How is it that countries die; that the civilizations they protected fall away? We who are too young to have experienced the immediate post-colonial period in any meaningful way have come to expect a static world, continents chopped up and carved into pieces, administered in cookie-cutter fashion by governments with varying degrees of competence and which meet in a great wealthy club in Manhattan where they hash out world affairs under the watchful supervision of we, the Americans – the new heritors of the ‘west’.
Of course this isn’t true, but we’d rather not dwell on that; nations rise and fall away more often than we in the west like to admit. Sometimes they are dismembered – Yugoslavia becomes Croatia and Bosnia and Slovenia and Montenegro and Macedonia and Serbia. Serbia itself splits, begetting Kosovo; each amputation bloody and without anesthesia. At times they attempt an unequal divorce and are rapidly sequestered – Catalonia, Scotland, Quebec.
Occasionally they are birthed as monsters, suckling freaks which are quickly snuffed out; Azawad in the Sahara and Islamic State in Sham. Or they come into the world sickly and stillborn; like South Sudan. Product of the imaginations of outsiders whose ‘moral hazard’ allowed them to shrug off the genocide – yes that’s what it became – to wander off quietly. “That’s not what we intended,” they probably still say as they sip cocktails in Malibu, as if that matters. As if that is justification enough to absolve them of the violence, the sadness. And many times chunks of countries just change hands – empires expanding outward as the physical manifestation of their weakness, red giants bloated and unstable and ultimately evanescent. Crimea, eastern Ukraine, the eastern half of Guyana, the Falklands.
Still other countries commit suicide, “paises manicomios” as Carlos Alberto Montaner calls them; insane asylum countries – Venezuela comes to mind. “We are middle income!” they might have said to themselves, tuning out the ever-shrill warnings against their ridiculous political experiment. “We are an established democracy,” they probably continued, – “And now that we ‘arrived’, I know, I have an idea!!! Let’s kill ourselves! Let’s starve our babies! Let’s lay waste to our roadways and bring down our buildings, let us shutter our factories. Let’s pluck out our eyes and plunge ourselves into darkness deep and penetrating; and yes, let’s destroy our joy – because it is imperfect and, dare we say, unequal!!” All this to the deafening applause of the grievance-seers and their minions of envy.
My first experience with a stillborn republic might have been called the Republic of Kivu, had they ever gotten around to even naming it. With the capital in Goma under the watchful eye of a cranky old volcano called Mount Nyrangongo – le grandpere – this ‘nation’ was born in rape and blood, safeguarded by 12 year-old soldiers with bloodshot eyes and managed by rebels who thought only in stolen reams of paper and looted Land Cruisers. I’ve since made my life in the border areas – “subtle gradations” of dominion but which somehow do not bleed out the body politic, for the lifeblood that flows from the heart does not now reach the peripheries heavy and lethargic, maybe it never did; the unstable, violence-ravaged places that belong neither to one, nor the other nor even to both. Wells punched deep which no longer flow with sweet water; mountains of sand on the move filling the holes of trees slashed to make charcoal to fill stolen hub-caps, makeshift barbecues upon which young men roast mystery meat to sell at abandoned watering holes and run-down gas stations beside crumbling highways for when those who maintain the center are forced to venture into the fringes on an errand of mischief or mercy. This, it would seem is the future. Hardened epicenters of a world that has lost its cohesion and has returned to buttress its armored nuclei, letting the periphery decay. City states of varying degrees of prosperity, Elysium upon an island or surrounded by a sterile desert – against the sprawling manic metropolises of Lagos and Karachi and Rio; public servants desperate to keep the electricity flowing, police struggling to put down the gangs – ‘loose molecules in a tremendously unstable fluid’ who arrived from the peripheries looking for a sense of future, a sense of hope.
No, the world is not a static place at all; nor is it that place we hoped for, free-market economics and representative democracy in upward spirals to universal prosperity. The world is, in point of fact, in a state of decay product of the abandon of those who should care for it, for ‘the commons’ as the economists love to say – and the constipated sclerotic systems sustained by debt as we throw good money after bad, inertia the only strategy; because we cannot admit it isn’t working, cannot admit that we lost.
A century ago, in 1918, at the end of the previous “Elizabethan” world order – the empire of England – Woodrow Wilson assembled a group of the most influential people in America. “The Inquiry” was tasked with planning for the American century, our world order; and the Council on Foreign Relations was formed – the poster child for “elites” (I should know, once upon a time I too was a CFR fellow). A supervised society was born; managed by the elites for the good of everybody – except that’s not how it worked out, is it?
And now those days are over. That, at least, should be obvious.
So what comes next? Those who are my occasional visitors here know I’ve been thinking about that a lot, and as a byproduct of my thoughts, I write. I read too; Patrick Deenan who writes about the collapse of our model, not because of its failure but because of its remarkable success; Amy Chua who once wrote about a “World on Fire” and now writes of the tribalism that has arisen as we break ourselves into camps to hurl hate at each other. Yes, it is a time for reflection and the search for understanding; to ask ourselves that question “what comes next?” Because we know, we the unsupervised, that this time the answer must come from us.