No country is optimistic about its growth prospects anymore. China is becoming increasingly nationalistic, a distraction for the masses from its slowing GDP growth. France, the UK, and Germany are becoming increasingly xenophobic, blaming ills on the newcomers instead of the stagnant establishment. And the United State is becoming increasingly isolationist, with leaders promoting the erection of both physical walls and social ones for electoral victory.
The maintenance of peace is through optimism – when everyone can work together for a brighter future, the focus is on a collective mission rather than individual differences. The world order of 1980s through the early 2000’s represented this dynamic. Even the evil communists were welcomed into this vision for the 21st century – 1978 marked the start of China’s marketization under Deng Xiaoping and 1991 marked the end of the Soviet Union through Gorbachev.
There seemed to be a new era ahead – one that could be used to pursue human rights, freedom, and democracy. These are great pursuits, and many may take these as the mission in their life. But the end goal of much of humanity is ultimately prosperity – monetarily, intellectually, or spiritually. But when such good liberal values lead no more to prosperity, people search for an alternative. (see the UK’s revised economic outlook, the NYT’s account of the loss in intellectual freedoms, the Christianity Today’s blistering report on moral decay) This loss of prosperity (and further, hope for prosperity) has led to the belief that a radical, even anarchical, overthrow of the current institutions may lead to a better outcome for their lives.
Yet such beliefs divide nations and peoples. But most of the developed world’s political institutions guarantee a singular entity to govern and lead the country. Ultimately, it is in the leader’s interest to unite rather than divide the constituency they represent. In order for leaders to unite a divided nation, they must search for a common pursuit. In the era of growth and prosperity, this common pursuit are social and economic values. But when people lose faith in the very values that brought them the prosperity in the first place, leaders must find something else to unite a divided people. This makes a common enemy the most appealing alternative.
When people focus on the enemy rather than their own internal growth, true growth continues to be stifled. This leads to increased resentment of their own condition, and creates further animosity towards the enemy. The momentum that this cycle builds up amounts to a freight train that barrels towards war. Unless a superman-esque person or innovation manages to stop the imminent collision, war is inevitable. But war does not mean all is lost.
War is like a forest fire – it burns down the tall trees that impede growth and allow the undergrowth to flourish. The bureaucracy, regulations, and legalities that had formed structure and protective covering also impede new innovations to take root. If it takes either three months of regulatory paperwork or a number of bribes to get things done, burning it all down and starting afresh may be the necessary action .Otherwise, regulations only continue to accumulate, and barriers to entry only increase.
War burns down frameworks that debilitate rather than aid growth. Fresh industries are able to develop when such a when a country is united on a common enemy, and there is little room for bureaucratic plodding. In the midst of war, it may seem like hopeless loss, but when the ashes settle and dust clears, I may finally see the sun shining on me without the stifling canopies.
I am not for a forest fire that obliterates everything in its path. But many institutions and people are riled up beyond the capacity for controlled tree trimming. If I understand that such a fire would pave the way for a brighter future, I may enter the inescapably bleak now with an attitude of hope and courage.