On Curves, Their Interrelations, and History

EDITORIAL, 6 Jan 2020

#620 | Johan Galtung – TRANSCEND Media Service

This essay is focused on concrete curves, and on concrete actors like USA, EU, Russia, China. And on interrelations of several curves.

What comes first matters.  Example: cultural or economic power. If cultural power comes first, economic power is seen as springing–like a spring–from culture.  If economic comes first, cultural power may be seen as legitimizing economic influence. Economic power tends to be seen as primordial in our present materialist culture.

Example of the former: Muslim power. Honest trade is a cultural trait; honesty, being scarce in high demand. Economic power accepted.

Example of the latter: Jewish power. Getting more money lending with interest not accepted, even with Judaism as world religion. Better use dialogue as culture for mutually acceptable economies.

A curve is emerging from low, high, or the middle; taking shape. Another curve is also shaping up, seen in the context of the first, giving rise to a third curve, their interrelation.  Malthus and Marx based their narratives on such interrelations. Generalization implies taking more curves and interrelations into account than they did.

Thus, look at the L-shaped decline and fall curves for the US empire and now also USA, getting the curves in the right time order:

  • USA no longer winning but losing wars; Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan;
  • US Allies fighting their own, not “US wars”; EU HQ up, NATO down;
  • USA from real low growth to finance speculation economy; with rising inequality, benefiting top 1 percent-mill, decline for the bottom 70%;
  • US$ yielding as world currency to Euro SFR Yuan Yen baskets; BRICS;
  • USA not consulted nor invited to major Western decision-making;
  • US UN power declining as UN power center moves from UNSC to UNGA;
  • US commitment to fight erratic climate–Harvey, Irma–declining;
  • US President Trump power declining, clinical autism? Amendment 25?

With military-economic-political world power in disarray, Trump was elected as Redeemer, to Make America Great Again. As president US economic-political power declined further; but keeping military options.

These options include a nuclear first strike on North Korea with the whole world as hostage; compatible with a president suffering from autism, living in his own closed bubble, low or no reciprocity.

Trump belongs in a psychiatric clinic, not in the White House.

Military decline came first. After 141 years consecutive victory from the War of Independence in 1812 to ending the Korean War 1950-53 with armistice and military defeat in Vietnam 1975, both in East Asia. Fighting winnable wars in Central-West Asia also proved unsuccessful.

The allies pulled out, not because of being anti-war but being anti-losing war, hoping for their own wars to be more successful.

Economic decline followed. Had it come first, we would probably have had even more military “surges” to recover “access to resources”.  The lost wars had been for US business to prevail, and very costly.  But economic decline was more due to other parts of the world knowing the trick: processing resources themselves, market manufactures, compete with USA and West in general.  Up came China, India; Chindia.

Political decline followed. US warfare no longer credible as political instrument, yet their dominant option made USA unacceptable. Allies developed their own policies: UK through Brexit-Commonwealth, France-Germany through EU without USA-UK but with a finance ministry.

Russia through Eurasia; since 1995 in SCO cooperation with China.

China through “win-Win” deals; with China, and between others.

Cultural decline did not follow. The US way of life–clothing, eating–dominates the world. Of the four types of power the strongest.  US wisely focuses on body culture, sports, and on mind culture, arts. The main windows to the world, CNN and NYT, are overflowing with both.

A cover for Script-driven military-economic-political recovery?

Maybe, watch out. The deep culture DMA Script is still there, and USA does not know how to handle it; not even being aware.  Hence “deep”.

Others stepped into the gaps left open by decline-and-fall USA.

Like USA stepped into gaps left by Spain. Both killed their own: English Americans killed English from London; Spanish Latin Americans killed Spanish from Madrid.  Not strange that the expression “civil war” brings to mind particularly USA, 1861-65, and Spain, 1936-39.

In the wake of the Spanish empire came military coups: 1898 Primo de Rivera, his son José Antonio without power, 1936 Francisco Franco. Those fascisms, with a Second Republic interlude, lasted 70 years.

So also for the US empire?  From “post-democracy” to dictatorship “to restore law and order”?  Anti-Semitic, both as overtly anti-Muslim and as covertly anti-Jewish–“Who brought us into all these problems?”

