At one particular “World Affairs Council” event in Washington, one of the hosts spoke of the need for a “common strategy” that would coordinate and organize the disparate efforts of different nations towards one particular end, which undoubtedly is global order and stability. For a common strategy towards peace to materialize, it would mean there is a meeting of the minds between all nations and their leaders. In order for a meeting of the minds to happen, there would have to be a leader who is persuasive enough to get everyone on board with a particular vision and the strategy which accompanies the fulfillment of such a vision.
Before any global strategy is designed and implemented, however, the first step that needs to take place is the implementation of regional cooperative schemes similar to the type founded by the European Union, which have yet to materialize in the most volatile regions of the world such as the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia. Arguably, economic downturns can be attributed merely to social strife between nations and individuals. When one takes into account the Great Depression of the 1930’s, on a surface level the cause of this depression was a downturn in the stock market. But what was the impetus behind the impetus, namely, the stock market crash? History shows that isolationist and protectionist measures taken by Western nations vis-à-vis one another due to competition and social strife led to the economic and monetary policies that triggered the stock market crash and thus the economic depression and global war that ensued. While today’s coronavirus pandemic naturally prompts individuals and nations to turn inward, losing sight of the interconnection and interdependence that undergirds the international economy will only exacerbate the already dire economic and social conditions that plague many places.
Nor has foreign policy helped in ameliorating the economic and social upheaval taking place around the globe at the moment. In fact, one can attribute these upheavals mainly towards foreign policy. For one, the “Washington Consensus” of spreading capitalism and democracy around the world which serves as the state ideology of the United States has largely been discredited due to the impracticality of its implementation in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, as was the case with the implementation of Marxism during the Cold War. If the “Washington Consensus” was practical, why was it not implemented in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan?
Nevertheless, the foreign policy apparatus in Washington, otherwise known as “The Blob,” which was a name coined by Stephen Walt, peddled a scam that led to the proliferation of drug mafias and terrorist groups in the Middle East and North Africa. Furthermore, expert opinion outweighs popular opinion, and to suggest that the imposition of capitalism or democracy through military means was a prescription to the hardships of life in developing countries made a dire situation worse. The whole point of domestic and foreign policy for the United States as well as other nations is to preserve one’s power and prestige, both of which were lost in the process over the past twenty years, which in turn will most likely lead to balance and equilibrium between the three major power centers of the world, namely, America, Europe, and Asia.
Arguably, what is more important than the divide between capitalist-democracy on one hand and authoritarian-socialism on the other hand is a leader who can find middle ground between the two systems. As history has shown, neither system is perfect because of the mere fact that the human beings who design and implement these systems are inherently flawed. One particular definition of economics is the study of how one uses scarce resources, including time.
Global hegemony, as manifested by incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq, was not a wise use of scarce resources. Nevertheless, the outcome is balance and equilibrium between various power centers as mentioned before, and it is also befitting that the classical Smithian economic approach consisting of peace, low taxes, and less government intrusion into people’s lives which in turn will allow the “invisible hand” to put everything into place and establish perfect balance and equilibrium is still a wise prescription for governments to use when structuring their societies. One should ask why the policy of global hegemony and war was a failure. The answer can be found in the teachings of Sir Basel Liddell Hart, who defined “victory” as the attainment of a peace that was better than the peace that was had before war. When we look at the situation around the globe today, one can soundly argue that America’s wars over the past two decades were an abject failure based on Liddell Hart’s metric.
While a couple of bureaucrats waged global wars and squandered America’s blood and treasure, Congress stood by and engaged in nothing but what Mitch McConnell called “political theater.” Amidst this smoldering chaos in Washington, no one stopped to reflect on how this flawed form of cognitive behavior in Washington was perceived by other countries. This flawed form of cognitive behavior is now manifesting in the form of Donald Trump and the downturn of the global economy spurred by a pandemic.
What is most damaging to the American psyche, however, is the fact that these economic and social upheavals resulting from the failed policy of global hegemony and war have largely discredited the notion of “American exceptionalism.” Globalization has made the world smaller than before, and as a result identities and cultures are evolving. Thus, what it means to be an “American” will also evolve. Orthogenesis is the technical term for the evolution of cultures. As Ray Dalio said, evolve or die. No one is an exception to this rule. The “inherent force,” as Leibniz described, is the soul, which is in a constant state of motion despite resistance from matter, which prefers to be in a state of inertia. Nevertheless, the focus of nature is on the soul and its constant evolution and reform, which in turn shapes matter.
