The Big Dilemma

The Control of Power

Just protesting and even ‘better understanding’ is no longer enough. 

I fully support the many calls for protest and condemnations against the Putin invasion of Ukraine. And to  contribute donations to help refugees and victims of this unprovoked war: providing band-aids for the wounds our inability to prevent the war has caused? 

What I am missing is more of an effort to discuss, understand, and find remedies for the underlying forces that led to this — and similar situtions. Because it seems obvious to me that the provisions humanity has tried to put in place so far, are critically ineffective. 

The problem is the use and misuse of power in societal governance and conflict. More specifically: the apparently unquestioned assumption that conflicts and violations of laws, treaties and agreements can only be prevented, and must be punished, by the threat and application of force or forceful ‘sanctions’. 

We have long known, from examples of abuses of power  form antiquity to current events, that power is addictive, that it seems to destroy the mental sanity of the holders of power — the more so, the greater the power they hold —;  because mistakes, arbitraniness and evil intent in its application will generate both fear and resistance, opposition.  Fear, both in the oppressed and the powerful. because if they adhere to the above assumption that power is acquired, and sustained by force, they must be afraid that force will be used against them as well. This creates a vicious circle of escalation of power use and abuse, and opposition resistance. 

 For the relationships among nations, this is the ultimate dilemma: the ‘World government dilemma’: If violations of treaties and human rights by force (and similar means) can only be ‘prevented’ by the threat of more powerful force, the question necessarily arises: what will prevent that superior entity itself from falling victim to the temptation and vicious cycles of power?  And equally likely: Given the kinds of weapons for conflict resolution by force that now is available to contenders for global governance, the outcome of such a conflict has best been described by the alleged Einstein comment that we don’t know what kinds of weapons will be used in WW3 — but we know that any WW4 will be fought with stones and sticks: ‘civilization’ as we know it will have destroyed itself. 

What is the lesson? Is this a dilemma that cannot be resolved? Then what? Can we afford to give up hope that better solutions can be found? Can we put our faith in future history books —if they won’t be burned — that will tell of our heroism in just resisting, fighting power in an unwinnable battle, if we don’t submit to the ultimate tyrranny or mutual destruction?  If there is the slightest possibility of finding better ways around the dilemma — is it not our responsibility to find and try to implement them, while there still is time? 

I believe there are possible answers. I believe one partial answer lies in the development of ‘sanctions’ that don’t rely on ‘enforcement’ by a greater power but that will be based on a principle of (agreed-upon) preventive measures automatically triggered by the very attempt of violation. There are already small scale examples using this approach; new technology and AI may be helpful in this effort.  I cannot believe that if more effort and resources would be devoted to this problem, humanity could not find other, better answers to this dilemma.  I believe that such efforts should be pursued with the highest priority, at all levels from local to global governance. 

I also don’t believe that implementation of such answers, if we can find them, should be attempted via the old ‘forceful’ revolution approach, ‘regime change’, violent overthrow and bloodshed. That would just be reverting to the old problem and vicious cycles, attempting to solve the problem with its own causes. This, too, needs a better approach, such as the old ’skunkworks’ of US research and development agencies in the cold war: devoting part of ‘official contract’ resources to ‘free’ research on issues on the principle that maybe the official project is asking the ‘wrong question’ and trying to ‘solve the wrong problem’? And it needs a global platform for the impartial discussion and evaluation of any proposed answers, as heretic als they may seem.  (I have  explored these issues in some papers  e.g. on  Academia. edu.)

I am surprised and disappointed that even the ’systems thinking’ community — as far as I can see, — is not even discussing this issue much less devoting any effort, official or ‘skunkworks’-like — to this dilemma. Just focusing on a ‘better understanding ‘ of the problems, much as we do need that, is no longer enough. 

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