Friday, January 15

Gregory Copley on Surviving the Malestrom (REVISED 1:45am EST 1/16)

At the 16:17 minute mark on the 19 minute podcast of John Batchelor's January 12 discussion with Gregory R. Copley, Editor-in-Chief, Defense & Foreign Affairs:   
Batchelor: You ask the question: do the countries, the civilizations, that preserve strategic self-sufficiency survive the Thucydides Trap  or are they victims of it?
Copley: The countries which preserve their self-sufficiency and their civilizational identity will have the greatest ability to retain cohesion.
The Thucydides Trap is a 'theory' about how fears of instability can affect outcomes in a struggle between a rising power and declining one (e.g., Sparta-Athens). This theory was applied in the earlier part of the discussion to examining how the U.S.-China relationship could lead to great instability in the world. But at the above point the discussion had moved to what Copley terms the "greater" Thucydides Trap, on which he expands in his January 13 writing for Oil Price, The Big-Picture Take on Geopolitical Instability
Now, and for the foreseeable couple of decades, the “Thucydides Trap” means that the world is not only in a period of potentially changing its power balance, or “correlation of forces”, it is in a period of dark uncertainty at very many levels, from global to regional to societal. ...
I take the Thucydides Trap with a grain of salt, as does James R. Holmes, a professor of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College who is also the last gunnery officer to fire a battleships big guns in anger, which in my view not only counts for something but also explains why major historical shifts can't be reduced to a few factors. There's always some fool wandering into the action, you understand.   

But if you want to know how a society can best survive a time of great upheavals, Gregory Copley's reply to Batchelor nailed it in one sentence. 

This is also what King Bhumibol Adulyadej saw after years of traipsing from one end of Thailand to the other, observing and listening to what the rural peoples, the farming villagers, told him about their problems. These people were completely messed up; they didn't know whether they were coming or going. He realized it was because they were very insecure. They had no real freedom left; they were completely dependent on the doings of a remote 'state' that was in turn at the mercy of global factors impacting the country, over which the Thai state itself had little to no control.

So he said, okay, we start over again from square one. A village should be able to develop enough self-sufficiency to protect its people from the vagaries of commodity and currency upheavals in global markets. With the villagers' help, he created tactics for surviving economic downturns that were a mixture of cutting-edge engineering and 'best practices' developed over millenniums among rural Thai people but which had fallen into disuse in the modern era.

King Bhumibol didn't think self-sufficiency had to be limited to farming regions; he proposed ways to transfer it to city peoples in Thailand. He saw self-sufficiency as foundational; this didn't mean isolating Thailand from the rest of the world or eschewing technological progress. But just as the pianist's command of a complex repertoire is grounded in practice of the scales, just as a ballet dancer's virtuoso performance is grounded in simple exercises at the barre, so human societies must ground themselves in self-sufficiency if they are to be resilient enough to withstand unpredictable events.

The process of building and maintaining self-sufficiency also develops and sustains a core of knowledge and practices that create civilizational identity, which is really mastery of the lore of how one fits into the scheme of one's immediate surrounds and the larger world. This identity creates a confidence in the person, a civilizational certainty.                         

And it is only with such certainty that one can get along well with those from other civilizations without being overwhelmed or confused. 

Which brings me to the place where I disagree with Gregory Copley. During the remainder of his discussion with Batchelor he elaborated a little on the kind of countries that should do well at maintaining civilizational identity; he had critical remarks about the United States in this regard. From notes of the conversation at the John Batchelor Show schedules page (also see Copley's article for Oil Price):
The nations that preserve their civilizational identity will fare best - Russia, Ethiopia, Israel, Persia. This could obtain in Europe but they've destroyed their civilizational [Western] identity. US could preserve itself if it reverts to its Constitution – identity, values, rights, goals, freedoms. Things that create a sense of rights and identities create coherence. US has abandoned those in favor of multiculturalism – which splits societies ...
Definitions of multiculturalism vary and I think that technically Canada is one of the very few truly multicultural countries in that multiculturalism is part of federal and provincial government policies. But in the vernacular understanding of the term, the United States has long been a place of very different cultures, and even within the largest cities there were wildly different cultures. Somehow all the people in these different cultures had a pretty clear idea of what it meant to be an American. 

That began to change in the 1960s. By then television had been ubiquitous across most of the USA for about a decade. A television in every home proved too much temptation for politicians. A new phenomenon rose -- not itself a culture but a kind of eraser of cultures: the growing preeminence of Washington, DC and its politics, the increasing obsession of the media with politics. It was like the Blob, absorbing and overpowering the riot of cultural diversity in the USA, until so much of American life became -- political. Americans identified more and more with a political party in the two-party system.  

With more and more politics there was more and more legislation and more and more homogenization across the country, as multitudes of laws were imposed across the vastness of America. These laws, too, erased more and more differences in America.  

But the more the political phenomenon spread, the more Americans became confused about their identity. In reaction Americans created many subcultures, almost cults based on, say, a particular kind of rock music, or sport or hobby or even movie, to identify with. 

But the more the subcultures proliferated, the more distant Americans became from the shared American values.

Where things stand today, at least in a big city like Washington, DC. is I think pretty well symbolized by a college student in a big grocery store wearing a T-shirt that read, "I'm for everything," but unable to chat with other people in the store except for the two friends with her, all three looking uncomfortable to be among so many strangers, as if something might jump out at them in the manner of the creatures in Aliens.

No aliens in the grocery store, just other Americans.

And so by twists and turns the many laws that were in general meant to make Americans safer created a society where fear stalks the land.

Isn't that also what happened on the European continent? Isn't it happening everywhere now?

How, then, do we find our way back to civilizational identity? Same way one gets to Carnegie Hall. Practice. Gregory Copley was voicing an objective truth, one that's been rediscovered or remembered many times in history. The truth is a path. Practice following it. 



bdoran said...

That's brilliant My Dear.

Brilliant and inspiring.

Thank you,

Pundita said...

Thanks! I revised the writing a few minutes ago to add an article from Oil Price and clarify a few concepts.