Saturday, August 13, 2005

Globalization and Social Diamonds... p.III (with a note re "purges")

First off, I am told that this blog was cited in discussion of A. Huffington's recent column about the four-star general who was recently fired under questionable (and likely politically-motivated) charges. At minimum, it shows a double standard, applied by politicians against a clade that is almost universally more honest and upright than they are. At worst, it is one more stage in an intimidation campaign of major and vile proportions. So far, such cases have been adding up incrementally, one after another with disturbing rhythm. Yet, it's here at this site, and nowhere else, that it was first proposed that this is all part of a concerted purge of the US Officer Corps.

You heard that first right here.

And no, I never claimed to be ready with overwhelming proof, meriting indictments. Indeed, I might be wrong! (The phrase that all scientists are taught to say aloud, and the one mature statement that can hope to save civilization.)

Hey, I am paid to be BOTH imaginatively paranoid and ecumenically skeptical. Both are modernist traits, especially when properly mixed. Hence, I do not insist (without a lot more evidence) that this scenario is true. What I do contend is that an awful lot of circumstantial evidence is pointing to a possible phenomenon that, if true, could bode worse for us than any threat since the Civil War. (Indeed, one could look at this as a resumption of the Civil War, in some ways. But more on that, anon.)

SO? Spread the word and start helping to gather evidence! And tell the democrats to get off their asses on this issue. One of many areas where liberals are simply not doing their job.

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Back to concluding my remarks about the loonyleft and "globalization".

First, here is a fine online magazine produced by a very pro-business group that calls itself - well - The Globalist. (http://www.theglobalist.com) Here is a sample article: (http://www.theglobalist.com/DBWeb/StoryId.aspx?StoryId=4738) You will note that while being pro-business, they are not necessarily pro-neocon. In my opinion, in fact, the two perspectives are quite opposite.

(See the mini-rant at the end of my NEXT posting!)

Now, let's follow up on a question one of you asked (quite cleverly) about the "social diamond". (I am hoping somebody will publicly notice that Brin came up with a truly great metaphor here! ;-)

The diamond - featuring an empowered and comfortable middle class that vastly outnumbers the poor - shows how huge and obvious genuine progress has been, at least in the West, under our Modernist Agenda. No image demonstrates more clearly how this society is different from all predecessors, how much we ALL have benefitted from science and accountability...and how much we have to lose if we return to the traditional human social pyramid.

Moreover, this metaphor helps to show just how loony both the left and right are. The far right hates the diamond and does everything it can to rationalize and justify counter trends, especially those fostering re pyramidalization. But the left is worse, refusing absolutely to admit that the diamond has happened at all!

The former tendency - at least - is human; we've seen conspirators strive for pinnacle position atop their social pyramids - and to maintain that structure - in every large culture recorded . (Under communism, it was the CP nomenklatura that did precisely the same thing!) We must fight this endlessly recurring theme. But at one level, it's a yawner.

(The ironies can be outrageous, such as when Julian Simon and other neoconservatives relentlessly cite diamond progress (in economic terms) as reason to abandon the very same processes of self-critical problem-solving and market fine-tuning that brought the cornucopia into being! They do this by crediting a mystically perfect "market" with all of this progress, and not a process of relentless reform, negotiation, re-appraisal of costs and fine-tuning that has gone on ever since Teddy Roosevelt.)

Nevertheless, it's the latter thing - the betrayal of the diamond by the left - that really outrages me. By refusing to admit the palpable existence of progress, lefties discredit all of liberalism, undermining its effectiveness for the sake of their own righteous indignation high.

In effect, they are saying to the public: "You bought our product for eighty years and it never worked! At all! Ever! So buy more!" Would you buy a product that was offered with such a sales pitch?

Worse, they insult those earlier generations of activists who helped citizens to craft genuine progress in fields ranging from civil rights and gender rights, to increasing access to university, to cleaning the air, to saving the Ozone Layer and reforesting much of America. By saying that nothing meaningful has been accomplished, they spread despair, a sense of futility, and prove they are romantic enemies of progress.

