Saturday, November 14, 2015

Naim - The End of Power

A month after a Russian plane was alleged to have been downed by an ISIS bomb, one day after Lebanon was also bombed, and less than 24 hours after multiple attacks in Paris the pundits will most likely start their tirade of blaming and politicians will begin the exploitation of the tragedy of others for their own advancement. Lest we fall prey to their spin, we need to look for the fuller, historic and contemporary conditions related to these atrocities. I offer no excuses, no blame, but search for understanding and I hope more and more true patriots of all countries will join together in finding solutions.

A book I recently read, The End of Power (Moises Naim, 2013), provided some insights that could be relevant to understanding terrorism and its impact on us all. Naim’s thesis is that the dynamics of power in our world have changed and that the change is irreversible. Whether talking about the power of military, institutions, politics, economics, or other systems, power is less accessible, harder to maintain, and more widely distributed than we’ve experienced in modern history. Naim proposes “that power is shifting from brawn to brains, from north to south, and west to east, from old corporate behemoths to agile start-ups, from entrenched dictators to people in town squares and cyberspace.” The dynamic of elusive and changing power has set loose a process of power grabbing and manipulation that denies traditional power-holders the chance to control what is going on around us.

Our current ideas about power being vested in large, influential organizations and in individual leaders and governments came from the industrial era, a time when massification and bureaucracy were seen as the path to prominence, profit, and effectiveness. The End of Power proposes that power is different as a result of revolutions in three areas – more, mobility, and mentality. These three revolutions have resulted from the expansion of access to products and services worldwide (more), movement of people and ideas across borders (mobility), and the fact that now every person and institution is subject to challenge (mentality). These revolutions have broken down the former barriers to power that protected the privilege of the few who previously controlled them. In place of the controlling dictators or bureaucratic systems, the new order is defined by democratic processes, minority and factional groups, regional coalitions, and grass-roots movements.

Today, after Russia, Lebanon, and France have all been attacked by ISIS, we have to understand that believing in battle ships and drones ignores the ubiquitous and seemingly uncontrollable presence and action of violent, dispersed, and stealthful splinter groups. In Naim’s words, “The decay of power has changed the terms and the possibilities of conflict, increasing the influence of small, nonstate, and nontraditional players as the tools have generalized and the costs have tumbled.” Those in business also face a very different competitive world where advantage often goes to a smaller organization that can innovate without the encumbrance of approvals, traditions, and over-attention to the risk of brand. For those concerned with politics, it’s critical to understand that the paralysis observed in the U.S.A. and other “mature” democracies is largely the result of the same dynamics that have undermined power in the military and business – conflicting interests asserting their demands or product without regard for the impact for anyone else.

Naim compels us to name the change we are experiencing, understand its dynamics, and stop bemoaning the loss of privileged power that has trapped many of us in blind alleys. Those who continue to simplify what is going on to elementary levels have to be called out. The terrible simplifiers of our age offer simplistic and uninformed direction that may make us feel good (i.e. “Make America Great Again”) but sets us against each other. These simplifiers also exploit anyone with lower critical thinking insight or those whose identities are wrapped up in being victims. Once we join together in calling out the terrible simplifies, we need to work as citizen patriots to foster trust in each other and in people and systems that need our support.  This is the essence of renewed democracy as more citizens from many different perspectives begin to participate on our own ground rather than the platform offered to us by those who continue to perpetuate a form of power that is proving to be ineffective. “The undeniable positive consequences of the decay of power include freer societies, more elections and options for voters, new platforms for organizing communities, more ideas and possibilities, more investment and trade, and more competition among firms and thus more options for consumers.”


Greg Wendling said...

Of course, as humans, our stock and trade is our brain. Being the brawn has always been less important than controlling the brawn. So, there is no shifting power from brawn to brain. But this only works until it doesn’t. Meaning it works unless brawn changes its mind or has its mind changed. The mechanisms for this are almost endless. Perhaps a lasting solution lies in facilitating equal brawn of everyone, or as close as possible. That is what was behind our Founders’ actions.

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