Finding a softer approach for a new century

By : Jim Pinto,
San Diego, CA.

Hard realities in a new century bring the recognition that a new society is emerging - new demographics, institutions, ideologies and problems. An enlightened, global community must find new "soft" ways to approach the "hard" problems of the past.

I am continuing to work on this theme: Soft Solutions for Hard Problems. Your inputs, ideas, feedback, commentary, suggestions and encouragement will be much appreciated!

This article was published by the World Future Society
in the Global Strategies Forum on their website at:
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The 20th century was the century of science and technology that dramatically and irreversibly changed society and civilization.

Technology & business euphoria

Ocean-liners that bridged continents and railroads that conquered the old West gave way to inexpensive and widely available jet travel that reduced the world to a global village. Electric power brought automation, which quickly relegated manual labor to menial jobs at the low end. Agricultural advances quickly produced a surplus and farms today only employ a small percentage of the population in most advanced countries. The age of electricity and radio rapidly switched to TV, electronics, computers and the Internet – electronic consciousness.

Startling new developments emerged from bioengineering, as scientists played with DNA, altering chromosomes, adding and subtracting genes, mining the results of new understanding of the human genome. Through consistent conquering of disease, medical advances succeeded in extending the normal span of human life to almost a century, and the trend continues.

During the latter part of the 20th. century communism collapsed; democracy and capitalism seemed to emerge as the clear paths to follow. In the developed world, the stock markets climbed to unprecedented heights, making many juvenile dotcommers into instant millionaires. The harnessing of technology by capitalism seemed an unconquerable combination.

At the turn of the century, satellite communications connected the world for simultaneous viewing and some six billion souls on this planet went through the countdown together, excitedly and anxiously, as Time ushered in a new year, a new century and a new millennium. For a brief shining moment, it seemed that humankind was close-knit and indomitable, looking positively for a powerful extrapolation of past success.

The rude awakening

But, in year one of the new century, on a date equivalent to an emergency telephone number that will remain forever etched in our minds, the dream of a capitalistic Camelot had a sudden and rude awakening. More than anything else, September 11, 2001 represents a benchmark, a transition to a new century where the old solutions are no longer applicable.

Hard reality brings the recognition that a new society is emerging – new demographics, institutions, ideologies and problems. Things will be quite different from the society of the late 20th century and different from what most people expect. Much of it will be unprecedented. Most of it is already here, or is rapidly emerging.

America’s technology and business prowess brought the illusion of world dominance. But these new problems defy technology solutions of the past. To a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Our streamlined jet fighters, bombers and cruise missiles look like large, lumbering high-tech hammers, targeted at terrorists who simply scurry away like rats to hide in caves. To most people, the news of this high-tech war are simply video views of target bombing of an unseen foe. On the ground, the results of the merciless pounding show only the injured and the hungry hordes who then have to be cared for with a humanitarian spirit.

Indeed, the low-tech box cutters used by the terrorists served to demonstrate the exposed vulnerabilities of an advanced society that had not really recognized that a jumbo-jet could be used as a gigantic bomb, guided by suicidal terrorists. In a democratic society based on "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", no one considered that people could value their patriotic purpose more than their own life. The only inducement for suicidal sacrifice that self-motivated western cultures can identify with is that the misguided terrorist has been promised the reward of "70 virgins" in the afterlife. We cannot seem to imagine patriotism itself as the motivation.

The subsequent wide spread confusion was compounded by high-tech media that insists on showing awesome graphics and repeating news with a half-hour refresh time. Then the nation was paralyzed with a paranoid fear of anthrax attack, which slowly subsided into the realization that this was probably not the work of the same, seemingly widespread terrorist network. Almost a year later, despite the vast resources of the FBI and CIA, the miscreants had not been found. But the uneasy realization remains that society has undergone an irreversible change and will never again be the same. The old naiveté has been negated.

