Despite the intensely cold political relations between Russia and the United States, cultural exchanges between the two countries have remained ever warm. When Le Corsaire was performed by the Mariinsky Ballet at the Kennedy Center this month, the warm applause it won from the American audience in attendance prove the point. 

Americans have always cherishedSt. Petersburg, because it is home to some of the most romantic ballets, such as “The Sleeping Beauty,” “The Nutcracker,” and “Swan Lake.” Residing in the Mariinsky Theater, where the music and the choreography of these masterpieces were created, the Mariinsky Ballet is one of the greatest ballet companies in the world. It is known for its dancers’ skills and majesty for more than two and a half centuries. And Le Corsaire was especially loved for its “breathtaking choreography, virtuosic dancing, and spectacular scenery and costumes.” The Washington Post said the play was “unrivaled... studded with virtuosic displays.”

Mariinsky performers with Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United States Anatoly I. Antonov and Yuri Fateev, Acting Ballet Director, Mariinsky Ballet. Credit: Image Link Photo.

The enthusiasm for the performance tells a different story from what we typically see in media coverage—a worsening relationship between Russia and the United States. For more than two decades, the bilateral relationship has shifted between cooperation to continuous confrontation. The more recent tensions over cybersecurity and conflicts in Ukraine and Syria have intensified the controversy between the two nations and public expectation about where the relationship is fairly negative.

Ambassador of the Russian Federation, His Excellency Anatoly I. Antonov, expressed his opinion in an interview on a private post-performance reception: “the Russian and American relations are in very bad shape, but it is impossible to undermine the cultural relation between the United States and Russia. You can see from the hospitality of the American people to Russian artists today.”

Indeed, the cultural tie between the two countries has continued for decades. This tie was actually developed during the most difficult times. After ten years when the Truman Doctrine was announced, an agreement between the United States and then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on cultural, educational, and technical exchanges was signed in Washington DC from Oct. 28, 1957, to January 27, 1958. The agreement was known as The Text of Lacy-Zaroubin Agreement because it was signed by Ambassador William S.B. Lacy on the U.S. side and Ambassador G. N. Zaroubin on the Soviet side.

Both countries believed that cultural exchanges could help ease the tensions between the two countries, and the ballet exchange is one of the most successful examples. The Bolshoi Ballet, which shared the name as one of the “greatest ballet companies” with the Mariinsky Ballet, performed in the United States for the first time in 1959, and it was a phenomenon. In response to the Bolshoi’s visit, the American Ballet Theatre also performed in Moscow in 1960, and it was welcomed as well.

It turns out that when people sit in the theater and connect to the artists at the personal level, the power of culture and arts can transcend the international political scene. People find more common grounds than differences.   

"Art, especially art like music and ballet, does not need language, because you understand what we want to say on the stage," said Yuri Fateyev, the director of the Mariinsky Ballet. Art does talk, and it brings people together. Especially the virtuoso performances; people appreciate the beauty and the hard work behind the stage, no matter where they are from.

The event host, Susan E. Carmel, explains further: “The Mariinsky Ballet is really an ideal example of an organization that is not only a worldwide artistic legend, but also beloved in Russia and America. Audiences in both of our countries have always mutually appreciated the superb artistry and inspirational beauty of their performances—which truly speaks to the universal and enriching language of dance and culture.” As the founder of the Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History at American University, Susan E. Carmel has been actively promoting cultural exchange between the United States and Russia for years.

It is easy to play "zero-sum" games in politics, and for Russia and the United States today that has been the standard fare. But the cultural ties that bind the two nations were developed during the most difficult times, and they remain strong today, when the relations have reached Cold War standards. With support from institutions like the Carmel Institute, cultural diplomacy will continue to build understanding between people in these two countries, despite the differences in ideologies.

But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?

Let’s start with gold.

Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.

In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.

It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.

And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.

It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.

We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.

We’ve already agreed.

Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.

Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.

In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.

Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.

This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.

But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently.  Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.

Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?

We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.

What if education was a new gold standard?

And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?

Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.

By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?

Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.

Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.

These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”  —George Washington
Rong Qin
Rong Qin is a Washington, DC based correspondent for Diplomatic Courier.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.