What we have here is a failure of imagination.

Cool Hand Luke

It seems that many people in the U.S. are afraid that America is losing its global hegemony. There are barbarians at the gates. Conventional means of domination have failed us over the last 30 years. Some people would have you believe that the end is near. We're losing everything. The zero sum game is played out and the United States is going to be the ultimate loser.

Barbarians at the Gates by Chris Appel

Barbarians at the Gates by Chris Appel

Beyond all that, the "Us vs. Them" divisiveness is increasing as evidenced by "the culture wars" that everyone on all sides is talking about.

So how do we win, by brute force? Is there only one way to think about how groups of people around the world can coexist in a peaceful, sustainable way where more and more people can thrive and the integrity and health of our planet's ecosystem can be maintained for the benefit of all life on earth? And do we need ever more material wealth to thrive? Obviously not. So who are the people imagining a better way? Where are the communities that are doing things differently? Can these communities compete with the powers that currently control the global socio-cultural narrative?

Joseph Nye developed neoliberal ideas of power and independence way back in the 1970s, later coining the phrase "soft power" to differentiate between attraction and persuasion vs. coercion. In 2004, his book  "Soft Power" continued this train of thought after the horrific events of 9-11, at the height of the war on terror. I was in Japan when I read it and I remember having some fairly deep conversations with Japanese colleagues about the idea of soft power. One can imagine how nuanced my Japanese friends views concerning the subject might have been. 

Soft power sounds nice. Shall we woo them with romance and magic, seduce them with high culture, convince them through wise sounding lectures, entice our competitors and enemies with promises of progress and wealth beyond imagination; tell them all about freedom and democracy, tell them how soft the rabbits are and how they'll be able to pet them anytime they want if they just get with the program. We'll get you educated, air-conditioned, and freed from all those things keeping you from the American Dream. Never mind that you might be perfectly happy with your current culture.

It's a simple and intuitive idea. I remember decades ago, way before I knew much of anything about anything, joking that all the USA needed to do to control the world was to disseminate sports franchises, theme parks, Hollywoods and all the paraphernalia of consumer culture to places too rough and out of touch with the American way to fall in line with the needs and desires of The American Total World Domination Company. I'm being slightly facetious, Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges are not. 

When did globalization start? Perhaps when humans migrated out of Africa 60,000 years ago. Or perhaps when the Spanish and Portuguese jump started globalization at the beginning of the age of discovery and hence kicked off the original great game between East and West. Let's not forget the VOC, Dutch East India Company, or the British East India Company. Wait, what about the ancient Silk Road routes that were regularly used from 130 BCE? It all depends on how we define globalization I guess.

Capital Stock - a Dutch innovation.

Capital Stock - a Dutch innovation.

Humans are very robust, competitive, violent, intelligent and adaptive. There is evidence of human trade going back to the Stone Age. We have conquered the world and each other for thousands of years. We did it for food, hunting grounds, territory, material goods, mates, slaves, gold, silver, and money. Controlling commodities is a sure way to get rich and powerful. And some would say, going back to the 19th century right up to now that the greatest commodity to control is people.

Can you imagine bumping into a stranger way back when? It must have been mortifying, a kill or be killed emotional reflex that stays with us today and is evidenced by the ease with which we turn toward xenophobia when anyone or any organization cries boogie man. I'm also thinking of Al Pacino in Carlito's Way when he starts to feel like he's being setup. He has to think fast, and figure a way out, but way before his strategizing starts he has that instantaneous, deep down gut feeling that something isn't right and he's going to have to fight and perhaps kill to survive.


I used to bristle when people talked about human nature. We are complex creatures, how could anyone be able to talk about human nature. Over the years, we've learned a lot more about our species. But nature is a secretive thing and we'll need a lot more time to figure out what really makes our species so combative and so prone to certain social norms. The Us vs. Them mentality isn't going anywhere anytime soon. 

Will we evolve? Will things change? Perhaps those are impossible questions to answer. One thing is for sure we can't tolerate a failure of imagination anymore. 

This brings me to the point of my post.

I highly recommend you read this recent article from The Baffler. Keep Fear Alive The bald eagle boondoggle of the terror wars by Kade Crockford

Watch this too, they're making good points that need to be made and need to be thought about.

Just as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev faces the beginning of his trial for the bombing of the Boston Marathon, Paris shakes from the assassination of French magazine satirists. "A New Era of Terrorism" has commenced, according to The New York Times. Governments emit loose talk of "fundamental values."


Steven Cleghorn

Steven is an autodidact, skeptic, raconteur and film producer from America who has been traveling since he was a zygote. He's a producer at The Muse Films Ltd. in Hong Kong and a constantly improving (hopefully) Globe Hacker. He's seeks the company of interesting minds.