How Civilization is Warping

A long reflection, in light of recent ‘civilization warping‘ events [h/t Sen. Ben Sasse]:

I. One of the deeper questions we confront has to do with our willingness to hold to the ‘useful sometimes-lie’ that America is “rules-based”. On the one hand, there are limits to the truthfulness of this statement, and our willful naivete does, at times, empower cheaters. On the other hand, Americans’ belief in rules and fair play means that we raise our voices, and demand more, at times, from our leaders. There *is* a *real* self-fulfilling prophecy here.

II. One additional dimension here has to do with the digital era. The metaphor, for those who know a bit about IT infrastructure, is the virtual machine: societies can project their values, cultures, and ways-of-life across the ocean, in new ways. In some sense there is now a virtual “Russia”, which operates on Russian rules, that can run on top of the US society/hard drive (and, yes, vice versa). This is likely to be a feature of life, going forward, whatever happens with Trump, etc.

III. Dealing with the above complexity, associated with other globalizing trends, creates an enormous cognitive strain. At the same time, only through dealing with these various complexities, can individuals meaningfully demand *accountability* from their leaders…. At the risk of elitism, I hypothesize that some people are *simultaneously* checking out from both (a) demanding accountability and (b) dealing with the complexity (cultural, informational, etc.) generated by globalization.

IV. Putting (II) and (III) together, I believe that the promoting a culture of openness, accountability, pluralism, in the future, will (a) demand increased cognitive engagement and that it will (b) require geographical (e.g. associated with the ‘US/western hard drive’) alliances but also virtual alliances (e.g. associated with those communities dedicated to openness/pluralism in other more *geographically* authoritarian societies (e.g. China)).

V. Building such a world, then, will require actions that are both defensive (defend integrity of US democracy) and forward-leaning (create networks with like-minded folk on other parts of the world), and that are both geographically- and virtually-oriented.

VI. Putinism, then (to put a fine point on it), represents the global reaction against the demands outlined in (IV).

VII. My advocacy for a humble acceptance of the tribal aspects of society that subsume rational discourse, is tied to this analysis. In other words, working for an open/pluralist future involves picking our battles. The foundation for its success depends on relative geographical peace even if former versions of social solidarity are strained.

VIII. The word I would use to describe how we implement the above is “love” 🙂 That is, we stand a better chance at preserving social peace if we work actively to frame our dialogues with our fellow citizens, in terms of ‘love’. The odds are sometimes better for peace between two ideological extremists who frame their conversation in terms of love, as opposed to two people with more moderate differences, who refuse to show each other respect.

IX. I’m not sure I can tease out (VIII), fully, here today, but my intuition is that it follows, in some ways from the above statements. The founders of the US emphasized the need for ‘vigilance’ to protect our liberty. I think they were right. But I believe that the formula in the digital era (which is also one of weaker religious institutions) will require a more active assertion of love of one’s fellow, even if s/he believes in alternate facts.


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