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With the West in decline, the Rest must forge their own path

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Colonisation became a land and power grab by Europeans against the Rest, with the use of superior military firepower, industrial and financial technology. This power grab continued into the 20th century, with Belgium taking Congo as late as 1908, the United States solidifying control over the Philippines in 1902 and the Italians trying to colonise parts of Ethiopia in the 1930s.

When the US took over the mantle of global hegemon from the British Empire after the end of World War II, many former colonies bought the neoliberal ideology that free trade and markets, democracy, the rule of law and equality would be a universal creed for all nations and cultures.

That naive belief ended when inequality within the West itself widened, even as the gap with the Rest narrowed. Neoliberal idealism shattered as the West’s middle class began to turn towards protectionism, industrial policy and, in the case of Israel, military occupation and subjugation of Palestinian rights.

Edward Said, the Palestinian-American father of postcolonial studies, pointed to how imperialism reconfigures the past of the colonised people in favour of the coloniser. Mental colonisation is reached when the colonised, slave or vassal believes that the imperial power is superior to his or her own culture.

More recently, historian Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, has warned of data colonialism fuelled by artificial intelligence, allowing private or state-run platforms to know more about you than you yourself and influence your likes, dislikes and future.

Decolonisation means different things to different people, depending on their own colonial or near-colonial history. For indigenous people like the Maoris in New Zealand, it means remembering the cruel past when their lands and rights were taken away and pushing for, at a minimum, the restoration of their dignity in today’s laws.

In former colonies like India, the British “Raj” mentality is being replaced by home-grown narratives in which the country seeks “strategic autonomy” in foreign affairs and greater sovereignty – some call it nationalism – in areas such as data, including developing regulation of generative AI.

We are on the cusp of uncharted mental territory. The self-order of free markets is being replaced by an unpredictable non-order arising from competition from new state-market bureaucracies that are neither fully elected nor humanly designed.

The emerging order may even be machine or AI generated. Where is the justice if AI-generated algorithms can order the execution by missile strike or drone of someone branded a terrorist outside a nation’s legal jurisdiction? Who will enforce natural justice when the system systematically dehumanises humanity by treating individuals as digits to be manipulated, controlled or deleted?

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Researchers in Singapore use AI to read minds through brain scans

Researchers in Singapore use AI to read minds through brain scans

In an entangled overcrowded planet, the system is inherently unstable when we resolve differences through conflict and war, because history has shown that war begets more war. Humanity has survived through cooperation and peace. The neoconservative presents the case for preparing for war to maintain peace, but since war can only be destructive, we must instead prepare for the post-war peace.

If there is a fundamental difference between the West and the Rest, it is that the theory-biased West often forgets history and context, opting for fundamental “principles” of inalienable rights to guide action. However, Russian historians remember that it was Western Europeans – Napoleonic France and Nazi Germany – that invaded Russia twice in the previous two centuries. The West’s support of Israel’s expansion of territory over time is there for all to see.
In population terms, the West is in the minority with a population of around 1 billion in a world of 8 billion, but accounts for more than half of global wealth and on a per capita basis consumes more than its fair share of planetary resources. For the highly populated Global South to consume like the average Westerner is a suicidal path.
In pursuit of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Global South must find its own path and intellectual paradigms. Decolonisation of the mind therefore not only requires the courage to reject the unsustainable, but also to find new pathways that are more holistic and democratically legitimate.

In short, decolonisation is a journey waiting to unfold. The Spanish poet Antonio Machado, in his famous poem, “Caminante no hay camino” (“Traveller, there is no road”) made the important point that the road is made by walking. In the post-Western world, the Global South must walk its own path in search of a more peaceful and sustainable future.

Andrew Sheng is a former central banker who writes on global issues from an Asian perspective

Article was originally published from here

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