01 October 2010

Cultural Engineering: The Rise and Demise of Stable Governments

Living in an unavoidably global, capitalist economy, nations are having to come to terms with how to adjust their economies, cultures, and government structures in a way that will make them successful at home and competitive abroad. The success and stability of national governments in the past have been concurrent with a national, unifying, cultural identity. However, when that culture becomes over-defined and inflexible (proud), or on the opposite side, try to appeal too broadly to disparate factions it will not be able to keep up with modernization and effective governance. Thus, it will eventually decay. I will explore the historical patterns of how the world developed with the hope of finding a key to helping developing nations have a culture of successful governance.

There seem to have been many methods of governance, which have resulted in economically and socially successful nations. Is there an underlying pattern and how can that pattern be used to help developing nations become successful. While western governments are founded on liberal democracy, individual rights, and free trade, nations like Japan and China provide evidence that such are not inextricably entwined with successful economy and stable government.

Child Development Theory of Nations
There is no such thing as cultural relativism. What is wrong for one nation is wrong for another. Like successful families, there are certain ways to do it that provide a solid emotional and socioeconomic background for the citizens. Nations, like children, are profoundly influenced by the experiences of their early development. Personalities and patterns of behavior become ingrained which can become very difficult obstacles to overcome in developing into a successful nation on the world stage.

Multiple studies conclude that maltreatment of children creates deleterious long-term effects on the children, thus impacting society as they mature (e.g. Maschi et al.). I propose that individuals and families are the constituents of nations and governments. Therefore, study of the patterns and practices we see in families can be applied to governments for increased perspective on healthy and unhealthy child and national development. For the purpose of this paper, parent is equivalent to government and child is equivalent to citizen. Please note that the metaphor I am applying is not that people of a nation are children, but that developing nations follow a pattern of development much like the stages of childhood, and in most cases the pattern is of a dysfunctional family.

An infinite array of parenting styles are capable of producing successful, or at least productive adults. Styles of parenting become an integral part of a cohesive family culture. Likewise, distinctive styles of governance provide a foundation for a distinctive national culture. In my reading of Roskin’s Countries and Concepts, especially in the Patterns of Interaction sections, the lesson that stood out most to me was the distinctive and lasting the impact of the past on nations. So while there is no such thing as cultural relativism, there is a value to cultural diversity, and there is more than one right way to rule a nation.

Universal wrongs, on the other hand, parallel with child maltreatment, which refers to neglect as well as physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. In many third world and developing nations, governmental maltreatment of citizens parallels these categories in the form of inadequate government structure, economic exploitation, civil rights abuse, and government domination of relatively helpless citizens, respectively.

Children who are victims of maltreatment spend a lifetime trying to overcome the negative effects and rarely develop their full potential. Exceptions are the result of intervention from outside the family. Germany and Japan received such intervention after World War II. American troops and civil officers occupied those nations to oversee the post-war rebuilding of defeated governments and economies. They became some of the world’s greatest success stories.

Germany was dramatically overhauled, as the previous leaders were excluded from government. They were able to synthesize the democratic principles that were being forced upon them with a proud historical culture to create a system that was uniquely their own. Japan had even more leeway to create a government in their own image because they had not committed the same level of atrocities that German leaders had. The result was an explosion of Japanese culture and progress. It was empowered to rewrite its history and create its future.

It remains to be seen how the U.S. intervention in Iraq will play, but it seems now that the people have gotten a taste of democracy they are not likely to relinquish it. However, they still lack the government structure so critical to young nations’ development and which makes democracy functional. These things take time.

Limitations and Liberties of Governments
Many questions remain. How much power should government have? What is a comfortable economic level of human subsistence? Are cultural leaders (religious, political, and economic) responsible to set baseline subsistence standards or should people have freedom to excel above others or refuse “progress” dictated by others? Are industrial and technological development even necessary? These questions must be answered by individual countries, according to the dictates of their conscience, so long as they avoid inadequate government structure, economic exploitation, civil rights abuse, and government domination of relatively helpless citizens. Tina Maschi and her colleagues drew the correlation between universal human rights established by the United Nations and their application to children. “Social work prevention and intervention strategies should actively address post-trauma emotional, behavioral, and social residue that has been consistently shown to negatively affect youths and their families and communities” (2009). Likewise, other nations have a moral responsibility to intervene on behalf of the citizens of abusive governments. I do not believe in socialized parenting or in globalized governance. We cannot simply take a child away from its parents because we think they are bad parents. There is legal procedure that must be followed and evidence that must be gathered. Then social workers must teach parents effective and loving parenting strategies. Likewise, we do not have an unequivocal right to step in and take over a failing government. Then the goal is not to control that government, but to teach it how to become a successful government with its own unique style.