Old paradigms pose problems

Several months after 9/11, it was finally recognized that the major US intelligence services, once considered infallible, could and should have recognized the terrorist plots after several early warnings from several directions. The subsequent mutual finger pointing between the giant organizations of the CIA, FBI and INS showed that they were merely insular and territorial government bureaucracies, which "never communicated with each other". This highlights the fallibility and irrelevance of old organizational methods.

The collapse of Communism gave Capitalism a sense of "winning" the old ideological cold war. But then, the concurrent collapse of financial markets brought an economic recession which had little to do with terrorism. The consequent widespread cutbacks and futile efforts to provide relief through government intervention and interest rate cuts, demonstrate the fragility and inadequacy of a society motivated merely by a short-term profit motive.

Please do NOT mistake my rhetoric as an argument against capitalism or democracy – I am a staunch and an ardent believer in both. Here I am simply seeking solutions to the hard problems that have been exposed. My purpose is to point out that both capitalism and democracy will need to adapt to the realities of the new age. It is clear that the problems we face are hard and cannot be solved by the old hard solutions that might have been effective in the past. New, soft solutions are needed. The coming century must become a century of soft things.

The hard realities of a new century

Consider this. If the world was a village of 100 people:
  • 1 person would have college education
  • Of the 67 adults in the village 37 people would be illiterate
  • About one-third has access to clean, safe drinking water
  • 15 people would live in adequate housing
  • The other 85 people would live in huts and be hungry most of the time
  • 6 people would control half the wealth, 3 of the 6 would be Americans
  • Only 7 people would own an automobile (some would own more than one)
The majority of the people on this planet have always been poor. But, the situation now is different for 3 basic reasons:
  1. The numbers of poor are increasing exponentially - overloading the carrying capacity of underlying social support systems;
  2. The poor now have TV access - to view how the wealthy live;
  3. The poor have access to weapons that can produce large-scale destruction.
Most experts agree that population in developed nations will begin a serious decline during the next few decades, while continuing to surge ahead in underdeveloped nations. In a democratic world, made ever smaller by the instant access of media and information, the more populous nations should, by the definition of democracy, be in control. In any event, their very numbers will inevitably lead to conflicts and splintering.

As we enter an age that professes to eschew race, color and creed, it is indeed disappointing that ethnic and religious conflagrations continue. In some parts of the world, their education and environment generates beliefs and values that are diametrically opposed to ours and if unchecked will fester and spread like some awful, virulent disease that will try to destroy everything in its path. Unlike physical bio-terrorism, this is a spiritual disease – a sickness of the soul.

Anyone who contemplates the future should be concerned about the fundamental trends. These trends are rapidly growing in significance and colliding during the next decade in a way that will very likely make the world a very difficult place to live. Further, it seems that there is no significant way to resolve these problems before they become much bigger and resolution becomes much harder, if not impossible.

Soft solutions for hard problems

Amidst the hard realities of the new century, we cannot continue to be disappointed from a distance – we are intimately and inextricably involved. A new, enlightened, global community must find soft ways to eliminate hatred and prejudice. Each of these problems has no conventional solutions within our present societal paradigms. These are "hard" problems, which cannot be tackled by "hard" solutions.

To stimulate new thinking, lets try to group some of the hard problems and possible soft solutions.

Ignorance & misunderstanding:

While they subsist with poverty and hunger, vast populations view only those aspects of our culture which are being advertised – our sensational excesses and pornography. The closeness of a global village exacerbates and amplifies the gap, while ignorance compounds the problem.

We need to evangelize our principles. Let’s use all the tools at our disposal including propaganda, advertising, broadcasting, networking, etc. Let’s educate the less fortunate so that they are exposed to the freedoms and warmth of our culture. Beyond just guarding against terrorism, let’s work to correct the causes. Let’s pursue reasonable dialog and global education to understand how others think, to respect other cultures, leading the way to healing and closure. The malevolence of terrorists is disarmed when the causes of their dissatisfaction are clearly understood and addressed. Terrorism is less destructive when a society is no longer ignorant.

