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Is the United States still indispensable?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, November 27, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Craig Perry, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the global influence of the United States of America in his twelfth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

“We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.” — Madeleine Albright

International relations have changed substantially in the century since the First World War—and especially after its sequel ended some seven decades ago. Competition between half a dozen or so great powers boiled down to two, then just one as the Cold War culminated in American hegemony. Far from the end of history, however, this uni-polar moment naturally proved unsustainable, and China, Russia, and even some U.S. allies soon began reasserting themselves on the international stage. Should this proliferation of great powers be a cause for concern?

Probably. A consensus has emerged in recent years among international security experts that the potential for great-power conflict is increasing. The 2018 U.S. National Defense Strategy declared the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by revisionist powers as the central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security, superseding terrorism as the principal threat. In 2016, the National Intelligence Council identified the changing nature of conflict as a global trend with key implications, forecasting that the risk of conflict will increase through 2035 in part due to diverging interests among the major powers. The World Economic Forum reached a similar conclusion in 2016, warning that a major conventional conflict between great powers was possible by 2030.

The reasons for these concerns are obvious. During the Cold War, the United States established a persistent security presence in regions once dominated by China, then expanded the NATO alliance right up to Russia’s borders following the collapse of the Soviet Union, setting each of these regional hegemons up for conflict as they began reasserting power within their traditional spheres of influence. Unlike former U.S. adversaries such as Germany and Japan, who learned to play well with others after embracing democracy several generations ago, China and Russia remain ruled by authoritarian regimes intent on challenging U.S. global leadership. And they are each developing high-end military capabilities designed to neutralize American strengths and project force beyond their borders, shifting the balance of power in much of Europe and Asia. A U.S. congressional commission recently warned that the United States might struggle to win—or perhaps lose—a war against China or Russia.

Still, there is cause for hope. Since the end of the last world war, the United Nations and various regional security institutions have provided useful venues for great powers to address their differences, with international law and shifting social norms gradually marginalizing war as an acceptable dispute-resolution mechanism. Globalization of trade and investment has undoubtedly lowered the risk of war between the United States and China, while Russia has seemingly adopted a strategy of indirect action—competition short of armed conflict—in its interactions with America and its allies. And so long as each great power maintains a credible nuclear deterrent, the promise of mutually assured destruction should continue to temper escalatory impulses.

Even though the risk of great-power conflict is rising, there is nothing inevitable about this outcome. Neither China nor Russia is spoiling for a fight with the U.S. military, which is likely to maintain superiority over each adversary through at least the middle of the century. Although anti-American sentiment has drawn Beijing and Moscow closer together in recent years, it is doubtful they will overcome longstanding mutual suspicions to join forces against the United States anytime soon. However, America could easily be drawn into conflicts between these great powers and U.S. allies such as Taiwan or the Baltic states—presuming, of course, that the U.S. government remains committed to defending its most vulnerable partners.
 
The future of great-power conflict, then, is largely a function of U.S. foreign policy. As a superpower in relative decline, the United States has neither the economic wherewithal nor political will to prevent China and Russia from assuming more prominent roles on the international stage. Washington must now give serious consideration as to which aspects of the liberal world order and its network of alliances—which it built and sustained for the better part of a century—remain vital to U.S. national security an era of renewed great-power competition.

For example, NATO continues to provide obvious security benefits to the United States—including neutralizing the European Union as a potential great-power rival—but it makes little sense to extend alliance membership to former Soviet states like Georgia or Ukraine while Moscow retains the capability and intent to dominate its “near abroad.” Similarly, it’s only a matter of time before Beijing can conquer Taipei while degrading a U.S. military response, which means finding a peaceful solution to the “One China” problem is imperative if America hopes to escape the “Thucydides trap” that has accompanied rising powers for millennia.

Yet even if the United States takes pursues a realist foreign policy approach to China and Russia, it must nevertheless remain true to the liberal principles that underpin its prosperity and global influence. America cannot afford to abandon its steadfast support for democracy, free trade, and the rule of law in favor of isolationism or an “America first” approach that befuddles allies and emboldens enemies. Few other great powers have ever wielded the sort of moral authority and soft-power appeal that the United States enjoyed until recently—and no other nation can claim to be quite so indispensable to world peace.


