Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Obama and the illusion of leadership

Why such obsessive concern with the "leaders" of the world, when these have never been of such indifferent quality, and their capacity to lead seriously undermined by globalisation? Is it because of their diminished power and lowered status that debate concentrates on character and idiosyncrasies, personal qualities, their charisma, or lack of it?

The contrast between aspirant Barack Obama and falling star Gordon Brown illustrates the point. So mediocre has the quality of leadership in the world been over the past two decades that Obama is hailed as a deliverer; a role he clearly does not repudiate. The crowds that turned out for a self-consciously historic occasion in Berlin demonstrate both the hollowness of contemporary leadership and the yearning – never entirely banished – for someone to show us the way, to inspire and to move us.

It is, of course, a mercy that the visionary leaders of the 20th century who sought to impose their malignant version of the world upon their own – and other – peoples, Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, should have departed. But to a world hungry for idealism and hope, surely the pedestrian lack of purpose of today's global leaders represents something more than a salutary corrective to the overarching ideologies of the last century. This, perhaps, is why Obama seems a redemptive figure.

It may well fall to him to restore the "image" of the United States, especially among the poor, non-white majority of the world - an eloquent comment on the disreputable shabbiness of the Bush years. But it would be folly to imagine he will do anything that runs counter to US interests. The most we can expect is some skilful choreography, a "performance" to reconcile the peoples of the world with American supremacy once more.

Just as the hope vested in Obama is excessive, so the obloquy heaped upon Gordon Brown is also unbalanced. The worst he has been guilty of is hypocrisy – claiming Prudence as his handmaiden when the going was good, and urging Patience when global turbulence and events beyond his control throw the economy into possible recession.

The obsession with leaders – the private life of Sarkozy, the manipulativeness of Berlusconi, the new-found assertiveness of the Russians, a newly emollient China anxious to prove itself a modern, responsible power – suggest they are now flamboyant individuals rather than representatives; it is as though they have nothing to do with us. People of meagre talent and modest imagination now pose as "world leaders", guides and instructors of an imaginary, shifting "international community".

Preoccupation with individuals, of course, deflects attention from the powerlessness of the people, the voiding of democracy, even in places where the most highly sophisticated "electoral process" prevails. Leaders are keen to display their control over events over which they have waning influence, an influence they have willingly ceded to the stark urgencies of globalism. The great movements of goods and money around the world, and the vanity of efforts to deter humanity from following this licit and highly profitable mobility, clearly indicate the limits of their power.

The fascination with leaders is an alibi for democratic impotence. The tendency of people to disengage from electoral politics is not evidence of a terrible apathy, but is a perfectly understandable refusal to play their walk-on part in the farce of popular sovereignty. Whoever voted for globalisation? Where is the majority in favour of concentrations of wealth and power in a handful of individuals who control more wealth than the GDP of whole countries? Who cast a ballot in favour of the de-industrialisation of Britain? Who, indeed ever voted for the establishment of manufacturing industry in the first place? Where is the universal suffrage that produced inequality in the world, which even the collective might of the United Nations and its pious millennium goals appear incapable of putting into reverse?

No wonder so much must be invested in the leaders of tomorrow – the Obamas and Camerons, fair of mien and full of promise (like Tony Blair only yesterday) – since they too must defend an existing order which, at a time of crisis, must be "mended", so that it will resume growth and expansion in perpetuity. For all our futures are already inscribed in the deterministic landscapes of universal industrial happiness. It is reminiscent of the middle ages, when rulers and kings, repenting their misdeeds, arranged for masses to be said "in perpetuity" in the cathedrals of Europe.

Perhaps it is because the function of leadership is now the management of a more or less autonomous global economy, that people of great talent, intelligence and insight simply do not put themselves forward. They do not join the exhausted political formations and clapped-out parties of right or left, in a world that has left behind the sclerotic inheritance of a time when universal suffrage still seemed a guarantor that the will of the people would be respected and implemented.

Power and privilege will always find ways round efforts to create economic and social justice. And so it has been in our time. The principal participants in the global theatre are increasingly masks of some gigantic harlequinade or Noh play. The script is pasted in the wings. It is their business to offer prospectuses of freedom and constant improvement to the people, to receive acclaim, to fail, and be scorned and repudiated for their venality and dishonesty. They know this. This is why they tend to expend so much effort providing against the time of their downfall; sometimes corruptly, usually within the loose limits placed upon their right to accumulate and prepare for the day when they will be hounded from power in defeat.

It is the ignoble shabbiness of their role that has created a highfalutin language of "governance", "high office", "senior politicians", "veteran leaders", "statesmen and women"; as well as the global babble about "transparency", "accountability" and of course, the "empowerment" and "participation" of the people. The grandiose words are merely decorative. No one should be under any illusion about the emancipatory potential of Barack Obama, and nor should we be quite so vengeful over the shambling figure of Gordon Brown who strings together cliches much as our grandmothers knitted kettle-holders. Their destiny is to strut and fret their hour upon the stage, to exit and not mess with the decor.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Famous Quotes about Wisdom (202 Quotations)

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A life of frustration is inevitable for any coach whose main enjoyment is winning.
Chuck Noll

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A man never reaches that dizzy height of wisdom that he can no longer be lead by the nose.
Mark Twain

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A nation's treasure is its scholars.
Yiddish Proverb

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A single conversation across the table with a wise man is worth a month's study of books.
Chinese Proverb

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A wise man is he who does not grieve for the thing which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.

