Europe’s telephone and the politics of non-real change

Commentary No. 499, June 15, 2019

U.S. superdiplomat Henry Kissinger is famously said to have asked, “Who do I call if I call Europe?” The question is repeatedly cited as a clever way to suggest pessimism about Europe as a reality. The answer, of course, depends upon what you want to know about Europe. There are at least a dozen European institutions of varying kinds of memberships and interests. You can telephone any one of them. Europe is so much a reality that there is even a European institution made up of those who wish to abolish European institutions.

We shall try to do two things in this commentary. One is to discuss the difference between what I call real change and non-real change. For that the discussion of Europe’s telephone is very helpful to us to see what is going on.

The second thing that we shall try to do is to discuss the epistemology of analysis and the ways in which we have come to talk of something we call    TimeSpace Analysis (TSA).

Let me first explain what I think happens when I try to do a commentary. I begin with the dating and the name of the title. I then begin to dictate what is necessary. So, let me start the dictation for this one.

Since October, 1998, I have been writing commentaries that appear on the 1st and the 15th of the month. I have not missed any. They have a standard pattern of being told.

Over 500 years of the modern world-system the analyses have shifted back and forth between situations where the conservative view was on top and situations in which the non-conservative view was on top.

How come? Well, that can be explained if we turn to what seems to be an axiomatic view that we can predict the outcome of a thing about which we are wanting to know by looking at how we fared 25 years ago.

Today, the problem with which almost everyone throughout the world-system is devoted to the answer is, “will Donald Trump be reelected in 2020?” and the axiom tells us the way to know what to look for 25 years is to see how people were faring at that time. And if they were faring well 25 years ago, he will be reelected; if they were faring badly, he will not be reelected.

Why should this be so? It has to do with how successive entries affect previous ones. Suppose we take the most recent of these large shifts, one that began more-or-less around 1945 and is still going on today.

What is happening? Every time one asks a question, “What is happening?” one is affecting minutely, but truly, a mix of numbers that are 25 years old. Let us see why:

So, we can try to take an average of all the previous times of what people think they have of 25 years ago. We discover that the average would be an impossibly complex mathematical exercise, which no one is capable of doing. So, we can’t really know what the average reading of 25 years ago is. We can guess of course, and perhaps even come close, but there is no way we can absolutely without error know what people were feeling 25 years ago. Ergo, we are not able to predict.

Take three problems whose content concern people. One is the state of women. One is the degree to which internal questions are settled arbitrarily by those in charge. And one is the degree to which our country and people within our country are hegemonic in the world-systems.

In 1945, the establishment view was that women had no rights whatsoever. This view will change over the next 25 years to one in which women have many rights.

Another problem is the state of power of those in charge. The third is the degree to which one country is hegemonic in the world-system.

Over 25 years, all three reach a turning point in which they seem to change completely. This is an illusion. In fact, all that has changed is the names of the people, or the groups which are dominant in the system, it is still a system that is bilateral, and no fundamental change can be made. On the power of people in charge of the system, their power was absolute circa 1949. And in terms of the U.S. as the hegemonic power, it was unquestioned circa 1945.

Each of these three analyses moves to a presumable changing point in which everything has been turned upside down after 25 years. In point of fact, all that has changed is who is on top and who is on bottom. The system remains the same. That is why I call it “non-real change”.

Unlike previous shifts in the history of the modern world-system, the shift that began to occur c1945 was different because it went much more swiftly as a result of the structural change of the modern world system. This structural change meant that when we arrived at the virtual change in 1968 more or less, we could have made a real change. In point of fact, we did not do that. There was a reversion to the old mode of calculating things, but with a new language.

What is the difference of the changes that were regularly made over 500 years and the last change that has been made since 1949? The difference has to do with the number of categories in which we label our calculations. If the labels are normal changes over the 500-year period, these labels will all be bilateral. They will say more conservative language equals language less conservative. This is what I mean by non-real change. Non-real change appears to be a change, but in fact is not a change. The only way in which you could have a change that does not appear to be a change, but is a real change, is if you seize the moment of structural crisis of the modern world-system, and actually instead of calculating bilaterally, calculate in another way entirely, which I call “quadrilateral change”.

There is another change in reality of great importance. It is whether we start in the normal way with completely autonomous analyses for historical time and global space. Using TimeSpace Analysis, we can then find out whether there has been real change or non-real change. Where we are now, we can enter this debate as something we can learn from TimeSpace Analysis, and which we could not learn as long as we were dealing separately with historical time and global space.

We have tried to explain what non-real change is and we have tried to explain what TimeSpace Analysis is. If we have not succeeded, it is because it is so difficult to explain this.