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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Rise In Social Complexity–No Wonder We Have Become Reactionary

Harvard University professor Samuel Huntington  He expanded his thesis on ‘The Clash of Civilizations’ in his 1993 article in Foreign Affairs.  People’s religious, ethnic, and cultural identities would be the cause of conflict in the post-Cold War environment. 
Many years earlier he  observed a connection between accelerated economic growth and political polarization.
During 1968, just as the United States' war in Vietnam was becoming most intense, Huntington published Political Order in Changing Societies, which was a critique of the modernization theory which had affected much U.S. policy regarding the developing world during the prior decade.
Huntington argues that, as societies modernize, they become more complex and disordered. If the process of social modernization that produces this disorder is not matched by a process of political and institutional modernization—a process which produces political institutions capable of managing the stress of modernization—the result may be violence. (Wikipedia)
Huntington could not have been more right on both scores.  The world  in the early 21st century has become bewilderingly complex and societies everywhere are challenging old, traditional institutional arrangements which seem ill-suited to the demands of an exploding population, marshaling and apportioning the increasingly scarce resources, and most importantly managing the competing claims to them.


It is no surprise that separatism is replacing formerly inclusive and politically homogeneous social groups in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and America – all of whom want theirs and want it now.
The rise of ISIS and its commitment to establish a radical Muslim Caliphate by any means necessary is but one example of a political group which has dismissed Western liberal democracy as as foolish, godless, misguided, and evil construct.  Old geopolitical borders have no meaning and must be eliminated. Only a theocracy guided by harsh Wahhabi law and ruled with discipline and order can be legitimate.  

Political movements do not come out of nowhere, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism can be attributed to many factors.  First, a Muslim fertility rate that far exceeds any other population group and has put increasing pressure on the relatively little arable land in the Middle Eastern region.  Second, decades if not centuries of economic debility and lack of growth themselves functions of religious and cultural isolation. 

Third, a continuing resentment of the rise and dominance of Israel and a persistent hatred of the Jews resulting in the use of scarce resources to fight it.  Finally, the rise of competing and better-equipped nation-states which threaten the legitimacy of the Islamic world with their rapid economic growth and political power.

In the face of such complexity, it is not surprising that ISIS and its radical affiliates have chosen a simple, harsh, medieval religious fundamentalism as the raison d’etre and rallying cry of its fight.
Russia, after its humiliation after the fall of the Soviet Union, is reasserting itself as a political and economic power.  Nothing less than a modern-day Russian Empire will suffice to demonstrate the innate strength and validity of Russian history and destiny.  President Putin has become increasingly autocratic and unforgiving of separatism, understanding as he does that Chechnya and other smaller ethnic republics are angry, restive, and independence-minded and threaten the body politic of Slavic, Orthodox Russia.

The Uighurs and other smaller ethnic groups of Western China have threatened the Han regime with civil disorder and violence; and the Chinese government has responded with unequivocal force not only to restore order but to destroy any and all vestiges of local culture.  ‘Diversity’ has no play in either Russia or China.


Western Europe is in sixes and sevens over immigration.  Countries like Denmark, Sweden, and Holland – all with long traditions of tolerance and mutual respect – are rethinking their policies now that they are besieged by refugees and questionable immigrants who now want asylum but who, when established, will retain and strengthen their particular ethnic and religious identities.

These countries look to France which has the largest Muslim population in Europe – a population which has grown increasingly restive and angry about its second-class status.  Despite the claim that “We are all French”, and the country’s famous laïcité, French Muslims in the northern suburbs have resorted to violence and intimidation to claim their separatist rights.  


The EU which has given economic opportunity to all Europeans including and perhaps especially to citizens of the former Soviet bloc, has – in the view of European Muslims – overlooked them.  The new, complex international marketplace has no place for them.

The United States is no different, and in an increasingly populous and complex social, political, and economic environment, it is no surprise that individual interest groups are staking their claims more openly and in some cases violently than ever before.  Black people still feel marginalized and left out and Black Lives Matter is a simple, unifying, and defiant movement against what many perceive is persistent white racism and discrimination. 

The LGBT community has successfully moved its agenda to the fore, and seeing initial legal decisions in their favor, press for even more rights, legitimacy, and power.

These progressive claims to power and legitimacy have not been received equally charitably within the United States.  In fact the white, conservative, fundamentalist middle class of America – still sizable by any measure, feels put-upon, insulted, and more marginalized than any of the smaller groups demanding retribution and opportunity.  In an America no longer homogeneous and more complex than ever, it is no surprise that this disaffected group is demanding a return to simplicity, homogeneity, and simple, traditional values.

This class of Americans feels squeezed on all sides.  Globalism and competitive international trade has completely altered the American industrial landscape.  Traditional jobs are hard to come by and those dismissed from them are hard put to quickly retool and learn new skills.  They see America’s black underclass benefiting from government largesse while they continue to work two jobs, make ends meet, and survive.  They see wealth increasing among the few and little of it trickling down to them.

At the same time they feel that their patriotism, family values, traditional sexuality, Biblical fundamentalism, and regional pride being denigrated, ridiculed, and dismissed out of hand.


It is no wonder that Donald Trump has so many passionate followers among this class and has garnered over 50 million votes in the primary electoral process.  He is not the carny barker, huckster, vaudevillian showman, and circus clown as the liberal Left depict him.  He has tuned in to real voter anger, resentment, and hostility.

It is not surprising either that so many political causes compete in complex America and add to the country’s divisiveness.  The Environmental Movement is by no means supported by all Americans and those who object to the juggernaut of federal regulations designed to protect the environment but which result in lost jobs and income, are angry and forming into their own counter-interest groups.  This large white middle class feels besieged by environmentalists, LGBT activists, feminists, and the forces of secularism which refuse to even acknowledge the legitimacy to their Biblical claims.


Nor is it surprising to see the rise in conspiracy theories.  Given the bewildering and befuddling amount of conflicting information mediated by the Internet on every important topic, it is no wonder that many Americans without the education, training, or experience to sort through it all and come up with reasoned, logical conclusions, end up with cockamamie beliefs.   In the face with bamboozling complexity, the refuge of simple explanations is far easier and more satisfactory.

It is no wonder that Americans have become more reactionary.  The disaffected middle class is no longer tolerant and willing to wait in line for opportunity and benefits; no longer patient with minorities which have received billions of dollars in welfare, grants, subsidies, and political support and show little progress for it.   Their belief in the enduring higher qualities of American democracy has quickly eroded.  They have no respect for either Congress or the White House; and their state representatives, closer to them in background and culture, are continually intimidated and bullied by Washington.

ISIS is not a nettle in the side of democracy – a blip, a minor eruption, and an annoyance to the logical progress of liberalism.  It is a violent reactionary force, committed to a return to absolute religious fundamentalism.

Russia and China are not outliers on the fringes of democracy.  They are rebellious, defiant, and super-confident countries which ignore the notion of the nation-state and the value of ‘diversity’ and hearken back to the days of the Mandarin dynasties and the Tsarist courts of Petersburg.

The Scandinavians and the French are not simply going through an understandable phase of reconsideration of their secular legacy.  They are radically changing.  They have no patience with tolerant inclusivity and respect.  They are going to the barricades to preserve the old.   It is one thing to have the Middle East in flames; but another altogether to have it invade their countries.

Democracy is meeting its toughest test; and progressivism which has contributed to the social and political chaos which has compounded complexity, is finally under attack.  The calls for multiculturalism and diversity have backfired like never before.

At least for the time being, reactionary politics at all levels of society and governance are becoming the rule not the exception.

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