What we need is a new way to think. The words 'war' and 'crusade' are harmful: 'crusade' reinforces the idea that this is a religious conflict, which it is not; a 'war' is supposed to be won or lost, not just endlessly stalemated. We will have to find effective ways to combine hard power (military might) with soft power (persuasiveness and coalition-building) to be successful in this new kind of struggle.

In spite of the recent show of force in Afghanistan, the new society will be dominated by brain, not brawn. The world will be borderless for business, with upward mobility for everyone. In a borderless world, democracy will attain a new meaning.

Supporting non-democratic regimes:

In the US we espouse democracy, but only within narrow national boundaries. Emerging democracies are difficult to deal with and so, under the guise of non-interference, we collaborate with military dictatorships and royal principalities around the world. On the surface these people cater to our pretensions, while they sneer behind our backs and continue with undemocratic domination of their people. Iran is an ominous example - we propped up the despotic Shah and suffered from the inevitable backlash of a depressed populace that was easy pickings for the mullahs and ayatollahs.

Democracy is a luxury that the poor and starving cannot afford; it works best in an educated society. We must somehow spur democratic governments and equitable economic democracy. We must help to create self-reliant, ecological, electronically linked communities (not states). A transformed United Nations could increase direct democracy. This gets back to education. Let’s engage and evangelize.

Vulnerabilities of an open society:

An open, science-based society is highly vulnerable to destruction by high-concept-low-tech terrorism.

The answer to fanaticism cannot be to reduce our open-ness and increase authoritarianism. We can reduce our vulnerabilities through constructive planning and "soft" technologies. There are several technology solutions (examples visual scanning and bio-feedback) which can identify terrorists without penalizing the average citizen or reducing freedom. On the planning side, since centralization is highly vulnerable; redundancy and parallelism could be used to avoid exposing single points of vulnerability.

Broad-based defenses must become civilian-based. Let ordinary citizens be the first line of defense against terrorists. Without asking everyone to spy on their neighbors, ordinary good people can be expected to provide the equivalent of a "neighborhood watch" – a program that has indeed reduced crime in many neighborhoods.

Instead of placing military police on every commercial airline flight, we can train passengers to identify and deal with terrorists. Not everyone can have the heroism of a Todd Beemer; but watchful passengers can indeed make a big difference. We must prepare civilians to deal with violence in everyday situations, to have a sense of confidence in making a mature response to any crisis.

Selfish Capitalism needs reform:

Free enterprise is still the best way to make money, but does not generate value beyond self-enrichment for a few, with questionable trickle-down benefits for the rest. Coincidentally since the start of the new century, significant and inexcusable corruption has come to light at the top of several capitalistic enterprises. Corporate leaders at the highest levels proved greedy and selfish, bringing down once highly respected corporations, their auditors who were supposedly incorruptible referees, and major financial institutions that hawked their stock to an unsuspecting public.

It is disingenuous to assume that this corruption is limited to just a few exceptions. Corporate leaders have long been considered super-smart when they finagle continuous growth and profit, with the media extolling their amazing talents; they hobnob with politicians who provide favors while accepting their contributions. The "big-5" auditors have always aggressively marketed their ability to yield tax benefits close to the limits of legality. And the major financial institutions have regularly promoted their own interests at the expense of gullible clients. The broadening scandals bring corporate cleanups – but beyond that, there is the growing realization that fundamental, philosophical changes are needed.

A system that routinely rewards the few who are rich and powerful at the expense of the many who are poor and weak, is a system that is programmed for destruction and eventual collapse. Capitalism cannot succeed through ME-ism – we must find more ways to foster US-ism.