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A wise man never knows all, only fools know everything
African Proverb

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A wise man thinks what is easy is difficult.
John Churton Collins

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A wise man will see to it that his acts always seem voluntary and not done by compulsion, however much he may be compelled by necessity.
Niccolo Machiavelli

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A wise woman puts a grain of sugar into everything she says to a man, and takes a grain of salt with everything he says to her.
Helen Rowland

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A word to the wise is not sufficient if it doesn't make sense.
James Thurber

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Action should culminate in wisdom.
Bhagavad Gita

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All human wisdom is summed up in two words; wait and hope.
Alexandre Dumas

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Among mortals second thoughts are wisest.

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As irrigators lead water where they want, as archers make their arrows straight, as carpenters carve wood, the wise shape their minds.

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As it is the characteristic of great wits to say much in few words, so small wits seem to have the gift of speaking much and saying nothing.
Francois De La Rochefoucauld

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Beauty is the wisdom of women. Wisdom is the beauty of men.
Chinese Proverb

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Behold, my son, with what little wisdom the world is ruled.
Count Axel Gustafsson Oxenstierna

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Better to get wisdom than gold.

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Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. [Proverbs 3:13-15]

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By others faults the wise correct their own.

Quotations 1 to 20 of 202

Next Last



Friday, July 25, 2008

Monday, July 21, 2008

The UC Atlas of Global Inequality

The Atlas of Global Inequality explores aspects of inequality using online, downloadable maps and graphics. All materials can be reproduced without charge if they are attributed to the UC Atlas of Global Inequality.

Global inequality has grown dramatically over the last 300 years. At the end of the Twentieth Century global income inequality was greater than ever before. There is debate amongst academics, between street protestors and global institutions, and elsewhere, about the whether inequality is rising or falling. This Atlas seeks to shed light on that debate and to broaden discussion to include aspects of inequality beyond income measures and beyond aggregated national statistics. The Atlas already includes sections on Health, Gender and Economic Crises. And it will be expanding in the future.

This Atlas has capacities rivaled by few other web sites:

- Time series maps of the world show changes in global patterns of inequality

- Country pages provide information, graphs and comparative rankings for each country

- The Global Inequality Blog summarizes key contributions to our understanding of inequality

- A database allows tables and graphs to be generated and downloaded for selected data and countries.

- Texts and the Glossary provide explanation of the issues and terms; the Bibliography provides direct links to the research.

- Teaching modules provide suggestions for using data and maps in classes.

Information about Map Projections

Successful Teaching Activities

Ideas for Teaching and Learning

Online Datasets

What's New

1/23/08 - The Mapping Global Inequalities: Beyond Income Inequality conference held this last December on

the UCSC campus provided a new forum for a wide range of academics, policy experts and professionals to further the debate over global inequality. A more detailed summary and links to papers and presentations can be found here.

4/13 - Information about the UC Atlas Global Inequality Conference is now avaliable.

2/5 - Added CEISIN's Global Distribution of Poverty to the online datasets.

Our Online Datasets page is a list of many websites containing information on Global inequality. It can be sorted according to several criteria, including year, level of geographic coverage and degree of interactivity.

12/1 - Interactive maps of development indicators are now available.

Make a map of the world based on your own choices of indicators and years.

6/19 - New map series for:

Gross Domestic Product (1975,1984,1994,2004)

Life Expectancy (1962,1972,1982,1992,2004)

Research and Debates

Debate about global income inequality trends - Firebaugh response to Wade critique

Wednesday 09th of July 2008 |article|

Mapping Global Inequalities (MGI) Conference: Papers and Presentations

Tuesday 22nd of January 2008 |article|

The Mapping Global Inequalities: Beyond Income Inequality conference held this last December on the UC Santa Cruz campus provided a new forum for a wide range of academics, policy experts and professionals to further the debate over global inequality . A link to the MGI Book of Abstracts (in PDF format) can be found here.

"The World Development Report 2006'' World Bank 2005

Thursday 07th of June 2007 |article|

This report advocates taking equity into account when determining development priorities and supports public action that aims to expand the opportunities of those who are less capable and where policy interventions are absent.

"Globalization, Poverty and Inequality: What is the Relationship? What can be done?" Kaushik Basu 2006

Wednesday 21st of March 2007 |article|

The paper studies the relationship between globalization and inequality, and suggests that the income of the poorest 20% (bottom quintile) should be the focus for policy-makers. He calls for a new international organization to reduce global inequality.


Wednesday 21st of March 2007 |website|

Worldmapper is website containing a collection of world maps, where territories are re-sized on each map according to the subject of interest. The maps presented on this website are equal area cartograms, which re-size each territory according to the variable being mapped. The project is a collaboration between faculty at the University of Sheffield and the University of Michigan.

"Region-specific versus country-specific poverty lines in analysis of poverty" Mogstad, et al. 2007

Wednesday 21st of March 2007 |article|

The objective of this paper is to use region-specific poverty lines instead of country-specific to examine the effects of poverty levels on country geographic and demographic poverty profiles. The authors are highly critical of country-specific poverty lines and suggest that regions specific lines provide a more complete understanding of a nation's poverty.

