The Center is Everything!

On a recent work trip I had extra time to spend at the airport where I stepped into one of those stores selling American paraphernalia. Within the store I saw two mugs. Both were white with maps of the 50 states. Each mug, when heated, would turn all of either red or blue (the buyer chooses which they want), to represent one political party in the United States winning everything and the other losing everything. My thinking when I saw these mugs was: This is the problem, not the solution.

The 20th Century’s War teaches the center is everything. Extremes offer violence. Yet, the center is not self-sustaining. Politics, whether international, national, or local, is an infinite game. Therefore, the goal of politics is not victory (as that is impossible in such a game), but rather stability. The center is where that stability resides. Until politics at all levels is seen as an exercise in stability, politics will never be able to reside in the center, and thus will always lead to violence over time. We, as a society, must constantly, consistently, and forever strive to push politics, at all levels, towards the center, toward stability, toward equilibrium. This is the only way to avoid war.

Over the course of the past week I worked with some of the smartest people in my firm to come up with a set of Scenarios for the future of society. After much back and forth, we created a framework for the future of society based on potential outcomes of human and technological interaction. What struck me from this work is how related to politics and history it is. What also struck me was how obvious my previous point should be.

We realized society, as we understand it, is based on levels of human interaction and the rules by which those interactions take place. Think of this as two axis on a two dimensional graph. On one end of the X axis is no cooperation. On the other is everyone working in unison. On one end of the Y axis is no rules. On the other is a uniform rule based system. Looks a little something like this:

Now, we can see the entire history of human interaction taking place in this graphic. Think of different governing systems. Where would you put them in this graphic. I don’t think anyone can think of a governing system by which humans have existed, whether in the 20th Century or beyond, which does not sit somewhere on this graphic. From here then, we can also see how governing systems evolve over time, moving from one quadrant to another as systems change based on human interaction.

Let’s take one example from The 20th Century’s War, domestic governance in China, as an example. In 1900, China may be considered barely in the upper right hand quadrant, with a semblance of a unitary political system, but the rules breaking down. By 1910 China moved into the upper left hand quadrant, with different rule-based systems competing. In the 1920’s and 1930’s it splintered with some parts in the bottom of the upper left quadrant, while others were in the lower left, moving toward anarchy. This produced the Chinese Civil War, which pushed the country up into the top right on a national scale. The top right, though, is managed and run by the Chinese Communist Party, whose sole purpose for all actions taken since the late 1980’s has been the maintenance of power at all cost, thus creating an inherently unstable system which will eventually transition to some other quadrant. We don’t know which, but we can determine what kind of proceeding events can force a shift, and what the markers will be so when the shift starts to occur we’ll be better prepared to act according to where things will likely land.

This is not a precise science, and the circles are not exact. There are a lot of variables which would go into plotting these as precisely as possible, so take these as general locations based on the national politics of the country during these times. The key takeaway from this is to demonstrate the moving nature of the political system over time.

Now, I would like to add a new element to the conversation, efficiency. What types of systems are the most efficient for producing desired societal outcomes? Well, that depends on what outcomes are desired. If stability is desired, then one form rises above the others, the top right. If innovation is desired, then the bottom left wins. If a balance between the two is preferred, then somewhere at the point in which the axis meet is probably most effective. When looked at in this way, the value of the society in which the discussion is taking place will determine where that society would be most effectively placed on the graphic.

Now, let’s discuss other factors of importance to a human system:

  • Resilience
  • Individual Opportunity
  • What am I missing? I’m sure many things!

If we then graph these two elements onto the chart as well, we come to realize something of significance:

You seeing it? Maybe this will help. Let’s look at where there is space within all of the lines, shall we?

The center of the rules based, relationship based system is the most effective, across all components. It’s in this space where there is the most innovation by opportunity by stability by resilience. It’s not the most creative, it’s not the most stable, it’s not the most innovative, nor is it the most resilient. Yet, it’s the most of any of these, by the others, to create the best balance between all, which benefits society as a whole.

What this leads me to is The 20th Century’s Wars have been due to social systems, whether at the domestic or international level, becoming unstable because the Center has been lost. Think of Germany in the 1930’s. There were many Center forces, but the extremes (Communists on one side, Nazi’s on the other, who squeezed out the Center through mutual agreement, until one killed off the other, perceiving the relationship to be a finite game.) Think of Russia of the 1990’s through early 2000’s, when there were plenty of Center forces, but these were squeezed by the Communists on one side and the Nationalists on the other, until only one party remained, again thinking it a finite game. Think of current Hungarian, Turkish, Israeli, Brazilian, Mexican, German, French, Greek, and even American politics today. There are center forces, but these are being squeezed out from the extremes on either end of the political spectrum.

What this says to me is, the center forces, so often competing with each other, should be looking to ensure they are not squeezed out by the extremes. Center parties, whether on the domestic or international system, need to support each other. These parties need to remember they are playing an infinite game, not a finite game, and thus winning today may mean making space for the extremes to take over. Thus, cooperating today, finding resolutions to problems, rather than adhering to ideology, allows for stability, innovation, and resilience within the system.

Such mentality from political leaders at all levels can help ensure the 21st Century is not filled with warfare. It is not easy to maintain, but it’s worth the cost in energy so the world does not have to pay that cost in lives. Maybe this is the greatest lesson of The 20th Century’s War?

Jeremy Strozer