© Craig Perry 2018


Tags:  China  Russia  the United States 

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Fake It Till You Make It

Posted By Administration, Thursday, November 22, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Adam Cowart, a member of our Emerging Fellows program explains the term hyperstition in his twelfth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Previous posts have explored various ways in which the real economy may or may not be real in the future, utilizing the concept of hyperstition, the combination of “hyper” and “superstition”, which refers to the process of ideas becoming reality in our culture. More specifically, how new realities manifest in the economy.

While perhaps the academic study of hyperstition and its effects and influence on late-capitalism is relatively new, the conceptual underpinnings are not. One of the most well-known lines in the Bible is “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us” (English Standard for those wondering). In our current age, the capacity for words to dwell among us, in the various forms of social media in general, twitter in particular, and our latent inventiveness in turning ideas into reality, has led to a powerful and reinforcing loop between the word and flesh.

The myriad ways in which this has influenced our economic systems have been explored, though far from exhaustively. We’ve looked at the nefarious means by which late-capitalism will continue to mine the nooks and crannies of everyday life for growth opportunities, including trauma-related world building in the form of imaginary paracosm economies, and the incredible ecological strain of consumers shifting from “having” to “being” consumption patterns. In the virtual realm we’ve considered whether AI entrepreneurs pumping out transient products and services will cause our much admired entrepreneur to go extinct along with those who face the future challenges of virtual foraging. Finally, we’ve delved into the implications of the grand performance of scarcity in a post-scarcity world, the hamster-wheel of sub optimization brought on by situated innovation and, of course, back to where we started our journey with pigeon Ponzi schemes going up in smoke.

Of course, our fiction to reality process is far from linear. And it is far from monolithic. With the most recent rise of nationalism, with left and right in a constant oppositional state of becoming far-left and far-right, we’ve also seen the proliferation of folk economics. This rejection of globalism for localism, whether practical or not, has likewise bred a plethora of local, culturally and economically ingrained hyperstitional realities. Reality and economics is now situational. The economy is both great and terrible.

We have been referred to grandly as “The Weather Makers”. Perhaps of greater concern is our inconsistent ability to be “The Reality Makers”. Still far from clear is how this will manifest in the future, where reality is customizable and up for debate.

As for the Pigeon King story I began this series with, I recently attended a play in rural Ontario, a matinee production, called “The Pigeon King”, based on the true story in which a man built a Ponzi scheme empire selling pigeons. Or, perhaps, he was just a bad businessman. Regardless, economic abstractions had given way to tangible pigeons, which had now given way to a theatrical performance. Fact had come full circle back to fiction. After the play finished, the performers took their bow. But we weren’t done yet. The performers encouraged us to open our programs. In the program was a folded paper pigeon. They told us to pull out the pigeons and then, on the count of three, we launched our pigeons into the rafters of the theatre. A theatre full of old people, laughing, suddenly children again. A sad flock of paper pigeons trying to take flight, sputtering out, before being snatched back up and tossed a few feet further. Up on stage the actors and the musicians watched. The audience and performers had switched roles. I noticed the fiddler. He didn’t play now. Didn’t fiddle. Just watched us. Content.


© Adam Cowart 2018

Tags:  economics  future  Ponzi scheme 

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Where should the artificial societal constructs of tomorrow be rooted?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Monica Porteanu, a member of our Emerging Fellows program devotes her eleventh blog post to the artificial societal constructs. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Society’s means to organize, govern, and civically engage are artificial constructs. They interact with each other and with the intuitive, non-artificial aspects of society. As one would expect, the interactions are in continuous motion. Consequently, over long stretches of time, the distances amongst societal constructs have varied. However, history has shown several moments in time when such distances and interactions functioned at an optimal level. Could those moments inspire our look into societal futures and the ability to act towards a preferred vision?

Society’s means of organization, the nation-state and its links to international law and diplomacy, were established in 1648 by the European Peace of Westphalia. The treaty brought peace and equality amongst nations, the states they lived in, and religions they practiced, ending centuries-old fights and empires. It defined the role and responsibilities of a state, its relation to the nation(s) on its territory, and other states. At the time the model registered such great success, the concepts of nation and state almost overlapped. The distance between them was minimal.