"Channels and Policy Debate in the Globalization-Inequality-Poverty Nexus" Nissanke and Thorbecke 2006

Wednesday 21st of March 2007 |article|

This article reviews what is known about how globalization may affect poverty and inequality. The literature review is organized according to the different causal links, or "channels," through which global integration may affect inequality and poverty. Appropriately, it is the opening article in a World Development Special Issue on globalization and the world's poor.

"The Global Migration of Talent: What Does it Mean for Developing Countries?" Kapur and McHale (2005)

Saturday 17th of March 2007 |article|

Kapur and McHale explore available policy responses to improve today's international migration system, where skilled labor migration from poor countries to rich countries is rapidly increasing.

"Globalization and Rural Poverty" Bardhan 2004

Thursday 01st of March 2007 |article|

Pranab Bardhan explores the effects of globalization on both agricultural and non-agricultural rural sectors around the world.

"Global patterns of income and health: facts, interpretations and policies" Deaton 2006

Monday 12th of February 2007 |video|

At the 2006 WIDER annual lecture, Angus Deaton pointed out that global inequalities in wellbeing are wider than global inequalities in income. The poor of the world are not only poorer than the rich, but also face more diseases and lower life expectancy.

"Inequalities of the World: New Theoretical Frameworks, Multiple Empirical Approaches" Therborn (Ed) 2006

Monday 12th of February 2007 |book|

Book on global inequalities with significant theoretical insights. Case studies on global health, exclusion, mobility, part-time work, knowledge, and on four country case studies: Brazil, China, Russia and France.

"The World Distribution of Household Wealth" Davies, Sandstrom, Shorrocks, and Wolff 2006

Monday 12th of February 2007 |article|

This report builds upon existing research on the world distribution of household wealth to show the large income gaps and inequalities between the global rich and the working poor.

Review essay, 'The 2006 World Development Report: Equity and Development' Roemer 2007

Sunday 11th of February 2007 |article|

In this article John E. Roemer reviews the 2006 World Development Report (WDR), issued by the World Bank. Instead of using GDP per capita as a measure of development, the 2006 WDR introduces a welfare concept based on recent ideas from political philosophy and welfare economics.

Center For Global Development and the Commitment to Development Index

Thursday 08th of February 2007 |website|

CGD is an 'independent think tank that works to reduce global poverty and inequality by encouraging policy change in the U.S. and other rich countries through rigorous research and active engagement with the policy community.' ...

Redefining Progress

Wednesday 07th of February 2007 |website|

Redefining Progress is a non-profit tracking the global economy, environment, and social justice with tools like the Genuine Progress Indicator and Ecological Footprint.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Burden of the Humanities

Wilfred M. McClay, Univ. of Tennessee, Chattanooga.
The Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2008

Lamentations about the sad state of the humanities in modern America have a familiar, indeed almost ritualistic, quality about them. The humanities are among those unquestionably nice endeavors, like animal shelters and ­tree-­planting projects, about which nice people invariably say nice things. But there gets to be something vaguely annoying about all this cloying uplift. One longs for the moral clarity of a swift kick in the ­rear.

Enter the eminent literary scholar Stanley Fish, author of a regular blog for The New York Times, who addressed the subject with a kicky piece entitled “Will the Humanities Save Us?” (Jan. 6, 2008). Where there is Fish there will always be bait, for nothing pleases this contrarian professor more than ­double-­crossing his readers’ expectations and enticing them into a heated debate, and he did not ­disappoint.

He took as his starting point Anthony Kronman’s passionate and ­high-­minded book Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life (2007), in which Kronman argues that higher education has lost its soul, and can only recover it by re-emphasizing the building of character through the study of great literary and philosophical texts. Fish was having none of such “pretty ideas.” There is “no evidence,” he sniffed, that such study has the effect of “ennobling” us or spurring us on to noble actions. If it did, then the finest people on earth would be humanities professors, a contention for which the evidence is, alas, mostly on the other side.

Teachers of literature and philosophy possess specialized knowledge, Fish asserted, but they do not have a ministry. The humanities can’t save us, and in fact they don’t really “do” anything, other than give pleasure to “those who enjoy them.” Those of us involved with the humanities should reconcile ourselves to the futility of it all, and embrace our uselessness as a badge of honor. At least that way we can claim that we are engaged in “an activity that refuses to regard itself as instrumental to some larger good.”

This sustained shrug elicited a blast of energetic and mostly negative response from the Times’ online readers. To read through the hundreds of comments is to be reminded that Americans do seem to have a strong and abiding respect for the humanities. For many of these readers, Fish’s remarks failed the test of moral seriousness, and failed to come to terms with exactly what it is that makes the humanities special, and places upon them a particular task, a particular burden, in the life of our civilization. That one of the humanities’ most famous, influential, and ­well-­paid elder statesmen would damn his own livelihood with such faint praise seems in itself a perfect indicator of where we now find ­ourselves.

What does it mean to speak of the “burden” of the humanities? The phrase can be taken several ways. First, it can refer to the weight the humanities themselves have to bear, the things that they are supposed to accomplish on behalf of us, our nation, or our civilization. But it can also refer to the ­near ­opposite: the ways in which the humanities are a source of responsibility for us, and their recovery and cultivation and preservation our job, even our ­duty.

