Things Fall Apart
Published on: November 27, 2010
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  • Mead writes: “the continuing refusal to take Turkey’s application for EU membership seriously further and decisively marginalizes Europe in the Middle East. Wishful thinking cannot substitute for policy when it comes to the question of immigration, and Europe’s deepening demographic crisis ensures not only a future of population decline but of economic decline and welfare state bankruptcy as well.”

    Are you sure it’s not you who is engaging in wishful thinking?

    Sooner or later the whole world and every country in it is going to confront the challenge of declining population. Why assume the answer lies in mass migration between continents on a scale never seen in history?

  • joe

    “Turkey’s government seems to be missing the opportunity to become the kind of stabilizing force the region desperately needs. In a region that urgently needs rising standards of living for the majority and more cultural and political openness, there is little sign that anybody knows what to do.”

    I don’t think that Turkey wants to be a stabilizing force in the Middle East. Turkey wants to be able to position itself to profit from political and economic turmoil in the region, but becoming a regional power would require boots on the ground and complicity in activities that would damage its reputation (already suffering) in the West.

    Since the AKP assumed power, Turkey has received a lot of FDI from the Gulf States. Much of this new Osmanli foreign policy is an attempt to burnish their Sunni public image with Gulf potentates and the Arab Sunni street. Yet, the core attractiveness of Turkey to its financial backers is its friendly western relations and secularized citizenry.

    Our poohbas may dream of peaceful, democratic Iraq operating as a light for Arab lost feet, but Sunnis see a strong, aggressive Turkey which has recaptured its glorious Sunni Osmanli history as a necessary bulwark to the Shia crescent and a model for cross-cultural relations with the EU and the wider world.

    The AKP’s foreign policy is a triangulation and they can not afford fixed strategy to limit their sphere of action. What did Metternich say: ‘an idea is similar to a fixed gun position. A principle is similar to a gun position with a 360 degree purchase.’

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    I wonder if Mankind, as reflected in our markets, needs the renewing effects of “Creative Destruction” to advance. Do accumulating errors of judgment eventually yield to bankruptcy, collapse, and war? Where the old is torn down and something new is built in its place.
    I wonder if evolutionarily backward cultural structures like your “Blue Beast: the troika of Big Government, Big Labor, and Big Business” can ever end without massive dislocation and destruction.
    “Anti-Trust the Labor Gangs” I say
    Why should they get special monopolies? Which they use destroy our auto industry, schools, government …etc. The only monopoly I am willing to tolerate is the Government monopoly and I want it severely limited from what it has become. All monopolies suffer from the same massive flaws; they are corrupt, wasteful, greedy, and eventually kill the proverbial “goose that lays the golden eggs” because of it.

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  • jack carlson

    The first part of your 3rd paragraph very much describes how the world’s leaders were thinking and behaving just prior to World War I, and we all know how well that turned out. No one trusted anyone else.

    In recent years, there has been at least a superficial appearance of diplomatic trust, but with the new Wikileaks “revelations”, even that will vanish. This whole scenario sets the world up for all kinds of convulsions.

  • philgrimm

    I have written essays such as this, but I no longer show them to my wife, as her responses have been somewhat disappointing: 1. You think too much. 2. I think your anti-depresants have stopped working. Thank you very much my Trophy Wife.

    You stopped too soon one your survey course in modern governance, Mr. Mead. You could have talked about the failure of the catholic church, the failure of the welfare state, the failure of the war on drugs, the failure to create a national energy policy, the failure to contain gangland activity, the failure to enforce laws about immigration and weapon posession; the failure of our monetary policies.

    And all the kings horses and all the kings men could not put humpty together again.

  • Mark Caswell

    The world is spinning out of control and there is not any way we are going to stop it. Most of the problems are self-inflicted but they are real nonetheless and no power center identified in the article has the political will or resources to change course. Time is running out and quickly as the End Times are upon us. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.

  • Outside of a few corporations, some NGO’s, and the US military it sounds like no one has “the skills to pay the bills.”

  • misanthropicus

    Yucky landscape, but correct, unfortunately. That institutions – this comprises states as well – are generally behind the unfolding of the world is no news, all peace treaties are just rear-window snapshots. Apparently the Cold War was the last time in the history when the self-destructive energies of this planet were sort of contained – the multipolar world cannot be but a mess, and no amounts of good will, technology or military power will stop local cancers develop in larger metastasis.

  • dan

    Professor Mead lists the failure to come to grips with the past as an important failure in Russia; I would only add this to China’s challenges.

  • One wonders if the next step on the global stage is a return to Great Power imperialism.

    No real doubt exists among intelligent and educated people that the post-war (WW1 & 2) spin-offs of so many “nations” from their Great Power colonial masters, on the false assumption that these “nations” and peoples were capable of self-government, has resulted only in worse situations for their peoples, economic and social regression, educational disasters, agrarian catastrophes, uncontrolled violence, and just generally far worse lives than under their colonial masters.

    If the citizens of the Great Powers really want to help others, perhaps removing their freedom to hack-to-death and suicide-bomb and stone one another is the way forward.

