The End of Power
By Moisés Naím
From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn’t What It Used to be..
By Moisés Naím
Perseus Books, 2013
Hardback $35, kindle $9, audio $ 35 ( + tax, & shipping)
Amazon 2015 Editors Pick
This is a book for millennials. It is an extensive and possibly seminal work, not a quick or easy read. There are eleven chapters, each consisting of about ten sections. I found it almost impossible to summarize, so will start with some observations that may put it in context:
We live in a time of world wide societal upheaval, arguably brought about by critical developments in technology. Similar radical change has occurred in the past, as when:
- mobile hunter-gathering was replaced by place-bound agriculture, leading ultimately to cities, tribal warring religions, art, architecture, scientific discovery, and monarchic faith backed nation-states;
- The printing press made information or knowledge, formerly tediously recorded in manuscripts and available only to the monastic and wealthy few, available to the many; this lead to many decades of bloody revolution- the Thirty Year War- culminating in the overthrow of monarchic religious states, and the birth of political and individual religious freedom.
- A perfect storm of scientific developments like the chronograph, compass, telescope, and gunpowder, led to the ‘age of discovery’, brutal conquest, and colonial domination.
- A philosophic and political Enlightenment led to the overthrow of colonial power, continuing until after WWII, and including that imposed on the British Colonies in North America.
Today, here we go again. The limitless internet and its consequences make accepted barriers obsolete; old lines are breached: national borders, commercial, religious and political fiefdoms are violated. The powerful -nations, presidents, governments, CEOs, large multinationals, all seem weak and ineffective, causing public disillusionment, and anger. Nowhere is the old order respected, or trusted.
What are we, Millennials who live at the beginning of this century, to do? It appears the most interesting reaction of millennial young people is to try to adapt continuously, like children of miners, diplomats, or warriors who live in alternating realities, and move over and over to into a new town, country, language, and culture.
to adapt to new people, groups, languages, cultures,
to be astute and adept at knowing and learning about the Other,
to embrace, value, and respect one another above Self
to consider the earth, and even the universe, as home
to be family to every age, race sex or condition.
They find that:
personal liberty requires constant shedding the old and taking on the new;
nations and peoples have their own beauty, and truth, but all are transient;
each person has the right to accept, or to ignore, any religious belief or unbelief
that ‘scientific certainty’ can be useful, but is as always, suspect and transient
that doubt is the primal force of both science and religion
every age, race, sex, or condition can be both confining and liberating
Author Moisés Naím finds that those who hold power try to retain it by erecting barriers to keep challengers at bay; but now multiform insurgent forces from every remote area of the earth dismantle those barriers quickly. He calls dispersed collective power micropower. Example: personal diverse acts of both terror and commercial or scientific innovation collectively challenge civilizations.
Micropower defeats megapower in warfare because of plentiful and diverse microweapons, and the rejection of more chivalrous “rules of war” (Isis, Jihad). Yet power, once grasped, fades fast; the new power quickly becomes vulnerable and loses that edge. Maybe the process could be thought of as constructive or creative destruction.
Naím catalogs the general changes as three revolutions:
1) More: people have more and more means to overwhelm or evade control.
2) Mobility: people are not controlled by governments, borders, distance.
3) Mentality: even the most remote people are now aware of possibilities, options, needs, desires, rights.
He notes that in chaos we tend to listen to “Terrible Simplifiers”: people who offer vague, bombastic simple solutions to complex problems. He summarizes the decay of national politics (parentheses mine):
Empires to States.
Despots to Democrats.
Majorities to minorities (as the U.S.)
Parties to factions.
Capitals to regions (Pinks, Blues, rural, ranch, city )
Governments to lawyers (unjust courts, straitjacket laws/regs) Leaders to laymen (NGOs, Buffet-Slim- Gates-Bono).
Hedge funds to “hactivists” (Assange, Snowden, etc).
Chaos results; maybe the process could be thought of as constructive destruction.
Naím ends with suggestions to reorder the national chaos. This is the most disappointing part of the book for me, because I’d prefer a quick fix; of course. Yet that is, de facto, unlikely. The author’s suggestions are rational, but require great and gradual, likely painful, public re-orientation, and a conscious and conscientious media: No quick fix there either. He suggests:
- Forget about who is first or what country is up or down, who we like or fear.
- Reject the Terrible Simplifiers. (You know them!)
- Restore the power of our institutions (Well,Yeah but…)
- Bring back Trust ( Ditto)
- Strengthen political parties (?!)
- Increase political participation ( but maybe non voters are careless quiet patriots!)
Wow! This book is well worth some time, for at least one rational evaluation of what the next few decades could be about.*
* In 1952 Sci Fi writer Robert Heinlein wrote a postscript to his series voluminous writing titled Stories Never Written; they were too dark. Reading those comments 62 years later is sobering considering our in world chaos today.