Monday, May 05, 2008

Cybernetic America

In the latest Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria suggests that Pax Americana is over. Not because American power is falling, but because the rest of the world is beginning to rise up and make an economic, social, cultural, etc. impact. The U.S. continues to be politically and militarily dominant, but the rest of the world is beginning to catch up in everything else. Which is a good thing. Also, it could put the U.S. (if we're smart and wise) in the position not to be the leader of the world, per se, but in a more cybernetic position. The word "cybernetics" comes from the Greek word for "steersman." A steersman doesn't have complete control over something, but rather tries to guide the system he's in charge of as it moves through a current that is in no way under the control of the steersman. The world is increasingly out of our control (perhaps it was never really under our or anyone else's control -- it's just now become clear that it's not), but we can encourage and influence. And we can do so by providing the world with a positive model. This will mean that we will have to overcome many of the negative elements in our own country, which are oftentimes actively seeking to reduce our influence and attack Western civilization for being racist, sexist, homophobic, and oppressive (though the West has been the least of each of these of any other culture for a long time, and continues to be so). We should make ourselves to be the target which everyone aims at if they want to be successful. As Aristotle says, virtue aims as the beautiful -- thus, the U.S. should be as beautiful as possible, so the rest of the world has something worth aiming at. To do this, we will need to reverse direction on a lot of issues. We will have to go beyond the culture of nihilism which rules our arts and humanities works. We will have to strengthen our property rights protections and reverse programs which work to do little more than make life worse for our poorest people. We will need to radically reform education and get beyond the romanticism which rules or educational system. We will have to recognize all the good we have in fact accomplished, while continuing in our grand tradition of self-criticism (a tradition which has helped to make us great, though you have to be careful that you don't move from constructive criticism, which works to make you better, to destructive criticism, which is only intended to tear you down and keep you down). We need to a culture that makes works of art, literature, and philosophy that is valuable, meaningful, and beautiful. By acting as a lighthouse, we can work to steer the rest of the world toward greater peace, prosperity, and love of virtue, value, meaning, and beauty.
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