Tune in for approximately fifty minutes of conversation regarding national and local politics, futurism, economics and political philosophy through the analytic prism of America 3.0 (a book I warmly endorse):
[ by Charles Cameron — mind of a skeptic, heart of a devotee ]
I’m heading the post with this video to capture your attention, but recommend you move right past it to the body of the text, and return to it later if and when you have an hour and more to spare:
I quoted Daveed Gartenstein-Ross in my post We’re a legacy industry in a world of start-up competitors as saying “we tend to think of ideas that are rooted in religion – as a very post-Christian country – we tend to think of them as not being real – as ideas which express an ideology which is alien to us” — and Dave Schuler commented:
I can’t help but think that is a point-of-view most comfortable to a Jew who has lived mostly in Oregon and on the East Coast of the United States. The view looks pretty different from the South, Peoria, or even the South Side of Chicago.
The question as to whether we live in a post-Christian or Christian country maps fairly closely, I think, onto the question whether the world we live in is a secular or religious world — and it’s that form of the distinction I’d like to address in this post.
Statistically, 70.6% of Americans polled by Pew consider themselves Christian, 5.9% either Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or of other faiths, as against 22.8% unaffiliated, atheist or agnostic. America is clearly a predominantly Christian nation from that point of view.
It seems to me, however, that there are two ways of looking at our nation and world as secular — via recourse to structure, and via consideration of our media, analytic, and policy-making elites — and I want to offer up an example of each, as I found them in the last few days.
The first comes from a simply terrific lecture delivered at Stanford by Roberto Calasso in honor of his friend René Girard — as found at the head of this post:
One point is clear, that the world, for the first time, is covered by a sort of — entity — which is that entity which makes that airports in all parts of the world work more or less in the same way. And that is the way of the secular society. And of course if you go from the French airport to the cities, or from a German airport to the cities, you’ll find totally different things – but behind that, there is a structure which is common to all of the societies. And of course, there are very large islands of theocratic (or whatever you can call them) societies which are enemies of the secular society. But they are islands, rather large islands, in the middle of a texture which is much bigger.
There are economic and scientistic corollaries to this point, to be sure, but the point itself, the approach it takes, is one that I had vaguely surmised, perhaps, but have never before expressed nor seen expressed with such clarity.
We live in a world tilted towards short-cuts, not immersions — surfaces, not depth — and simply put, that predisposes us to the quantifiable and away from quality..
That’s one sense in which we live in a secular world — irrespective of our religious beliefs and disbeliefs.
But it is also the case that those who understand the world on our behalves — pundits, analysts and policy-makers — tend to do so in secular terms. I’ve read this idea, and indeed said it, many times, so rather than search out some appropriate quotes, I pounced on this screen capture from David Hare‘s brilliant movie, Page Eight, in which the senior MI5 analyst Johnny Worricker, played by Bill Nighy, speaks:
The Worricker Trilogy is on Amazon Prime now, if you have access. You’ll find some fine writing there..
[ by Charles Cameron — Ambassador Husain Haqqani and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at Chautauqua ]
From the outset, when cheers went up for Daveed’s birthplace, Ashland, Oregon, and Ambassador Haqqani’s, Karachi — and for the brilliant meeting of the minds that is Chautauqua — it was clear that we were in the presence of two gracious, witty and informed intelligences, and the seriousness of the conversation between them that followed did nothing to reduce our pleasure in the event. Daveed called it “easily the best experience I have ever had as a speaker.”
I’ll highlight some quotes from each speaker, with the occasional comment:
None of the countries except Egypt, Turkey and Iran, none of the countries of the Middle East are in borders that are historic, or that have evolved through a historic process. And that’s why you see the borders a straight lines. Straight lines are always drawn by cartographers or politicians, the real maps in history are always convoluted because of some historic factor or the other, or some river or some mountains.
And now that whole structure, the contrived structure, is coming apart.
Then most important part of it is, that this crisis of identity – who are we? are we Muslims trying to recreate the past under the principles of the caliphate .. or are we Arabs, trying to unify everybody based on one language, or are we these states that are contrived, or are we our ethnic group, or are we our tribe, or are we our sect? And this is not only in the region, it’s also overlapping into the Muslim communities in the diaspora..