Society’s means of governance, the political-economic-social system, is optimal when politics balance the economic and social components, maintaining the similar size of and distances amongst the three.

Society’s engagement model relies on the concepts of citizenship and residency. Citizenship seems to be closely linked to that of the nation, since most individuals would acquire it at birth, based on their parents’ citizenship. In this sense, citizenship is also closely linked to one’s ethnicity. At the same time, residency seems to link more with the administrative functions related to territory and performed by the state. In a nation-state, citizenship and residency would be identical most of the times. The distance between them would be minimal. At the same time, citizenship seems to be the tool to participate in a nation’s politics as one would require that nation’s passport to vote and participate in its democratic system. Residency is the tool to exercise one’s rights and responsibilities related to the economy and society of that state.

History describes stories of flourishing periods. One could notice that some registered minimum distances amongst its artificial societal constructs. For example, during the golden age of ancient Greek civilization, in city-states, the concepts of nation and state, and those of citizenship and residency overlapped. During Westphalian times, the distance between nation and state, citizenship and residency, and politics, on one side, and economics and society was almost nonexistent. What both these periods seem to have in common is that they operated in a network of entities that valued more local administration, e.g., the city-state rather than the broader environment.

Over the last century or so, economic dominance, migration trends, and technological evolution seem to have contributed to the decline of the nation-state, society’s way of organization. The political-economic-social balance in societal governance has also been affected. Such decline and imbalance have created confusion between the meaning of societal civic engagement, i.e., citizenship and residency. Considering the global trend toward urbanization, should society’s artificial constructs be rooted in city-level everyday life, across networks of similar environments? What would it take for urban residents to be citizens too?

Their rights and responsibilities would straddle democratic political-economic-social participation within the boundaries of their city-level everyday life. The city would resemble a state. What would be different from past flourishing periods is that not one, but multiple nations would live in this state, as it already is the case in large urban areas. Such a model would take us back to society’s non-artificial, intuitive, and fluid transitions and interactions of cultures and the questions raised by such dynamics.


© Monica Porteanu 2018

Tags:  artificial construct  citizenship  society 

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Narratives Which Inspire Better Futures

Posted By Administration, Friday, November 9, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Polina Silakova, a member of our Emerging Fellows program devotes her eleventh blog post to the possibility of building better futures by narratives with an eye on New Zealand. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

The address by New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at 2018 UN Assembly caused an eruption of applause. She devoted a lot of her speech to a call-for-action on climate change: “Our action in the wake of this global challenge remains optional, but the impact of inaction does not.” This is a very good point, indeed. This type of challenge requires strong political leadership across the globe with a clear, long-sighted shared vision. And yet, despite the destructive impact of human activities being obvious by now, we still are not doing enough to change the course. Why?

For Jean Tirole, the winner of the Nobel prize in Economics, this is a no-brainer. “It is the result of two factors” – Tirole says – “selfishness with regard to future generations and the free rider problem. In other words, the benefits of reducing climate change remain global and distant in time, while the costs of that reduction are local and immediate.” Although there are attempts to internalise the negative externalities, for example, by means of carbon tax, they are far from perfect. For example, carbon leakage – moving contaminating production from a country with stricter environmental regulation to a country where it’s cheaper to pollute – makes it clear that only a truly global solution could slow down climate change.

It is hard to motivate yourself to solve a problem which you don’t see at this point in time in your immediate environment. Moreover, as studies show, our brains are biased towards more positive images of future and can even influence our perception of facts. Neither are helpful political systems based on short-term election cycles. They often make politicians prioritise the immediate outcomes promised to their electorate over the long-term improvements, the benefits of which might not be even seen by the current voting generation. But this is not the case everywhere.

For starters, China, allegedly, is halfway through its 100-year strategy. The strategy consists of nine steps, based on lessons from history, which are supposed to make China the world’s leading superpower by 2050. Another example of long-term planning comes from indigenous people of North America. In Mohawk nation, historically based in present-day New York area, the chief is appointed by the clan mother for life. As part of his role, he should be making decisions based on the interests of the community “seven generations from now”. Should the chief not be acting in the best interests of people, after three warnings the title can be taken away from him.

