Wednesday, February 22, 2006

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David Ignatius makes me so mad!!!

David Ignatius' column in today's Washington Post echoes some recent speculation about why globalization hasn't led to the kind of moderate, secular modernization predicted by the likes of Tom Friedman and other Davos men:

So why does the world feel so chaotic? Why is there a growing sense that, as Francis Fukuyama put it in a provocative essay in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, "More democracy will mean more alienation, radicalization and -- yes, unfortunately -- terrorism"?....

A second explanation of the connectedness paradox comes from Charles M. McLean, who runs a trend-analysis company called Denver Research Group Inc. (I wrote a 2004 column called "Google With Judgment" that explained how his company samples thousands of online sources to assess where global opinion is heading.) I asked McLean last week if he could explain the latest explosion of rage in our connected world -- namely the violent Islamic reaction to Danish cartoon images of the prophet Muhammad.

McLean argues that the Internet is a "rage enabler." By providing instant, persistent, real-time stimuli, the new technology takes anger to a higher level. "Rage needs to be fed or stimulated continually to build or maintain it," he explains. The Internet provides that instantaneous, persistent poke in the eye. What's more, it provides an environment in which enraged people can gather at cause-centered Web sites and make themselves even angrier. The technology, McLean notes, "eliminates the opportunity for filtering or rage-dissipating communications to intrude." I think McLean is right. And you don't have to travel to Cairo to see how the Internet fuels rage and poisons reasoned debate. Just take a tour of the American blogosphere.

Wait a minute -- I thought blogs were dead. How can they be passe and a conduit for rage? Huh? HUH??!!

What the f@#$ does Ignatius know about blogs???!!! He's just a card-carrying member of the ELITE MAINSTREAM MEDIA!! ATTICA!!! ATTICA!!!!!

OK, got that out of my system.

I see the point that Ignatius and Fukuyama are trying to make -- that democratization creates real short-term problems by allowing radicals to take over governments. However, as I've said repeatedly, unless radical or revolutionary groups succeed at making the trains run on time, these groups (and blogs) become discredited and illegitimate over time. More generally:

[I]lliberal democracies are [not] necessarily better for world politics than slowly reforming authoritarian states are. But they are not necessarily worse, either. It's more a question of timing -- illiberal states that become democratic are more likely to have problems sooner rather than later, while authoritarian states that are slowly democratizing are likely to have problems later rather than sooner.
Fukuyama and Ignatius are correct to raise the short-term problems that come with globalization and democratization -- but they're wrong not to stress the long-term advantages that come along as well.

posted by Dan on 02.22.06 at 12:42 PM


Dan, I just read the article and I thought it was very well written. I don't think Ignatius was ignoring the long term benefits of globalization as such. He was simply pointing out the tradeoffs and the negative impacts that could come from globalization.

Think about it from this point of view -- globalization means that capital will flow to India, China etc. But countries that are hotbeds of extremism may not get capital (a lot of Middle East countries do have their own wealth to compensate, admittedly, but countries like Egypt and Pakistan do not). So what happens ? We get an angrier and angrier mass of jobless young men in some of these countries, making the terrorism issue worse. In short, globalization will work exactly as its intended to, making sure that the hard-working and peaceful countries do well, and that unstable, extreme countries do not. But that does not imply a transition from instability and extremism to peaceful commercialism.

Finally, his comment about how elites can fall out of touch with the people is important, especially in third world countries where a large chunk of the people are rural. Consider India 2 years back. Everyone was convinced the free market party in power would return to power after elections because the economy was doing well. But the rural economy was not doing well, and the rural vote overthrew the ruling party.

Or consider Iran. There is a large segment of well-educated pro-Western groups (such as most bloggers), but as the recent election shows, they can be overwhelmed by the rural and urban poor.

posted by: erg on 02.22.06 at 12:42 PM [permalink]

The weimar republics weakness caused more than a little short term problem. On this site, every current world leader that is out step with the west is offered up as a Hitler in the making. Hitler did actually have origins in a failed weak democracy.

posted by: centrist on 02.22.06 at 12:42 PM [permalink]

"Freedom" includes the freedom to fail.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 02.22.06 at 12:42 PM [permalink]


You assume Iran's elections aren't fixed.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 02.22.06 at 12:42 PM [permalink]

Iran's elections were fixed to the extent that a number of people were excluded. Beyond that, I've seen no evidence of fixing. Even the White House didn't say they were fixed.

posted by: erg on 02.22.06 at 12:42 PM [permalink]

Note the irony of pundits making sweeping, long-term predictions based on the short-term phenomenon of instantaneous internet reactions by a tiny minority of (male, wired, underemployed) politics addicts....

Re Fukuyama, he was happy to declare the End of History when liberal capitalism appeared, in his rosy purview, to be sweeping across eastern Europe, but somehow he's unwilling to grant the same kind of long view to the democratic project in the middle east. Having seen the complete collapse of liberal democracy in Yeltsin's and then Yeltsin-puppet Putin's, Russia, I would gladly wager that democracy in the middle east will develop faster and further and with more benign implications for US interests than democracy in the former Soviet Union ever will.

Beware snap judgments based on today's headlines.

posted by: thibaud on 02.22.06 at 12:42 PM [permalink]

Yes, well Germany's a former 'problem' that over the long term has worked out well - the short term was a real god damn mess though, and that's why it's not necessarily wrong to stress the short term over the long term - short term issues seem much less hypothetical.

posted by: saintsimon on 02.22.06 at 12:42 PM [permalink]

"It's more a question of timing . . ."

Oh, really? You mean there will be some tension in the short term when "illiberal" or "authoritarian" states somehow become democratic overnight? However mad it must make Friedman for not having said it first, it makes me madder that someone is passing this off as epiphany.

I just hate them so much!

posted by: jf on 02.22.06 at 12:42 PM [permalink]

In fact the rise of "rage" within schlock political debate should be traced to 1980s television, not the internet. Specifically, to "Crossfire" and its imitators. It was Calvin Trillin who called these shows "the political equivalent of professional wrestling"; they're the originators of the genre. The internet merely allows everyone to imitate Novak and McLaughlin and Eleanor and Fred and Pebbles And Bam-Bam and the rest of the bloviators.

If there's a deeper trend here, it's that, as with global capitalism, what ultimately allowed the internet's politics of noise/rage/instant response to flourish is greater competition spurred by technological advances. Blame (or creidt, as you wish) not the blogosphere but the decline of monopolistic media, with its ability to set and contain a national news agenda, as was the case when the NYT determined which stories would make the front page of most dailies in the US and Walter and then Dan, Tom and Peter would determine which images and story angles most US households would swallow with their dinners. For all their faults, one virtue of those talking heads was their tendency to split differences, seek mushy middle ground, soothe or paper over areas of social conflict.

Can't say we're not better off now that our TV anchors are no longer able to convince an entire nation that victory is defeat, but we could definitely use a lot more of the sensible, moderate tone they adopted as standard. Our culture's poorer for the rise of LGF/Kos/Limbaugh/DU and their ilk. Screw 'em, to coin a phrase.

posted by: thibaud on 02.22.06 at 12:42 PM [permalink]

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