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  • The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a “global community” but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage. We bring to this forum unmatched military, political, economic, cultural and moral strength. Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it…. (May 30,Wall Street Journal)

When I read those words by H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, and Gary Cohn, the head of the National Economic Council, I could only wonder if that means that citizens of the future had better get used to having to adjust and accomodate to even more new normals because leaders no longer will have time to preserve and promote traditional norms as they single-mindedly “compete for advantage”?:

  • Traditional societies have been shaped by the principles of a moral order, usually of a religious nature. The transition to modernization in most such traditional societies has involved a gradual trend toward a more secular basis for government, especially as different interests emerged among the people as the result of social and economic development. In time such interests found it necessary to contend with each other and to make demands on government for policies favorable to them. A transition to a political order based on a balance of conflicting interests would follow. In a very fundamental sense successful modernization has thus meant replacing a state-society system in which the state enforces the NORMS of a traditional moral order with a system in which the legitimacy of the state depends upon the dynamics of politics–that is, politics as a process involving the COMPETING INTERESTS of a diversified and complex society. NORMS of behavior are no longer dictated by political leaders who are presumed to be a moral elite. Instead it is a society and its interests that determine public life and politics. Stability comes out of the interplay of forces in the society and from government’s responses to the demands of participating citizens who seek to shape their destinies rather than being told how to behave by government. (“China: An Introduction,4th ed.[1991,Pye])

Have we become just too agenda-driven and goal-oriented (obessed?) to live normal lives? Have we come to believe that anything is possible and that it’s never too late?:

  • The high value put on every minute of time, the idea of hurry-hurry as the most important objective of living is unquestionably the most dangerous enemy of joy. (Hermann Hesse)

  • There is more to life than increasing its speed. (Mahatma Gandhi)

Once upon a time, didn’t leaders promote values by preserving norms? Aren’t we being bombarded with new normals because current leaders are just not doing enough to preserve traditional norms? And didn’t we depend on leaders to think of the long time common good? After all, if they didn’t do it, then only who would? Does “an arena [where all the players] engage and compete for advantage” mean that leaders will be like everyone else and focus on short term advantages?:

  • Planning in business and government is short-range; the long-term threats are someone else’s concern. This is to be expected in a competitive society where those who do not devote themselves to short-term advantage are unlikely to be in the competition in the long run. (Chomsky)

Will competing interests have any time to think about things like global peace or even the environment?:

  • Not even a collapsing world looks dark to a man who is about to make his fortune. (E.B. White)

Although most of us don’t need to be convinced that competition is often good at lowering costs, has a price been paid for putting it on an altar to be worshiped?::

  • …A society which treats competition as a religious value will gradually reduce most of the population to the role of spectators. Democracy is impossible in such a situation; so is middle-class stability. That is why the return to increasingly unregulated competition…has led to growing instability and an increasing gap between an ever-richer elite and an ever larger poorer population. (“The Doubter’s Companion…”;1994,Saul)

As inequality grows worse over time, won’t that put ninety-nine percent more and more at the mercy of the whims and impulses of the one percent? Do competitive systems fan the flames of one percent’s parasitic tendencies to see just how far they can go? Consider this summary of the short story “Three Million Yen”(1960,Mishima):

  • A young couple roams a department store, bickering about finances and trying to kill time until they meet with an unknown woman. They talk of children and saving enough to begin their adult lives. When the reader finally encounters the unknown woman, it transpires that the couple are being paid to have sex in front of upper-class clientele…(Wikipedia)

Or do competitive systems simply pour oil on the bonfires of the one percent’s predatory instincts to see just how much they can get away with? Could reality ever be worse than fiction?:

  • …A large sector of China’s upper stratum [in the early 1700’s was]…engaged in illegal and immoral acts on an almost unbelievable scale. They bought children, young girls and boys, often coercing unwilling parents to sell them, to enslave them for their sexual diversions. They embezzled state funds in vast amounts to pay for their luxurious lives and illicit pleasures. [They upper stratum profited] from illegal business ventures, killing or silencing those who might report them, expropriating property, misusing offices of government for private ends. They browbeat and abused [nobles and officials] who opposed them. (“Imperial China…”;1999,,Mote)

Getting back to “…an arena [where all the players] engage and compete for advantage…”, are we returning to the historical period which led up to World Wars I and II when it was all about competing for colonies? :

  • What will Hitler do with his victory? Can he digest so much power? Personally he will go as empty-handed as his not very remote predecessor Alexander. For the Germans he will have left not the pleasure of owning a mighty empire but the burden of sustaining its crushing weight. For they will not be able to hold all the conquered nations in perpetual subjection. And I doubt if the Germans of future generations will entertain unadulterated pride in the deeds for which Hitlerism will be deemed responsible. They will honour Herr Hitler as genius, as a brave man, a matchless organizer and much more. But I should hope that the Germans of the future will have learnt the art of discrimination even about their heroes… (1940,Gandhi)

  • The great nations have always acted like gangsters, and the small nations like prostitutes. (Stanley Kubrick)

And don’t gangsters only understand force?:

  • But what are the opinions of reasonable men against iron and steel? (“Lost Horizon”;1933,Hilton)

Will tyranny increase? Or is there something even worse than that?:

  • Better a dog in peace than a man in anarchy. (Chinese saying)

And what will become of those who had been content to be motivated by duty and responsibility because they didn’t need the rewards and prizes of the competitive system to do the required and necessary?:

  • The strength of a man’s virtue should not be measured by his special exertions, but by his habitual acts. (Blaise Pascal)

  • It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit. (Harry S Truman)

Considering that men have somehow always managed to make things worse or even created a hell on earth whenever they have been allowed to play God, could Islamic leaders in the past have realized that people are better off praying to God several times a day as a way to keeping them too busy to think about playing God?:

  • Since the masses of the people are inconstant, full of unruly desires, passionate, and reckless of consequences, they must be filled with fears to keep them in order. The ancients did well, therefore, to invent gods, and the belief in punishment after death. (Polybius)

  • If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. (Voltaire)

  • We [in Czechoslovakia] did not get into this environmental mess only because the Communists suffered excessively from a growth mentality. The West is little different on that score. The planned economy led to some awful distortions, but it did not invent unsustainable forestry, chemical agriculture, crowded cities, traffic jams, or industrial smog” (Peter Pthart, Czech government official)

  • The horror, the horror.” (Kurtz’s deathbed words in “Heart of Darkness”/”Apocalypse Now”)

By abandoning traditional norms, are Americans now slowly realizing how we have managed to have ended up with a leader that could only be described as less than normal?

(C. Ikehara is a freelance writer.)

3 Comments

  1. thanks for this thought-provoking article. It is very sad to see we have not advanced at all in a MORAL way under the leadership of the USA and NATO.

  2. – It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.

    Albert Einstein

  3. According to the following recent article:

    – He also suggested that a new era — possibly one of less cooperation — may be emerging.

    “It has been an age of multilateralism, talking to each other in a big group,” Surin said. But, he lamented, “the era of multilateralism is disappearing.”

    http://www.njherald.com/article/20171130/AP/311309901#//