If Amb. Haqqani emphasized the multiple identities in play in the Arabic, Islamic, Sunni, Shia, Sufi, and tribal worlds in his opening, Daveed’s emphasis was on the failure of the post-Westphalian concept of the nation state.
In the economic sphere there’s this thing that is often called “legacy industries” – industries that fit for another time, but are kind of out of place today. Think of Blockbuster Video, once a massive, massive corporation.. that’s a legacy industry. So when Ambassador Haqqani talks about how it’s not just in the Middle East that we have this crisis of identity, I think the broader trend is that the Westphalian state that he spoke about, the kind of state that was encoded after the Peace of Westphalia, looks to a lot of people who are in this generation of the internet where ideas flow freely, it looks like a legacy industry.
Why do you need this as a form of political organizing? And what ISIS has shown is that a violent non-state actor, even a jihadist group that is genocidal and implements as brutal a form of Islamic law as you could possibly see, it can hold territory the size of Great Britain, and it can withstand the advance of a coalition that includes the world’s most powerful countries including the United States. And what that suggests is that alternative forms of political organization can now compete with the nation state.
The Ambassador then turned to the lessons we should take from 1919’s US King–Crane Commission, reporting on the break-up of the Ottoman Empire — they concluded that it gave us
a great opportunity — not likely to return — to build .. a Near East State on the modern basis of full religious liberty, deliberately including various religious faiths, and especially guarding the rights of minorities
— down to our own times.
What we can be sure of is that the current situation is something that will not be dealt with without understanding the texture of these societies. So for example, when the United States went into Iraq without full understanding of its sectarian and tribal composition, and assumed that, all we are doing is deposing a dictator, Saddam Hussein, and then we will hold elections and now a nice new guy will get elected, and things will be all right -– that that is certainly not the recipe. So what we can say with certainty in 2015 is .. over the last century what we have learnt is: outsiders, based on their interests, determining borders is not a good idea, and should certainly not be repeated. Assuming that others are anxious to embrace your culture in totality is also an unrealistic idea.
The sentence that follows was a stunner from the Ambassador, gently delivered — a single sentence that could just as easily have been the title for this post as the remark by Daveed with which I have in fact titled it:
Let me just say that, look, he ideological battle, in the Muslim world, will have to be fought by the likes of me.
Spot on — and we are fortunate the Ambassador and his like are among us.
Daveed then turned to another topic I have freqently emphasized myself.
The power of ideas – we as Americans tend not to recognize this when it falls outside of ideas that are familiar to us. So one thing that the US has been slow to acknowledge is the role of the ideology that our friend and ally Saudi Arabia has been promulgating globally, in fomenting jihadist organizations.
And one of the reasons we have been slow to recognize that. I mean one reason is obvious, which is oil. .. But another reason has been – we tend to think of ideas that are rooted in religion – as a very post-Christian country – we tend to think of them as not being real – as ideas which express an ideology which is alien to us –as basically being a pretext, with some underlying motivation which is more familiar to us. That it must be economics, or it must be political anger. I’m not saying those are irrelevant, they’re not – but when Al-Qaida or ISIS explains themselves, taking their explanation seriously and understanding where they’re coming from – not as representatives of Islam as a whole, but as representatives of the particular ideology that they claim to stand for – we need to take that seriously. Because they certainly do.
The world is not a problem for Americans to solve, it’s a situation for them to understand.
Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.
Toward the end of the discussion, Daveed touched on some ideas of recurrent interest to Zenpundit readers..
Looking at the US Government, questions that I ask a lot are: Why are we so bad at strategy? Why are we so bad at analysis? Why do we take such a short term view and negate the long term?
He then freturned to the issue of legacy industries and nation-states:
Blockbuster is a legacy industry. And the reason why legacy industries have so much trouble competing against start-up firms, is because start-ups are smaller, it’s more easy for them to change course, to implement innovative policies, to make resolute decisions – they can out-manoeuver larger companies. And so larger companies that do well adapt themselves to this new environment where they have start-up competitors. Nation-state governments are legacy industries. Violent non-state actors are start-up compoetitors.
— and had the final, pointed word:
We’re a legacy industry ina world of start-up competitors.
Having offered you these tastes, at this point I can only encourage you to watch the whole hour and a quarter, filled to the brim with incisive and articulately-stated insights:
….But serious as these problems are, they’re all short-term things. So while at the moment a lot of our political leaders may be wearing sunglasses so as not to be recognized, there’s a pretty good argument that, over the longer time, our future’s so bright that we have to wear shades.