Both of these senses of ­burden—­the humanities as preceptor, and the humanities as ­task—­need to be included in our sense of the problem. The humanities, rightly pursued and rightly ordered, can do things, and teach things, and preserve things, and illuminate things, which can be accomplished in no other way. It is the humanities that instruct us in the range and depth of human possibility, including our immense capacity for both goodness and depravity. It is the humanities that nourish and sustain our shared memories, and connect us with our civilization’s past and with those who have come before us. It is the humanities that teach us how to ask what the good life is for us humans, and guide us in the search for civic ideals and institutions that will make the good life ­possible.

The humanities are imprecise by their very nature. But that does not mean they are a form of intellectual ­finger-­painting. The knowledge they convey is not a rough, preliminary substitute for what psychology, chemistry, molecular biology, and physics will eventually resolve with greater finality. They are an accurate reflection of the subject they treat, the most accurate possible. In the long run, we cannot do without ­them.

But they are not indestructible, and will not be sustainable without active attention from us. The recovery and repair of the ­humanities—­and the restoration of the kind of insight they ­provide—­is an enormous task. Its urgency is only increasing as we move closer to the technologies of a posthuman future, a strange, ­half-­lit frontier in which bioengineering and pharmacology may combine to make all the fearsome transgressions of the past into the iron cages of the future, and leave the human image permanently ­altered.

The mere fact that there are so many people whose livelihood depends on the humanities, and that the humanities have a certain lingering cultural capital associated with them, and a resultant snob appeal, does not mean that they are necessarily capable of exercising any real cultural authority. This is where the second sense of burden comes ­in—­the humanities as reclamation task. The humanities cannot be saved by massive increases in funding. But they can be saved by men and women who believe in ­them.

First, we should try to impart some clarity to the term “humanities.” It is astounding to discover how little attention is given to this task. More often than not, we fall back upon essentially bureaucratic definitions that reflect the ways in which the modern research university parcels out office space. The commonest definition in circulation is a long sentence from a congressional ­statute—­the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965, the legislation that established the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. As you might expect, this rendition is wanting in a certain grace. But here it is: “The term ‘humanities’ includes, but is not limited to, the study of the following: language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism, and theory of the arts; those aspects of social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life.”

In some respects, this provides a useful beginning. But doesn’t it tacitly assume that we already understand the thing being defined? Rather than answer the larger question, a long list merely evades it. One doesn’t capture the animating goals of a manufacturing firm merely by listing all of the firm’s discrete activities, from procurement of raw materials to collection of accounts receivable. The task of definition requires that some overarching purpose be taken into ­account.

It is a bad sign that defenders of the humanities become ­tongue-­tied so quickly when a layperson asks what the humanities are, and why we should value them. Sometimes the answers are downright silly. At a meeting of the American Council of Learned Societies two years ago in Philadelphia, the subject was “Reinvigorating the Humanities,” but the discussion was anything but vigorous. Consider this witticism from Don Randel, then the president of the University of Chicago and ­president-­elect of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation: “When the lights go out and our friends in science haven’t developed a national energy policy, they’ll be out of business. We, with a book of poems and a candle, will still be alive.” Well, we’ll see about that. This is the kind of ­airy-­fairy, self-congratulatory silliness that gives the humanities a bad name. And when Pauline Yu, president of the council, addressed herself to the big, obvious question—Just what will it take to reinvigorate the humanities?—the answer was stupefyingly predictable. What was needed was, in the immortal words of the great American labor leader Samuel Gompers, more: more money, more fundraising attention from university leaders, more support from Congress, more jobs for ­professors.

The fixation on a Gompers agenda suggests that many of those who speak for the humanities, especially within the organized scholarly disciplines (history, English, and the like), have not quite acknowledged the nature of the problem. The humanities reached unprecedented heights of prestige and funding in the post–World War II era. But their advocates can only dream of such status today. Now the humanities have become the Ottoman Empire of the academy, a sprawling, incoherent, and steadily declining congeries of disparate communities, each formed around one or another credal principle of ideology and identity, and each with its own complement of local sultans, khedives, and potentates. And the empire steadily erodes, as colleges and universities eliminate such core humanities departments as classics (or, at the University of Southern California, German), and enrollment figures for humanities courses continue to fall or stagnate. Even at Anthony Kronman’s Yale College, which has an unusually strong commitment to the humanities and many stellar humanities departments, the percentage of undergraduates majoring in humanities fields has fallen sharply since 1986, from half of all majors to just over a ­third.

The thing most needful is not more money, but a willingness to think back to first principles. What are the humanities, other than disciplines with “humanistic content”? What exactly are the humanities for, other than giving pleasure to people who enjoy playing inconsequential games with words and ­concepts?


We live in a different age, far less enamored of the machine, if far more dependent upon it. Which raises, in a different way, the question of the humanities’ past and future. Do any of these three previous understandings of the ­humanities—­the human as opposed to the animal, the divine, or the rational-mechanical—­have any meaning in our times? All three still do, and will continue to. Each has derived its power from its willingness to assert, and insist upon, some crucial aspect of what it means to be human, some aspect that the conditions of the day may have threatened to submerge. What we are as humans is, in some respects, best defined by what we are not: not gods, not angels, not devils, not machines, not merely animals (and ordinarily not rats). The humanities, too, have always defined themselves in opposition, and none of the tendencies they have opposed have ceased to exist, even if they are not as dominant as they once were. That is one of the many reasons why great works of the ­past—­from Aristotle to Dante to Shakespeare to ­Dostoevsky—­do not become obsolete, and have shown the power to endure, and to speak to us today, once we develop the ability to hear them. Indeed, one of the repeated themes of Western intellectual history is the revival of the present by the recovery of the past, a principle most brilliantly exemplified by the Italian Renaissance’s ­self-­conscious appropriation of classical ideals, but also illustrated in our own time by the sustained interest in the recovery of classical philosophy as the platform for a penetrating critique of ­modernity.

