The great theme of every overrated writer in the past twenty years has been the interconnectedness of things. Butterflies flap their wings in China and famine kicks off in Africa. A man gets on a plane in Sydney and another man jumps off a balcony in Paris.
You can get your interconnectedness fix from Thomas Friedman’s New York Times column as he marvels at the flattening of the world or any one of an endless number of fictional tomes in which strangers from around the world collide and influence each other’s lives.
The interconnectedness of things is not just the theme of the next TED talk you’ll watch or the next Wired article you’ll read. It’s the theme of policy as well. Pull one string and everything changes. Policy is no longer about making things happen by doing them, it’s about finding the precursor to them and doing that and when that doesn’t work, finding the precursor to that.
The growth of government means that everything is interconnected and instead of trying to cut the cost of health care by trimming back the bureaucracy, you ban sodas to fight obesity in the hopes of eventually cutting the cost of health care. It’s the sort of thing that sounds smart when it’s made into the theme of a book that discusses how connected everything else is to everything.
It’s stupid in real life, but who pays attention to real anyway?
Public policy is wired into the next great insight into interconnectedness and the one after that. Doing things to do them is stupid. It’s the sort of thing that Bush, poor dumb ape man, would do. The smart set, the Obama set, do the things that they don’t want to do to do the things that they want to do. It’s the sort of thing that sounds stupid if you try to explain it to a cab driver, but sounds like absolute genius when explained to an audience consisting of dot com people and people who wish they were dot com people.
And sometimes it even works. Most of the time though it makes things confusing and miserable.
The opening premise of interconnectedness theory is that trying to do what you want to do is futile. You don’t make a hurricane by turning on a fan and aiming it as a cloud, you do it by getting on a plane to China and then irritating a butterfly so that it flaps its wings. And then the hurricane comes or it doesn’t. But while you’re there you’ll probably meet a monk or a street urchin who will go you a deeper insight into life or steal your wallet which will inspire you to write the next bestselling book about how everything in life is really connected to everything else.
Wars? Naturally we don’t do them. Only dumb brute apes think that you win a war by killing the enemy. That’s a positively medieval point of view. Even Bush knew better than that. No, you win a war by dealing with the root causes of the war. You find all the links to all the events, you win over the natives with candy bars and briefcases full of infrastructure money, and then it all converges together and the war is over. Or it’s not. But either way you write a book about it.
Interconnectedness is the search for causes. It’s never a mismanagement problem, because that’s not a revelation.
Tell Mayor Bloomberg that health care costs are high because it takes four administrators to a doctor to get a patient through the system and he’ll look bored. That’s obvious. Tell him that recreating every new government building so that visitors are forced to use the stairs and those cold black marbles in his head will come awake.
Tell Obama that we’re losing the war because we’re not killing the enemy and he’ll hand you a pen and excuse himself, but tell him that the war is being lost because we need to get more Muslims into space and he’ll hand you a Czarship.
We are becoming a subtle and stupid society, obsessed with nuance and a mystical search for the hidden social engines of life. And while that may seem advanced when you’re reading through the latest New York Times bestseller that explains how fishermen in Southeast Asia are influenced by sales of cotton candy in Michigan and the price of coffee in Brazil, it’s actually quite debilitating.
Subtle societies aren’t good at what they do, they’re good at finding reasons not to do it.
The Muslim World is nuanced and subtle. An illiterate street vendor in Cairo can come up with a conspiracy so complex for every area of his daily life that it would baffle Oliver Stone. And worse still he will probably be half right.
When turbaned lunatics pop up on MEMRI videos to explain that the CIA unleashed cannibal werewolves trained by the Mossad to set off the Egyptian revolution, they are just being students of the interconnectedness of all things. They believe that we are all conspiring against them, because their society is a vast conspiracy perpetrated by everyone against everyone else.
