Response to Friedman’s Next Hundred Years

* repost from 1/21/2012 *

 

Friedman’s is certainly a clearer view on a bigger scope of reality than I’ve previously accessed. I wonder, who are his contemporaries? I say “contemporaries” because the media play on him would hold that he’s peerless. Who else does what he does? And what do they think?

{Note to self: Read de Tocqueville and Nietzsche.}

Were they to be given the same task, would they, too, approach it in 20-year segments and 50-year cycles?

A Quick Definition of Terms

Geopolitics is not simply a pretentious way of saying ‘international relations’.

“Geopolitics applies [Smith’s] concept of the invisible hand to the behavior of nations and other international actors.

“Geopolitics and economics both assume the players are rational … and will pursue their [short-term] self-interest, if not flawlessly, then at least not randomly.”

Let me start with what I wonder.

Geopolitics assumes that people self-organize into larger units than families, that loyalty to tribe is natural and deep; and that, therefore, war is ubiquitous. This assumption we know to be quite true.

I wonder, is there not a way beyond? If we evolve a higher and broader taxonomy, an intraglobal identity, then we would get to keep all of us. I am my brother’s keeper and he is mine.

World Hunger Myths by Lappé et alThe world has enough resources to care extravagantly for the all people on her. It’s not a crisis of capacity that we have, it’s a crisis of compassion. (I long cherish this line from John J. Carmody. The Google trail goes cold but I believe him to still be at the Center for Christian Nonviolence in Wilmington, DE. His basis for saying so comes from the work of Frances Moore Lappé and others at Food First: The Institute for Food and Development Policy.)

The Other Headscratcher

What’s to stop said international actors from reading this book or hiring their own geopolitical guru? There are countries in Friedman’s hypothesized future who put their money in defense when they should have put it in research… I don’t know. Even as I tease this out, it starts to sound naive, but do you know what I mean?

What Surprised Me

1st: The hard-boiled matter-of-fact presentation of American foreign policy. In all my schooling, which isn’t insubstantial, and in all my years of devoted NPR listening, I’d never heard:

America doesn’t need to win wars. America sows chaos and confusion, stretching thin would-be rivals so they can’t spare a thought for their own growth, a thought against us, let alone that they can’t hear themselves think.

All that angst about VietNam and Iraq and why didn’t we use decisive force, how could we lose the war. I suppose Friedman would say all of that was mishandled domestic relations since we were achieving our goals.

2nd: What really blew me away is that any discussion of peace within this worldview depends on who you’re talking to. Peace is not understood to be a standalone, natural, organically-arising state of ecological balance between and amongst all living systems on this blue dust mote. If you’re talking to anyone in power, peace is understood to be the brokered condition defined not by absence of war but by the ending of it by those parties who started it.

That’s not peace. That’s barely after-care.

3rd: Have you ever heard some talking head say that XYZ corporation is bigger than xx% of the world’s sovereign nations? I’ve heard it.

So, I was really expecting some discussion about global and transnational companies. Aha! you say, no entity can be a geopolitical superpower without that it has political, economic, and military power.

With all the talk about American partisan politics and both sides accusing the other of being in Big Corp’s pocket, can we say 2 outta 3 ain’t bad?

And, I’ll just ask, what about Halliburton? Boeing? Raytheon? Stranger things have happened. He even premises his 20-year approach on that. I mean, have you not seen Terminator or I, Robot?

What I’m Still Left Wondering

He opens with this from Hegel:

To him who looks upon the world rationally, the world in turn presents a rational aspect. The relation is mutual.

[I would suggest, and maybe Hegel did too, that you could same the same replacing “spiritually” for “rationally”. Or any -ally, for that matter.]

With that as his standard, he approaches his tale with no emotion. He refers to the circumstance of having more people than employment (or, might I mention, because he doesn’t, resources?) as a “population surplus”. I take exception to that as I am one of those surplussed persons.

dry honeycomb
A Dry Honeycomb

It seems he’s taken the people out of history. To me, that’s hollow and seems a dangerous decision. It’s like we’ve stumbled on an abandoned beehive. All honeycomb, no juice. No lifeblood along which to propel a pulse. Or perhaps it’s like finding a vacuum in a university physics lab with no grad students to run it. (Get it? You can’t predict human history in a vacuum. Meh.)

Forgive me, I’m new to this whole line of thinking. I’m spellbound. I think he’s brilliant. He’s taken a deep look at the entirety of human civilization, specifically 100 years back and reaching that far again forward. He hasn’t even limited his scope to this planet.

I don’t question his conclusions. I question his assumptions.

It seems a bit myopic to give exclusive primacy to geopolitical vectors with no eye to other mass motivators. Could geopolitical pundits of the times past have predicted the Black Death? The Storming of the Bastille? Gandhi? Jesus?

Elrond in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings
So Sayeth Elrond

Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.

I’m fascinated that Friedman handily discounts the power of any one political figure. Campaign strategists for either side won’t want him anywhere near the airwaves this year. “Meh, vote for whoever you want. They’re all constrained and situation-bound to do the same thing.”

I would really be curious to hear what Sanskritist and tantra scholar Pandit Rajmani Tigunait would say about this book, indeed this whole field of endeavor? I trust he’d have insightful commentary about its usefulness and his own appraisal of Friedman’s conclusions. What’s more, I’d like to hear the realm of geopolitics placed within an even broader scope of collective karma, the dharma of a nation or a people, and a story or two from the Bhagavad Gita.

That would be the ultimate mind candy.

PS — I also thought it was a very facile dismissal of global warming (in the Epilogue for crying in the night) and its effects like resource shortages and resultant mass migrations.

PPS — Paging Mr. Lucas. Mr. George Lucas.