But there can be little doubt that the principal challenges to humanity’s humanness have always shifted over time. In our own age, the very category of “the human” itself is under attack, as philosophers decry the hierarchical distinction between humans and animals, or humans and nature, and postmodernists of various stripes proclaim the disappearance of the human “subject.” We also are far less clear about what we mean by the word “culture,” and about the standards by which it is judged, including most notably the clear distinction between “high” and “low,” let alone “excellence” and “mediocrity.” Matthew Arnold felt reasonably confident that we could agree upon what constituted “the best” examples of humanistic expression. But we are not so certain that such a category even makes sense ­anymore.

Still, if the past is any guide, what we call “the humanities” will survive and thrive, however we choose to define them. Indeed, it seems likely that they will experience yet another transformation in the years to ­come—­one that will be, as all the transformations of previous eras have been, an assertion, or reassertion, of some essential element in our humanity that is being neglected or debased or misunderstood. Just what form it will take is impossible to say with any certainty. But I think it possible that the transformation may already be taking its bearings from the problems and prospects now opening before us in the realms of biotechnology and medicine. These ­developments—­human cloning, genetic engineering, artificial wombs, ­species ­melding, ­body-­parts manufacture, bionic and pharmacological enhancements, and many ­others—­are not necessarily favorable to our human flourishing; nor are they necessarily threats to it. But they call into question precisely the inherent limitations that have always figured into what it means to be human, and throw open the windows of possibility, in ways both terrifying and ­exciting.

One of the ways that the humanities can indeed save ­us—­if they can recover their ­nerve—­is by reminding us that the ancients knew things about humankind that modernity has failed to repeal, even if it has managed to forget them. One of the most powerful witnesses to that fact was Aldous Huxley, whose Brave New World (1932) continues to grow in stature as our world comes increasingly to resemble the one depicted in its pages. In that world, as one character says, “everybody’s happy,” thanks to endless sex, endless consumer goods, endless youth, ­mood-­altering drugs, and ­all-­consuming entertainment. But the novel’s hero, who is named the Savage, stubbornly proclaims “the right to be unhappy,” and dares to believe that there might be more to life than pleasure: “I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” In the end, the Savage is put on display as if he were a rare zoo animal: the Nietzschean “Last Man.”

Huxley understood that there was something nobly incorrigible in the human spirit, a restlessness and conflictedness that is built into the constitution of our humanity, an unease that somehow comes with being what we are, and that could not be stilled by a regime of mere good feeling, or willingly be sacrificed for its sake. But he also teases and taunts us with the possibility that we might be willing to give up on our peculiarly ­betwixt-­and-­between status, and give up on the riddle that every serious thinker since the dawn of human history has tried to understand. Huxley was disturbing, but also prescient, in fearing that in the relentless search for happiness, it is entirely thinkable that human beings might endeavor to alter their very nature, tampering with the last bastion of fate: their genetic constitution. Should that happen, supreme irony of ironies, the search for human happiness would culminate in the end of the human race as we know it. We would have become something else. The subject, man, would have been devoured by its ­object.

This is, of course, not really so different from the ­self-­subverting pattern of the 20th century’s totalitarian ideologies, which sought to produce “happy” societies by abolishing the independence of the individual. Yet the lure of a pleasure-swaddled posthumanity may be the particular form of that temptation to which the Western liberal democracies of the 21st century are especially prone. Hence the thrust of Huxley’s work, to remind us that if we take such a step in our “quest to live as gods” we will be leaving much of our humanity behind. One of those things left behind may, ironically, be happiness itself, since the very possibility of human happiness is inseparable from the struggles and sufferings and displacements experienced by our restless, complex, and incomplete human natures. Our tradition teaches that very lesson in a hundred texts and a thousand ways, for those who have been shown how to see and hear it. It is not a lesson that is readily on offer in our increasingly distracted world. It is the work of the humanities to remind us of it, and of much else that we are ever-more disposed to ­forget.

Full-text available; click here.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cities on the Earth XI: Bogota, Brussels, Budapest, Mumbai, Nairobi

Bogota, Columbia

Brussels, Belgium

Budapest / Hungary

Mumbai/Bombay, India

Nairobi, Kenya

Coming Next…

Dakar, Senegal
Denver, USA
Edinburgh, Scotland
Hong Kong, China
Jakarta, Indonesia

Karachi, Pakistan
Los Angeles, USA
Melbourne, Australia
Moscow, Russia
Yerevan, Armenia

Beirut, Lebanon
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Prag, Czech Republic
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Stockholm, Sweden

Miami, USA
Quebec, Canada
Rome, Italy
Sofia, Bulgaria
Ulaanbaataar, Mongolia

Friday, July 11, 2008

Is America Ready for a Post-American World?

Francis Fukayama, Johns Hopkins Univ.
The American Interest, July 7 2008

The following is a transcript of a commencement address by Francis Fukuyama, delivered at the Pardee Rand Graduate School, Santa Monica, CA, June 21, 2008.

I’m really deeply honored to be asked to be the commencement speaker for Pardee Rand Graduate School this year, and to able to serve on the boards of both the PRGS and now the RAND Corporation.

