I recently read that only 5% of Americans are interested in foreign affairs, and I believe that astonishing figure goes far toward explaining why we have been traipsing across the world in big boots for so long. The ‘international community’ our Presidents invoke to justify intervention appears to be coalescing in opposition to that behavior, so Americans need to start paying attention to daily events beyond our borders.
Forget about the butterfly wings flapping in Mexico that impact Siberia. What happens from day to day in the 200 countries Americans share the planet with have a direct – and newly cumulative – bearing on our daily lives: whether taxes go up or down, whether social security is solvent, whether schools are repaired, immigrants welcomed or deported – and especially, whether we will continue to dominate those 200 countries with the most awesome military and spying technologies the world has ever seen.
Rather than the butterfly, it’s useful to think in terms of phase transitions. A phase transition is a magic moment when a trend that was gathering pace reaches a tipping point and changes direction, whether for better or worse. The problems we face are disparate trends all leading eventually to phase transitions, but also, interacting and hence affecting each others phase transitions.
Another useful notion derived from modern physics is that the arrow of time is irreversible: once a trend takes off, it keeps going in the same direction until it reaches a phase transition. That is why when a political opposition campaigns for peaceful change, it rarely succeeds. It take a sustained acceleration of energy through a system to provoke a phase transition, or bifurcation. Examples are 1917 Russia, when the Mensheviks failed to obtain gradual, ‘civilized’ change and the more determined, better organized Bolsheviks imposed it by force. This also happened in Depression era Germany, where the social democrats capitulated to highy organized and energized Nazis.
The United States is witnessing a monumental phase transition from uncontested world power to has been, as one diplomatic blunder after another bring its ‘Atlantic’ partners closer to the point of view of former ‘Third World’ nations whose voices are poised to carry the day in international fora.
America’s decline is occurring more rapidly that its ascent. I cannot advise you on how to cope with it, but I will continue to report and analyze the sea changes that constitute its daily markers.
Photo by UK Ministry of Defence released under a Creative Comons Share Alike license.