Monday, September 05, 2011

Confronting Unforeseen Events — Europe and Israel

The following essay by Manfred Gerstenfeld was originally published at Ynet, and later at Tundra Tabloids. The text below is adapted from the Tundra Tabloids version.


Confronting Unforeseen Events — Europe and Israel
by Manfred Gerstenfeld

After the massive looting riots spread across England, British Prime Minister David Cameron declared: “There are pockets of our society that are not just broken, but frankly sick.” He added that the problem was even larger saying: “There are things badly wrong with our society.”

Can one relate Cameron’s statement on societies gone wrong with sick pockets to all Western democracies? Out of nowhere sudden upheavals emerge, seemingly with increased frequency. Could a large societal event cause lengthy chaos in a post-modern democracy?

Before focusing on aspects of pathology in Western societies, one should analyze a bigger issue: Are these unforeseen upheavals stand-alone, or linked to key characteristics common to many democracies? And as far as Israel is concerned — what do we learn from what happens to others?

The increasing complexity of Western society is one of its major characteristics. This will expand further, partly due to advances in technology. Complexity brings with it more confusion, fragmentation and often polarization. Western societies will become even less transparent and thus more difficult to govern. A growing percentage of the population will have difficulty in coping with the increased intricacies of social order and its rapid changes. Fewer people will therefore have to carry a larger number of marginalized ones financially. In such a general environment, a smaller entity can, in principle, identify looming problems more easily.

The European Union is a prime example of a large complex system without proper checks and balances. It is in urgent need of drastic revision rather than further uncontrolled integration. Similarly, the E.U. should not be made into an even more opaque “transfer union” whereby wealthy states continuously finance poorer ones. A better approach would be to determine which countries should leave the Eurozone in order to make it more homogeneous.

Had one understood the disadvantages of increasing complexity a few decades ago, Europe would not have allowed mass immigration of non-Westerners, especially considering that xenophobia is ubiquitous in Europe. To make matters worse, significant percentages of these immigrants are adherents to ideologies alien to the rule of democracy. Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron and several others have declared — far too late however — that multiculturalism is a failure.

Another key characteristic of complex societies is increased vulnerability. Oftentimes a single person or a small group has the ability to cause major damage. In 1995, American terrorist Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people and wounded more than 680 in Oklahoma City. Anders Breivik recently followed his example. A small group of Arab terrorists caused the mass murders of 9/11. Even Richard Reed, the failed “Shoe Bomber” made a major impact on society. Due to increased security measures at international airports after 2001, millions of travelers have had to remove their shoes since. The Wikileaks affair is another major example of exposing the vulnerability of complex systems. So are the hackers who create havoc in the computer systems of large organizations.

A third key characteristic of Western societies is the decline of authority. The 1968 Paris student riots and others elsewhere accelerated the breakdown of authority which is another result of increasing complexity in a democracy. This involves governments, political systems, the police, churches, schools, academia and last but not least, parents.

One can also apply this analysis to Israel. It is a complex society, made up of a major immigrant population. This makes it heterogeneous and fragmented, even if most immigrants are Jews. Israel also has sizable minorities, yet it is a relatively small society. The isolation from its neighbors makes Israel more transparent than other democracies. Therefore it should be easier than elsewhere to prevent the build up of internal problems, provided its leadership invests time and thought into it.

Israel’s vulnerability is great however, as it is confronted with existential threats which no European country faces. Its security systems are greatly and frequently challenged by its enemies in unprecedented ways. Yet there is little breakdown of authority in one major field. The Israel Defense Forces have a hierarchical structure and for the whole nation, the unifying character of a conscription army.

In view of its unique situation, Israel needs to develop a more successful system to foresee problems. The recent social protests have amassed without the government having any address to refer to as to what to do to prevent their large-scale growth. There should have been an expert body in existence to quickly assess what was going on, who was behind it and how it could possibly be dealt with.

One useful approach can be establishing a permanent advisory task force, which should be composed of senior individuals as part timers with a proven strategic track record in their respective fields. These people would come from a variety of segments of society. They should not do research themselves, but supervise researchers. Government employees should assist them, but should not take the lead. This is an exercise of trial and error. The task force would gradually gain experience and develop a capability for out of the box solutions. Unforeseen problems will continue to crop up in many areas. In the current absence of better alternatives, such an approach merits a serious try.

6 comments:

laine said...

