Monday, February 9, 2009

Diagnosing the Health of Political Systems (Swat, Israel)

EXCERPT: Superficial symptoms (wars, threats, revolts) strongly suggest that the whole global political system is fundamentally unhealthy. For everyone’s protection, we need to be able to measure the system’s “blood pressure” before it has a “heart attack.” Here’s a tool, tested on Israel and Pakistan.

If a person began experiencing a wide range of severe but superficially unrelated symptoms of bad health (e.g., dizziness, gangrene in a toe and a finger, difficulty swallowing), one would examine the overall state of the person’s health, looking for an underlying cause because it strains credulity to imagine that someone would simultaneously start suffering from all those odd symptoms unless some underlying common cause existed. Despite the analogous situation in the global political system, little attention is given to questioning the state of the system’s health or searching for a common cause for all the superficial symptoms (current events) on which media and politicians focus. Superficial symptoms are treated individually without inquiry into underlying causes. Although it may be intuitively obvious to the few who bother to think about it that the global political system is fundamentally diseased, it is difficult to do more than express trite words of horror in the absence of good theory, methodology, or even metrics for measuring how bad the symptoms are.

At the most abstract extreme, we need a structured perspective, a theory. “Globalization is evil; we must return to fundamentalist religious beliefs” or “economic inequality is the root of injustice” or, much worse, blatant attacks on some specific country, religion, ethnic group, or political philosophy are the type of candidates current today. All seem to fall short of a universal standard that invites application to oneself as well as one’s adversaries. All also offer single causes. A theory of political behavior defined abstractly and offering a neutral framework for analyzing the behavior of all actors against a single standard and integrating multiple causes could be a valuable counterweight to today’s prejudices.

At the other, most concrete, extreme, we also need ways of measuring the degree to which behavior varies from the ideals defined by whatever structured perspective we adopt; otherwise, what good is it? Here, we hardly even have candidates: the idea of measuring the state of the global political system, the quality of our behavior, hardly even occurs to anyone. This concrete level begs for consideration; moreover, doing so is probably an essential step toward creating a good theory.

Today we do not know how healthy our global political system is, whether it is getting better or worse, whether the rate of change is increasing or decreasing, what the causal variables are, or how they are related. We have neither a good vocabulary for discussing these issues nor the methods to study them. In a word, we need a new science - a science for diagnosing the health of the global political system.

A first step in this direction is to define a set of criteria, analogous to blood pressure and cholesterol for diagnosing the health of an individual. For the global or any other political system, the following criteria are proposed: functionality, budget, reserves, defense, growth, feedback, learning, leadership cohesiveness, mass solidarity, vision, and strategy. Once one is satisfied with the criteria and their definitions, one can consider what analytical methods will be useful to measure the criteria.

Considering the first criterion as an example, assume that any system must function, so asking how well the global political system functions is obviously an important question. “Functionality” may be defined in many ways. Here, moral functionality will be addressed. Moral functionality can be studied by means of two

continua (or axes), one going from “individual” to “cultural” and the other going from “low status” to “high status.” The idea is to make judgments about the moral functionality of the system as a function of how representative of the system an action is: the higher the status of an actor and the further one moves from individual behavior to behavior that is culturally ingrained, the more the act can be said to represent “the system.”

The result of using these two axes will be a grid with four quadrants in which the behavior of any actor in a system can be located. Note that this tool does not assess the morality of an act; rather, it assesses the degree to which the act is representative of the system. The goal here is not to judge individual actions but to see the degree to which aberrant actions are representative of the system as a whole. In a word, the goal is to measure the moral health of the system.

The arrow going from Quadrant A to Quadrant D shows roughly the degree of danger of the action to the system, with the greatest danger being in Quadrant D. That is, the higher the status and the more accepted by the whole culture the aberrant behavior is, the more dangerous it is to the health, and presumably the survival, of the system. Examples of such behavior include biased reporting by high prestige media organs, corporate crime that is excused by the regime, and violence committed by paramilitaries sanctioned by the regime.

To use this tool, one could simply locate examples of aberrant behavior. If specific types of aberrant behavior are categorized (e.g., fairly bad, bad, really bad), then the tool can support more discriminating analysis. To make the conclusions very clear, one could select a specific type of behavior (e.g., paramilitary activity), in which case the chart would show the degree to which paramilitary activity was representative of the system.

For this test, assume the following categorization of actions:

  • Class I - verbal hostility;
  • Class II – advocacy or use of force short of death vs. individuals;
  • Class III – advocacy or use of deadly force vs. in dividuals;
  • Class IV –advocacy or use of force short of death vs. groups;
  • Class V – advocacy or use of deadly force vs. groups.

Note that this is a very simple scale; distinguishing “advocacy” from actual “use” (doubling the number of categories) might be preferable for a full-scale application of the method.

A perfect society would have no examples of any of these categories of behavior. A good, real-world democracy would have minimal examples even of Class 1 in Quadrant D (i.e., bad apples would surely exist but be low status individuals, not leaders or representatives of cultural norms). Key questions for exploration with this tool would be the degree to which aberrant individuals gain status, e.g., by being elected to office, or the degree to which aberrant behavior gains acceptance by the society as “normal” behavior. Specifically, one might track the electoral success of individuals advocating ethnic cleansing or track the acceptance by the mainstream media of the concept of ethnic cleansing. In Israel’s current election, for example, calls by candidates for ethnic cleansing existed but were harshly criticized in the mainstream Israeli media.

In sum, we have a device for visualizing the degree to which aberrant behavior is ingrained in a society, so we can analyze data and make informed statements about the political system’s state of health and its direction of change. (A useful upgrade immediately comes to mind: a way of tracking not just the direction but the rate of change.)

The method will be applied as follows:

  1. for each aberrant event, give class and actor;
  2. locate event in landscape.

For an initial application to test the utility of the measuring device, two cases that are widely separated politically, culturally will be used: Israel’s stance toward its regional adversaries and all sides in Swat Valley, Pakistan.

Data for initial application:

  1. V -Livni calls for “force and a lot of force” against Hamas, 2/1/ 09
  2. III - Boim calls for murder of Hamas prime minister, 2/4
  3. IV - Barak OKs new West Bank settlement, 2/1
  4. V - Barak asserts right to attack Lebanon for importing unspecified arms, 2/2
  5. IV - Ben-Ami calls for ethnic cleansing
  6. III - Taliban kill officials
  7. IV - Taliban destroy schools
  8. II - Taliban burn shops
  9. V - Pakistan attacks villages
  10. IV - Lieberman calls for loyalty tests and expulsion of those who fail

The visualization sends a clear message: aberrant political behavior in both Swat and Israel has reached a level of systemic acceptance sufficient to raise a red flag about the underlying health of each political system. Aberrant behavior (defined as behavior that uses force to achieve goals) for both political systems clusters in Quadrants B (high status, individual) and D (high status, cultural). For Swat, this result may surprise few, but the finding that Israeli political system is similarly challenged by "ill health" might raise the eyebrows of many Americans. (Just as much goes into assessing an individual’s physical health, much goes into assessing the moral functionality of a political system, but we have checked the blood pressure of the Israeli and Swat political systems and found both to be in danger of heart attacks.

Read More

Rise of Israeli extremists

Rise of Swat extremists

Analyzing the health of political systems

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