Sunday, August 28, 2005

Chirol of Coming Anarchy asks about " Domestic PNM Theory "

"Like Curzon and Younghusband, I’m a big fan of Thomas Barnett and the Pentagon’s New Map. While we at ComingAnarchy, and many others, have debated the implications his theory has in the domain of international relations, one interesting question came to me, namely, the implications of it for domestic policy. If we accept that disconnectedness equals danger, then what kind of social and criminal justice policies should we be pursuing? Barnett advocates a so-called SysAdmin force to police the world and rebuild failed states into functioning members of the Core. If one then were to imagine a city with its suburbs, downtown and ghetto, what kind of SysAdmin force and policies would PNM theory dictate?

Since the primary goal of a domestically aimed PNM program would be to connect disconneted people with mainstream society, who would be targeted (i.e. what are the signs of disconnectedness) and how would they be connected? Given that Barnett’s theory is so complimentary of capitalism and views globalization, the international incarnation of capitalism, as the savior of our world, I find it interesting that on a domestic level, his theory would tend to recommend policies essentially socialist in nature."

The Core-Gap-Seam taxonomy developed by Dr. Barnett is a good " horizontal model" that can be applied to other domains besides international relations and military grand strategy. In fact, Tom Barnett and Stephen DeAngelis are currently looking at applying PNM concepts to business strategy, international law and public education. I will leave international law and business strategy aside for another day and concentrate on Chirol's question on domestic disconnection.

It is popular to divide America into Red states and Blue states these days and look at the shrill rhetoric that exaggerates differences and obscures commonalities. I have news for the internet partisans of both sides. They're on the same side. They're all connected. They're in the system. They have the luxury of time, education and DSL connections to worry and fight over permutations of John Roberts attack ads, the lunacy of Cindy Sheehan and other future historical trivia.

The real " other side" is neither Left nor Right but the disconnected denizens of America's Educational Gap. They are the children of Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities who meander through stark lives of unquiet desperation. They come from bookless homes with parents who are at best marginal figures, often consumed by drug addiction and mental illness, when they are present at all. Ubiquitous violence and conflict from an early age leave them emotionally disconnected at a neurological level from societal norms and at times a sense of empathy. The range of the moment oriented skill-sets they develop to survive the conditions of their dysfunctional world coupled with the basic education left unlearned in subpar schools leave them virtually unemployable in mainstream society. America has developed a durable underclass and contrary to popular belief it is not an exclusively Black or urban demographic.

Chirol asks if applying PNM theory, a domestic " System Administration" force, to America's internal Gap requires " socialistic" measures. It's a good question. My answer is that it does not. What is required is that all measures both public and private, State and Federal, current and future be designed, concentrated and coordinated with the systemic effect in mind. A trillion dollars of public and private money directed at two or three objectives instead of twenty-thousand directions is going to have a significant effect.

Secondly, that if we truly wish to make significant headway and solve rather than manage this problem and " shrink the gap" I would suggest that a certain realistic ruthlessness is required to make the very young the focus of all our efforts for the first time and write off the already badly screwed-up, incompetent and sometimes criminal adults in their lives. For two generations we have worked through and subsidized the dysfunctional adults and I have to say, anecdotal happy cases aside, this strategy ran counter to basic economics, psychology, sociology and educational theory and has, unsurprisingly, yielded consistently miserable results.

My prescription fits poorly into a Left-Right spectrum and would draw upon policy ideas from conservatives and liberals alike without adopting the worldview solution of either being primarily goal-directed. A massive redirection of societal resources toward our most At-Risk and vulnerable children coupled with a systemic intervention against socially disruptive and incompetently disfunctional behaviors that create the conditions for anarchy and violence.
First both sides need to calm down. I doubt that happens soon. It is childish. What do you expect of Baby Boomers?
Hey Don,

I agree. I really don't think the Boomers will ever calm down though - they're going to be one of those generations that stay split until they pass from the scene.

So you are saying..."It takes a village" -- ?

Very good thoughts. I'm wondering if the already badly screwed-up, incompetent and sometimes criminal adults in the lives of the very young -- those who should be largely ignored -- include their parents. If so, you are describing a variant of Plato's paradigm for education. If not...

