The hard part about tackling extremism & polarization.

History was my first love. I remember pulling open a book about WWII as a 3rd grader and being enthralled with geopolitics, war and why man did what man did. I started writing this post after 11/13’s horrible attacks in Paris and thinking about how we can stop shitty people from doing terrible things. After the recent escalations’ by France & Russia I’ve been inspired to finish this bit of writing.

Root cause analysis is routinely applied in professional projects; knowing why you failed helps prevent you from making the same mistake again. Unfortunately humanity has refused to do this, most prominently in the field of history. (see countless genocides, imperialism, world wars) I aim to perform this analysis to stop people from repeating this cycle of humans harming humans.

Let’s start with government & economics. Economically successful people with franchise (voting rights) don’t rock the boat. Statistics such as the violent crime rate comparisons between the developing & developed world or the persistently high unemployment rates for young Muslim adults speak to a lack of opportunities for many people today. More importantly is that lack of franchise; many “terrorists” are simply asking for fair rights that other groups have access to.

Why don’t these groups have access to economic successes such as in the West or Asian countries like Japan, Korea et al? An American-centric viewpoint would talk about support for anti-intellectualism, corruption, socialism, the “Dutch Disease”, the disenfranchisement of women among other causes. These all certainly contribute to the lack of economic development but I posit that the real cause goes deeper.

Looking at two Eastern national success stories, Japan & Korean, we see some noticeable differences. Japan used the Meji Restoration (late 1800’s to early 1900's) to set their people up for economic success in a global economy. While there was significant opposition and bloodshed (Bakumatsu), Japan’s status as an economic power in the 20th & 21st century validates the approach. Korea’s development is largely agreed to be the result of the US defense and foreign aid in the name of fighting communism; their results are economically comparable to Japan’s.

Contrast that with the infamous CIA overthrow of a democratically elected prime minister in Iran. By now historians widely agree the reason for this was exploitation of Iranian petroluem assets for Western, not Iranian gain. There are many examples such as Banana republics, Pinochet, and Sukarno. The current economic situation in these countries is almost always much worse.

No one needs to do analysis on why these actions took place; that’s been discussed ad nauseam. However I want you to take a minute and put yourself in the position of people in these places from the 1940’s — 1990’s;

Your resources and tax revenues have been taken by corrupt and/or imperialist governments for their own personal use as opposed to for the people. You have finally achieved self-determination and elected your chosen leader only to have them overthrown and executed shortly thereafter. You chose to implement a socialist society because that best represents your familial style of culture and you are immediately castigated by the West for being “communist.”

Everyone is aware of the current state of affairs in the Middle East. Everyone is tired of supporting policies that don’t change the status quo. I‘m fucking tired of spending $9 million / day on bombs. How about we build some farms, houses, schools and villages with that money? Its hardly novel to purpose that the billions spent on defense & petroleum firms instead be spent on firms engaging in reconstruction activities with oversight for corruption.

This proposal is going have opponents, most notably from those who would lose money and/or power if these policy changes took place. I believe this is the right approach for 2 reasons. One: the history of colonialism is littered with examples of the colonial nation profiting at the expense of the colonized nation. Think of the fall of the Inca, spice extirpation in Dutch East Indies, and a variety of economic changes in India.

Two: China is using this approach ad infinitum in industries like petroleum, semiconductors, and software. Given that much business still gets done through good old boys networks or their equivalent, (guanxi in China) today’s elites have a non-zero fear of losing power. The status quo will only change if those in power believe actions will increase their influence. The best example of this was Nixon’s visit to China and the resulting normalization of relations. This allowed business associates of his regime the opportunity to increase their influence, money and power in the PRC.

These 2 things are closely interrelated; the desire of people to be in charge of their economy, government and lives contrasted with people in power who do not want to give up their money and power. With such a complex system its no surprise that we basically see this status quo for the truly hard problems in the world today; wealth inequality worldwide and the various religious conflicts in the eastern Levant. It took Japan, South Africa and South Korea over a generation to improve their economic and social problems. Despite my generations’ love for both entrepreneurialism and social regulations I sincerely doubt those can solve this problem.

I believe we each need to take ownership of this issue and change our own behavior. Work with others to cultivate this same mindset. Start companies that use these as the guiding principals in lieu of of pursuit of the almighty dollar. Hire local employees instead of bringing in someone from your home country to handle local roles. Run for office and change policy to benefit many or all instead of privileged oligarchs. Create communities at your places of worship with the goal of helping underprivileged and undeserved members of my community. Launch interfaith dialogs to help people understand that extremism is the enemy, not those of differing religious beliefs are not.

Ironically both those in power and extremists in the East & West similarly want a polarized world. A world with continuing violence and populations blaming each other for the ongoing issues are easy to control through promises of “military action” and “revenge.” The problem is this violence begets violence causing an endless loop generation after generation. We need to stop taking the easy route and blaming those with a different appearance, country of origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation et al.

First and foremost, we need to remember that we are all humans. We all have the same desires and needs. We aren’t all that different.

I will leave you Walter Cronkite’s famous words about my alma mater, the University of Texas; What starts here changes the world. All of the historical examples of success took years of today time and I expect this will be no different. Start today so our children and their friends will not suffer from polarized conflicts as we do today.