Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The emerging bottom-up world order?

Two interesting articles on the kind of world order (or disorder) that is likely to emerge in the 21st century. David Brooks notes that:
We face a series of decentralized, transnational threats: jihadi terrorism, a global financial crisis, global warming, energy scarcity, nuclear proliferation and...possible health pandemics like swine flu...Do we build centralized global institutions that are strong enough to respond to transnational threats? Or do we rely on diverse and decentralized communities and nation-states?..The response to swine flu suggests that a decentralized approach is best. This crisis is only days old, yet we’ve already seen a bottom-up, highly aggressive response.

First, the decentralized approach is much faster. Mexico responded unilaterally and aggressively to close schools and cancel events. The U.S. has responded with astonishing speed, considering there are still few illnesses and just one hospitalization...Second, the decentralized approach is more credible. It is a fact of human nature that in times of crisis, people like to feel protected by one of their own. They will only trust people who share their historical experience, who understand their cultural assumptions about disease and the threat of outsiders and who have the legitimacy to make brutal choices...Finally, the decentralized approach has coped reasonably well with uncertainty. It is clear from the response, so far, that there is an informal network of scientists who have met over the years and come to certain shared understandings about things like quarantining and rates of infection.

A single global response would produce a uniform approach. A decentralized response fosters experimentation...The correct response to these dynamic, decentralized, emergent problems is to create dynamic, decentralized, emergent authorities: chains of local officials, state agencies, national governments and international bodies that are as flexible as the problem itself.
Kakutani reviews "The Age of the Unthinkable" by J. C. Ramo. Ramo argues:
that today’s complex, interconnected, globalized world requires policy makers willing to toss out old assumptions (about cause and effect, deterrence and defense, nation states and balances of power) and embrace creative new approaches...The central image that Mr. Ramo uses to evoke what he calls this “age of surprise” is Per Bak’s sand pile — that is, a sand pile described some two decades ago by the Danish-American physicist Per Bak, who argued that if grains of sand were dropped on a pile one at a time, the pile, at some point, would enter a critical state in which another grain of sand could cause a large avalanche — or nothing at all. It’s a hypothesis that shows that a small event can have momentous consequences and that seemingly stable systems can behave in highly unpredictable ways...It’s also a hypothesis that Mr. Ramo employs as a metaphor for a complex world in which changes — in politics, ecosystems or financial markets — take place not in smooth, linear progressions but as sequences of fast, sometimes catastrophic events.

So how should leaders cope with the sand-pile world? How can they learn to “ride the earthquake” and protect their countries from the worst fallout of such tremors? Mr. Ramo suggests that they must learn to build resilient societies with strong immune systems: instead of undertaking the impossible task of trying to prepare for every possible contingency, they ought to focus on things like national health care, construction of a better transport infrastructure and investment in education...leaders should develop ways of looking at problems that focus more on context than on reductive answers. And he talks about people learning to become gardeners instead of architects, of embracing Eastern ideas of indirection instead of Western patterns of confrontation, of seeing “threats as systems, not objects.”


  1. I read the book and found it a good read and I would characterize his theory making as fundamentally based and avoids fashion.

    Another insight from the book that I'd like to note is Ramo's citing of the research and theoretical thinking into patterns of one group attacking another.

    The theory goes: when the cost of attacking is cheap relative to defending, a group will attack (if there is a felt onus). If defending is too expensive, the urge to attack is restrained. Ramo, as an example, notes that it cost the Twin Tower terrorist attack about a million dollars to execute, while it costs us about a million dollars an hour to defend against another one.

    With this theory in mind, I watched an interview with a twelve year old orphaned boy who's suicide bombing was thwarted; he was nonchalant, even cheerful as he displayed his gear for the camera and regaled of his anticipation of a better life his "job" would provide him.

    There was something more than indoctrination at play here, religious or otherwise: for this boy who showed classic twelve year old vitality for the camera, off camera, considered his life in "heaven" a whole lot cheaper than living his life "here". In other words, in this calculus, I saw from this boy, that on another level, the medium of exchange is something more than money. At this level the currency is a sense of Being.

    What's the "military strategy" to deal with a population's lost sense of Being?

  2. You make a fascinating point!

  3. Anonymous4:41 PM

    Hello to all, this is my 7 opening message. I base your site sooner than together [url=]23 catalog[/url] . Content don't be irritable on newbie tent!