That is consistent with the DMA script underlying US politics: Dualism-Manichaeism-Armageddon.  A strong script for non-change.

Which may imply Trump invading Afghanistan again; USA not winning but being defeated like in Vietnam 1975; US hyper-inflation ruling out US$ as world currency; others not only deciding without USA but even taking revenge, so far only 9/11 2001; USA inundated; Trump killed.

What might be rational, self-denying, uphill, US politics?

  • USA losing wars: No more wars Solving conflicts   Also with IS;
  • Allies fighting their own wars: Advise allies to stop belligerence;
  • US economy down: No speculation Investment Equity Basic Human Needs;
  • US$ not world currency: Stop printing Reduce M2  Go for baskets;
  • USA not consulted: Join the world coming up with peaceful solutions;
  • USA in UN: Join others in non-belligerent UNGA solutions, less UNSC;
  • Climate: Better than Germany-China on greening Basic Nature Needs;
  • A clinically “unleveled” president: A quick Amendment 25 process.

All feasible; but not with Pentagon-Wall Street in command.

It is easy to say that Trump should not have been elected-he was. There is cognitive dissonance between democracy as FAFE–fair and free elections–FAFE making Trump US President, and Trump being a dictator. FAFE as pillar in US democracy, and Trump FAFE as president, lead to another dissonance: did USA elect an “unleveled” president? If yes, what does that say about US voters? If no, when did “unlevel” happen?

Tricky problems for an Amendment 25 processes.  Will take time. Or, better, go ahead, get Trump where he belongs and prepare for pence.

After US decline, and EU back to normal, we turn to Russia, the largest state bordering on the Pacific and now navigable Arctic ocean, with even more unlimited resources as climate change opens the North. From permafrost to permaculture, making the tundra blossom? Who knows?

Unmistakably European. Focused on individualism, on the duty and right to be different. Maybe more solidary,  more direct “mutual aid”? Kropotkin was Russian.  Darwin, “struggle for survival”, was English.

When flaws are not criticized, it is not necessarily because of no freedom of speech; could also be out of solidarity with “us”.

Russia defines itself as European. Russia is not defined relative to USA, except as one of the Cold War “superpowers”, neither as anti-nor as pro-American; as European, different from not American.

Often heard in Russia are comments like “if you have seen one US town, you have seem them all”, “if you have talked with one American you know them all”.  US identity is seen as based on being identical.

But the two had imperialism in common, a basic US theme above?

Yes and no. There was a “decline and fall” of a Soviet Empire with Moscow as Center and the other Soviet republics, Eastern Europe, Cuba, Mongolia as Periphery. But what happened 1989-1991 looked more like an event than a process, like giving up, not even supporting Periphery elites fighting revolts like USA in Latin America.

West justified conquest-colonization-imperialism with West-white-male superiority–+3 on an index from 0 to 3, have at least +2– reaping non-Western, non-white or female opposition–0, or +1.

Spear-headed by a Western-white-male: Fidel Castro, +3.

Soviet ideology, Marxism-Leninism, was the opposite. “You now do in Czechoslovakia what USA did in Santo Domingo” fell on fertile soil.  USSR had been fighting Western imperialism in Africa, and won in 1960. They then tried, in vain, to make former colonies communist. And after not winning wars in Armenia and Latvia, the USSR empire collapsed.

History will credit Soviet Union (and Japan) for decolonization, also their own, and debit West for most of colonization-imperialism.

The West imposed another dichotomy to overshadow that: the West is democratic, the Soviet Union and communism autocratic, dictatorial. But the Soviet Empire collapsed almost without bloodshed; the US not.

And, of what use was that “democracy”?  Not only compatible with colonialism and imperialism, but their parliaments even endorsed them as if peoples and the lands of other peoples were things.  Democracy?

J-curves were operating, but above all USSR m-l ideology, unlike the US Script in the open, to be drawn upon, easily referred to. Russia dissolved most of the empire; USA still not in Latin America.

Which indeed does not mean that Russia has no serious problems. The Chinese put it brutally: a nation of lazy drunkards. The Chinese had been briefly poisoned by opium, but Russians by vodka since 1400.  Opium was imposed by the UK to benefit colonial Bengal; the vodka was home burnt, beyond the official 40% alcohol to 60%, 80%, pure poison. To be drunk from early morning on, not only for lunch or for supper.

