If like me, you find both the current administration's explanations for anti-Americanism baffling (some people in the world "hate freedom") and that often heard from the left inadequately vague (it's because of our foregn policy) - then this book should prove to be very valuable.
It’s a good read because it’s a narrative and offers an inside look at the thrilling (if highly disturbing) true stories of economic manipulation, CIA-orchestrated coups and assassinations, revolutions and invasions in Afghanistan, Panama, Ecuador, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. Overall he does a good job of presenting these complex stories and phenomenon in an understandable way with out being simplistic, accusatory, or bombastic.
It is also refreshing to hear the accounts from someone ‘on the inside’ whereas these types of books usually come from those on the losing side of the system, through academics or journalists, and are therefore somehow more easily discredited. So it’s fascinating to hear how things really work from someone who knowingly orchestrated and benefited tremendously from the system.
The problems with the system are many and obvious – starvation, wars, terrorism, climate change, environmental destruction, loss of culture – and I’ve talked a lot about them in different contexts. Taken as a whole the interconnections between these issues are clear, regardless of what we call the resulting in a phenomenon: the ills of globalization, overshooting the limits to growth, hitting ‘the funnel walls.’
One telling statistic in particular, on the global wealth gap, highlights the failure of our current system in a relatively simple way – “The income ratio of the one-fifth of the world’s population in the wealthiest countries to the one-fifth in the poorest countries went from 30 to 1 in 1960 to 74 to 1 in 1995. And the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the IMF, and the rest of the banks, corporations, and governments involved in international “aid” continue to tell us that they are doing their jobs, that progress has been made.” [p.206]
The reason I was impressed with the ending was because I think he came to the only reasonable conclusion about how to address these serious consequences of this system:
“It would be great if we could just blame it all on a conspiracy, but we cannot. The empire depends on the efficacy of big banks, corporations, and governments – the corporatocracy – but it is not a conspiracy. This corporatocracy is ourselves – we make it happen – which, of course, is why most of us find it difficult to stand up and oppose it. We would rather glimpse conspirators lurking in the shadows, because most of us work for one of those banks, corporations, or governments, or in some way are dependent on them for the goods and services they produce and market. We cannot bring ourselves to bite the hand of the master who feeds us.” [p.217]
“…We need a revolution in our approach to education, to empower ourselves and our children to think, to question, and to dare to act.” [p.222]
As I’ve said before in regards to the neo-classic macro-economic system, it is hard for us to let go of because its positive benefits in terms of human progress have been so many, however to continue blindly cling to it as the end-all-be-all, even as it has become clear that it devastatingly inappropriate, will lead to our demise.
Internalizing these issues is at the heart of Sustainable Development. He addresses the role that existing institutions and organizations can lead the way towards Sustainability, which is a central to this program, as the name suggests –Strategic Leadership Towards Sustainability. He states:
“There is nothing inherently wrong with banks, corporations, and governments – or with the people who manage them – and that they certainly do not have to compose a corporatocracy. I could go into detail about how the problems confronting us today are not the result of malicious institutions; rather, they stem from fallacious concepts about economic development. The fault lies not in the institutions themselves, but in our perceptions of the manner in which they function and interact with one another, and of the role their managers play in that process. In fact, those highly effective worldwide communications and distribution networks could be used to bring about positive and compassionate changes.”[p.222]
The change must start within each one of us, conscious of our place in the greater context of the System (Level 1) – individual within an organization within society within the biosphere; it must involve a shared (science-based) vision of Success (Level 2) – not violating the 4 sustainability principles; and have an effective Strategy (Level 3) for achieving success – backcasting from principles. To expect this from every single individual may seem unrealistic, but it is also unnecessary, because at a certain point, a tipping point will be reached, and society, with all of its economic and social institutions will shift.
Another very interesting concept Perkins raises is “The Prophecy of the Condor and the Eagle.” I’ve talked a lot about a bifurcation point for society in the near future – the Limits to Growth team’s computer models mostly show things changing somewhere in the middle of this century, and nearly every lecturer we’ve had, whether they’ve been working on these issues for 10 or 30 years, have similar comments about a feeling that things are beginning to change in terms of sustainable development.
The Prophecy of the Condor and the Eagle – which is popular in Latin American cultures, but apparently very similar to many prophecies from around the world – predicts a period of great change starting in the late 1990s. He describes it as follows:
“…back in the mists of history, human societies divided and took two different paths: that of the condor (representing the heart, intuitive and mystical) and that of the eagle (representing the brain, rational and material). In the 1490s, the prophecy said, the two paths would converge and the eagle would drive the condor to the verge of extinction. Then, five hundred years later, in the 1990s, a new epoch would begin, one in which the condor and eagle will have the opportunity to reunite and fly together in the same sky, along the same path. If the condor and eagle accept this opportunity, they will create a most remarkable offspring, unlike any ever seen before.” [p.210]
Something to look forward to – it will require us to wake up to the current reality and the role we each play individually and collectively in creating that reality every day.