors a vacuum that other periennal explication of capitalism seeping into the void. The one that immediately argues that this is it - the west is declining its time is over this is China's world after all - an argument we immediate and quaintly) root in history - China is merely reasserting its historical rights we claim - it has always been so and now will always be so. we there by tea up in an act of maginmous deniaist folly all the last five hundered years of history, that has changed rather a few things, asa mere blip. And argument that is almost beyond parody.
and yet there is a point to it that is right. it is in the past that we find those other worlds where the West is not King. it is to the past that we are likely to go in the near future then to try to understand a multi-pole world- the past that will provide the alternative to the West is doomed creed. And yet this move is problematic- the past comes loaded with excess simplicity- simplicity that might actually reflect badly on modernity ad make it looks worse than it is, in terms of both political and production. We might then very easily learnt o despise that which has made us powerful (and how given others power)- a heroic but pointless denial.
The trouble of course is that ironically we might not have that much time to get his right. Science os not a simple global language - and the failure of ecology to carry the day and become the global rubric for understanding development and what must be done), does not mean the science is wrong. It makes sense after all if the world really is not able to support everyone being as the West was (and is). The world might be finite to (well it is it is - the question of how close to that barrier we are). If we are very close then our options are tied - for non western regions are of course clearly. Their development matters too much for them, and our science sounds like yet another excuse for not allowing them to be rich - meaning that we the West really believes in global warming ti will have pay and pay through then those; which is of course strictly speaking fair - we made the mess so... that problem is then that it plays to the weakness of Western democracy (the hilarity of every one else) we cannot sell such osterity to a people- who apparently only accept economically created hardship and not politically created ones. We have then in the west to somehow tie our lack of development or allowing others to develope while working out and taking the hit for green policies, in an economic framework (so that we can politically accept it). A move that sounds rather complex- and yet in this global recession, with spiralling oil prices and finicial chaos, might just what is happening (if we are lucky.- but then I was always an optimist)