    Perhaps a Russia with more people – drawn from the extinction of the -Stans and the policing and educating of their citizens into intelligent workers and managers – would be better-able to exploit its vast resources.

    Perhaps a China with more women and more room and better access to inexpensive raw materials for its manufacturers – would be better-able to modernize and continue its interesting migration from ignorant rural to educated urban population and consumers.

    Perhaps a South Asia under the Imperial thumb of either or both could be more productively engaged than blowing-up each other and demanding to be left in the 7th Century.

    Perhaps an Africa managed by Beijing in exploiting its natural resources, selling them to a nation in-need of them to continue its own economic advancement (by using those resources to manufacture goods to sell to any remaining EU nations and the US, as well as themselves) – and the money from China used (under China’s imperial management) to better the lives of the citizens of those geographies from whom it buys these resources, rather than to buy more machetes to cut off more heads and arms – would be a geography with a future, after all?

    Perhaps a United States no longer spending trillions for the defense of nations who so loudly dislike us (EU, South America, Canada, etc.), could begin to retire debt, return to Constitutional government (in which, no, I am NOT responsible for sloth on the part of my fellows citizen, nor for the poverty said sloth ensures), return to economic growth and perhaps even mature by destroying John Dewey’s legacy of appalling schools mal-educating our youth into so in-aptly named “Progressives” destroying our future – and again be a Great Power leading the way – rather than paying for those who refuse to do what we ALL know works (liberal capitalism).

    And, most of all, America, relieved of the burden of trying to be all things to all people, and instead allowing natural selection to work among nations (as we stopped it from working in 1917 to the world’s continuing detriment throughout the 20th Century), again could lead the way in our post-industrial world of new ideas and information; new ways of doing old things and new things to do, with the arguably millions of new jobs an energized, intelligent, well-educated population could – and should – be doing, rather than the most advanced nation in history continuing to educate and perform industrial-age tasks of textile and heavy industry, denying ourselves a post-industrial future in order to placate the biggest losers among us (unions), and denying developing nations their chance at the industrial jobs they need to advance from a pre-industrial society, as we move fully into an information age future.

    If the citizens of the Great Powers really want economic and social advancement for themselves and, at some future time for the rest of the world, perhaps managing – again – the affairs of the third world, until they well and truly can operate on their own in a post-Enlightenment world (e.g. NOT under Shariah or any other ideologically totalitarian model) is the only rational way forward.

    It’s pretty obvious that what we’ve been doing since WW2 no longer is working, and that the third world is the locus of our problems. Let China and Russia carve-out spheres of influence they are willing to govern and protect, and whose resources then can be used to improve the lives of all within that sphere. Let those who want close alliance with the US step-up and so state and then act on that statement.

    Those nations that seem unwilling or unable to control their madness, or that of their citizens (same thing) and who refuse to accept management by more intelligent people be quiet – or be fenced-off from civilization, with civilization benefitting from the quarantine of these nations just as we benefit from quarantining those with smallpox.

    When we think one of these managed “nations” really is ready for self-government, rather than just spinning them off because we think everyone is the same as we if only given the choice, we can give them a trial run and, if they fail, return them to our fold. When they are ready to use our Constitution to govern themselves ( history has shown no better document IF FOLLOWED in producing freedom and liberty, wealth and progress), and show they can do so successfully, then, and only then, should they be allowed to go it alone.

    Why should we decide? Because, frankly, we’re the ones paying the bills. We’re then ones inventing the future. We’re the ones with those who want to work hard and expect limitless futures based on our hard work and ability. This, of course, presupposes the destruction of “Progressives,” the second-most regressive force on the planet, behind only Islam.

    The world needs to advance; we’ve spent more than enough time in this brief period of history worrying more about the global moochers and murderers, from the EU social democracies to the destructiveness of Darfur and Rwanda to the Islamists of South Asia and the Middle East.

    It is time to worry about the future of the modern world – and to just settle for management of those who insist on a non-modern world.

  • So it is the end of this grasp at civilization? Hmmmm… Not to be a Pollyanna, but has this not been written before? During economic collapses, ferocious wars, horrible epidemics? Few beyond the superstitious predicted mankind’s future on the other side of The Plague. Flavors of collectivism were the only optimists during the 30s. As the monarchies of the Eighteenth centuries went SPLAT beneath the feet of the torch bearing rabble … the elites wrote of the death of civilization.

    History is as cyclical as markets… or perhaps causality occurs in the other direction. Regardless, as I believe some writer once wrote of his death rumors being exaggerated, so too do “interesting times” always encourage observers to think that their moment is history’s most important.

    Yes, great civilizations do collapse, but this one seems to have capital walls thick enough to fend off the ferocity of impending market attacks and to come out corrected, restructured, and stronger. Um, oh yeah, there will be dislocations.. the collateral damage of economics… and if you are among the dislocated the maelstrom will be ghastly. But overall… The sun will come out tomorrow. Bet my bottom dollar 🙂

  • Heartland

    Some American observers obsess on the Turkey-EU issue. The entry of Turkey in the EU is Europe’s issue to decide. And they have apparently decided against it. We should respect their decision.

