A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Extinction
Approximately one hundred million miracles were required to clear the evolutionary path before Homo sapiens could rise to our present lofty eminence. Certainly one of the most beneficent was the favorable climate that appeared after the last ice age departed 12,000 years ago. Man, did we luck out! The glaciers crushed bedrock and flattened the land, leaving behind rich deposits of soil. This auspicious setting was characterized by long dry seasons that favored annual plants which die off after producing dormant seeds ready for the next go-round. Rich fertile soil? Seeds scattered conveniently on the ground? Humans would have been fools not to have invented agriculture and, since they are not, they did.
This happy confluence of events could lead one to think that Divine Providence is paying us attention or even to conclude that somebody up there likes us. Are, in fact, we destiny’s tot? Or are we not? These questions I shall leave to theologians and to heads wiser than mine. My focus is more mundane.
Environmental Protection in the Garden of Eden
Treacherous snakes were not the only problem to confront Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Now, Eden was no myth but a real place – the Fertile Crescent located in the Tigris and Euphrates valley in ancient Mesopotamia (now southern Iraq). This valley was actually an ecological paradise, a land of abundant wildlife, of rivers teeming with fish, and of lush vegetation thanks to soil made exceedingly rich by the annual overflow of rivers swollen with the winter rains. It was said that a twig stuck in the ground became a flowering tree overnight.
The Decline & Fall of Centralization
Here let us ponder a couple of truly momentous questions:
If centralization was the instrument that enabled the state to exploit and enslave much of the populace, would a powerful new surge of decentralization benefit and liberate them?
If centralization was the instrument that enabled the state to exploit and destroy nature on the large scale, would a powerful new surge of decentralization protect and restore it?
I’m praying with all my might that the answer to both these momentous questions is yes.
The End of Big Power
In The End of Big: How the Internet Makes David the New Goliath (St. Martin’s Press, 2013), Nicco Mele, a Harvard Kennedy School faculty member and social media pioneer, argues that “the end of big” means the end of top-down, centralized hierarchical control. He sees governments being upended by individuals relying only on social media; he sees major political parties losing power to grassroots movements. He writes:
“The Internet and mobile phones—a combination I call radical connectivity – profoundly empower individuals in ways that spell disaster for traditional big organizations. Big news organizations have seen both news production and advertising revenue disrupted by radical connectivity. The entertainment industry, from publishing to record companies, is in its own death throes. Big armies face distributed cells of terrorists instead of nation-states . . Even big manufacturing faces a growing challenge from desktop 3-D printers, spelling an end for big brands.”
Centralization’s demise is also well documented in The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be (Basic Books, 2013) by Moisés Naím. Naím, former editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy and former executive director of the World Bank, focuses on the challenge to leadership posed by the digital revolution. In this new world, leaders are finding it harder to wield power and harder to hold on to it.