One way to understand polycentrism is to draw a parallel with ecosystems. During polycentric times, the key to success is adaptability. In fact, it is the same story as with evolution. Size and overwhelming strength, if not managed and applied appropriately, can be a dangerous liability. It is a lesson we have learnt from the fate of the high-maintenance dinosaurs. Survival and success require skills and dexterity very distinct from the singular obsession to accumulate domineering strengths.
The Consequences Of Acting Out
For multiple reasons, our actions and responses to the world since 9/11 and the 2008 financial tsunami are seriously antiquated. Our fixation on unbridled and untempered “freedom” was misguided and ultimately much misused. We have distorted our founding fathers’ tenet of “liberty” and supplanted it with unrestrained action, greed and freedom from responsibility. During the process of globalization, the Reagan-Thatcher ideological dominance helped hoist such “freedom” into “rights”. And for a while we were able to back them up with naked military force, tolerating neither resistance nor obstacle.
Then things finally went unhinged, both abroad and at home. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq put us trillions more in debt and, after the debacles in Syria and Turkey, we are practically kept out of the northern Middle East at the moment. The global geopolitical balance is changing. The 2008 financial collapse compounded our indebtedness and put an entire generation of Baby-boomers into post-retirement limbo, not to mention sinking a big portion of the middle-class into the pear-shaped bottom of our new distribution pattern of socio-economic wealth. After 8 years, we still do not have the solutions. As a result, our monopolistic domination in the world is perceived to be coming to an end. Our masses are on edge.
The world is already turning polycentric in many respects, in real terms. We are not used to that, and we do not like it. Our Cold War mode of thinking will not go away, and our think-tanks still harp on the same old narratives. Many, including some in the military, would rather the world goes back to polaristic confrontation, when black is black and white is white. That would have been much simpler. But reality is not something we can choose, nor the consequences necessarily what we would desire.
Learning From History
I look at historical examples of polycentric periods for insight. During the 500-plus years of the Chinese Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, the status of the top hegemon switched many times from kingdom to kingdom. Many of the head honchos started out being quite small and weak. The rotating winners along the way were those that had undergone fundamental reforms of their societies and develop new means of growth, eventually translating it into military and political fortitude. Strategy and cunning, the minds and skills of the master statesmen, and the support of the masses provided the ultimate winning formula to leadership.
Biodiversity also finds a parallel here. During the period of polycentrism I cite, there were great advancements in social and technological progress, structural evolution in political and administrative size and scale. Cultures blossomed and, in particular, philosophies flourished (the Hundred Flowers Bloom Period took place, and all the subsequent major indigenous philosophical schools of thought in China can trace their roots to this period).
The Challenge Today
Looking at the situation today, I believe that electing Donald Trump is a convulsive reaction against a reality we have not yet fathomed. But until we reset our objectives and priorities at home, and successfully reform our society in a way that addresses our structural issues (and there are a mountain of them), we will continue to grapple blindly abroad. Being a belligerent behemoth, we can wreck havoc for the world and ourselves if we think we can solve our problems at home by “making others do as they are told”.
There is an important missing piece we must understand. And that is our global military reality and the nature of our military-industrial complex. Money and guns always go hand-in-hand in history. These are the constraints that no American president, least of whom Donald Trump, can manage to bypass. Next, I will present a synopsis of our predicament in that aspect of reality and realpolitik. It would cast light on what Trump will have to struggle with and wriggle through.