Six centuries vodka is a devastating constant to handle. But how?

Gorbachev’s effort to substitute wine did not work. Nordic labor movements became tee-totallers to beat alcoholism as part of class in general from keeping them down. The road to welfare knew no alcohol.

But most serious is the Russia-West relation.  West was a model for the zapadniki West-oriented opposed to narodniki pride in Russia. But the love for West was unrequited. West loved Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Gogol, Gorki, Pasternak, Pushkin, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Tchaikovsky but not the society that produced them, favoring a Russia they can hate.

Problems with Turkey?  Long time ago, now an anti-Western Russia-Turkey friendship seems to emerge.  Another J-curve to watch.

Problems with China?  “Unequal Treaties”, but even if border revisions have been minor, very many Chinese now live in those areas.

The bad relation West-Russia dates back to the 395 division of the Roman Empire in West-Catholic and East Orthodox; confirmed in 1054 with Pope and Patriarch excommunicating each other. Healed by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in 2017 declaring them One Church; thereby excluding Protestant, evangelical, Christianity.  Deliberate?

No doubt who invaded whom: West–>East. The Teutonic Knights–a Catholic Christian German Order from 1190 dissolved by Napoleon 1809–protected Holy Land Pilgrims and spread Catholic Christianity eastward and northward to Balticum. Turning southward they played major roles in “The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation”.

And Napoleon invaded Russia 1812.  And Hitler in 1941.

East–>West?  No 9/11 revenge.  Only brief occupation of Paris after Napoleon; joint occupation of Nazi Germany-Austria after Hitler.

Something else happened. No invasion but ideology from East: the adaption of Marx-Engels by Lenin-Stalin to Bolshevik communism. With five years plans meeting basic needs of workers when Western capitalism was in deep crisis after the 1929 stock exchange crash.

The West answered by finding something else to black paint USSR: the “Moscow Processes”. Again with a nucleus of truth, exaggerated.  For revisionist historians to sort out.

How can Russia love a Western Europe, having been attacked so brutally from there by Napoleon and Hitler?    Cognitive dissonance: we love West, Napoleon and Hitler are West, we hate Napoleon-Hitler!

Solution: see Napoleon and Hitler as also rejected by West (like by Lionel Jospin, Le Mal Napoléonien, 2014).  Or focus on who won, not on who attacked. Or, perversely: it was an honor to be attacked.

Putin’s 2010 Munich speech against the US empire was a watershed, taking the USA–treating Russia as defeated–by surprise. The ideology is compatible with Orthodoxy, maybe milder but it is all inside Putin.

So the West hates him. And constructs a Russia with one inhabitant.

On to China, to yin/yang as variations on dynamic both-and:

Both growth with soaring inequality and lifting the bottom up;

Both capitalism and socialism as “capi-socialism”;

Both elections with six parties and dictatorship by the CPC;

Both CPC Communist Party of China rule and by other bodies;

Both CPC elite rule and dialogue in CPC with 87 million members;

Both dictatorship and 2,500 years functioning petition democracy;

Both wars within Himalaya-Gobi-Tundra-Sea and not outside;

Both PLA defensive defense and super-modern offensive defense;

Both securing silk roads to the “stans” and silk lane to Africa;

Both road-rail-lane for import-export and inviting others to use;

Both getting resources in Africa-ELAC and teaching self-reliance;

Both making “win-win” deals and teaching others how to do it;

Both building new East-West links and North-South link to India.

For a Western mind too many deep cognitive dissonances. West then focuses on one “horn” of each dilemma as if the other did not exist.

And West constructs a China with growth, inequality, capitalism without freedom, CPC dictatorship, military aggression by capability; and ignores Chinese history before West intervened from 1500+, sees China as expanding militarily-economically-politically in Africa and now Latin America, disregarding SCO completely. Or is simply ignorant.

A caricature devoid of any understanding, impeding any learning.

That does not mean that China does not have problematic J-curves:

  • to handle all these both-and‘s may be more than even Chinese manage;
  • looming so high generates resistance from all who feel threatened;
  • change from export growth to domestic distribution generates debt;
  • debt may lead to finance speculation with devastating consequences;
  • an aging population may not balance consumption with production.