What elements of this long-term thinking can Western capitalistic societies adopt to represent the voices of yet-to-be-born generation in decisions we take today? Back to New Zealand which also seems to be inspired by its local communities. Learning from Maori’s concept of guardianship – the idea that we have a duty of care for the environment that we pass on to future generations – New Zealand is aiming to become the best place in the world to be a child. This encompasses not only young Kiwis’ childhood experience but also the prospects for their future, the country, and the environment today’s generation hands over to them.

While other countries are working on policies and strategies aiming for similar outcomes, the way New Zealand communicates it seems to be different. It unites various strategies under one inspiring goal which reveals a deeper meaning and images of the future behind the dry targets. Supported by strong engagement, it might become a powerful strategic narrative. It has an exciting potential to mobilise people’s agency towards achieving a goal they can relate to.

Business has already started adopting narratives for strategic decision-making. To mature further, these narratives need to incorporate systemic thinking. A switch from pitching benefits of individual initiatives towards a better understanding of how pulling one trigger can influence another area could get us one step closer towards understanding how our actions impact our children’s future.

In isolation, the narratives won’t do the job. We need a united global action, internalisation of externalities and more systemic approach. This will only happy when all key parties will take a conscious decision to take these steps. But what a good narrative can do is to make a shift in thinking and inspire these actions that our future kids so desperately need.


© Polina Silakova 2018

Tags:  decision  environment  New Zealand 

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The World Is Turning into a Pumpkin Patch

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, November 7, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Adam Cowart has just published his eleventh post in our Emerging Fellows program, raising assumptions on the future of economy. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

To the best of my recollection, when I was young my family only went to the pumpkin patch once. Every year we would beg to go. Every year my father would say “no” and explain to us the minute difference between the cost of a store bought pumpkin, and the cost of going to the pumpkin patch. Plus transportation costs. Compound interest and so forth… Of course, he preferred a third option: no pumpkin at all.

But what, exactly, is the allure of a pumpkin patch? It’s usually raining, cold. Certainly, from an economic perspective, grabbing one at the grocery store is cheaper, more efficient, probably better for the environment. In “Emotionally Durable Design”, Jonathan Chapman turns to social psychologist Erich Fromm, invoking the consumption relationship between incorporation and possession in ritual acts of cannibalism. To consume another human being, or animal, is to acquire their strength or courage, or whatever power they possess that is deemed accessible to acquisition.

This insight points to the evolution of an ongoing trend: A psychological and consumer shift away from “having” into “being”, one in which we focus our economic energies on immersing ourselves in the experience, a cannibalistic form of possession.

“Authentic experiences” are a case in point. These experiences at their most pure are serendipitous, original, unmediated, and have a profound, lasting impact on individuals. Here, perhaps, is a clue as to the future of the real economy: where ecological and cultural resources are extracted experientially versus in a coordinated process meant to maximize efficiency.

Think of the global economy shifting to an unwieldy version of what we might call “The Pumpkin Patch Scenario”, the expansion of unmediated, or low-mediated, cultural exploitation. Foraging would be an example of this; much like those who set out “off the beaten path” to find spaces uncolonized by tourism. The “being” of the experience supersedes the “having” of the object. The economic transaction is dependent upon the experience of the pumpkin patch and not on the pumpkin itself.

Why might this shift be happening? Perhaps because of the over-commercialization and manipulation of emotion, the synthetic and scripted quality of our products and experiences. As design increasingly mediates our experiences we must wander further afield to escape into the unrefined. All of this will have dire consequences on the climate, as our consumption patterns become more emergent and esoteric.
 
While this turn from “having” to “being” is well underway, whether it manifests in a virtual “being” or a “real” being is yet to be determined. The most likely scenario is a mixing of the two, in which we chose to have a virtual and physical presence. An exaggerated version of today. One in which the more deeply we immerse ourselves in the synthetic, the more invasively we mine the authentic when we come up for air.

But a more radical shift could be under way. One in which citizens choose to primarily inhabit either the synthetic or the authentic. In the future, our economy could be divided along wholly new lines: instead of developed and developing economies, we could have those who inhabit the virtual economy, those who inhabit the physical economy, and those who cross between. What would an economy look like where consumers are located by their chosen, or imposed, economically situated “being-ness”, versus traditional socio-economic boundaries?


