Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A View From Nowhere

It's worth while stepping back once in a while (but especially now) and attempt to create a big picture gestalt of where things are and where we are headed. Doing this exercise forces us to step out of the normal (or abnormal as the case may be) churn of events and allows us to catch our breaths. Hopefully this results in a larger perspective which can then be deployed to orient ourselves.

I found the following links to be very useful and helpful in creating this larger perspective.

Peter Turchin has been working for a very long period of time on cliodynamics (named after Clio the muse). His book, Ages of Discord, which I just finished has an ominous prediction: we are headed for Civil War II in the US. Turchin goes far beyond others in using data analytics to build an actual model of discord. Central to his model is a factor that he calls excessive elite competition. In his model, over-production of elites (extremely wealthy people in this cycle) almost always leads to excessive competition between them. This leads to a breakdown of consensus and at a particular point in time could lead to Civil War II (between globalists and populists and between progressives and conservatives now). Turchin predicts maximum discord for the decade ahead. (There's quite a bit of agreement between Turchin and the Fourth Turning predictions profiled in this previous post. Please see the Generational Theory Forum for more correlations.)

Ken WIlber and the Integral Theory folks have spent the better part of the past fifteen years building a model of personal and social development that is truly all encompassing. In Trump and a Post-Truth World, Wilber lays the blame for our fractured consensus at the feet of deconstructive postmodernism. He argues that whatever Trump and Bannon are, they are not-progressive and much clarity can be obtained by defining them via this negative category. The scope of the book is much larger than its title would suggest but for our purposes, the take away from this model is one of a progressive (constructivist, aperspectival, contextual) elite at war with dominator hierarchies (traditional, ethnocentric etc.).

Walter Russell Mead (in Foreign Affairs) has a wonderful article "The Jacksonian Revolt" comparing Trump to the previously successful populist - Andrew Jackson. Echoing some of the other perspectives collected here, he writes "In this new world disorder, the power of identity politics can no longer be denied. Western elites believed that in the twenty-first century, cosmopolitanism and globalism would triumph over atavism and tribal loyalties. They failed to understand the deep roots of identity politics in the human psyche and the necessity for those roots to find political expression in both foreign and domestic policy arenas. And they failed to understand that the very forces of economic and social development that cosmopolitanism and globalization fostered would generate turbulence and eventually resistance, as Gemeinschaft (community) fought back against the onrushing Gesellschaft (market society), in the classic terms sociologists favored a century ago."

George Friedman (the architect behind Geopolitical Futures) is the person you read to find out about geopolitics. In "The World before World War II re-emerges" (behind a paywall, so I'll condense and summarize), he argues that the entirety of Eurasia (with the exception of India) is destabilizing. He writes "The conflict in the Middle East is generating a huge flow of migrants to Europe. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, over 2 million refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe since the beginning of 2014. Russia is engaged in the Middle East as well, while simultaneously maintaining support for anti-West forces in Ukraine. The Chinese economic crisis has reverberated throughout Eurasia. Since China’s foreign exchange reserves almost hit $4 trillion in June 2014, they have fallen to $3.2 trillion, the lowest figure since 2011. Meanwhile, the Chinese have confronted Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia over sovereignty claims in the South and East China seas. Central Asia is in the process of entering crisis mode, in large part due to the collapse of oil prices, which has weakened central governments and generated regional hostility. With the exception of India, which was only marginally involved in pre-war and wartime events during World War II, the entire region is destabilizing.  There are no clear forces that can stop the fighting in the Middle East, the EU internal crisis, the Russian economic and strategic crisis or the Chinese political, social and economic crises. Without arrestors, the crises will continue and intensify. There doesn’t seem to be a force to contain it."

When one takes into account the myriad global destabilizing factors and models, it's hard not to conclude that we are entering a period of intense global disruption to which we can now add the US. Regardless of politics, it's quite likely that the world will be fundamentally changed over the next decade as the neoliberal world built after World War II unravels.