We might not be in this mess.
This is a very thoughtful piece that seems to link political incentives with individual psychology to explain the current failure of western policies.
The inertia that you talk about has some similarity to the corporate world, that I am more familiar with. Companies of all sizes have an amazing inability to change how they operate too. The tendency is always to keep doing the same things. This is great when conditions are conducive to the recipe that made them successful in the first place. All companies, even successful ones, make multitudes of mistakes and when you work with them you typically wonder just why they are successful! Usually, they happen to have an environment that is favourable and can get away with a large amount of incompetence. But this breaks down if the environment changes. They then generally struggle to adapt for similar reasons to the ones you give. But they always claim that they can change and often even understand that they need to intellectually. It is just that change is so painful. Even with a top down CEO who gets it.
I think the west is in a similar situation. For the past thirty years the US specifically has had her unipolar moment and more broadly the wider west has dominated for the past three centuries or so. We could get away with bad decisions during the unipolar moment because ultimately it did not matter. There were very few real threats and foreign policy aggression (which is what it really was) was directed at countries that had no ability to fight back. Everyone else felt cowed, perhaps got resentful too but could not do anything about it. The rise of China and the post 90s recovery of Russia post have changed all this. There is now a price to pay for pursuing policies and using hammers that do not work. A different environment. But, as you say and as happens in corporations the inertia is very high and recognition of that new reality is very difficult. So we will stumble on. Until we hit the buffers. I think the change when it comes will be very painful indeed. But it will.
Did I miss the part about not changing course because it has been ever so profitable for some parties?
South Africa gave another (and, in a way, very perverse) lesson about how "democracy" can end a conflict in a divided society. My understanding is that, in actual votes, the ANC won so decisively that, had the votes been truthfully counted to political power, no power sharing would have been necessary. Basically, Mandela decided to fudge election results to make it seem like he didn't actually "win" the election, at least not so much that power sharing with De Klerk can be officially ignored. What kind of politician, in any country, has such prestige that they can do stuff like that? The answer is probably no one before or since, and instead, introducing "elections" and "democracy" into divided societies invariably heightens tribal conflicts as you note.
Perhaps this "democracy" thing is no less of a fad than divine right of kings or whatever. But that's blasphemy in the West....
Cognitive capture and soft power explain a lot. Much simpler than elaborate conspiracy theories.
Europeans *like* being slaves. A slave never has to make any decisions, never has to take any responsibility. And besides, Europeans tell themselves that the life of a house slave in Borrell's garden isn't so bad, at least relative to being a field slave out there in the "jungle". Europeans can tell themselves that at least they are slaves to someone sort of like them.
Witness the contortions through which Europeans put themselves to avoid having to admit something so glaringly obvious as the fact that the United States, possibly with the assistance of one or more of its lackeys, blew up Nordstream. Even when forced to confront this simple fact, Europeans are only able stare at their shoes and mumble something about how this somehow must have been a Good Thing that they weren't allowed to decide their own energy policy, but rather that it was dictated to them at gunpoint by Washington.
"Beat me some more, Master! I deserve it!"
Thank you. Very interesting. Some thoughts occurred to me.
The first was that if what really was a stake was the interest of nations (ie, of the people who find themselves occupying a common geographical, cultural and economic space) things might be a little bit simpler. The inhabitants of this planet share more interests than we usually acknowledge: peace and prosperity, which amazingly becomes easier to achieve when people make common cause with neighbours.
But when we talk about national interests what we really mean is the interests of an ever narrowing band of the population: a class. Interests the rest of us believe we share. In short, the majority has no clear, detailed conception of what constitutes a life worth living.
I think that in both Russia and China they’re managing the intranational conflict of interests light years better than the West, Hence, Russia has the luxury of a simpler, more focused political strategy, whereas we are under the onslaught of a propaganda that seeks to convince us of our unity. (I won’t go as far as saying that the Chinese elites are socialist in their essence, I haven’t see enough evidence, it could all be work in progress but the classes seem to be less disunited).
“What other options are even possible?”. It’s the elephant in the room, isn’t it? The problem at heart is an ethical, even spiritual one. None of this would be happening if people were in the habit of dialogue, cooperation and abandoning views of racial and national superiority. I say people and not politicians because I suscribe to the view that politicians are the distilled product of the dominant traits of a society. There simply isn’t a critical mass of self aware humans in the planet.