© Adam Cowart 2018

Tags:  authentic experience  consumer  economics 

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Civic Engagement Futures

Posted By Administration, Sunday, November 4, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Monica Porteanu, a member of our Emerging Fellows program scans the horizons of citizenship and residency in this blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Society is an instinctive human structure. Society established the concepts of nation and state to organize itself. It developed the political, economic, and social systems to govern itself. It created the notions of citizenship and residency to engage its people.
 
Citizenship establishes rights and responsibilities linked to a country, its democratic and governance systems, and borders. The status can be acquired either at birth, based on the parent’s citizenship and/or the territory of birth, or later, through naturalization in a foreign land. Residency refers to the physical location where a person lives. It provides a framework to exercise rights and responsibilities related to daily life, such as earning a living or education. Citizenship seems linked to the concept of nation and democratic participation in politics, whereas residency connects with economics and social matters, and the notion of state.

Citizenship dates to ancient Greece. A citizen was someone who was born and lived in a city, having rights and responsibilities linked to both the organization and governance of that city. As such, at that time, citizenship and residency overlapped. Similarly, following the Peace of Westphalia, when an individual was very likely to be a member of one nation living within the borders of one state, the citizenship and residency coincided.

Nowadays, world citizens traveling, working, and living in jurisdictions different than those of their place of birth, embrace multiple citizenships. At the other end of the scale are those who have either lost all privilege or renounced their citizenship in protest of losing trust in the system. Civic engagement allows an individual to have from one to multiple residencies and from none to many citizenships.

Citizenship has become virtually borderless in the European Union (EU), which is an international body of collaboration. In this context, citizenship now represents mostly an individual’s national origin, together with their participation in the democratic process in their country of origin. Residency links individual’s rights and responsibilities with the territory in which they earn money and access systems that support their daily life.

The concept of residency is then kicked up a notch by one of EU’s members, Estonia. In its quest for competitive advantage, the country has become a leader in digital governance. Estonia has branded itself as the “new digital nation for global citizens” through its e-residency program. Estonian e-residency is an online platform that enables anyone in the world to register a business and manage its money. For example, it provides access to a network of financial and other professional services. An applicant becomes an Estonian e-resident and receives a government-issued digital identification, based on government identification from their country of origin. In this context, e-residency raises questions about how the digital government manages one’s foreign credentials, and how the entrepreneur governs its business legally across borders.

Concurrently, e-residency seems to be a flavour of investor citizenship, offered by many other countries that aim to attract capital, for which, in turn, they provide an expedited path to citizenship. In the process, the concept of citizenship has shifted even more towards economics, losing its flair for political debate and democracy.

The Chinese social credit score has piloted another alternative to civic engagement. The program aggregates an individual’s political, economic, and social data. A high score gives priority access to higher flexibility and living standards such as career advancement, housing, or mobility. The system takes the Western versions of the marketplace and social media aggregation to a new level of profiling, social value, and societal stratification. The social credit score seems to considerably amplify the social and economic aspects while keeping an eye on political activities. Such a paradigm raises significant ethical and moral questions, questioning one’s ability to exercise civic rights and responsibilities regardless of the score.
 
Such emerging types of civic engagement seem to play at the intersection of several dimensions: (1) links to the physical place(s) of birth, work, or living; (2) the omnipresence of daily life; and (3) levels of trust in the societal organization, governance, and engagement.

At the same time, the concepts of citizenship and residency do not overlap as they once did. In the process, civic engagement seems to struggle with who and where one can vote so that they can have a say in the democratic process. For example, some migrants can still vote in their country of birth. Although they have lived abroad for a long time, losing touch with the realities of that state, their civic engagement influences decisions for the daily life of those who remained. Is it fair to those who stayed? Concurrently, migrants cannot vote in the country of their residency, where they are not yet citizens, although they contribute to the economic and social system. Is it fair to these newcomers?

As society continues its fluid advancement, should it consider transferring citizenship rights and responsibilities to the concept of residency related to the territory surrounding our everyday life, rather than the place of birth?


