Social policy is an easy problem compared to national security. But it is national security which has bankrupted America, perhaps through poorly chosen 21st century wars, but more likely through the decision not to half the Pentagon budget in the 1990s after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union. No amount of reinvestment can refloat an economy which spends half of its tax dollars on war, and spends more than the entire world combined on arms. Until we talk about a comprehensive demilitarization of American society, coalition-based global stabilization, and a true, deep reform of our attitudes and action relative to nuclear weapons, we are going to be broke, and stay broke, in all probability.
The Old White Dudes are the last bastions of the power structures built up in the age of the Cold War. Haque and Hine are a little too young to remember the cold fear which was so much a part of my generation’s consciousness – the experience, at the age of 8 or 9, of realizing that the adults are holding the entire future to ransom, and that Nobody Is Doing Anything About It. The men in power saw that system come into being, lived through it and under it, and remember it etched into their bones. They fathered children expecting them to die with the world in the final nuclear exchange, and they soldiered on anyway, towards a brighter future, red button in hand. You must respect the generation which maintained global stability through the latter part of the 20th century, monsters though they may appear to be in the peace which they have created.
Now they are old, and suffer the faults of old men. But I do not have big enough shoulders to replace them, and I do not blame them for hanging on to power, seeking for safe hands to cast off their burdens to. These Cold Warriors maintain the defense industry, which maintains the media (got a better link?) to a frightening degree, and thereby shapes much of what our culture regards as real. The people control the press by what they will buy and what they will watch, but none-the-less the editorial pencil is still in the hands of the military-industrial complex. They do not shape our taste, but they can still spike a story.
The reinvention must be a demilitarization, an end to the age of war, not simply gilding the lily of capitalism with a new tier of social values. A less evil capitalism will still be anchored in space and time by nuclear weapons policy, and shaped by the hands of those who must maintain a society in a certain shape to maintain nuclear weapons capability. The fatal mistake is to assign malign motives to the nuclear bureaucrats: they do what they do because they sincerely believe it to be the best thing they can do under the circumstances.
So I am content to work incrementally, trying to round off the worst parts of the hard end of human life over, perhaps, a 20 or 40 year project. I don’t know what to do next, and I don’t know how to unpick the Gordian knot of the world. And this is not to say that there is no room for young turks, but a little humility goes a long way. Haque does not cite sources for most of his thinking, and has little connection to what is old, solid and true. Blathery demagogues do sometimes get things done, but given the complexity of our situation, there is no time or space for easy answers. And Haque’s answers are easy answers: we can do more of the same but better, we don’t have to cut our environmental consumption by 75% to 90% within twenty or forty years, we don’t have to make space at the table for the poor or face their armed wrath. It’s not that radical to suggest making money while not being an asshole, Umair!
The truth is that it’s all coming down. A hard truth, but the real truth: between shifting global balances of economic power, the massive need to cut our over-consumption by at least 75%, and the enormous amounts of money we all owe the fundamental truth is it cannot go on like this. Haque’s failure of imagination, to conceive of a world which is on the other side of these massive shifts in economic, political and military power, and call it “the future” is dangerous enough on its own, but sold as The Great New Future, it joins Thomas Barnett‘s work as a dangerously misleading brand: to sell “more of the same” as radical innovation crowds out the space for radical innovation. Chiapas is radical innovation, not the next generation of leaders at Harvard Business School.
Lest you think this is simply a brutal takedown of Umair Haque, it is not. It is a call for renewed political awareness, not in the simple party-politics sense, not the dumb left-versus-right debates which have left us unable to govern ourselves without paralyzing clouds of rhetoric obscuring all sense, but a real sense of the hard problems of the world as the ones to which we should be addressing our power to create a better future for humanity. Let me frame five of those hard problems for you.
- Environment – US is at 8+ times footprint, Europe at 4+ times. We have no sane development path for 5 billion poor people trying to get a foot on the ladder.
- Poverty – one billion are regularly hungry, 9 million children a year die of preventable disease.
- Freedom – can free societies make tough decisions, or will authoritarian states like China endure hardship more effectively? What about creeping fascism and legalized torture in our democracies?
- Democracy – has failed, to a substantial degree, when combined with Imperial Power. Can the world be governed by democracies?
- Technological Risk – we have essentially no mechanism to regulate global risks from nuclear, biotechnology and nanotechnology. All three are spreading like a plague. Now what?