Peter Drucker forecasts that corporate business structures will change in the new century. As presently defined, the job of the CEO is un-doable. The illusion that paying the leaders more and more attains better performance is naive and antiquated. Like the President of the US, the CEO will emerge simply as a figurehead and cheerleader. Corporate leaders will provide only mission and vision, while each corporate segment will have different local objectives. In the future there will not be just one kind of corporation, but a range of models to choose from.

The fathers of the new world described capitalism as "enlightened self-interest". The vital, soft element is "enlightened". Unbridled, self-interested capitalism simply makes the rich richer; in the closely interconnected global village of a new century we must recognize that perhaps it is equally important to make the poor less poor. We need to find ways and means to sell the softness of capitalism.

Employee-ownership has already broadened participation in the fruits of success. Let us find more ways to encourage longer-term perspectives on a broader front. We must encourage entrepreneurship at smaller and smaller levels. Cheap communications with free movement of information are key things here. The easier it is to find out who is doing what, the easier it will be to make this happen.

The Digital Divide:

Technology is accelerating, but is widening the gap between haves and have-nots; it is further fragmenting a divided world. In selecting the best and brightest as employees, major corporations are already practicing a form of "techno-fascism". As the rich get richer, they afford more and more technology tools and control more of the world’s resources, leaving less and less to "trickle down".

To counter the growing divisions of rich and poor, we must start extensive actions to end poverty and despair, realize human rights for all, improve education and health care, fight global crime and corruption, develop democracy at a global level. Society must find ways and means to turn guns into gifts, bombs into bridges. Instead of waging war against a resentful minority that resorts to terrorism, the US and countries that have a surplus of unsold food, clothing and other consumer goods could airlift their surplus to needy countries. We must make the effort to alleviate their poverty while we educate them with the tools for tomorrow. To make a difference, we should launch a massive process of evolutionary changes - economic, political, cultural and biological - against the common enemies of disease, poverty and ignorance.

Government Bureaucracy:

Governments continue to increase their own power, while reducing liberty and freedom. The war on terrorism brought yet more excuses to increase federal power. To reduce miscommunications between the FBI and CIA, yet another Government department was added to coordinate – simply increasing the bureaucracy of control. In the aftermath of 9/11, when airport screening proved ineffective, the Federal Government took over the function, as if federal employees would bring sudden improvements. Indeed, when enough trained employees could not be found, the minimum standards were quickly relaxed and previously ineffective airport screeners were put on the government payroll.

More central controls have never yielded solutions beyond bureaucratic bogging down. The same is true on a world scale – government interference seldom solves problems. US has provided support for, and policed, much of the third world for many years. But this has done little to alleviate the situation. More resources and involvement will not help anyone. It is time to realize that the only things that help people long term are education and the freedom to help them selves. Help people and allow them to prosper on their own.

Working to build a practical Utopia

The opportunities and solutions available today are unlike anything ever available in the history of humankind. In this new century, technology is accelerating to provide miracles that no medieval Merlin could ever have delivered at Camelot. Communications at a personal level, the Internet, and media on a national and global scale, bring the concept of an enlightened global village within our grasp. Let’s not dwell on pessimistic probabilities but rather the practical possibilities. Let’s work together to focus our collective efforts and goodwill to bring about the Utopia that had only been dreamed about by our forefathers.

I am continuing to work on this new theme: "Soft Solutions for Hard Problems". Your inputs, ideas, feedback, commentary, suggestions and encouragement will be much appreciated!

eSpeak to me :

1. The Near Future, Peter Drucker, 2-part article, The Economist, Nov. 02,2001.
Part I :
Part II:
2. Peter Drucker - Management Challenges for the 21st Century Harper Business,1999, ISBN: 0-88730-998-4
3.  Outlook 2001 - November-December 2000 issue of The Futurist, journal of the World Future Society
4. The Algebra of Infinite Justice, by Arundhati Roy, UK Guardian, Sept. 29, 2001

Click here
Soft solutions for hard problems
Send me an email to weblog your own comments on this topic.
Your name and email address will be included, unless you would prefer to have it witheld.
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