© Monica Porteanu 2018

Tags:  citizen  life  residency 

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What if anarchy is merely what we make of it?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, November 1, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Craig Perry, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the anarchy in the light of international relations. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

The international system has changed considerably since the appearance of the modern nation-state in the 17th century. Over time, more and more countries around the world have discovered the advantages of democratic governance, economic integration, and political cooperation in multilateral forums—and their interactions with each other have evolved as a consequence. Although anarchy continues to lurk behind the scenes, many actors on the international stage no longer seem bound by scripts of power politics or structural imperatives.

In recent decades, a new theory has emerged to explain this evolution. Constructivism asserts that international relations are not the immutable result of human nature or material structures, but instead are socially created through shared ideas. Alexander Wendt and other constructivist scholars contend that social interactions give meaning to ideas, which in turn shape the identities and interests of international actors—and it is these social constructions, not anarchy itself, that determine the nature of international relations. In other words, anarchy is what states make of it—and while some may respond with self-help schemes, others increasingly choose international cooperation and collective security.

If anarchy really is what states make of it, then their changing worldviews ought to have some effect on international relations. There are many schools of thought as to what drives such social change, but one of the more intriguing was advanced by Ken Wilber as a “theory of everything.” Building on the “spiral dynamics” model of human development first formulated by Clare Graves, Wilber contends that individuals pass through discrete developmental stages—from egocentric to ethnocentric to “worldcentric” and potentially beyond—as they mature, contributing to the aggregate mix of developmental levels present in the larger society. If enough people within a society begin exhibiting emerging levels of consciousness, its developmental “center of gravity” may shift toward this higher-order worldview.

The impact of such social evolution on international relations could be profound. Referring to developmental levels as color-coded “memes,” Wilber suggested that societies where an ethnocentric worldview (“blue” meme) prevails would likely see others as threats, while those at the next higher level (“orange” meme), embracing autonomy and scientific materialism, might treat them as competitors. Among those societies in Europe and North America where a pluralistic, postmodern “green” meme is more pronounced, international cooperation has become the norm. However, upward progress is not inevitable; even in “advanced” Western societies, approximately 70 percent of the population remains at the “blue” level or below, making regression to previous levels of development an ever-present possibility.

The corollary of shared ideas shaping international relations is that not everyone is always reading from the same script. States where the “green” meme is manifest still have to deal with countries operating at the “orange” and “blue” levels—not to mention the occasional power-hungry, egocentric “red” regime. Put another way, while liberal democracies like the United States and its allies traditionally see international relations in cooperative, “win-win” terms, states whose worldviews center around competition and conflict cannot be easily ignored.

Unfortunately, until all the great powers embrace a more cooperative, less confrontational vision of international relations, war among them remains a real possibility. There are few signs that Chinese or Russian societies are developing in this direction—or that their autocratic political systems would respond well to such social change. Meanwhile, U.S. advocacy for the liberal world order it helped create has become lukewarm in recent years, while less lofty ethnocentric and authoritarian sentiments are making a comeback across the globe, threatening to drag a number of nations back down the proverbial development spiral.

Even if we suppose that further progress in international relations is simply a matter of shared belief, getting all the great powers to imagine anarchy in the same way is no simple matter. And until they each construct worldviews centered on international cooperation and mutual interests, conflict among them is far easier to envision.


© Craig Perry 2018

Tags:  international relations  power  worldview 

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Rebalancing Societal Governance

Posted By Administration, Sunday, October 28, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Monica Porteanu, a member of our Emerging Fellows program continues her nation-state discussion in her ninth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

The two fundamental concepts that society has organized itself into are nation and state. The success of this model was observed when the distance between nation and state was almost non-existent. Today, the nation and state seem to have distanced considerably. Although society’s organization model has shifted, its governance structure still follows the one intended for the stage when nation and state almost overlapped.

The nation-state governs society’s internal (e.g., law, tax) and external (e.g., defense) affairs through a governing entity structured based on three interacting systems: political, economic, and social. The three systems operate most successfully when they are in balance. The equilibrium between the societal economic and social systems is meant to be maintained by politics. Imagine this balance as a triangle with all three sides equal, with politics as its top vertex, and the economic and social dimensions as the other two vertices at the bottom. Imbalance arises when the three sides are not equal anymore. The situation arises created when one of the vertices overshadows the other two, or when two vertices grow apart. As an example, some might consider that the exacerbation of religion, during various time periods, elevated the importance and influence of the social system, at the expense of the economic and political ones.