A perfect system, according to Leibniz, comes into being when there is perfect balance and equilibrium between the material and spiritual aspects of man, which is attainable as long as there is an evolution of cognitive behavior. Status quo behavior and policies not only have an adverse effect on the general population, but they also have an adverse effect on the people who have to execute these policies. Even our hunter-gatherer ancestors were in a constant search for information and food that would help them better survive. The key to evolution, however, is submission to a higher power and unconventional sources of information that are considered heresy by conventional standards. There is a proverb narrated by Dale Carnegie, which states: “By fighting you never get enough, but by yielding you get more than you expected.”
Thus, patience and restraint are necessary within a social context defined by the zero-sum paradigm. One should also acknowledge the primal motives for economic and social behavior. As Sigmund Freud argued, the sex urge and the desire to be “great” explain everything. Yet, people still face an existential crisis that has caused the social upheaval of our day and age. For the most part, war has come to an end due to the strategic context defined by “Mutual Assured Destruction” (MAD). Within this strategic context, the advantage has belonged to China, and according to the BBC, China’s positive economic growth has continued after the Chinese government effectively contained the coronavirus outbreak within China. At the frontier of the world economy, China also holds a competitive advantage over the United States in the development of 5G technology through Huawei, as well as green economy projects.
As a result, the center of world power is slowly shifting to Asia because of the cultural and religious inclinations towards a minimalist approach to material things and an emphasis on happiness and spiritual fulfillment. It is why Bhutan is considered by some to be the happiest country on earth. Continuous evolution and reforms to cognitive behavior are the only means available towards the accomplishment of the Durkheimian “collective end,” which is the attainment of a perfect balance and equilibrium between the material and spiritual dimensions of man. No one can deny that this perfect balance is what everyone is striving for. One should also note that when striving for this perfection, your only competition is yourself, which makes the pursuit intriguing and less strenuous than the competition that exists within the zero-sum paradigm.
Yet, as Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein have argued in a book titled “Nudge,” the assumption that people make the best choices and decisions for themselves is largely wrong. Moreover, it is impossible to avoid influencing people’s choices and decisions. Also, coercion is not the only means by which a person can influence the choices and decisions of others. What is missing are small details and tiny bits of information that can make a world of a difference in both government and in private life.
Many people overlook the most crucial details and information because most people make choices and decisions based on emotion and impulse rather than deliberation and intensive thought. The mind itself is believed to be governed by two contrasting systems. For one, there is the “automatic” system. On the other hand, there is the “reflective” system. Thus, according to Thaler and Sunstein, the point is to “nudge” people rather than coerce them into choices and decisions as well as proactive behavior rather than reactive behavior that would drastically improve their lives by providing details and information that seems trivial on the surface but in reality, their significance cannot be overstated.
As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin argued, the only issue left unresolved by science and technology is the issue of love and sex. The human condition has rapidly improved over the past couple of centuries in material terms, but the spiritual fulfillment that is attained through love and sex has often eluded our grasp. As Teilhard states:
“As in the biblical Eden, the majority of fruits are now allowed to the initiate. His, if he feels their attraction, the ‘vocation,” his the joys of artistic creation, the conquests of thought, the emotional excitement of discovery. These broadenings of personality are accepted as sanctifying or sanctifiable. One tree, however, still carries the initial prohibition, the tree of the feminine. And so we are still faced by the same dilemma – either we can have woman only in marriage, or we must run away from the feminine.”
As a devout Christian, Teilhard would have well suggested that religion is the only mechanism which provides the rules necessary for steering and taming the forces of love and sex towards spiritual progress and ultimately the fulfillment of our needs and wants, which he ultimately does. Teilhard states: “It is biologically evident that to gain control of passion and so make it serve spirit must be a condition of progress.”
To follow a system requires belief in the system. But belief has its benefits. As the Prophet Muhammad stated, the believer has two qualities. For one, a believer lives a long and healthy life. Second, the believer does good things voluntarily, thus overcoming inertia through the improvement of cognitive behavior. One should also be mindful of the insignificance of man in the overall scheme of the universe. As Ray Dalio writes, the human species is only one out of ten million species on earth. In turn, earth is only one out of 100 billion planets in our galaxy, and our galaxy is only one out of about two trillion galaxies in the universe. The lifetime of one individual at the present moment is only 1/3000th of humanity’s existence, and humanity has only existed for 1/20,000th of the time earth has existed. What gives the phrase “E Pluribus Unum” its veritas is the oneness of truth, and arguably it is only through the attainment of truth that one can adequately attain their needs and wants.