By John Waters, Omaha World-Herald: “How did George Washington pull together the revolutionary army? It was very boring. It was listen and learn. (The leader) is actually there to coach them and be with them”: Jim Mattis said this to me over the phone in early January, noting that he applied the “listen and learn” technique to his own transition from four-star general to secretary of defense."
When, for example, will the modern world abandon its obsessive - and self-destructive - preoccupation with the tactical threat of terrorism, and begin to focus on the greater strategic context? How do we deal with the fragility of our now-profound dependence on energy, and the attendant long logistical lines to supply it, for every function of civilization, progress, and survival?
How and when will the lights of the great urban spread of mankind begin to flicker and falter? Will they shine brightly into the night in new places, or be sustained still in the cities which we have burnished with our familiarity? What follows when the ships and their cargoes of oil and goods come with less frequency? What happens when the surge in population peaks and suddenly goes into rapid decline? What happens to the balanced nation-state when the preponderance of the world's population lives in cities?
Will all or some of this happen soon? Will it happen at all? And what will be the result of all of this?
Is transformational change already upon us? Have we, in the midst of our striving for greater "democracy", emerged into a situation where - in most of our modern societies - the greater populations are subjects to their governments, rather than the intended goal that governments should be subject to the people? Is this part of the sclerosis of accumulated laws and entitlements?
Change for the most part occurs inexorably over the seemingly gentle sea of history; grinding, like the mills of God, slowly, but exceeding fine. What makes change tolerable - and strategic affairs manageable - is that this evolution usually appears to occur imperceptibly and with the calmness of moss growing on old logs. Sudden change causes disorientation and panic, both to individuals and societies.
The period into which we are now embarking will involve much sudden change. The familiarity of old routines, established forms, and familiar hierarchies will, in many respects, disappear. It is, indeed, already happening. And it has happened before. It is how societies, cultures, and civilizations emerge or evaporate. Individuals and societies can, however, adapt to new realities, both good and bad. In the process, they often forget the paths and triggers which led to the dramatic watersheds thrust upon them. Most people, and most societies, do not have a conscious view of their past or their future; they merely react. They are swept in a storm of reaction, and have no control over it, no understanding of it. They are the last leaves of autumn swept by blustering air, whose movement was dictated by the pull of a distant moon, the heat of a distant sun. Like the leaves, they question not the cause of their present situation, even if they bemoan their fate.
I wrote this new book, UnCivilization, to gain a measure of our present shape, as a human society, and to understand whence the gale has its origins, and whither it will dispatch us.