Paradigm Spring and the Clash of Civilizational Paradigms

Dr. Robert D. Crane

Posted Jun 27, 2011      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Paradigm Spring and the Clash of Civilizational Paradigms

by Dr. Robert D. Crane

    Paradigms are premises of thought that frame one’s outlook on life and one’s interpretation or even one’s recognition of facts.  A paradigm may narrow one’s vision and blind one to changes that have accumulated over time.  Or paradigms may widen one’s global vision so that one can identify facts relevant to a possibly transforming world and thereby more effectively set an agenda for intelligence gathering and policy planning. 

    According to chaos theory and Thomas Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts, which apply in all fields of physical science, all truly major change occurs only after the old theory is bankrupt in explaining facts to the point that suddenly new states of nature and of understanding replace the old.

    The most unchanging fact about any kind of forecasting or planning is that most people are unaware that they have unspoken premises, which is why the parties to a disputed issue speak past each other and never come to grips with their real differences.  Perhaps more often than not, this failure to communicate is based on a deliberate decision to keep their unspoken premises secret for political or other purposes.  Sometimes there is nothing more sensitive than the public revelation of one’s own ultimate reasons for advocating anything.

    One result of such covert paradigm management is to brand anyone who advocates anything out of higher principle as “a loose cannon on a rolling deck”.  Such people cannot be bribed, which makes them inherently dangerous for people who consider principles of any kind as a dangerous form of baggage.  Even the very concept of a paradigm seems threatening.

    As a test case, based on reading just a few articles in the Washington Post at the end of June, 2011, one could conclude that we are entering a Paradigm Spring, where institutional constraints on the free market of thought are replaced by new perspectives in an era of global vision.  We may even be entering the age of an epistemological revolution, a revolution not merely in what one knows but of knowledge itself.  This perspective is brilliantly explained by Seyyed Hossein Nasr in Chapter 8, “Islamic Education, Philosophy, and Science: A Survey in Light of Present-Day Challenges”, in his new book, Islam in the Modern World: Challenged by the West, Threatened by Fundamentalism, Keeping Faith with Tradition.

    Part of the new ideative revolution is the increasingly sophisticated use of mimetic warfare, which is the use of memes (words and symbols) to subliminally control human thought.  The followers of old paradigms in foreign policy castigate those who disagree with them as conspiracy mongers.  In turn, increasingly these so-called conspiracy mongers cast their critics as the true conspirators.  They both use a boomerang strategy that can reflect back on oneself by using memetic warfare to degrade the very concepts of truth and justice.  Whoever can manipulate an opponent’s mind by either subliminal or merely psychological warfare has won half the battle.
    Recent trends point to the bankruptcy of old paradigms and of their accompanying euphemisms, such as “the clash of civilizations”, since the clashes are primarily among paradigms within civilizations not among them.  Another well-known bankruptcy is the NeoCon oxymoron known as “democratic capitalism”.  This concentrates capita ownership rather than broadening access to such ownership and thereby produces an escalating wealth gap that inevitably concentrates political power and in the future can be a major cause of terrorism.

    New memes or symbols in the growing free market of thought accompany the designation of old paradigms, such as “promiscuous interventionism”, once known as unilateralism.  Sometimes a really new paradigm arises based on an ancient paradigm common within all the major world religions, such as “peace, prosperity, and freedom through compassionate justice”. 

    The results of the Arab Spring and the task of both forecasting and planning the future could result in a new academic discipline entitled Paradigm Management, because facts have meaning only in the context of the paradigms used to understand them.  The Washington Post during just a few days in late June, 2011, revealed several examples of paradigm shifts, for either better or worse. 

    Perhaps the most significant and no doubt the least noticed was the expansion of the term “Islamist” to include all radical and violent movements led by self-declared Muslims.  Previously, the accepted meaning of the term “Islamist” was the specific organization known for half a century as the Ikhwan al Muslimun or Muslim Brotherhood, which originally followed a pacifist strategy of education under Hasan al Banna but metasticized to violent extremism under Syed Qutb.  During the past twenty years, however, the Qutbian radicals have left to form new radical groups and movements, like the Jamaat al islamiyah and its offspring in Al Qa’ida.  To lump such groups into a new generic term, “Islamist”, makes it difficult to comprehend reality and leads inevitably to the condemnation of Islam as a religion.

    Even Fareed Zakaria, who is one of the best informed pundits in the world on Muslim affairs, in his Washington Post article of June 23, entitled “Pakistan’s Military Crisis”, writes, “Pakistan’s military has traditionally been seen as a secular and disciplined organization.  But the evidence is now overwhelming that it has been infiltrated at all levels by violent Islamists, including Taliban and Al Qa’ida sympathizers”.  Neither of these groups are by any stretch of the imagination Islamists.  The Taliban are nativists who would oppose all foreigners, even the Chinese, whereas the core leaders of Al Qa’ida are focused on destroying the United States as a means to impose their own global caliphate.  To confuse the essence of these groups and therefore to lump them in a generic “Islamist” category makes it impossible to understand Islamists, who abandoned violence as either a strategy or tactic a quarter century ago. 

    Although there still are some “radical activists” among the Islamists throughout the world in opposition to what is now the Old Guard, it is misleading for Zakaria to state that “Radical Islamist ideas - with America as the Great Satan - are now reflexive for many in Pakistan’s military”.  Zakaria may be right that radicals, who almost by definition are not Islamists, appear to be growing rapidly in Pakistan, especially among the military in response to what George F. Will in his article on June 23rd, 2011, termed America’s promiscuous interventionism.  The title of Will’s article was “McCain, Caped Crusader: Under his doctrine, America would be stuck in never-ending war”.  He was referring to McCain’s doctrine that the United States must intervene wherever America’s values are affronted.  This required the non-sequitur or logical disconnect in McCain’s mind that,“If Qaddafi survives, he will try to harm America”.  This catastrophist, hyper-security paradigm requires the accompanying paradigm of promiscuous interventionism.  According to George Will, this means quite simply that, “We must continue fighting because we started fighting”, and therefore never stop, even if continuation of the intervention carries blowback worse than the danger we originally foresaw.