Nowadays, it seems that politics’ capability to balance economy and society has dwindled again. This time, economic dominance prevails. The economic vertex has outgrown the politics and social ones. With this, the distance between the political and social system has increased. As such, the two aspects left behind by the overgrown economic system (i.e., political and social), often struggle. What has changed since the days when societal governance operated optimally on a foundation of its balanced political, economic, social systems?

Exponential advancement in technology enables the world to connect globally, share information and collaborate in ways not possible before, further transforming the political, economic, and social systems. Big data and social networks have created powerful feedback loops between information and political microtargeting, partisanship, and polarization. Ironically, such tactics have diminished ideological differentiation amongst political parties, while strengthening party unity in decision-making for those elected to serve in governing bodies. In the process, partisans are incentivized to participate in the voting process, while the rest are forgotten, increasing their disengagement in politics. The question is how could the use of big data and social networks be turned around to take us back to what democratic politics used to be?

Economic dominance and technology seem to have increased the level of collaboration amongst groups of nation-states and their citizens, enabling migration. Migrants participate right away in the economic and social system of their new country. They engage in the development of their new country through economic and social contributions, yet have little say in the democratic process. Obtaining the right to vote and participating in politics has a lengthy time lag, which excludes them from political engagement. As a result, societal governance tends to misrepresent their rights and responsibilities. The political-economic-social is, once more, unbalanced.

In the process, the nation-state has diminished its capacity to ensure the protection, development, and well-being of its citizens through edifices such as education, healthcare, or culture. Given the increasing distance between nation and state, and the imbalance observed in the political-economic-social governance, how might a society organize and govern itself such that its citizens feel empowered to harmonize civic rights and responsibilities with their values and aspirations?


© Monica Porteanu 2018

Tags:  economics  society  state 

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Rethinking Societal Organization

Posted By Administration, Friday, October 26, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Monica Porteanu, a member of our Emerging Fellows program examines the concept of nation-state in her eighth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Today, emotions seem to run high about trade, politics, governments, policy, national pride, and much more. Numerous individuals may feel disenfranchised. How might society be organized such that it enables its members’ agency to harmonize civic rights and responsibilities with their values and aspirations?

Society is an instinctive human organization in which individuals continuously interact with each other, making it a living entity. Its members might share a similar social fabric, or live in the same geographical area, or participate in the same political-economic-social governance structure and avenues for civic engagement.

The two fundamental concepts that society has structured itself into are nation and state. Being human-made, both ideas are artificial. A nation is a group of individuals who share a common heritage. A state is linked to a territory and its internationally-recognized boundaries. A nation-state is a nation living within a state. In many contexts, a nation-state is equivalent to a country.

These concepts were born in the mid-1600s, during the negotiations for the Peace of Westphalia. This treaty established the foundation for international law, diplomacy, sovereignty, foreign and internal affairs, which ended wars and empires, while recognizing multiple states, most being nation-states. Some might feel inclined to note that in a way, the treaty ended the times’ flavour of globalization. At that time, nation would mostly live within the boundaries of a state. As such, the distance between nation and state was almost nonexistent.

Down the road, during post-colonialism, while borders were drawn sometimes artificially, nations might’ve been split amongst several states, introducing some distance between nation and state. Nevertheless, the Westphalian nation-state has continued to succeed, registering its peak during the peace treaties that ended World War I.

Since then though, the nation-state seems to have declined. In the aftermath of World War II, the artificial divide introduced by the Iron Curtain was (in historical terms) short-lived. Once the Curtain fell, everyone wanted to see what was outside of it. Furthermore, the development of the European Union eliminated the borders amongst some member states. It enables each nation to travel, work, and live without boundaries across the EU while preserving the autonomy and territory of its member states. In such an environment, state borders switched from an international to an internal, administrative affair. In this context, representatives of several nations could now live within the boundaries of one state. As such, the overlap between nation and state has diminished. Nations and states seem to have continued to grow further apart.

