Saturday, November 7, 2015

South China Sea

Several years ago I was asked to offer my input to a scenario planning workshop for a large family office in the U.S.  During the presentation, I suggested that geopolitical risk had a few flashpoints that would be worth watching.  I referred to these as the “Archduke Ferdinand’s Bullet” referring to the assassination which certainly contributed to the violence that escalated into World War I.  The one that I said had the highest consequential risk was the shipping lines stretching from the Straits of Malacca to the South China Sea.  This region, unlike any other, is responsible for much of the energy and container traffic for the world’s largest trading partners.  An LNG tanker explosion, a “friendly fire” salvo gone wrong, and the Asia Pacific powder keg could ignite due to the absence of regional resilience. 

Several days ago, a U.S. naval vessel passed within 12 nautical miles of an innocuous island claimed by China and situated in the South China Sea.  To be sure, the U.S. Navy did NOT need to be there.  There’s a big ocean and passage into and through territorial distributes is not the exercise of a maritime right, it’s a provocation.  And with all of the conflicts raging across the world, a logical presumption would be that we might do well to minimize our willingness to inflame relatively pacified situations.  Do Vietnam, Japan and others have legitimate concerns regarding China’s interpretation of maps?  Quite possibly as maps are capricious in the first place and no entity has the universally recognized map of the world’s land masses and jurisdictional boundaries.  Which made me pause and ask the question:  given the abject stupidity of the Navy’s choice of passage, what else is going on for which this event would serve as a distraction? 

We have religious factions unraveling the delicate, war-torn communities of Afghanistan and Iraq.  We have massive food, water and conflict refugees desperately seeking respite from carnage in Syria.  We’re watching as Venezuela may be about to implode under that persistent economic challenges from the depressed petro-dollar based economy it’s built.  We know that the Arabian Peninsula is teetering on the brink of massive social inequality-fueled regime change – more French revolution than French enlightenment if you get my drift.  A few days ago, I had the good fortune of meeting with representatives of the government of Papua New Guinea and heard the futility in voices who have long sought just participation in the resource extraction from their country only to know that a select few officials are willfully or ignorantly mismanaging these assets.  Consumption is down in the minerals sector.  Companies are shifting headquarters to tax havens as they continue to extract infrastructure value from their actual home country.  We’re looking just over the horizon to Christmas season which will, in its muted performance, give us the opportunity to see exactly how bad consumer confidence is.

Dystopian trajectories are epidemic all around us.  The models of human interaction that have been deployed over the past 400 years have born their blighted fruit and, in the main, this is the generation shouldering the indictment on the Occidental epistemological order.  There are, in my estimation, several generalizable factors of the entropic conclusion of this human experiment. 

As I state in my documentary Future Dreaming, one of these is the concept of dominion.  The idea that anything or anyone is “over” anything or anyone else is a fallacy that results in immeasurable harm.  The religious narrative that places a god “over” the created order is palatable only in the corollary illusion that “man” is entitled to have dominion over everything else.  From divine rights justifying autocracies to our most intimate interactions between men and women in which “my” serves to reify linear possession, our behavior indicts our abject failure to see the natural order as absolutely interdependent and covalently linked in energetic exchange.  And the immoral justification of patronage in which benevolence to the “lower” absolves the “higher” of their tyranny is not appropriate even if the benevolence is absolute.  For in it, the perspective of one forms the context for the other and the “lord’s” context and motivation is opaque.

An additional systemic failure is enclosure.  From the Adamic myth of naming all the flora and fauna in Eden to property laws to accounting, the presumption that life requires boundaries is anathema to all natural systems.  In classic Nordic folklore, the Milky Way or Linnunrata (the light path) was thought to guide bird migrations to and from nesting grounds.  The birds were not thought to “own” the Milky Way but simply use it as their guide.  Edges, boundaries, enclosures and the like – whether defined by fiat or consensus – create separation and separation reinforces scarcity.  We can see this cancer throughout our entire social order.  “My” or “mine” not only implies ownership or dominion of or over a thing but it too has an ugly corollary – digital choice.  Choice is heralded as a valued human ideal but within it is, all too often, the implication of a rejection of the other.  From which laundry detergent to use to which restaurant to select to how to vote, our social behavior sees choice of one person or one thing as an explicit rejection of all others.  Without enclosure in the illusion of time or space, choice could be seen as temporal selection in a moment or for a utility where all other expression, options, or opportunities preserve all attributes of availability in all other moments.  But we don’t live that way.  By selecting a house or a job, we have cut off other options for shelter and purposeful action.  By selecting a relationship, we are thought to deprioritize all others.  In a world that celebrates “choice”, we force the illusion that one dimension of value leading to prioritization is somehow predominant over all other dimensions. 

And finally, digital.  I was fortunate to be invited to speak at the International Day Traders Association conference in Gold Coast Australia a week ago and return for a speaking engagement for the Big Blue Sky Event a few days later.  I was amazed at the ubiquitous intrusion of “digital” in much of the discourse.  Once again, we can barely detect this memetic absolute.  When we don’t like something, we “change” it.  But unfortunately, we don’t specify with any precision that which we find revolting and the attributes of what better would be.  Things are “right” or “wrong”, “functional” or “dysfunctional” but the use of digital thinking (like choice referenced above) means that we can only see momentary state conditions in a macro sense without discerning the subtle nuance that makes all things a composition of all phases and states in subtle variation.  I spoke about the reflexive acceptance and rejection of models of behavior and planning which fail to fully understand the illusions within the stories we are told and used examples like the Third Reich’s contribution to Silicon Valley and the Occupy Wall Street response to Chicago’s CDS trading market to show that digital and causal reflexive response is NOT thinking.  It’s reacting.  And reacting is seldom, if ever, fully conscious.

Overlay these epistemologies on the growing conflicts in the Middle East, South America and the Asia Pacific region and there’s no surprise that the South China Sea is boiling.  We are a common humanity not only divided by our language but equally incapable of integrating and evidencing our capacity to live in a heterogeneous, infinitely orthogonal perspective that is isomorphic with Reality.  And while we may feel incompetent to deal with the geopolitical audacities of systemic failures, we can, in these moments, treat each other with greater grace and mercy.  We can seek to understand rather than judge.  We can seek to inquire rather than project.  We can triangulate perspectives and, in so doing, achieve a more considered existence.  And if we begin that journey in our immediate fields, we can foster an expanding dynamic that, like the Sun, warms the field around us and gradually illumines a path to a more complete human experience.  

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Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave