Hegemons Online

32 in 8” is a current meme on the interwebs.  But don’t click on that link yet.

The Cowboy was lucky enough to ride an elevator with Amy Chua recently.  Impressive person.

Her most recent book is Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance – and Why They Fall.  In it, she investigates the concept of the “hyperpower,” which she defines as a nation, empire, or world-dominant power that:

“satisfies all three of the following conditions:

Its power clearly surpasses that of all its known contemporaneous rivals:

It is not clearly inferior in economic or military strength to any other power on the planet, known to it or not; and

It projects its power over so immense an area of the globe and over so immense a population that it breaks the bounds of mere local or even regional preeminence.”

She identifies only 7 across history.  Buy her book if you have not yet read it to find out who they are.  (It’s in paperback if you’re a cheapskate.)  The common thread, she argues, is tolerance, because it is tolerance that allows a society to attract the most human capital.

“For all their enormous differences, every single world hyperpower in history….was, at least by the standards of its time, extraordinarily pluralistic and tolerant during its rise to preeminence.  Indeed in every case tolerance was indispensable to the achievement of hegemony.  Just as strikingly, the decline of empire has repeatedly coincided with intolerance, xenophobia, and calls for racial, religious, or ethnic “purity.”  But here’s the catch: It was also tolerance that sowed the seeds of decline.”

Her lecture on the book is clear, concise and interesting, so I recommend it.

The Cowboy asked Professor Chua whether technology might have a disruptive effect on her thesis going forward.  (Okay, our discussion took place before, during and after the elevator…)  I used Ray Kurzweil’s book, The Singularity is Near, as an example of some current thinking on the ramifications of technological progress. (2nd mention and I still haven’t posted on it; don’t worry, I’ll get to it eventually.)  Kurzweil’s thesis is that humanity is approaching a point in time of unprecedented technological progress.  She found the question intriguing. (So I have that going for me!)

So what does the Cowboy think?  Well, historical patterns exist until they don’t.  But such patterns should also be respected.  I mean, the entire expanse of human history?  The Cowboy won’t dismiss that lightly.  While the Cowboy won’t dare to make any predictions, speculation is fun.

It seems that communication technology, in particular, would have a tendency to make the nation-state and borders less meaningful.  History has not proven that to be the case, however, despite the fondest hopes of technological utopians.  The telegraph, telephone, radio and television have not quenched the blood-thirst of humanity.  The “Great Firewall of China,” though frequently circumvented with proxy servers and the Tor network, has still proven to be surprisingly effective.

Now back to that tempting link at the top of the page.  Freddie Larson is a 24-year old Swede who has done some clever things with almost no formal training (in either music or technology) according to this interview.  One can cavil at the focus of his efforts, but the Cowboy marvels at the harnessing and distribution of human capital, albeit from a base in a tolerant society.  What else is happening in unremarkable rooms across the globe?  We have all seen many Freddie Larson’s on the internets by now, but they still can amaze.  Freddie has the ability to learn, distribute and teach from his nondescript living room.

Perhaps our rapidly evolving communication technology simply makes it difficult to achieve or maintain the status of a hyperpower since it becomes harder to achieve supremacy in “relative tolerance” – Amy Chua’s prerequisite for hegemony.  Of course, Professor Chua begins by arguing that hyperpowers are difficult to achieve and extremely rare anyway.

Hmmm…  Maybe her pattern will continue into the future and the United States is not exempt.  (Yeah, the U.S. is another hyperpower according to her.)  Oh well, so much for breaking the bonds of history…

Okay, you can click the link up top now.  I like the Christmas thing better, but both are pretty cool.

Published in: on March 11, 2009 at 17:08  Comments Off on Hegemons Online  
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