    A good book on some of the subjects discussed in the comments is War of the World by Niall Ferguson. GREAT book that shows how factors that led to the War of the 20th Century are abundant today.

  • Archidoodle

    @ Alex Scipio –

    I dare say you are inhabiting the neo-con fantasy land that our previous President and Vice spent 8 years trying to create. Unfortunately, reality often finds a way to intrude.

    There are two simple reasons the Great Power colonial system no longer works: Cheap weapons and the internet.

    An AK-47 can be had for less than $100 in many parts of the world, and people to carry it for free are lined up around the block. Meanwhile, it costs us well over $100,000 to field a single soldier for a year to try to guard against them. We wind up dying by a thousand cuts playing this game.

    The Great Powers of old had more or less total control of communications. The internet makes that all but impossible, now. Even an authoritarian state like China is severely tested by the internet.

    The reality is, that we will continue to have spheres of influence for some time. But it will need to be economic more than military. I believe you will see China heading in this direction. They are rapidly grabbing markets worldwide, but (at least for now) are content to let the US provide security. This is a losing game for us. And the longer it takes for us to shake our old ways of thinking, the more it will cost us in the long run.

  • GDIW

    Great insight on what is going on in the world. But the article has the same flaw that you’ve cited in others. Not a lot of real solutions here 🙂 But I appreciated the article nevertheless.

  • Paul

    I am not able to contradict much in this article as this is not my field of expertise. However, a forward looking negative view like this could have been written at any time during the last 100 years. Did the world look better as we approached WWI, WWII, depression of the 1920’s, Cold War, or any other number of events. Yet we got through these events and prospered, inovated, and grew.

    When has the world ever operated with the global coordination and cooperation described here???

  • Tom Paine

    A thought provoking title to this piece “Things Fall Apart.” Obama vs. Onkonko, an interesting comparison worthy of a thesis someday.

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  • Owen Kim

    The most erudite and concise summary of the challenges the world faces in the near future. It should added to collection of scholarly articles for all who enjoy a good analysis of the complex world around us. Not surprising considering the well regarded reputation of the author. Well done.

    NON-WIMP !

  • huxley

    Our propensity to elect charismatic but inexperienced leaders repeatedly lands us in trouble.

    WRM: Who are these “charismatic but inexperienced leaders” that you have in mind?

    I can only think of three charismatic presidents in my lifetime: JFK, Reagan, and Obama. Surely JFK and Reagan were experienced enough not to be called inexperienced.

    Are you including Carter and Clinton as “charismatic but inexperienced”? I suppose some case can be made for them, but neither seemed all that charismatic or inexperienced to me. They just weren’t good presidents.

    How do you measure charisma or inexperience?

    Obama, though, takes the prize for possessing both qualities, arguably for the entire history of the United States.

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  • “One can continue this depressing tour d’horizon. There is Japan, which has floundered for twenty years and is still no closer to rekindling the economic dynamism that once made it look like a credible rival to the United States. Dithering, incompetence, corruption and group-think have turned Japan into a pale shadow of its former self. Sadly, there is no sign of a change.”

    This might be small potatoes to some people, but to me it isn’t. I am an avid gamer and for years, since Nintendo rescued the video gaming industry from the debacles of Atari, Japan has been at the forefront of gaming with innovative games, groundbreaking technologies and development powerhouses. Nowadays, one is lucky to play a Japanese-developed game that leaves its mark critically. Nintendo tries to recreate the olden days with an umpteenth Mario title, Konami and Capcom keeps rehashing their cherished properties and never innovating in any instance; Japan has since lost its luster and no one even talks about the next big thing from Japan. Hell, Japanese publishing houses now farm out their properties to Western developers in the hopes of saving them from dustbin of irrelevance.

    Japan, what a waste. Oh well, at least I can still enjoy the 400th episode of Naruto and the 300th episode of Bleach. Does those series ever end?

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  • Jack

    “Our propensity to elect charismatic but inexperienced leaders repeatedly lands us in trouble.”

    It begs the question, (but noticeably unanswered by Mead), as to whom he might apply such a label “charismatic but inexperienced?”

    Well, President Obama certainly fits that category, but who else? Since when does “propensity” mean “one time?”

    I defer to Mead when it comes to a knowledge of American history, but Mead’s failure to list at least three examples (and I have generously provided one, to start)invalidates his premise from the get go. (William Jennings Brian comes to mind, but he failed in his three bids for the Presidency.)

    Of course it does prevent the current administration’s diplomatic corps from detecting by Google or page search a negative comment about our current President.

    As is so common among those in the MSM, and I include Mead in that group, what can laughingly be called Obama’s accomplishments are either inflated, or other, better men’s are diminished, so that Obama looks better by comparison.

    Or in this case, diminished by ascribing to others Obama’s deeply negative characteristics.

    In other words, projection by proxy.

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