Is the problem that resources are scarce? In a loving family, a loving community, healthy people take one less spoonful of the pot and make sure the kids get enough and we all get under one blanket to keep warm and tell stories of heroism to keep the spirits up, while trying to think out ways of improving the situation that hopefully don’t involve burgling your neighbour community (who in any case would be trying to help).
And this is not a utopian dream, it happens every day around the world, more recently in the basements of Mariupol of all places (where incidentally, by Patrick Lancaster’s interviews, anger against Ukraine and the West was seldom expressed). But, while we let dodgy, privileged people without morals rule us, we’ll always be taking the hardest path.
China has several momentum-breaking policies that have allowed it to change tack, and even reverse direction without much harm and, usually with much benefit.
Having shared national goals makes that MUCH easier: everyone's agreed about the destination so, when Xi wants to change tack he simply points to the light house (goal) and the necessary course adjustment.
a preliminary effort to prepare a usa lead invasion over the Kosovo dissection collapsed on inadequate ports in the Adriatic.
a lesson robustly ignored in the ruminations about nato going in to Ukraine
logistics is not nato strong suit, even in the expensive toy wielding pentagon.
otherwise yes motion is progress, and there is a lot of applying the sunk cost paradigm….
Outstanding, everything here rings true.
When you also factor in what I see as the increasing incompetence, lack of brain power (at least in terms of flexible thinking) and political courage, combined with ever increasing self absorption and self interest of Western leadership, the chance of redirecting this runaway train from the track that leads off a cliff seems even less likely.
Even the thought of stopping digging deeper into the Ukrainian hole would break their brains.
You've done a good job of explaining your Inertia theory. Political institutions are no different to people.
If you want to know what a person will do in the future look at what they are currently doing. People are creatures of habit and will continue along an inertia powered train track until they are acted upon by an external force.
Human nature writ both large and small.
Never underestimate localised short-term self-interest and low-level corruption as a root cause of inertia. I would say that it is the dominant cause – psychopaths, narcissists and cowards of all stripes, getting tangled in each other's strings.
I briefly worked for one of the checks and balances that was supposed to prevent malpractice within public healthcare.
It replaced a previous watchdog that had failed in its remit so spectacularly that over a thousand hospital patients had died unnecessarily. The people running the organisation had been too involved in their own pet projects to notice the tragedy that was unfolding on their doorstep.
A local charity was given stewardship over our branch of the newly-minted health watchdog, with instructions that it should remain independent. Within a year the CEO of the charity had ousted half of our organisation's advisory board. The annexation began soon after: The chair of the charity's advisory board was installed, in a joint role, as the chair of our organisation's advisory board. This state of affairs was not widely known, even to staff members. It resulted in this person being tasked with investigating themselves, after I formally raised concerns regarding the direction we were taking.
The CEO of the charity fired the manager of our organisation and replaced him (temporarily) with an old school friend. His PA was ditched soon after. We were moved into an office owned by the charity, and had to pay them rent.
A new manager was eventually selected over a much-better qualified candidate. His calendar was block-booked for the first six weeks, so he was hardly ever in the office. He took no part in the day to day management of our independent watchdog, which was now run by the charity that had been paid to oversee it, and to ensure that it remained independent. I knew that he was screwed from the get-go, and so went to great lengths to smooth the way for him. A week later, at the first opportunity, he figuratively stabbed me in the back, in a manner that was so slimy that it makes my skin crawl to this day.
Before that happened, I remember walking in on the end of a conversation where he acknowledged ruefully: “I suppose this is what we have to do.”
The contract to commission our organisation was up for renewal. There were thousands of pounds at stake and the charity who needed to money. He'd realised that he was expected to follow a script. The appearance of meaningful action was more important that genuine meaningful action.
I had already been apprised of this framework. It had been outlined for me in a demented Bond villainesque monologue by the charity CEO. I enquired as to how this rigid work-plan fitted-in with our duty to be responsive to developing issues within local health services. The unit where suicidal individuals are sent for observation was a horror show, and apparently still is, but it was not in the plan so it was not addressed.
I got so sick of everyone covering their own arses and ignoring what was in front of them, that I laid caution to one side and became what I hope was constructively honest. I felt a great weight lift off me, while a panorama of possibilities opened up before me. Then I was fired.
An interestingly presented argument. But inertia to me means doing nothing, letting things go on as they may. When they blow up the Nord Stream, that takes a lot of effort. So I am not in agreement re inertia. It is the blinkered way of Western thinking which is based in arrogance, self righteousness and a reckless disregard of other human being, particularly those who are not of white European stock.