I’d like to extend my congratulations to all of those receiving degrees today. I’ve been there before, I know what a struggle it is to make it this far. I’d like to congratulate the families, the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, spouses, children, because without their support, it really is not possible to achieve this educational level. And I’d also like to congratulate Frank Carlucci and Alain Enthoven who are getting honorary degrees today. I can’t imagine two people more deserving of this honor for their lifetime of public service to get honorary degrees. And finally, I’d like to acknowledge the hard work of the faculty and staff at PRGS.

I attended my son’s high school graduation last week, and at that event, people say the usual things about how you’re just starting on a long road in life, and you’ve got your futures ahead of you. Those of you, particularly those of you getting PhDs today, aren’t really in that position. I would say that you have already committed yourselves to a certain road. I don’t think there’re many of you who are going to become architects, or accountants, or stand-up comedians; maybe that’s in your future. But I suspect that having invested this amount of time in the serious study of public policy you are committed really to that way of life. And so, you are now in the business of helping your country, whatever country that is, make better choices in the public realm. And so, in a sense, this is less of a commencement than a rededication to a path that you have chosen some time ago. The only difference is that now, perhaps, you’ll be able to earn some money in the process of doing it.

Now, the subject that I want to address today, is how the world has changed. I think that the period from when I started at RAND as a summer intern in 1978 to the present is an amazing period in history, during which we’ve gone through three distinct phases.

In 1978, we were in the midst of the cold war, and at that time I was one of about a dozen full-time people here at RAND who studied the former Soviet Union. People overstate how simple and predictable the world was back then, but, the Cold War did in fact provide a very recognizable framework that all of us operated in. When I left RAND, or at least when I left Santa Monica, we entered a post-war world, one that was characterized by American hegemony. I think in that respect both the Clinton and the Bush presidencies, despite their political differences, shared a common assumption, that the United States was absolutely the predominant power in the world and that American power would be sufficient to shape outcomes all over the world. I think the Clinton administration tended to emphasize this in the area of economic policy, and the Bush administration in the area of security, but, in that respect, they both were the beneficiaries and practitioners of American hegemony.

Today, we are evidently entering a very different kind of world. The Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria has labeled this a “post-American world”. I’m not sure he’s right about this, but I do get a very strong sense that as we speak, conditions in the global economy are changing in very dramatic ways, and I don’t think that the assumptions that undergirded either the cold war world, or this extended period of American hegemony, are going to be sufficient to guide us in the world that is emerging.

Let me go over some of the ways in which the world is changing. The first obviously has to do with the emergence of a multi-polar world. This is not a story about American decline. The United States remains the dominant power in the world, but what is happening is the rest of the world is catching up. The power shift in terms of economic earnings is very dramatic. Russia, China, India, the states of the Persian Gulf are all growing while America is sinking into a recession; something that underlines the stark differences in a way the rest of the world has become decoupled from the American economy.

In the Clinton years and in the Bush years, the United States was used to lecturing the rest of the world about how to get it’s economic house in order, but it seems to me that those kinds of lectures tend to ring a bit more hollow now that we have suffered the kind of financial crisis that we’ve experienced in the past year. The most dramatic evidence of this shift in power is the simple facts about the endebtedness of the United States, and the accumulating reserves on the part of a lot of countries in the rest of the world. The People’s Republic of China has something like one and a half trillion dollars in reserves; Russia $550 billion, Korea $260 billion, Thailand $110 billion, Algeria $120 billion. The little states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, collectively have about 300 billion in reserves. Saudi Arabia just by itself is saving money at the rate of approximately 15 billion dollars every single month, as a result of energy exports.

Obviously this kind of accumulation of reserves is a phenomenon that in the short run doesn’t signal a shift in power because money of this sort doesn’t obviously translate into military or other kinds of power. On the other hand, a few hundred billion dollars here, a few trillion dollars there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money. I suspect that as time goes on, this kind of earning power is going to be translated into important shifts in the way that countries interact. Down the road, I think it is inevitable that we are going to be facing a world in which American options are much more constrained. This may be due to shifts in the military balance of power down the road, but it’s also in terms of soft power. Today, the Chinese and Indians export movies, there are Korean pop stars that are popular all over Asia; the Japanese produce anime and manga; there are, in short, other sources of cultural creativity besides the sort that comes out of this particular city, Los Angeles. One particularly worrying trend is the growing reluctance of foreign students to study in American Universities due to the obstacles we ourselves have put up to their coming here. I’m glad to see that in the PRGS class, non-Americans are extremely well represented, but over the past few years, students from around the world have been finding other alternatives than going to American universities.

The emergence of this economic multi-polar world has been much commented on. But there’s a second important respect in which the world has changed, which has to do with the very character of international relations today. If you look at the part of the world that extends from North Africa through the Middle East into the Persian Gulf, Central Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, all the way to the borders of the Indian sub-continent, you are dealing with a world that I think is quite different from the classical world that is taught in international relations theory courses, or that characterized the world of the 20th century.

That world was dominated by strong, centralized states, and international politics was the story about the interaction of these strong, centralized states—Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany, the former Soviet Union, and the like. What is different about today’s international world is that it is dominated not by strong states, but by weak and sometimes failing states where the usual instruments of power, in particular, hard military power, don’t work that well.