But let me pause. (And now we get back to your question, sir.)

In fairness, smartaleck lefties (sometimes very smart young fellers) do try to look at the diamond - now and then - with honestly critical eyes. (I am "Mr. Criticism" so bring it on!) They do this by saying "the American so-called 'diamond' rests atop an old-fashioned pyramid of third world resources and third world labor!"

Actually, that's a clever and well-put attempt at falsification. It deserves real scrutiny.

And at one level the rebuttal is true. We ARE basing much of our prosperity on unsustainable practices, by greedily grabbing and squandering under-costed resources.

Especially, we are stealing fossil petrochemicals from our grandchildren and outrageously burning them, instead of cautiously preserving some and using the rest to finance a leap to new plateaus. We need to use the present surplus to complete the modernist goal of achieving genuinely sustainable technologies, so all people on Earth can have diamond-middleclass life styles... at only 5% of the resource cost of a current american life style.

(Sound impossible? Modernism has already achieved greater miracles. Come on, that's LESS than a two-order-of magnitude increase in efficiency! We can do it. We can. Or... we could. But alas, it will not happen on the investment ROI schedules of myopic corporations. The obstinacy of right wing economists, who actually believe that CEOs are capable of looking beyond three years, seems truly staggering.)

So, at one level, the rebuttal of the diamond has some genuine relevance.

Still, the diamond-atop-pyramid image is fallacious overall. It is easily disproved by one simple, direct and irrefutable correlation. The places in the 3rd World that are doing best are those MOST closely tied to our economy.

Those doing worst are places LEAST connected or globalized. This is true even ecologically! Deforestation in Burma is worse than anywhere. Because there isn't even a semblance of law to stop the aristocracy from logging, smuggling and exporting the products of their theft.

No. The left is doing it all wrong. The things they complain about are real. But their suggestions are sterile and many of them are rooted in romantic rejection of the very things that enabled and empowered true liberalism.

Empowered it to make a better world.

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I was going to follow with a kick to the right, but this posting is too long. So I'll do it tamale....

Return to Part I

11 comments:

daveawayfromhome said...

As further evidence against the diamond on a pyramid arguement, it might also be pointed out that the American socio-economic structure has been relatively diamond-shaped since long before most of the minor (and many major) goods we buy were labeled "made somewhere else"

-dcc-

TC said...

I wonder if the success the diamond represents is to blame? Talking about the far left and far right's faults and missed opportunities is our fundamental right and responsibility as citizens. But are we missing the point? Neither group can be in power if it weren't for the voters.

As voters, we should not accept someone on the right purging experienced military men and women for purely political reasons. We should not accept someone on the left suggesting that Iraq was better off under Hussein.

Another example: Right now, Bolton's going to the UN. We have been constantly out maneuvered on the field of international diplomacy, and our best answer to that problem is someone with Mr. Bolten's "throw gasoline on the flames to put them out" approach to diplomacy?

That's insane! And yet, we let it happen.

Is it just because we're so comfortable in the middle of the pyramid? Are we misinformed? With all of the information available to us via the Internet and other sources, I can't believe we don't have enough information -- unless we're too comfortable or lazy to go after it.

It occurs to me that maybe your blog and the questions you're asking are an attempt to cure that laziness. So maybe the questions I've asked here are too simplistic or are too "duh" to contribute. If so, never mind! Even if that's the case, I've enjoyed reading the discussions in this blog.

Thanks for asking some good questions!

fpoole said...

The "diamond" is very real. Even the most desperate scenes in Old America and Old Europe have been transformed into beautiful ones.

