Staunton, January 27 – Demographic change is rapidly destroying traditional societies, Anatoly Vishnevsky says; but precisely because of that, some of their number are ever more ready to engage in political actions against the forces of modernity and ever more political leaders are willing to exploit for short-term gain.
That is because the protests of traditional groups under threat may appear to suggest that “traditional society is being reborn and taking on new life,” the director of the Moscow Institute of Demography says; “but in fact [such protests and the political use of them are] a sign of their approaching death.”
Unfortunately, he continues in the course of an interview with Denis Volkov of the Institute of Contemporary Russia, this can create “a quite dangerous situation” in which “outbreaks of all kinds of aggression” are possible (imrussia.org/ru/мнения/2716-анатолий-вишневский-«главный-конфликт-современности-–-между-модерном-и-традицией).
Underlying the death of traditional societies both within and among countries is the reduction of mortality rates, something that changes “all aspects of life” including family structures, the position of women, and indeed “the entire sphere of human relations not connected directly with economics.”
“Typically,” Vishnevsky says, analysts focus on economics or politics, “but latent, demographic changes are at a deeper level and undermine the principles of traditional societies still more than do economic changes” alone. And consequently, no country can do much more than slow these changes; it cannot reverse them however much it may want to.
Not only does the passing of agriculture society change demographic relationships, he continues, but improved sanitation in cities means that more people can live in them than ever before, something that “to a significant degree is also the result of demographic changes” and that produces even more of them.
“When we speak about the replacement of tradition by modernity,” Vishnevsky says, “we are not saying that tradition is bad – it is good in its place – but when someone tries to revive it in places where the conditions for it have already disappeared, a serious contradiction arises,” a contradiction that can’t be solved by a return to tradition.
“The defenders of tradition see in the changes which are taking place the destruction of the world order and try to stop this … [and] to simply defend the old and say that everything was fine is not difficult. Indeed, it is often profitable.” But that doesn’t matter in the longer term, Vishnevsky suggests.
Different countries have gone through the transition from traditional societies to modernity at different times and at different rates. Many of them still have portions of their population which are traditional. But the major clash between tradition and modernity is between the world North and the world South – and especially between the Christian world and Islam.
As societies make the transition from tradition to modernity, Vishnevsky says, some people do so only in an incomplete way. They become marginal whose identity is divided and in conflict with itself Such people can be manipulated and turned from one side to the other because they are not deeply rooted in either.
“The presence of broad marginalized masses under conditions of the agony of tradition,” Vishnevsky continues, “is very dangerous. This agony gives rise to fanaticism among people who may sincerely believe that they are defending faith, tradition, and a millennium-old order. And on behalf of this, they may be ready to fight to the death.”