Monday, January 4, 2010

A Clear Voice Points Out the Obvious: "The Naughties Were...Nice"

In the previous post I concluded that the first decade of the 21st Century wasn't as bad as many had lamented it to be. Thomas Barnett weighs in on the same subject in this weeks World Politics Review. Picking up on two articles which have dubbed this the worst decade in recent history, Barnett eloquently blows down their straw-house arguments in this concise and visonary essay.

Political pundits across America seem committed to the notion that our just-concluded decade deserves the moniker "worst ever," with the formulations ranging from Time's demonic "decade from hell" to Paul Krugman's self-flagellating "Big Zero." But if Krugman could call it "a decade in which nothing good happened," much of the planet might find our myopic bitterness a bit much -- as if the entire world should stop spinning just because the Dow Jones Industrial Average forgot to exit the decade higher than when it entered.
One of the topics Barnett deftly covers is the old saw that we are living in an age of constant wars of every description. I have faced this belief in every U.S. history class I've taught the past 5 years. Students, almost all returning adults, constantly point to Iraq and Afghanistan and believe that all we have to do is bring all our forces home, park our navy ships, and use all the money spent on "foreign wars" to give "things" like free health care, guaranteed good paying jobs, and vacations like they have in Europe, to all Americans. Barnett knocks this idea in the dirt, by covering it with facts.
Ask the average person on the street today and he or she will tell you that the entire world is consumed by war -- perpetual war, even -- when, on a per capita basis, we are indisputably living through the most peaceful era in human history. No other period even comes close.
Oddly enough, actual wars -- as in, traditional military conflicts between the uniformed armies of nation-states -- suffered near-extinction this past decade, which also happened to be our sixth in a row that featured no nuclear warfare and no wars between great powers. But pay no mind to those bothersome facts, or to the reality that today's armed conflicts are stunningly less deadly than yesterday's conventional wars.

Barnett continues on to talk some sense into Americans who have let fear and naval gazing rule their prospective on both the past decade and the future.
But once you're ready to come back to your senses, consider that Asia's "rise," much like Western Europe's post-World War II resurrection, was actually purposefully engineered by America as part of its decades-long grand strategy to birth, and then extend worldwide, its international liberal trade order. Think of it as our "states uniting" model globalized.

The final paragraph states the obvious fact.
Or simply realize that we Americans have plenty to be thankful for, plenty to be proud of, and plenty to look forward to -- so long as we remember that we are facing a present and a future that we long sought to create, but not dominate.

Read more:
The New Rules: The Naughties Were Plenty Nice

Barnett's response got me thinking about the students in my American history classes and how to an overwhelming majority, have the view that America is in a state of perpetual war and the world in general is more violent than any time in history. When I try to introduce them to the real facts about the post World War II years, I am confronted with trying to overcome what they had learned, not by history books or reading the facts, but what they had visually learned by watching the constant flood of information gained from television cable news shows, pop pundits and a cornucopia of conspiracy nuts. These ideas range from the "deadlist wars in our history" Iraq and Afghanistan to Climate Change, 9/11 conspiracies and the idea that the government is totally corrupt and needs to change to give every American an equal share of the wealth.

Appropriately, blogfriend Mark of Zenpundit had up two posts about cognitive reflections. In the first post, Mark counters a New York Times article about learning and the brain.
There are some problems with the article, starting with the assumption that the negative differences of middle aged brains are a product primarily of age rather than habitual use. While there are developmental differences in cognition, if you stop doing something at any age which you are mentally proficient - say calculus equations, creating rhymes, playing chess - you will grow less efficient at that activity over time. Use it or lose it. People in their 40’s to 60’s are typically leading lifestyles that are very different from full time students.
It seems that most people need to be prodded to stay sharp and in order to excercise their critical thinking skills. As a society, we do a poor job of encouraging this trait.
Cognitive Reflections Part I

In part II of Cognitive Reflections, Mark turns to visual thinking.
There have been some thoughtful posts on visual thinking lately which (according to Wikipedia) is the dominant form of thought for 60-70% of the population. I am somewhat skeptical of that unsupported figure because many people report thinking in a combination of words, images and other nonverbal prompts but I can accept that the percentage, whatever it may be precisely, is significant.

Mark links seven posts from blogs that address this topic.
Cognitive Reflections Part II.

The great challenge is to use the power of what author Howard Bloom in his new book The Genius of the Beast: A Radical re-Vision of Capitalism calls the "fission-fusion strategy to power the pendulum of repurposing to envison the future that Thomas Barnett notes, "Americans should look forward too..."

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