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Incompatible goals

Incompatible goals

People who recognise that they have different goals will usually avoid each other and, where forced into proximity, will either negotiate or fight. Where differences are clear, the model of proper conduct is reinforced for both parties. Where there is a settlement, this is negotiated along clear lines. Where the dispute continues, each camp refines the grounds for its discontent with the other.

People who do not recognise that they have incompatible goals, by contrast, will tend to drift in micro-conflicts that are oriented chiefly around the symptoms of difference, rather than the root causes. "They hate, but they know not why they hate."

Our goals are often implicit to our conduct, rather than clearly stated in the equivalent of a political manifesto. As an example of this, the indiustrial world has evolved a way of looking at the world - the current international economic model - which has clear, but generally tacit goals. For example, our actions say that we believe that resources should flow to those organisations which are most fitted to make use of them. Fitness is granted by the ability to please. Those whom it is most important to please are those with resources to allocate. Competition is good, but is predicated on freely available information, and by easy entry to and exit from the arena in which it is waged. There should be open and symmetrical competition amongst those who allocate resources, such as capital markets, and between those who make use of these resources, such as companies. The consumers of the resulting wealth should exercise their choices in conditions of equal transparency and open competition, and their views on the failure of markets to deliver what they want should be taken into law and imposed on the resource allocators and resource users. Government has a role to play in hearing complaints, enforcing agreements, reducing uncertainty and patrolling externalities to markets.

These implied goals are, however, completely antithetical to the way in which much of the world is actually run. The state and the national elite are essentially inseparable, and this enterprise itself perceives the citizens as tools that are to serve its purpose. A person owes their primary duty to their circle of influence, revolving around hierarchies of patronage and the extended family. A political voice is won by virtue of the possession of power, where power is indistinguishable from patronage. The arms of the establishment - government, military, judiciary, police - do not limit each other's power. Indeed, they are expected to act as the tools of executive authority. Economic life is anyway secondary to other factors such as group solidarity, religious observance or fear of neighbouring states. Elites capture economic surpluses, and rural society is kept both ill-educated and inefficient in order both to subsidise city dwellers with cheap food and to keep down wages by providing a low-cost elastic supply of labour. Assets are allocated by fiat. Information is closely guarded. Nepotism is regarded as a virtue

This pattern is a common heritage of a rural past, garrisoned by an elite based in cities. Most of humanity has lived in such regimes. Few things are more comfortable than to be a member of an unchallenged elite in a time of tranquillity, and such people made the art and wrote the histories by which they are remembered. The goals of this pattern of organisation are tacit, and almost never spelled out. Only retrogressive anomalies such as European Fascism and some post-colonial rhetoric do attempt to make a case for this pattern. (Those interested may also care to consult the economic orthodoxy of mercantalist import substitution, nationalism and dirigiste populism that emerged from favoured South American academics in the 1960-80 period.)

The world is busy, connecting up hitherto isolated domains of activity in ways which make them take note of each other's model. Trade as it was conducted a few decades ago did not require much integration: a ship and a letter of credit were enough. This is simply not true when whole systems of organisation are taken and dumped into another's territory, or when in order to attract assets, a state has to show itself to match the prevalent international order.

There are two innate and systematic sources of friction that occur during such integration. In addition, there is an episodic, locally-important factor on which we will touch in a moment.

The first of the systematic sources of friction derive from elites whose sources of privilege and power are under erosion. These people see the international order as far more of a levelling force than internal revolutions. Some of their number, the fitter and the better educated, adapt themselves to the new conditions and, in general, they do very well from this. There is, by definition, a shortage of able people and those who till the new fields will reap a rich harvest from them before the rest of society catches up. However, a significant proportion of the former elite cannot or will not adapt themselves to the new ways. In line with rejectionists everywhere, they find an orthodoxy around which to organise themselves, and - where they have lost political power - they often engage in religious politics, secessionist movements and extreme nationalist or repressive enthusiasms. One can discern many such individuals behind the Indian BJP, for example, and in the anti-modernisers in China. Similar figures were active in Japan after the Meiji restoration and were, in fact, the driving force behind the Chinese-Manchurian adventure and the eventual plunge into WWII.