Non-Western Development
In my Cultural Anthropology class I was critical of romanticizing historical cultures of indigenous peoples that prohibited them from modernizing on their own terms and creating a current culture that was still uniquely theirs. Scott Sheershow posited if “a culture is already an adaptation, won't it continue to adapt? How can these local cultures be, on the one hand, seamless, pristine, and fragile and, on the other hand, the vital product of cultural cross-pollination?” (Shershow 2001).

In my global socioeconomic perspectives class I was critical of the assumption that globalization of economy and internationalizing government was inevitable or to be aspired to. Judith Simmer-Brown (2000) asserts that even modern consumerism in a global economy is not inevitable and can be moderated by better understanding the causal relationships between government subsidy and corporate prowess then understanding individual responsibility to be prudent consumers.

So, is there a middle ground between the expansion of government in a global society and some sort of tribal pastoralism? Can Muslim nations, for example, preserve their religious and cultural identity and still be a vital and modern nation?

They must separate individualistic freedom from progress, culture from modernization, and liberalism from democracy, following the path of Japan and China in non-western modernization. In Japan, individual rights are valued in the context of the good of society and not as an entity themselves. Ann Waswo described Japanese tradition as a modern invention. “Cooperativism” was the center of that invention “in which the individual placed the welfare of the whole above his own selfish interests…would be a uniquely Asian spirit, untainted by the evils of capitalism or the insidious doctrine of individualism” (1989).

China is still has a way to go toward becoming a “good parent” but their actions in recent decades have shown that they understand that there is some advantage to allowing some freedom and responsibility to its citizens in the form of economic openness. Ken Miller expressed concern over China’s growing power in the world market, but also noted that its potential to abuse its power is tempered by its self-interest in continued economic success. At this point, Most of Chinas FDI comes from state-owned enterprises. Although individual businesses are increasingly taking the initiative, all large investments are still coordinated by government institutions…Virtually all overseas investment by Chinese companies requires some level of state approval” (July/Aug 2010).

That should be a boon to authoritarian Middle East leaders, to know that they, like Chinese leaders, can still own the bulk of their economies while allowing the people to use their wisdom to direct their own affairs and increase their personal well-being to the benefit of the national economy. And like Japanese cultures, they can use technology to invent their own traditional modern culture. Such distinctions could still allow the people of Muslim nations a level of freedom and prosperity they do not now enjoy. Of course the inhibiting factor for the leaders is an at least sub-conscious understanding that “children” who are given a little freedom and responsibility become anxious to move out from under their “parent’s” control. Hence, we see the pattern of democracy following economic prosperity.

No one has executed a perfect form of government. Those who have come close have not been able to maintain it. Because of the cyclic nature of national cultures, no success is permanent. Nonetheless, the most successful and lasting governments are those who separate, political powers as well as financial and religious powers, from the fundamental operation of the government to minimize (or at least compartmentalize) ever-present corruption

The Empire Cycle
"Western” governments are children of Greek and Roman culture. While those empires no longer exist, they laid a philosophical groundwork for succeeding nations to adopt and adapt. The process of increasing structure, law, and peaceful cooperation in civilization, economic development, and politics is nothing like straight-line progression. There are cyclic paterns of accelerated growth, stasis, decline, and dormancy, or even death. Like Roman and Greek culture, Egyptian, Mayan, Persian and other once great empires and kingdoms inspire contemporary cultures to build on knowledge lost and rediscovered.

Likewise, the human life cycle parallels the pattern of nations. Each empire represents a generation that is born, matures, reproduces, (through conquest and colonial expansion) and then withdraws and decays. The United Kingdom represents an aging empire whose nation continues to exist but whose strength and vitality is in decay. Perhaps it will be replaced by the Empire of the European Union. The United States represents an empire at the back side of its peak. As it tries to be too many things to too many people, it will begin to lose (is beginning to lose?) its cultural identity and, hence, its national vitality.

Other empires are smaller Reichs, which come and go with repeating cycles of coup and rebellion. Their instability is the model of child development and maltreatment where the abused become the abusers previously described

While there are absolute standards which all governments must be expected to uphold, Western and American style governments present only one possibility for how to govern and create a national culture. When anti-western and developing nations separate progress from westernization they will be able to overcome reluctance to embrace change and become successful in their own national homes

1 comment:

Peachblossm said...

I like these essays. Good job. I hope you get a good grade.
i think I would be a bad teacher of essays... I'd say a lot of "goo jobs" and "warning here is the red-lined version of what you submitted, go back to grammar". Not much in between.