The characteristics of the weak state world were noted after the Lebanon war in 2006 by Henry Kissinger, who said that Hezbollah “is in fact a metastasization of the Al Qaeda pattern, it acts openly as a state within a state, a non-state entity on the soil of a state with all the attributes of a state and backed by the major regional powers, is something new in international relations.”

Well, unfortunately, it’s not simply new, and it’s not simply characteristic of Lebanon, it is true of many countries throughout that part of the world. Why does this weak state world exist? I think it has to do with a lot of different factors. It has to do with the fact that around the world as development occurs, we have the mobilization of new social actors and groups that were formally excluded from power, like the Shiites in Lebanon, but, it extends to our continent as well. We’ve had tremendous turmoil in the Andean region of Latin America because of the fact you have indigenous peoples in places like Bolivia and Ecuador who were largely cut out of power, and who are now demanding their share of it, and are consequently destabilizing the democratic institutions that are in place there.

There is furthermore a dark side to globalization. We have gotten used to celebrating globalization as a source of international trade, investment, and therefore, economic growth. Countries like China and India have benefited enormously from globalization. But globalization means a reduction in the barriers to things crossing international borders, and sometimes those things are bad things—they can be things like drugs or international gangs. They can be laundered money, they can be blood diamonds, or they can be militias and political parties that act fluidly across international boundaries using the Internet. We have a big trade in international gangs between Los Angeles and Central America.

And there is a strange world that is now appearing in which national development is intimately connected with international affairs. Today in sub-Saharan Africa, a region widely recognized as the poorest part of the world, some 10% of the GDP of that entire region comes from international donors. The international community both helps countries there develop, but also makes if difficult for states to consolidate themselves in ways that European states did in the 400 years after the Reformation. For all of these reasons, this weak state world I think is here to stay for some time.

This weak state world has a lot of implications for American power. We need to consider this very perplexing fact: The United States spends as much on its military as virtually, the entire rest of the world combined, and yet, when you look at Iraq, a country of some 24 million people, it is now five years and counting since the United States invaded and occupied that country, and to this day we have not succeeded in pacifying it fully. And the reasons for that I think really have to do with the nature of power itself, because we are trying to use an instrument—hard military power—that we used in the 20th century world of great powers and centralized states in a weak state world, and that instrument does not work as well. You cannot use hard power to create legitimate institutions to build nations, to consolidate politics and all of the other things that are necessary for political stability in this part of the world.

There are other things afoot in international politics because of American dominance over the last two decades: other countries are mobilizing against the United States. You have alliances like the Shanghai Cooperation Council that had organized themselves to push the United States out of Asia, after our post September 11 entry into that region. We cannot call on our democratic allies to the extent that we used to be able to. This was obviously true in Iraq, but even in a country like Afghanistan, where our allies in principle agree with the legitimacy of the intervention, we have had tremendous difficulties in getting them to pony up the necessary resources, troops and support. Even a country like Korea that has been a traditional American ally has been convulsed with anti-American demonstrations over the past couple of months because of the controversy over imports of American beef.

And so, we face a world in which we need a very different set of skills. We need to be able to deploy and use hard power, but there are a lot of other aspects of projecting American values and institutions that need to underlie a continuing leadership role for the United States in the world. Let me give you one illustration. Back in the early 1990s, my colleague at Johns Hopkins, Michael Mandelbaum, wrote a piece in Foreign Affairs. It was a critique of American foreign policy as social work, in particular of the Clinton administration’s efforts in the Balkans and Somalia and Haiti to do nation building. His message was that real men and real foreign policy professionals don’t do this kind of nation building or deploy soft power, but rather deal with hard power with military force.

But in fact, American foreign policy has to be preoccupied with a certain kind of social work today. If you look at the opponents of American power around the world, groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hammas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Mr. Ahmadinejad in Iran, as well as populist leaders in Latin America like Hugo Chavez, Rafael Correa, or Evo Morales, all of them have succeeded in coming to power because they can offer social services directly to poor people in their countries. The United States, by contrast, has really had relatively little to offer in this regard over the past generation. We can offer free trade, and we can offer democracy, these are very good and important things, the basis for growth and political order. But they tend not to appeal to poor populations that are the real constituents of this struggle for power and influence in the world.

So the requirements of an American leadership role are quite different and the question that arises; “Is America really ready to deal with a world in which it cannot assume its own hegemony?” Now, I want to make one thing very clear at the outset. I do not believe in inevitable American decline, and this is not going to be a talk about how we are declining. The United States has enormous assets in technology, in competitiveness, in entrepreneurship, flexible labor markets, and financial institutions that are in principle strong (laughter), but are having a little bit of difficulty at the present moment.

I think one of America’s greatest advantages is its ability to absorb people from other countries and cultures. Virtually all developed countries are experiencing the severe demographic crisis. They are getting smaller with every passing year, because of falling birthrates of native-born people. Any successful developed country in the future is going to have to accommodate immigrants and people from different cultures, and I believe the United States is unique in its ability to do so.

I think that the problems that the United States faces are really ones that are of our own creating. None of the problems and challenges that the United States faces are insoluble. The problems are really political and institutional ones.

First, we face a number of long term fiscal challenges. I don’t have to explain to anyone at RAND about the long term health care liabilities that we are creating for ourselves. A single program, Medicare, is going to punch this enormous hole in the federal budget if we do not act to do something about it. Social Security is similarly a long term time bomb, and there are long deferred investments in infrastructure that have not been made over the past few years. But, in principal, all of these problems are soluble.

