What webs we weave

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

Khaleej Times, January 22, 2012

The current state of the world is quite gloomy. It is no longer multi-polar and based on unique independent solidarities wherein one might discern local strengths and weaknesses: for instance the governing of a country, a regional issue like East African food shortages, or the rippling of automatic financial transactions as they shift millions of shares in micro-seconds.

We see instead that there are weak pan-regional actors not living up to their goals-for instance, the G-20 talks but often does not deliver fully; and the UN meetings (on several subjects) suffer many vetoes so cannot move forward coherently; or the financial regulators who don´t cope well with digital black boxes programmed by `rocket scientists´.

Some would suggest it´s the end of history. However, Francis Fukuyama´s essay of 1989 (or his 1992 book) is history also: we have moved on – but have we really? We continue to be primitive animals. Now we are dressed in a veneer of sophistication that is modified by our various cultural inclinations, notwithstanding our different skin tones: let me give some examples from China and Europe.

China has had cross-regional leaders for millennia and still remembers guru like Confucius and before him, Sun Tzu. They both offered advice to their leaders and their notes seem appropriate today. Both guys however were advising within warring states: indeed the treatise of Sun Tzu is called The Art of War, suggesting above all “… supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy´s resistance without fighting” which leads on to “… in the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy´s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good”. These aphorisms have recently been grasped by Chinese leaders to proclaim their nation is not warmongering but peaceful in intent. But others worry, as Sun Tzu also wrote “…be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby, you can be the director of the opponent´s fate”, and thus “…what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy´s strategy”. In this particular sense the nations close to China´s borders wonder about its intentions that were once seen as benign. They suggest it would be well that the Chinese remember Confucius saying “…remember, no matter where you go, there you are”.

It is ominous too that the polymath Bertrand Russell said as late as 1961 “… opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holders´ lack of rational conviction. Opinions in politics and religion are almost always held passionately”. He did however hold out some hope “… the main things which seem to me important on their own account, and not merely as means to other things, are knowledge, art, instinctive happiness, and relations of friendship or affection”. Clearly he is emphasising our need to look to compromise and compassion, and is saying we must not accept the Machiavellian view that `the end justifies the means´.

So `we weave the webs of deceit, of euphemisms, and downright lies´. For what purpose? Professor Pang Zhongying has suggested that China wallows in a poverty of thought as it reflects too much on ancient texts that may have little relevance to today. But in my view, the experiences of others show that individuals project soft power not the government”.

Frank-Jürgen Richter is founder and chairman of Horasis