    An excellent example of such memetic disinformation, whether deliberate or merely misguided, and of its impact on global affairs is the demonization of the Talibanic religious nationalists in Central Asia as a threat to America’s vital interests, who according to Colbert I. King’s Washington Post article of June 25th, “A Familiar Story in Iraq and Afghanistan”, are a local phenomenon.  He writes, “The Taliban has strongholds in Afghanistan, but it does not now, nor has it ever, posed a threat to U.S. soil”.  Misreading of what motivates the Taliban, and in fact of what motivates most of the world, has led to the deteriorating prestige of America as a model society, as shown by Griff Witte in his Washington Post article of June 23, entitled “Pakistan Courts China as U.S. Ties Sour”.  In the section entitled “Geostrategic Importance” he cites the Pew Research Center survey, according to which, “Pakistanis love China just about as much as they dislike the United states: 87% of Pakistanis say they have a favorable view of China, compared with 12% who say the same thing about the United States”. 

    Zakaria in the above quoted article adds, “Last November, the Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, reported on a high-level meeting in which “the Pakistani military viewed the United States as a hostile force trying to perpetuate a state of ‘controlled chaos’ in Pakistan and determined to ‘denuclearize’ the regime”.

    Fortunately, even the inveterate supporter of the 1960s paradigm, “Peace through power”, Henry Kissinger, in his article earlier on June 8th, 2011, entitled “How to exit Afghanistan”, gave credence to the relatively recent paradigm of “Smart Power” by concluding: “After America’s withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan and the constraint to our strategic reach produced by the revolution in Egypt, a new definition of American leadership and America’s national interest is inescapable.  A sustainable regional settlement in Afghanistan would be a worthy start”.

    The process of paradigm genesis and transformation, so remarkably shown in late-June, 2011, requires its institutionalization in think-tanks, which shape the agendas that control policy.  This institutional shift is introduced by a remarkable full-page article, in the Sunday Washington Post of June 19th, entitled “Continental Drift”, by Richard N. Haass, who has been President of the CFR (Council on Foreign Relations) for almost a decade, prior to which from 2001 to 2003 he was director of Policy and Planning in the U.S. Department of State.  He has long been influential in the efforts of the “Eastern Establishment” to reign in the suicidal ideology known as Neo-Conservatism.

    Dick Haass advises against trying to mend broken and outdated alliances, with specific reference to NATO.  He notes that, “Intimate ties across the Atlantic were forged at a time when American political and economic power was largely in the hands of Northeastern elites”.  This was an era when America could justify its overweaning influence in Europe, to the extent even of trying to control DeGaulle, by pointing to the “evil other” as a mortal threat to everyone.  America in recent decades has changed as the West and the South have gained power in Washington and New York.

    Most importantly, Haass writes, “The very nature of international relations has also undergone a transformation.  Alliances, whether NATO during the Cold War or the U.S.-South Korean partnership now, do best in settings that are highly inflexible and predictable, where foes and friends are easily identified, potential battlegrounds are obvious, and contingencies can be anticipated”.  He concludes, “Almost none of this is true in our current historical moment.  Threats are many and diffuse.  Relationships seem situational, increasingly dependent on evolving and unpredictable circumstances.  Countries can be friends, foes, or both, depending on the day of the week - just look at the United States an Pakistan.  Alliances tend to require shared assessments and explicit obligations; they are much more difficult to operate when worldviews [known as paradigms] diverge and commitments are discretionary.  But as the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya all demonstrate, this is precisely the world we inhabit”. 

    Haass is saying that countries will follow their own interests, based on their own history and values, and that we are past the era when a superpower can force other countries to submit to its own perceived interests.  This means in reference to Libya that Europe should not expect America to clean up a mess in Europe’s own backyard.  This means that the era of unilateralism pioneered by the “realist” Henry Kissinger and by the ideologues of NeoCon infamy is over.

    Most interesting in managing the clash of civilizational paradigms in the era of the Arab Spring is the establishment of a new think-tank, Google Ideas, by the Council on Foreign Relations, with Google as its deep-pocket.  This weekend, June 26-28th, 2011, 80 former Muslim extremists will gather in Dublin with 120 “thinkers, activists, philanthropists, and business leaders” to explore how technology can play a role in de-radicalization efforts around the globe.  The premise for this discussion is that, “Getting terrorists to give up violence may be more attainable than getting them to change their sympathies. ...  We’re not looking for silver bullets but new approaches”.

    In an era when counter-terrorism is viewed in Washington as a military challenge, despite competing paradigms of “Smart Power”, the results around the world suggest that emphasis should be placed on understanding the causes of terrorism (and perhaps of terroristic counter-terrorism).  In the article by Allen McDuffee in the Washington Post of June 25th, entitled “Google Ideas think tank to gather former extremists”, the premise of Google Ideas as expressed by Google’s Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt is that, “If we compartmentalize different radicalization strategies, that also means we compartmentalize the de-radicalization solutions”, and that could be a lost opportunity.  Radicalization may result from many causes, especially loss of dignity, but the result is always the same, namely, hatred, extremism, and finally terrorism as their product.

    At stake is the future of civilization, which, in turn, depends on the governing paradigms both within and among nations.  The future of the Arab Spring is much in doubt, but the abandonment of old assumptions and old paradigms of thought is essential to promote the birth of new hope in what we might call a twentieth-first-century “Paradigm Spring”.