In the past China balanced 9 years growth-expansion with 9 years distribution-contraction.  We will probably see more of that dynamism.

Leaving USA-EU-Russia-China, moving to the other Octagon four: India, Islam, Latin America, Africa.  What curves are shaping them?

The Indian Union of states is now based on linguistic federalism (with the exception of Assam), and India practices the same in SAARC. Both can serve as models for such European countries as Spain, France and Russia, for Europe as a whole, and for China.  Ex Oriente Lux.

At the same time ever-increasing urbanization is blunting the caste system. But it is still very cruel against the lower castes, the pariahs, and women in the countryside, even as suttee (widow burning).

Long time ago the Parsees discovered the trick of processing and marketing themselves, not leaving it to USA, UK, the West in general.  India, with Gujarat as center, became a major factor i­­­n world trade.

But two steep and negative J-curves show no sign of abating: the long-lasting rise from Orissa to Kerala of the tribals, and the recent rise of the nannies, the numerous women servicing the homes of others. New Delhi has in vain tried bombs, drones, warfare against the former, instead of solving problems, and is at a loss against the latter. But  that steep curve puts India much forward in feminization of politics.

Then Islam, mobile, but first a note on intra-Octagon migration.

The West always moved, and moved others as slaves. Having moved too far, West is now trekking home. After Brexit whether to UK or EU27 is problematic for millions. Russians are moving West with oligarchs, Orthodox churches and clergy. Chinese are moving West for studies and to Far Est Russia to settle. Indians are also moving West, to UK, USA, and to a New York that may have become nirvana on earth (Ashis Nandi).

There are two immigration styles: stupid dogs eager to please new masters, and cunning cats with their “what is in it for me” postures. Maybe Westerners, US or EU, are more like cats and Russians more dogs? Chinese, as usual, both-and.  And the Indians more like dogs, knowing what they want (jobs, security, &c.), paying by adjusting and pleasing?

The J-curve for rising China is global, not domestic; eclipsing, but not migrating into West. The J-curves for Islam are also domestic, migrating into West. And like West is not only Christianity-secularism but a total socio-cultural formation, Islam is a total socio-cultural formation, not only a religion, a faith.

They do not immigrate to adapt to a new place like a good dog, nor only for their own benefit like a clever cat. They immigrate to reproduce themselves in another context, building their own reality. If anybody has to adjust, it is the context to them, not vice versa.

Thus, the major world J-curve now is the tension between Occident immigrants–Western or Islam–and their metastases in host societies. Even more so when they migrate into each other, like the West did by colonizing 56 of 57 Muslim countries.  Islam, more particularly IS, is in the process of undoing that colonialism.  And building their own?

None of this can be said about Latin America-Caribbean or Africa.  They certainly emigrate in large numbers, to USA and not only Mexicans even if via Mexico.  And to Europe, particularly to “mother countries” like England and France, to benefit from their “motherly love”.

Or to make it clear that West came to them uninvited; now it is our turn.  But we will respect, not change West, socially, culturally.

Most remain, trying to develop further what can be developed and create some unity among the “states” imposed upon them by Iberian and Anglo-French imperialism.  Very populous, with “younging” populations, very rich in resources; separated by mountain chains, but with enough unity for them to develop further.  The continents for the future; it is in their interest to build good Latin America-Africa relations.

And that concludes the Octagon 8.  There is more in the world. Like Japan, here seen like USA sees it, as occupied by USA 70+ years.  And Israel, here seen as a regional empire, now declining and falling.

But much of the world is included in this focus on the 8 big.

There is a conclusion.  Looking at these eight cases, the Octagon big powers, three clear common features seem to emerge as the themes for the 20th and 21st centuries, not quite concluded, but close:

  • First, all the curves point to bigger actors, big states, super-states, or regions; with speed of motion as the underlying factor.
  • Second, all the curves point to autonomy, having nobody on top, being their own masters; liberating, and being liberated from.
  • Third, all the curves point to consolidation, solidifying, whether centralized or decentralized as federations; hard or soft.

We have been through these three themes before. States were born that way, out of such smaller units as counties and duchies, run by counts and dukes.  And something similar before that.  And after that?