The second source of friction are from modestly wealthy, self-sufficient people who come from a poorly educated background. Many are small shop keepers or civil servants, and virtually all are based in cities. (Rural people are usually in such tight economic straits, and so isolated from information and influence, that these issues pass them by and often improve their lot.) Our group are usually a part of a network of influence, the ultimate patron of which (in a tall hierarchy of such patronage) is a ducal figure in the elite: perhaps a President or past head of state. Solidarity within such a network provides intercession and influence when things go wrong, and creates job opportunities which can be grasped for clients (children, relations of poor friends.) This grants status and a modest patronage to each individual, and the nature of the hierarchy is well-understood by all and reinforced by judicious gifts, demands for service and opened doors. These genteel mafia have a great deal to lose if the structures which have maintained their livelihoods and their status are disrupted, as they are when new entrants and new ideas arrive from overseas. This group often provides the rank-and-file support for the leadership generated by the first group. These were the key supporters for Nazi fascism in its early years.

It is clear that the greatest impact on these groups occurs when change occurs quickly, and this can often develop when the forces have been held back until they can be resisted no longer, or when a new generation of technocrats seize the reins. The symptoms of incipient problems are threefold: current representational structures are seen to fail, and there is political turmoil which is focused on the nature of power, not the policy that power should follow; when the voice of the bazaar calls for protection and closed doors to imports; and when the old elite squeeze their rural clients, leading to increased manifestations of poverty and landlessness.

It is, as a side line, curious to see with whom the young protesters against what they call "globalisation" have allied themselves. Authoritarian personalities do, however, have a tendency to seek each other out.

There is a third, rather episodic factor that comes into play when outside forces change the local game. Many societies contain stresses which have wrestled for generations and which now lean on each other in exhausted equilibrium. Such a balance struck may have been struck between, for example, religious enthusiasm and secular liberty, or amidst chronic ethnic divisions. The old rhetoric is usually still latent in the society and a few hot-eyed enthusiasts continual to beat on tired old drums. Matters are, however, contained.

When the new forces impinge, however, old forces may stir. It may be that one group is evidently doing better from the changes than the other, and so old rivalries are come to life. It may be that the balance has been struck less between groups than within individuals, and that an excessive rush of secular change may cause some in the society to revisit their old religious certainties for reassurance. We have note many times how bewildering change can be for many, and in particular, for the traditionalist groups. When a sufficient number of people feel this way, then the time of the hibernating drum-bangers has come. They have an audience, and their influence grows in proportion to the indignation and certainty that they can stir with it.

Iran at the time of the fall of the Shah showed all of these properties. Pahlavi himself was a moderniser for the benefit of elites, and a few 'westerners' did well whilst the majority of the old upper middle class did less well. Second, inflationary policies and new patterns of commerce were undermining the bazaari, the small shop keepers. Third, fast change, repression and corruption caused many to lok to their religious roots. A ready supply of theological sulphur was to be mined from Qum, and the mosques became the unofficial opposition to the Shah, supported at least tacitly by both the lower and a substantial fraction of the upper middle classes. Once again, the rural poor played almost no role. Subversion in the army came late, and from urban sources.

In summary, when we know that we disagree, we know what we have to do in order to live together. When we are unaware of the distinctness of our goals, then we proceed into conflict without quite knowing why. The sources of conflict are embedded in abstract ways of organising societies, and the objects of hate tend, therefore, to be those states and companies which most exemplify the face of these forces. If modernisation is somehow the plague, then what can be a better symbol to attack than the airliner floating noisily over the city? If the peril seems to stem from obscurantism and rejectionism, then what better an enemy than a country that keeps women hidden in a mobile tent when they go out of doors, and denies them doctors in case contact with their bodies may corrupt?

We have noted three sources of friction when the industrial world's standards impose themselves on the developing world. In each case, the status quo is changed, and in two of the three cases, it is those who lose thereby who become heated. Where ancient instability is revived, however, the focus of friction depends on the situation. However, where the divisions lie within the individual, then it is the once-retired merchants of certainty and hate who orchestrate events and shape the targets for blame.

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