The Death of Optimism

In the realm of Simple Reality there is no optimism or pessimism, no good, no bad; there is only truth or illusion, awareness or ignorance. In this essay the gap between awareness and ignorance is a yawning and broad chasm both ominous and bewildering.

We will weave our dark web around the works of Robert Kaplan, world traveler and best-selling author of books that have had implications for American foreign policy but not profound implications. In short, they have not resulted in any deeper understanding of or changes in, the self-destructive behavior that America has modeled for its neighbors in the global village. The U.S., the bull in the china shop or Pottery Barn, to use Colin Powell’s favorite analogy, has not been a force for peace and harmony in the world. As far as the U.S. demonstrating wisdom and compassion, don’t even ask?

Nevertheless, hope springs eternal and Kaplan’s books and essays have at least stimulated discussion and raised important questions. Who is Robert Kaplan?   “It is an improbable perch for a provocative poet of policy and pessimism: the 49-year-old [2002]  journalist du jour whose “Eastward to Tartary” won him an invitation to brief President Bush [W], whose “Balkan Ghosts” was devoured by Bill Clinton, and whose other books have been blurbed by the likes of Newt Gingrich, Robert  McFarlane and Henry Kissinger.”  Kaplan’s writing has been popular but it seems to have had little influence on America’s leaders. Understanding why not provides the theme for this essay.

Kaplan is among the few writers who see, at least in part, the coming collapse of the global village culture.  “The essence of Kaplan’s message, distilled in nine books over 14 years and scores of essays in the Atlantic Monthly, is that conventional American assumptions [P-B worldview] bearfaintrelationglimpsabledailyin the war-breeding hellholes of the undeveloped world.”  That which is missing in both America and “the war-breeding hellholes of the underdeveloped world” is awareness regarding the nature of Reality, namely consciousness.

U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is predicated upon the possibility of a stable nationhood for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan where we are currently (2011) struggling to find a strategy that will bring this about. Nationhood is as much an evolution of consciousness as it is acquiring sufficient money and unity of leadership for modern institutions and infrastructure. What with tribal mentalities, sectarian rivalries, and ancient religious hostilities in the region only a naïve nation would attempt to artificially impose democratic institutions on so primitive a consciousness. Or as Kaplan put it: “The concept of nationhood itself becomes largely illusory.”

In regions with scarce economic, cultural or political resources, we can see competition driven by an especially intense expression of the false-self mentality, becoming increasingly violent. Even in our hemisphere we have the breakdown of law and order in Mexico with Mexican drug-lords reminding us of the tribal and ethnic warlords found in the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia and even parts of the Balkans. These regions are caught up in an almost inescapable narrative which as we know determines their identity and drives their self-destructive behaviors. No amount of intellectual analysis by American journalists and pundits can change or even help us understand these dynamics.

Many of today’s nations are nations in name only. What appear to be splotches of color on a map of the world representing nation-states is something entirely different in reality. “West African political borders have become meaningless. The geographic reality is a single-strip megalopolis of fetid urban slums along the coast, beyond which lies a disease-ridden interior backslid to primitivism. Their roads, sanitation and national infrastructure are a myth…Their populations are subject to the brutal whims of guerrillas and warlords for whom banditry is compulsion.”  Simple Reality delivers the bad news that when looking at this part of the world we are seeing not the past but the future, not just of the Third World but of humanity as a whole. As the false self becomes more dominant, the collapse of civilization will accelerate.

The details of how fear creeps across the face of the planet are not important, because the cause is the same – humanity is asleep. Environmental devastation can appear to be the cause in places like Somalia when coupled with exploding populations and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Warfare with child soldiers can quickly become a way of life with power as the aphrodisiac and drugs to dull the effects of the horror being experienced.

Even Kaplan falls under the spell of the illusion of power and its promise. Quoting Thomas Hobbes in the prologue to The Coming Anarchy, “Before the names of Just and Unjust can have a place there must be some coercive power.” The U.S. has been playing that role of “coercive power” in the Balkans with some apparent success and in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East with disastrous failure. The human expression of power is not the answer it is precisely the problem. “Physical aggression is a part of being human [no, it is a part of the false self]. Only when people attain a certain economic, educational and cultural standard is this trait tranquilized.” [Nonsense, it has not been “tranquilized” in American culture nor anywhere in the “civilized” Western world]  “In the light of the fact that 95 percent of the Earth’s population growth will be in the poorest areas of the globe, the question is not whether there will be war (there will be lots of it) but what kind…And who will fight whom?” 

Kaplan is correct in his conclusion found in The Coming Anarchy which is Kaplan’s draconian argument that a “Lord of the Flies meltdown of the Third World’s least functional societies is where the world is heading.”  The traditional pseudo-solutions of P-B have not and will not work in addressing the coming catastrophe facing the global village. Only a profound shift found in the narrative of Simple Reality has any hope of succeeding.


References and notes are available for this article.
For a much more in-depth discussion on Simple Reality, read Simple Reality: The Key to Serenity and Survival, by Roy Charles Henry, published in 2011.

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