I like the way TC focused on voters, though. I'm tired of hearing people complain about things they could have prevented easily. If someone voted for Reagan, I don't want to hear one word about the price of gas... One thing that bothers me is the media. Not because of bias, necessarily, but because they waste everyone's time. I don't care what gutter Paris Hilton found her latest accessories in. I don't care how many cars Oprah parked along a street in the ghetto with keys in the ignition. I care about root causes, their effects, their causes, and the paths to solutions. We're not seeing that. We're seeing nonsense about "culture wars" and the price we pay for overdoing consumerism, but these "culture wars" are really about mythology/rhetoric vs. empiricism and we're never given the reasons why consuming comes at such a high cost. If we want change, we have to get the little guys everywhere in on it, or the little guys will continue suffering the same problems in relentless cycles, as has been the way throughout history.

(To demonstrate this, weren't we facing threats to energy availability in the '60s and '80s? Weren't we 'discussing' the validity of evolution then, too?)

DemetriosX said...

I've been thinking for the last few days about the social diamond and I think one of the things that has caused a number of people to call it into question is the simple fact that it appears unstable. Visual orientation is still important to us and our monkey brains are telling us that a diamond can't stand on its point.

That being said, I do think that the diamond rests on a pyramid; not, however, on a third world base. In the missing part of the pyramid, the people have been replaced by technology. It is our machines and our conveniences that fulfill the role once held by the broad base of the poor.

Another however: theoretically, the economic or social diamond ought to parallel a similar diagram of political power. I suppose in real terms it does. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to reflect the exercise of political power. That diagram seems to be more hourglass shaped (essentially an inverse of the social diamond) or perhaps a mushroom with a swollen foot and a relatively flat cap.

This is highly disturbing as it shows the broad middle either mired in a political apathy or highly divided by artificial and superficial differences. I suspect the latter. If the rural/agricultural middle class of the red states found common cause with the suburban/technological middle class of the blue states (and they have far more in common than anyone is ever led to believe), we would see a sea change in American politics.

Instead, they allow themselves to be divided by issues that have little to do with day-to-day life or by short-term questions of approach to the same long-term goal. Meanwhile, the reactionary left does its best to purchase the power of the bottom of the diagram (and, perhaps unconsciously, seek to broaden that base) and the radical right has been able to take advantage of the growing dissatisfaction of the middle with the other side's adherence to policies that haven't worked.

Brother Doug said...

Today a friend in Veterans for peace told me that a Marine officer he knew was retiring after 17 years in the core and giving up his pension and benefits you get after 20 years because he refused to go back to Iraq. I imagine a lot of officers are doing the same thing. Think of all that lost experience. It took almost twenty years to recover from the loss of qualified officers in Vietnam and now the pool is much smaller because our total manpower is about 1.7million service persons versus say six + million in the 1970’s.

David makes some good points but the fact is the Diamond is proportionally narrower in the center than in say the 1950's even if its total size has grown. Factor in the inflated price of housing in the developed world and people who are forced to rent and live paycheck to paycheck are not increasing in wealth. The good news is that with the diamond growing at such a rate the problem could be solved by getting rid of subsidies for the rich and eliminating taxes on the poor. That is the wining strategy no one is willing to do.

fpoole said...

Odd. The last Pentagon figure I saw put it at around 4 million. Then again, this is the Pentagon...

Tony Fisk said...

Quoth Demetrios X:
...and I think one of the things that has caused a number of people to call it into question is the simple fact that it appears unstable.

Bang on! As a supporting structure, the pyramid has immediate appeal. Descartes may say 'reasonable ain't right!', (yet, it has appeal. Visual appeal!)

As promised, David has provided a reasoned refutation of the 'diamond on pyramid' model.

The one big problem I have with it is that it takes a couple of minutes to read the words and digest their meaning. OTOH, the image is understood immediately.

Given the 'framing' bender I'm on, I think it is important to counter such arguments with equal vigor, and in kind.

Reframe: the visual appearance of a pyramid providing stability derives from the assumption that it is supported from the ground up.

Let's add water (you know, economic liquidity). To avoid getting swamped, our mental images are going to need a little a buoyancy. Now, if we are claiming that it is the middle of the diamond driving the economy, maybe we can equate the middle strata to a life guard.

