- When the battle against extremism is fought with military means, governance suffers.
- Garrison states and hegemony provoke resistance.
- Injustice not only radicalizes the desperate but begs for exploitation by those who are already radical.
- Isolation provokes military buildup, and that provokes everyone else to do the same.
- Treating bilateral ties as a zero-sum game is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Refusing to talk to opponents is self-defeating.
- Failure to define a coherent policy leads to loss of control.
- Hostility empowers hardliners.
Historical patterns exist. To get an idea of what the future may hold, it is valuable to identify patterns that are dominant, but if the underlying causal dynamics are not understood, a tipping point can arrive with little warning, and flip the situation over, leading to sudden dominance by a different dynamic: a sudden loss of popular confidence in leadership, an explosion of violence, or a run on the banks. So looking at the future entails both studying patterns and dynamics.
Dynamics are not events but processes and as such exert continuous influence over behavior. Since they are continuous, they can have a huge impact even though building slowly and sometimes long remaining hidden beneath the more obvious surface events. If, using the ocean as an analogy, tides, currents, wind, and gravitation are dynamics, then events are the individual waves: not very significant unless you happen to get smashed by one. Since dynamics are cyclical (A causes B, which in turn causes more A, which…), the effect can be exponential change, leading to surprising cumulative impact. Since in practice patterns are both hard to identify and hard to separate when several are interacting, a good starting point is to look for one of a dozen or so classic patterns, "system archetypes," that tend to take people by surprise.
One such system archetype that applies in all walks of human endeavor is "fixes that fail." Global affairs is filled with examples. The "Fix that Fails" pattern is a problem that is "fixed" in a way that works at first but slowly generates an unexpected consequence that causes ultimate failure (the classic case being a medicine that cures the disease but kills the patient).
A good question to ask when trying to figure out whether a new plan will work is, "Even if the proposed solution works as promised over the short term, does it contain the seeds of future problems?" The answer, by the way, is "yes," and that’s life, so the trick is not to search for a perfect solution but to be aware that short-term and long-term consequences are seldom in sync. Good planning requires recognition of and preparation for the long-term consequences.
A symptom is identified, a fix applied, and the symptom is alleviated,
but the underlying problem continues and perhaps be worsened by an
unintended consequence resulting from the fix.
One example is a country bedeviled by corrupt, feuding parties and an extremist protest group. External forces attempt to fix this problem by supporting the corrupt establishment parties in a domestic context where the extremist reformers are being cut out of the political scene. This "fix," in black below, may work for a time, as external aid strengthens the establishment parties and enables them to form a government without the extremist group’s participation. However, this development may generate two additional outcomes – frustration within the extremist group driving it to even more extremism and, if the other parties ignore the interests of those represented by the extremist group, popular frustration from poor governance that raises the extremists’ popularity. These two trends in combination could result in rising extremism, a cycle of violence, and civil war. Sketching dynamics focuses the mind on the underlying forces governing behavior and begs critical questions about relative strength, when and how relative strength might shift (leading to a surprising reversal of behavior), and the logical completeness of one’s explanation.Sketching dynamics focuses the mind on the underlying forces governing behavior and begs critical questions about relative strength, when and how relative strength might shift (leading to a surprising reversal of behavior), and the logical completeness of one’s explanation. The "Fixes that Fail" concept is one of numerous tools that can help us to look beneath the misleading headlines and decipher what is really happening.