Escaping the Inferno

Mark Mykleby‘s paper “National Security, Sustainability, and Citizenship” in January’s special edition of Solutions asks the fundamental question:

Why should sustainability, essentially an ecological concept, serve as the centerpiece of a twenty-first-century American grand strategy?

In sum, Mykleby promotes sustainability as a strategic mindset, which looks beyond current risks and threats with a positive focus on converging interests in response to emerging global conditions. A critical approach, it seems, in an ever complex, uncertain global geopolitical playing field. I’ve been working on understanding the systemic role that Failed States (particularly Afghanistan) and corresponding slower pervasive variables play in regional level management of common pool resources. See also earlier post on identifying agents of change in Afghanistan.

Slide from my presentation on Transformation of Failed States at the Balaton Group Meeting

More importantly though, in my mind, is who is responsible? and where are the leverage points? Is a future strategy to be defined by the masses, such as the Occupy movement? or great leaders? I will not make this case here, but see an interesting debate between Juan Carlos Rocha and Henrik Ernstson at Resilience Science Blog on collective action vs. key-individuals. My point is that individual agency (simply to act either as a leader or as part of the crowd) is an impetus we mustn’t forget.

Powerful quote from the paper inspired by Calvino:

So what does this all mean? What is the “ask” of all of us, as citizens? Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, first written in 1972, frames it quite nicely. In this fictional story, an aging Kublai Khan sits in a garden with Marco Polo, lamenting the demise of his empire. In the course of their conversation, Marco Polo makes an astute observation: “Yes, the empire is sick, and, what is worse, it is trying to become accustomed to its sores.”Clearly, such a comment does not assuage the anguish of Kublai Khan. But it does establish what is wrong. In the end, Marco Polo offers a way out:

“The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”

Resist the inferno, and keep asking questions!


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