Americans are among the few peoples in the world who actually mean what they say when in most of the world’s failed societies, what someone says has no surface meaning and a great deal of subtext. This makes Americans absolutely hopeless diplomats, but very good at actually getting things done. To deal with much of the world you need a detailed set of customs and codes, but most people can walk off the plane at JFK or Los Angeles International Airport and adapt with very little effort.
Or at least that’s the way it used to be. These days American elites embrace nuance and subtlety. There was a time when things could get done because doing them involved going from A to B to C. If you wanted something done, you did it. Now if you want something done, you go from E to Q to Z to D and then decide that it’s probably better not do it.
The new intelligence does not involve doing things, but doing them at an angle or learning that it is better to do nothing, than to do something.If the Wright Brothers had been born today, they would have considered inventing the airplane in terms of its carbon footprint. If Lewis and Clark had been born today, they would have gone on their trip to raise money for microfinance and then destroyed their maps to avoid letting them become tools of colonialism.
Global Warming is the culmination of all that interconnectedness thinking. Finally the butterfly flapping its wings really does set off a hurricane. A carbon atom emitted from the mouth of Mrs. Doris Hessingman of Longtree Lane, Tennessee causes tsunamis in Asia. An errant sneeze in Milwaukee causes hunger in Africa. Three teenagers take a plane trip to Europe and drown an entire continent.
This Climate Friedmanism is the inevitable afterbirth of globalization. Once you’ve connected everyone, all that’s left is to build that interconnectedness into a global social religion in which everyone’s deeds affect everyone else.
That kind of thing doesn’t stop with the environment. Climate Change is just an attempt to map the omnisocial metaphor of connectedness onto climate science. Interconnectedness means that we are constantly affecting and being affected by everyone, everywhere all the time. That soda you’re drinking is teaching a baby to get fat and die of a heart attack at forty-nine. Your white privilege has disenfranchised seven different minority groups on the way to work. A formerly simple America becomes a complex and confusing place full of rules and customs as it begins to fail.
Social thinking is not concerned with solving problems by tackling them, but by transforming society so that the problems no longer exist. It’s the same sideways approach that makes Muslims think that once everyone follows their version of Islamic law, all the problems will go away. And so instead of solving problems, we take people’s feelings into account, pandering to them and manipulating them.
Instead of trying to win the War on Terror, we’re trying to win the War on Feelings with a hearts and minds love bombing campaign. And we badger people into losing weight a thousand different ways because it’s easier than taking on the powerful health care unions. Instead of dealing directly with problems, our governments have become the social manipulators of people.
China is moving in on the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan. North Korea is moving closer to a nuclear war. But Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, commander of Pacific Command, knows what the answer is. Forget fighting wars, what we have to do is teach everyone to love Mother Earth. Having identified Climate Change as the greatest and likeliest security threat in the region, the United States will be conducting a multi-nation naval exercise to cope with the impact of Global Warming.
And why not?
On the interconnectedness front, it doesn’t matter a whole heap whether North Korea drops the bomb or China smashes the Pacific fleet while it’s engaged in preparing for Waterworld. It’s all global now, which means that everything matters, which also means that nothing matters.
The purpose of US Pacific Command is no longer to fulfill a prosaic function such as keeping the peace. Like every other arm of the vast government, it exists to spread awareness of the impact of our actions on each other. It is just another ant in a vast ant hive whose sole purpose is to make a better ant hive by reminding everyone that they are ants living in one single blue marble ant hive whether an errant sneeze, an extra plane trip or a picnic of non-locally grown melons can destroy the hive.
“We can’t drive our SUVs, eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees,” Obama famously said.
In the age of the social ant, you can’t just do things. There is no you, only the omnipresent interconnected “We” and the nature of being a good we ant is to remind the other ants of all the things that they can’t do, whether it’s drinking large sodas or winning wars.
We are now interconnected. Everything affects everything else. And once you accept that premise, then the individual is done. There is only a flattened world of ant hives where conspicuous sacrifice is the new moral code and no one can do anything they want because it might destroy the world.