"the disadvantages of increasing complexity"or the disadvantages of increasing complexions or the disadvantages of diversity...oh my. That strikes right at a central tenet of leftist religious dogma. Thou shalt praise diversity of appearance, but abhor it in thought. Thoughts that disagree with your own must be ruthlessly suppressed, especially that one that says it's a bad idea to encourage people from failed cultures to bring those cultures with them unchanged to the West".

Sagunto said...

Here's a passage that puzzles me:

"Had one understood the disadvantages of increasing complexity a few decades ago, Europe would not have allowed mass immigration of non-Westerners, especially considering that xenophobia is ubiquitous in Europe."

Firstly, if "xenophobia" is ubiquitous in Europe, it will be same all over the world, with no exceptions. Secondly, mass immigration has never been about more or less "complexity". If anything, it legitimized the welfare state, i.e. the system that ultimately reduces complexity, for it provided the progressivist planners and state sponsored meddlers with ample reason to manage society. That's what this is all about: more state control and therefore in fact - behind the veil of "diversity" - a less and less complex, less free society. In the closing paragraphs of this slightly confusing article, the author seems to hint in this direction with a plea for govt. sponsored research units to streamline society. So it appears that "complexity" can serve as a useful buzz word and the tiny rhetorical end of an ever bigger wedge for interventionists to use, in order to promote the fine tuning of the centralist state system. Bad idea.

Kind regs from Amsterdam,
Sag.

Baron Bodissey said...

Ah, Sagunto, you’ve hit the nail on the head!

The progressive ideal has infected most people, even most “conservatives”, without their realizing it. If something is wrong, then the government must fix it. If the government has prescribed noxious ideas up until now, why, new ideas must be implemented!

Smarter, more ethical people must take the reins of government and apply the correct formulations. That will correct what’s wrong, and a balanced, just, ideal society will emerge.

Yup. Uh-huh.

Very few people are able to grasp that government is the cause of at least half of the entrenched problems that are destroying our culture. As for the other 50% — the massive, bloated, centralized state is just a symptom of those other problems. The socialist behemoth is simply visible evidence of the collective infantile demands of an anesthetized populace.

It’s very difficult to accept that government cannot cure what ails us, but only make the disease worse. It’s a hard, hard lesson to learn.

The solution is not more snake oil for the patient, but to let him ride out the fever and delirium on his own. He may not survive the ravages of the disease, but it’s a certainty that the ministrations of the quack will kill him.

filthykafir said...

“The increasing complexity of Western society is one of its major characteristics. This will expand further, partly due to advances in technology. Complexity brings with it more confusion, fragmentation and often polarization.”

Frequently, I’ve thought that the technological and social complexity (complicatedness is actually the better word, but verbally clumsy) of 21st century life in the developed world is, in fact, as Gerstenfeld states, a growing problem. I sense Western civilization may soon reach a point at which only fairly high-IQ people will be able to succeed as full economically productive, politically active citizens.

If an IQ of 115 were to become the cut-off point for success (an imprecise term, I admit), something like 75% of people would end up “failures.” I submit that circumstance would not be sustainable and would result in either widespread civil disorder or increasingly undemocratic rule of “the masses” by the requisitely intelligent and educated elite. There exists, of course, plenty of historical precedent for such social and political organization, but I find it unappealing.

I’m 66 years old, and while reasonably intelligent and well-educated, already I find currently common technologies largely incomprehensible. I read that a large number of young people throughout Western societies do not complete the basic secondary educational program. I do not know what the solution, if any, may be, but the growing complicatedness of our culture does look, to me, to be a problem.

Egghead said...

filthykafir: Where all of life is a competition for resources, people use their advantages to obtain resources.

People who lack intelligence are more prone to turn to violence to achieve their aims since violence is their competitive advantage - versus having a choice between employing intelligence or violence.

The real problem is that the lower quantity of high IQ people are ALWAYS subordinated to the higher quantity of low IQ people through either violence or the threat of violence.

In modern revolutions, the first step of violent uneducated masses is to murder all of the educated (and thus presumably intelligent) people that they can find.

P.S. I fully acknowledge that some flawed governmental systems prevent intelligent people from being educated - which is still a tyranny of the unintelligent over the intelligent.

ole said...

You have underestimated the strenght and quality of israeli society , because you missed the most important detail : while half a million israelies demonstrated several times for a more just society , not a single incident og violence occurred . Not from the demonstrators , and not from the police . Please tell me in which other countries this could happen ?