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Chapter Three: Change as the Status Quo

Section 4: Small World Syndrome


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 "Ribbon Dance" by the Academy of Chinese Performing Arts, dress rehearsal. Linda Qui shown.



Throughout history, nations (or other social groups) have acknowledged the benefits of international exchanges. In the terms of the GS framework, other nations are important environmental resources. They may be sources and markets for goods services, and ideas. They may be allies and partners in great enterprises. Good relations between nations provide the citizens of each with additional economic, political and cultural opportunities --some of which may be worthwhile and benefit citizen and nation.



Improvements in travel facilitated such exchanges. Magellan (who did not make it) took years; Jules Vernes' balloon took 8O days a Mach 2 plane can circumlocute as fast as the earth can spin. Anywhere to anywhere else on earth in one day is coming. But in the electronic information age, anywhere is already as near as your phone or TV. Increasingly inexpensive and available communications are creating an exponential explosion in international exchanges. In line with the reasoning of chapter two and the previous section, the increasing regularity of exchanges is weaving a tighter international structure or community:



After three thousand years of explosion, by means of fragmentary and mechanical technologies, the Western World is imploding. During the mechanical ages we had extended our bodies in space. Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned (Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, pg. 1).



The national systems are reforming as they adapt to each other within the world supersystem. Specialized organs for international dealings develop within the political and economic organs of each nation (e.g. Secretary of State, overseas branches of corporations).



These international exchanges have moved from the status of opportunity to necessity. Political isolationism was once a possibility -- even a beneficial one for the US. Now isolationism is dangerous folly. Too much is going on; too many valuable links are at stake. The superpowers are less super (relatively) than they used to be. More and more they rely on support and world public opinion to accomplish their aims. (In fact, as will be discussed later, this accounts for the efficacy of otherwise unenforceable international laws and UN determinations.)



This increasing dependency makes itself felt when competitive tendencies are exercised. The Arab oil embargo and the establishment of OPEC made the West aware of its vulnerability in international dealings. On the other hand, the OPEC countries are wary of doing too much damage to their investments and buyers in other countries -- and so they are only gradually raising oil prices to what the market will bear.



More recently, the Afghan crisis brought home the extent of mutual dependence. Clearly, no two nations have more competing interests than the US and the USSR. Yet when the US sought to punish the USSR, it could do nothing that did not hurt itself as much as the other. This is not to say that what is good for one is good for the other, but it does show the extent to which the welfares of nations has become linked.



Lest I be accused of splitting atoms, the following dramatic example provides a fusion of the themes of: 1) technology creating challenges; and 2) mutual dependency muting international competition. The development of the atomic and hydrogen bombs dramatically altered the military landscape of the world. Yet the threat of mutual destruction has raised our consciousness about the value of life and the need for international cooperation.



As more nuclear powers emerge each country will take more seriously the interests and concerns of other states. The US-USSR hotline is an example of a critical communicative channel opened in response to the threat of mutual destruction. The threat of nuclear holocaust may be providing the glue that maintains the peace-oriented United Nations, whereas the pre-nuclear League of Nations failed. (One could that the UN is held together by nuclear forces.) The world may or may not be a safer place, but people's fates are linked in a new way and this is having an exciting impact on world relations.







Book Contents

Transcultural Friendship: Our Political Future


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The Evolution of Societal Structures

Chapter 3 Contents

Change as the Status Quo

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The Acceleration of Change



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Culture Shock