Nations share language, faith, myth and territorial attachment.  States packed contiguous nations together, more or less similar.

Civilizations have similar languages, faiths, myths, contiguous territorial attachments.  Regions accommodate civilizations.

In all of this history and geography play enormous roles.

History by giving testimony through curves of permanence to the sharedness and similarity of nations and civilizations.

Geography by giving testimony, beyond contiguity, to latitude similarity of climate and nature, not longitude, making East-West ties more solid, North-South ties more conquest-colonization-imperial.  Oceans divide and unify; mountains seem to divide more permanently, like the Andes, Rockies, Pyrenees, Alps, Carpaths, Atlas, Himalayas.

Nothing new under the sun, those three being the same old story?

Yes, but next time we do it will be the last. The super-region is the world, and the super-civilization a humanity not yet well defined.  There seem to be no super-worlds, autonomous or not, to consolidate.

Let history rest.  A multi-polar world of regions with dialogues of civilizations.  It is not a bad world.  It happens to be ours.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of TRANSCEND International and rector of TRANSCEND Peace University. He was awarded among others the 1987 Right Livelihood Award, known as the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize. Galtung has mediated in over 150 conflicts in more than 150 countries, and written more than 170 books on peace and related issues, 96 as the sole author. More than 40 have been translated to other languages, including 50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives published by TRANSCEND University Press. His book, Transcend and Transform, was translated to 25 languages. He has published more than 1700 articles and book chapters and over 500 Editorials for TRANSCEND Media Service. More information about Prof. Galtung and all of his publications can be found at transcend.org/galtung.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 6 Jan 2020.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: On Curves, Their Interrelations, and History, is included. Thank you.

If you enjoyed this article, please donate to TMS to join the growing list of TMS Supporters.

Share this article:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

3 Responses to “On Curves, Their Interrelations, and History”

  1. Dear Johan,

    Happy New Year !!!

    Thank you for your interesting and elaborate article. I need to ask you a few questions.

    1) why is money lending with interest not acceptable to you?
    2) why don’t you also mention Christians, who are also expert money lenders?
    3) do you know how Jews were forced into money-lending? do you know the origin of the word ‘bankrupt’?
    4) why are prisons in the Muslim world full of dishonest and corrupt people, if Muslim trading is honest?
    5) do you know why Muslim leaders are so rich and how they increase their wealth?
    6) do you think that making a living as a money-lender or pawnbroker is more dishonest and immoral than
    demanding bribes?
    7) not a question, but a comment: you say “USA losing wars”, but wars are a Game, you sometimes win them,
    sometimes lose them. The only constant winners, even if a country has lost more fighters or civilians in the
    battle, are military manufacturers and traders, bankers, negotiating politicians and diplomats. Even Churchill
    admitted – after WWII – the war was not about fighting Fascism or Nazism, but about increasing military sales.

    All good wishes,


  2. Akifumi Fujita says:

    Thank you very much for the very candid and thoughtful outlook of the world for the 21st century and after. The world of Octagon big powers with L curves and J curves interrelated making complex curves of various kinds. In spite of these complexities, three common factors are pointed out: bigger actors, autonomy and consolidation. Nothing new under the sun, and next time we do it will be the last. What a pessimistic view of the future world!
    Where has Galtung’s optimism gone? It seems no positive roles of Israel and Japan in this picture. Israel as a regional power and Japan as occupied by USA 70+ years are both declining. Yes, but as a Japanese citizen, I feel a little sad about this fact. I feel like saying something positive. Article 9 of the Constitution as usual. I’m serious about it though. Japanese people have very stubbornly been sticking to A9 expressing renunciation of war forever. Why? Because giving up A9 will surely lead to our forgetting the past experiences of colonization, imperialism, and Hiroshima/Nagasaki at the dead end of modern history of Japan. Something positive has been added to A9 by the efforts of Japanese people to maintain it for such a long time that it has become more than anti-war. And if we try to be independent, creativity will come out of it. It’s a must even for our survival. We will be able to play a role in bringing positive peace with dialogues of civilizations. Then I can see in the phrase “Let history rest” very optimism with dynamic process in it. Thnk you very much.