I would identify three particular areas of weakness that we must remedy if we are to get through this particular set of challenges. These three are, first, the diminishing capacity of our public sector; secondly, a certain complacency on the part of Americans about understanding the world from a perspective other than that of the United States; and third, our polarized political system that is incapable of even discussing solutions to these problems.

Let me go over each of these. Let’s begin with the problem of the declining capacity of the public sector. We have seen in the past few years a depressing number of policy failures due to the inability of our public officials to actually carry out, plan and implement policies that we agree on. The most obvious case of this was the failure to adequately plan for the occupation and subsequent counter-insurgency war that broke out in Iraq. Part of that was the result of a political miscalculation as to how the United States would be received, but even after it was clear that the United States was in Iraq for the long haul, it took an extraordinary amount of time to adjust to those conditions and move to move to a counter-insurgency strategy. Indeed, it took President Bush longer to find a good general, General Patraeus, than it took Lincoln to find Grant in the Civil War. There are many other examples where we have actually agreed on policies, and have not been able to follow through.

We’ve engaged in two major reorganizations of the federal government in Washington over the last few years; the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and reorganization of the intelligence community. I would say that as a result of these reorganizations, we are less capable in both of those areas than we were, had we not done the reorganizations in the first place. The Department of Homeland Security was supposed to enable the United States to respond to major urban disasters, and yet, the response to Hurricane Katrina was a total fiasco.

Let me site one further case that some of you here at RAND may know about, the Freedom, which is a new class of littorall combat ships, was recently launched by the US navy. Now, this program has been repeatedly delayed and is more than twice over budget as a result of some major design flaws. RAND knows a lot about military procurement, and I’m sure that long time observers of the procurement process will say that this is nothing new. We’ve had a lot of similar fiascos like this in the past. What caught my eye though was a comment by our Navy Secretary about this case that was quoted in the New York Times. He “lamented the Pentagon’s eroding expertise in systems engineering—managing complex new projects to ensure that goals are achievable and affordable—and faulted the notion that industry could best manage ambitious development projects.” Now, this one procurement case is not in itself too significant, but I do not think there is a single agency across the entire federal government where you could not tell the similar story, where the capacity of the public sector to adequately manage the contractors and to retain within itself the capacity to carry out complex projects has not eroded over the last thirty years.

The causes of this erosion are complex. Some people blame it on politicization of senior offices. That may be the case, but, I’m afraid there may be a deeper problem in our public sector. It is very hard to attract bright young people to go into public service today. It’s partly because there are a lot of competitive jobs in the private sector that offer better pay. It’s also because in public service, we have managed to tie ourselves into knots where people in public service end up dealing more with process than with substance. Since the late 1990s, the US State Department by statute has been forced to dedicate itself to protecting its own personnel as its primary job, not representing the United States to foreign governments, and as a result, diplomats spend their time holed up in massive concrete bunkers, rather than going out and dealing with people in other countries. Stories like this, I think, are spread across the American public sector.

The second issue has to do with complacency about the outside world. After Sputnik in the late 1950s, the United States responded to the Soviet challenge by making massive investments in basic science and technology. This proved to be a very successful set of investments that reaffirmed American technological leadership. After September 11th, we could have reacted in a similar way, by making large investments in our ability to understand complex parts of the world that we did not understand very well like the Middle East. It is a scandal that in this monstrous new embassy we’ve created in Baghdad, we only have a handful of fluent Arabic speakers. As I was driving to work the other morning, I was listening to an NPR radio program in which they were praising their own coverage of the Beijing Olympics, and of China in general. They said “We have a reporter on staff in Beijing, and he actually can speak Chinese!” I’ve heard that there are some reporters in the Chinese press agency Xinhua in Washington who can in fact speak English.

The final issue I think really has to do with the political deadlock that we face with our political system. Again, this has been commented on a great deal. The polarization has put off the table serious discussion of how to solve some of these long term and very clear challenges that every public policy expert understands. It is not possible to talk about raising taxes to pay for badly needed public goods on the Right. It is not possible to talk about issues like privatizing social security, or raising the retirement age on the Left. Neither the Left nor the Right has had the political courage to suggest raising energy taxes, which has been the obvious way of dealing with foreign energy dependency and encouraging alternative sources of energy. And so the political culture that we have created as a result of this kind of politics is incapable of making the decisions that we need.

I’ve spoken a lot about the United States today. I realize that among our graduates, there are many people who are not Americans, and many of you will return to your countries and will pursue public policy analysis there. Everybody, I believe, will benefit from better policy analysis of the sort that a PRGS education provides. But I don’t think that anyone around the world will benefit from an America that is inward looking, incapable of executing policies, and too divided to make important decisions. That hurts not just Americans, but, I think, the rest of the world as well. Graduates should be very proud of their having spent the time and effort to dedicate themselves to learning how to make better public policy. This is a noble objective, and one that is sorely needed in both in this country, and abroad.

RAND is dedicated to objective non-partisan research, but I suspect that all of you who have pursued degrees at PRGS have done so because you have a certain passion, an individual passion for public issues, and you want to make those policies better. So, as you leave RAND, I think that it is important that you maintain your objectivity and your credibility in your mode of doing research, but that you safeguard that passion because that is what is going to drive you to do good things out in the world.

Thank you very much.

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