Similar migratory trends have been observed well beyond Europe. World political and economic tensions have pushed individuals to seek living solutions beyond their birth nation-state. As a result, migration is at an all-time high. A nation now has representation across multiple states. For example, the Indian diaspora spread across the world contributes not only to the development of their adopted country, but also to that of India. In the process, they also make their heritage known outside their country of birth, creating nuances of it elsewhere. The concepts of nation and state seem to have continued to grow further apart.

Migration seems to have changed the nation-state relationship in two ways. First, the relation between nation and state is not one-to-one anymore. Second, the two concepts don’t overlap as they did during Westphalian times. A distance between them has been emerging.

What should happen with this growing distance, especially when considering the role of the nation-state in the politics-economics-social governance and in civic engagement? The situation could become even more complicated when considering how unpredictable extreme natural, political, or economic events might push populations to seek shelter in friendlier territories. Furthermore, with increasing signs of globalization shifting to more decentralized, local, but distributed preferences, trade and information wars, etc., one could wonder whether we are living the modern version of pre-Westphalia. What would it take to build a contemporary model addressing societal organization issues that becomes at least as successful as the one built in the 17th century?


© Monica Porteanu 2018

Tags:  nation  society  state 

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Futuring Cultural Dynamics

Posted By Administration, Monday, October 22, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Monica Porteanu, a member of our Emerging Fellows program addresses the cultural dimensions of futuring in her seventh blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Most policy decision-making models are based on demographic information that considers elements such as sex or ethnicity, as the staples of diversity. They aim to tell the story of particular population segments. However, over the last few decades, globalization and significant political shifts have driven substantial growth in population migration. From the turn of the century, the number of international migrants has increased by 70%.

The shift has boosted the stream of people’s interactions, coupled with their actions, perceptions, impressions, observations, and interpretations, across time, space, and scale. Ethnographic and cultural heritage experts identify this fluid stream of change with culture. They would argue that migratory impacts are most likely to span decades.

The aftermath of increased migration seems to raise questions about how cultures might evolve. Traditional demographic methods have difficulties in identifying the nuanced metamorphosis of population segments. As a result, policy-making appears to miss critical cultural developments that would otherwise pinpoint characteristics and needs of populations in flux.

By excluding cultural nuances in policy making, do we limit our choices for the future?

In The Art of Choice, Iyengar defines choice as “the ability to exercise control over ourselves and our environment. To choose, we must perceive that control is possible.”

She argues that the type of culture we grew up in influences our understanding of what choices are available to us. For example, as children, each of us heard some expectations about our future. Some of us were told to do what our family tells us to do, or others might have been asked what would you like to do? The former might tend to look up at their elders to show the path in life and protect them from selecting the wrong choices. The latter might be better off when exercising the personal option. The two approaches associate with collectivistic and individualistic community types, respectively.

Individualism/collectivism is one of several other cultural dimensions. Cultural studies experts measured these dimensions at country-level. They believe that the scores are stable over time as they reflect values transferred from parents to children and rarely change in later life. The experts argue that our early-life exposure to these cultural dimensions has consequences on our formative and adult years and the relationship between our identities and how we choose.
 
Nevertheless, most recent migratory trends have usually involved younger generations. Between now and later life, newcomers adjust to their new location, live and go to school in a new cultural environment, while bringing forward their cultural heritage. During the transition, migrants’ old and new cultures mingle. Traditional population segmentation methods cannot capture such transitional nuances. Existing policy-making tools do not seem to give justice to these individuals, and the societies they live in, anymore.

Cultural economists, data ethnographers, or those focused on culture analytics and social networks have also attempted to define and model cultural indicators. Their information-intensive approaches seem limited though in capturing culture’s fluid states of emergence, transformation, limitation, disappearance, and renewal.

Should instruments aiming to capture the transition of cultures include, beyond cultural dimensions, elements such as societal structure (e.g., globalized vs. distributed/local), population dynamics (e.g., participatory vs. siloed), intellectual humility (e.g., agility vs. consistency in holding opinions), resilience, or the nature-culture dualism?

Wouldn’t decision-making and policy design be better informed by a lively cultural understanding mediated through both economic and ethnographic approaches that are constituents to one another, not separate of each other?


© Monica Porteanu 2018

Tags:  culture  decision-making  policy 

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