----x-----------
---xxx------x----
--xxxxx---xxx---
:::xxx:::xxxxx::
::::x:::xxxxxxx:
::::::::::::::::

How're the diamonds floating?

Does the pyramid seem to be a little low?

(I know, the analogy's overly cute, and getting more than a bit stretched. But it does provide a satisfying alternative to the 'diamond in pyramid' analogy that is reasonably honest and just as easily grasped. And, if anyone can improve on it, go to!)

Jacare Sorridente said...

The greatest danger to our current social structure comes from two sources: complacency and a sense of the inadequacy of the individual.

On the side of complacency, taking action on any issue requires time and energy. Modern advances in technology have always been touted as reducing the amount of labor one need perform in maintaining a household and so on, but the real result has been that everyone is expected to do more with their time. The amount of information and the number of roles the average human in western society is expected to handle competently is staggering. While I think it true that most Americans are concerned about many important issue ranging from the environment to the cost of oil, signing on to support a cause requires a real investment of time which, for most people, would require either a reshuffling of priorities or a superficial commitment to the cause. As a general rule, I think that people have so much on their plate that they are very reluctant to take on one more thing. They figure that such is the job of the politicians.

And that brings us to the next problem. The justifications to view oneself as just another cog in the wheel are legion. The vast size of our monolithic government is beyond the capacity of most people to comprehend. As a simple example, the tax code alone is so complex that a huge portion of the available workforce is involved to some extent or another in collecting, ensuring compliance, legally evading and exploiting loopholes, pursuing or defending against legal procedures, predicting amounts etc.

Add to this the further complication of a two-party political system. I know of very few people who approve of the complete agenda of either one of the two parties. Because there are only two, each seeks to be all things to all people. Yet at the same time, the lack of any but a simple binary choice naturally enforces upon voters one-issue votes. To illustrate, perhaps a voter is concerned about the environment, thinks that the US needs a realistic, comprehensive energy policy which moves us away from oil dependence, and thinks that we need to balance the budget. This voter also believes that redefining marriage to include homosexual unions is a bad idea, and that the drive by certain elements to eliminate all reference to religion in any public space are a ridiculous, extreme interpretation of the separation of church and state.

So who should our hypothetical voter vote for? The Republican candidate, who will likely support absurd, unsustainable measures in regards to energy policy and the environment as well as running up huge deficits, or the Democratic candidate who will also likely run up huge deficits as well as support court appointments who will drive through homosexual marriage and the complete secularization of the public space?

And of course, there are millions of potential hypothetical voters who could be divided different ways on any of the major issues.

To me there are a few facts which seem clear to me with regards to a diamond-shaped social structure:

A massive, monolithic, and inscruatble government is a danger to the social structure.

The two party system is a danger to the current social structure.

Allowing oneself to get so caught up in the "rat race" that one no longer bothers with the important questions of politics is a huge danger to the system.

Anonymous said...

The best illustration of "The Diamond" in both US and World income distributions can be found here:

http://www.gapminder.org/projectsView-2.htm

It is especially telling to look at the difference between the change in income distributions from 1970-2000 in the US, China, and Nigeria.

In the US the middle class center of the diamond is getting richer, but there is a growing "bump" of underclass, but even the underclass is getting richer each year.

China has diverged into the rich urbanite "bump" and the rural "middle class", still both classes getting richer each year.

Meanwhile Nigeria's single class in the 1970 splits into a middle class and a richer class, except the richer class which appears in the mid-1980's didn't get richer since then, and the middle class bump is "spreading out" both ways creating lots of new, poorer people.

phil jones said...

I wonder why you don't think the left talk about the diamond?

eg. http://www.ctheory.net/text_file.asp?pick=402

Seth said...

SOmeone said:" support court appointments who will drive through homosexual marriage and the complete secularization of the public space"

If I thought there was any possiblity the democrats would do that, I would vote for them.