That’s the thesis of a new book, America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity In The 21st Century.The book’s authors, James Bennett and Michael Lotus, argue that things seem rough because we’re in a period of transition, like those after the Civil War and during the New Deal era. Such transitions are necessarily bumpy, but once they’re navigated the country comes back stronger than ever.
America 1.0, in their analysis, was the America of small farmers, Yankee ingenuity, and almost nonexistent national government that prevailed for the first hundred years or so of our nation’s existence. The hallmarks were self-reliance, localism, and free markets.
At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, people were getting unhappy. The country was in its fastest-ever period of economic growth, but the wealth was unevenly distributed and the economy was volatile. This led to calls for what became America 2.0: an America based on centralization, technocratic/bureaucratic oversight, and economies of scale. This took off in the Depression and hit its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, when people saw Big Government and Big Corporations as promising safety and stability. You didn’t have to be afraid: There were Top Men on the job, and there were Big Institutions like the FHA, General Motors, and Social Security to serve as shock absorbers against the vicissitudes of fate.
It worked for a while. But in time, the Top Men looked more like those bureaucrats at the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and the Big Institutions . . . well, they’re mostly bankrupt, or close to it. “Bigger is better” doesn’t seem so true anymore.
To me, the leitmotif for the current decade is supplied by Stein’s Law, coined by economist Herb Stein: “Something that can’t go on forever, won’t.” There are a lot of things that can’t go on forever, and, soon enough, they won’t. Chief among them are too-big-to-fail businesses and too-big-to-succeed government.
But as Bennett and Lotus note, the problems of America 2.0 are all soluble, and, in what they call America 3.0, they will be solved. The solutions will be as different from America 2.0 as America 2.0 was from America 1.0. We’ll see a focus on smaller government, nimbler organization, and living within our means — because, frankly, we’ll have no choice. Something that can’t go on forever, won’t. If America 2.0 was a fit for the world of giant steel mills and monolithic corporations, America 3.0 will be fit for the world of consumer choice and Internet speed.
Every so often, a “political” book comes around that has the potential to be a “game changer” in public debate. Bennett and Lotus have not limited themselves to describing or diagnosing America’s ills – instead, they present solutions in a historical framework that stresses the continuity and adaptive resilience of the American idea. If America”s “City on a Hill” today looks too much like post-industrial Detroit they point to the coming renewal; if the Hand of the State is heavy and it’s Eye lately is dangerously creepy, they point to a reinvigorated private sector and robust civil society; if the future for the young looks bleak, Bennett and Lotus explain why this generation and the next will conquer the world.
Bennett and Lotus bring to the table something Americans have not heard nearly enough from the Right – a positive vision of an American future that works for everyone and a strategy to make it happen.
.….In the last thirty years, we’ve seen a shift in the technological substrate. This new susbstrate is increasingly a family of technologies related to information networks.
As this new substrate begins to take control, we’re going to need new management forms. Both bureaucratic and market systems are proving insuffient solutions to the challenges of a networked age.
In both cases, the emergence of a global network is eroding the efficacy of bureaucracy and markets as solutions. How? One reason is scale.
A global network is too large and complex for a bureaucracy to manage. It would be too slow, expensive, and inefficient to be of value. Further, even if one could be built, it would be impossible to apply market dyanmics (via democratic elections) to selecting the leaders of that bureaucracy. The diversity in the views of the 7 billion of us on this planet are too vast.
In terms of markets, a global marketplace is too unstable. Interlinked, and tightly coupled markets are prone to frequent and disasterous failures. Additionally, a global marketplace is easy for insiders to corrupt and rig, as we saw with the 2008 financial melt-down. Given instability and unmitigated corruption, markets will fail as a decision making mechanism.
So, what’s going to replace bureaucracy and markets?
In very strong agreement with John. I like markets and think they produce efficient and optimized results for many things ( not all things) but free markets currently face massive (and sadly bipartisan) efforts to rig them by the oligarchy here at home, much less in autocratic states where the practice of state socialism, kleptocracy and government by mafia or tribal/sectarian minority is the norm. People will seek work-around structures to adapt, thrive and evade extortionate schemes by elites that have hijacked the state.
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.