Sunday, November 18, 2007

Spatio-Temporal Distribution of Lessons

Continuing yesterday's discussion of the spatio-temporal distribution of dynamics in an Islamic political complex adaptive system.

Considering the treatment of nuclear Pakistan (not to mention nuclear Israel and nuclear North Korea) in comparison with the treatment of non-nuclear Iran and Iraq, an Islamic thinker might be excused for concluding that a state needs nuclear weapons to be treated with respect. Were such a conclusion to become the predominant view in the Islamic world, it would be most ominous for the future of the whole world. The following question therefore arises:

How might the non-Islamic world behave so as to minimize the tendency of Islamic peoples to equate the possession of nuclear weapons with

To the extent that the Islamic world constitutes a complex adaptive system, the various parts--whether in Africa, the Mideast, or Asia--will adapt in response to each other: a lesson learned in one part will be learned in the other parts as well. The spread of education and modern communications notwithstanding, the dynamics of how this learning process actually occurs will be affected by all sorts of local conditions; the message will be filtered through local experiences.

  • A society that feels itself to be under extreme threat will be likely to learn this lesson faster than a society that feels secure enough to focus on lifestyle.

  • A society led by politicians who exploit fear to retain control will be vulnerable to the temptation to reach this simplistic conclusion, as well.

In brief, the dynamics of how the lesson spreads throughout the Islamic world over time can be influenced.

  • Non-nuclear states can be offered security guarantees.
  • A system of penalties could be defined and publicized...and consistently mandated for non-nuclear countries that go nuclear.
  • A policy of supporting the denuclearization of regions could be promoted.

If one opposed the spread of nuclear weapons, many relatively (i.e., relative to the cost of war) low-cost steps could be taken to teach the lesson that acquiring nuclear weapons is not a rational policy option.

If the goal were to teach a system-wide lesson, at some abstract level, a single policy would need to be applied to the whole system. The implementation of the policy, however, would be another matter: specific policies to fit local conditions but consistent with the general lesson. Viewing the Islamic world as a complex adaptive system raises the level of policy debate from a state-centric level (where one must ask, for every single state, what policy should be) to a more easily managed system level. Then, instead of an endless series of questions (what about Country A, what about Country B…), one would be led to a logical series of questions, such as:

  • Which countries are most likely to adopt the wrong lesson?
  • What changes in our own policy might convince them to adopt the right lesson?
  • Which changes in our own policy would be most effective and in what order and over what period of time?
  • What is the rate at which lessons are learned?
  • How hard is it to change viewpoints after a new lesson is learned?
  • How do lessons propagate from one part of the system to another?

The more education spreads, the more rapid and accurate the news becomes, the more the various states of the Islamic world come to constitute a complex system. The more the individual states become a system, the more necessary it becomes to devise system-level policy in order for policy to be effective.

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