If not, then a focus on the parents would be necessary. Perhaps if those parents could have faith in their children's successes, they'd be more likely to help those children succeed: i.e., the old family dynamic, of children taking care of their elderly parents, might motivate the parents to acquiesce to the demands/efforts of the "System Administrators" without also demanding something special for themselves...
I'm also not sure how you plan to target the kids without targeting their parents as well. That's the sort of strategy you already see in after-school programs, DARE, community service organizations, etc.

These institutions could be effective, but they're limited by the homes these kids are going home to. In the end, kids take more of a cue from their parents than from anybody else. Throw all the PNM you want at it (I'm a big Barnett fan myself), but the root of the problem is in families, not in public education itself.
Hi Curtis,

Parents in general ? No. Absolutely not. I'm talking about moving the de facto interventon bar above the current level of active,ongoing, gross physical child abuse.

We are discussing a tiny subset who have already proven their incompetence to make decisions in their child's best interests - most are already being monitored by State authorities - but not so certifiably and immediately dangerous as to have had their rights terminated by a court. Yet the " ripple effect" and spillover costs to society of this antisocial demographic are enormous.

The reality is that we tolerate a great deal of illegalities and harm from this neglectful and abusive subgroup because we do not choose to follow through on the consequences already mandated by law, primarily for budgetary reasons. It would be expensive to do things correctly, so we don't. Thus the problem is perpetuated across generations.

I'm talking about shifting budgetary priorities to make doing things right both feasible and a better option for children and using tools that currently exist but are left mostly unused. Certainly uncoordinated.


I am not a huge fan of social conservatism but when they attribute much of the underclass problem to a dynamic of family dysfunction and poor value-sets they are absolutely correct.

Questions of poverty, racism, subpar schools all aggravate the problem but they are tertiary compared to, say, coming from a single -parent family where the nominal adult is a crackhead.

Very interesting, and extremely important problems you bring up. This fits in nicely with the idea of 'intellectual absolutism' (see http://vonscience.blogspot.com/2005_08_01_vonscience_archive.html) where those in power are more focused on partisanship, who gets credit, and political maneuvering than trying to find the good ideas that both sides have to offer to solve the damn problem. The solution, in my mind, goes with what you say, a combination of Left-Right. We now have proof that neither party can solve it with their policies alone, so we need to make use of parts of both. So "It takes a family" AND it also "Takes a village." The parental support is essential.

BTW, one thing we found in Excite, for instance, is that when parents don't have a strong educational background, they are in many ways ignorant of how the system works and are suspicious of the system. They are not aware of how they can help or should be helping their kids. Just like my days in CPS, where parents who never graduated high school are afraid/intimidated to come to the high school to parent conferences. They are not necessarily on crack, but they are poor and don't know or trust the system. That needs to be addressed somehow.
Hey Von

You wrote:

"They are not aware of how they can help or should be helping their kids. Just like my days in CPS, where parents who never graduated high school are afraid/intimidated to come to the high school to parent conferences"

That's an entirely different category - competent parents but who are simply uninformed and/or adversarial.

That alienation is partly a problem of subculture and partly of relationship-building and outreach. The group you identify are not the active disruptors causing the negative " ripple effect" in the community - they're essentially passive.

On the other hand, having the fewest problems the children of these parents would receive disproportionate spillover benefits from a ' System administration " effort that poured resources into stabilizing and connecting a neighborhood - i.e. public safety, reduced violent crime rates, pre-k programs,reduced class sizes,etc. etc. as they are best poised to take advantage of the improvements.
Note: Dr. Von is referring to " Project Excite" - a longitudinal program sponsored ( if I recall correctly) in part by Northwestern to improve science achievement among low-income minority students. Preliminary results have been promising.

These are important:

1. I'm talking about moving the de facto interventon bar above the current level of active,ongoing, gross physical child abuse.

2. The reality is that we tolerate a great deal of illegalities and harm from this neglectful and abusive subgroup because we do not choose to follow through on the consequences already mandated by law, primarily for budgetary reasons.

I don't think budgetary reasons are the primary reason we avoid going further or lowering the bar. Off the top of my head, I don't remember anything in the Constitution which defines or even suggests "parental rights," but our longstanding cultural norms and traditions have engraved the idea into our national psyche (and, probably, world psyche).

In many ways, children are considered the "property" of their parents, although the idea is usually disguised in other terms such as "parental rights." We see hints of this in the controversies surrounding in vitro fertilization, such as when dishonest clinics or doctors have used eggs or sperm without the donor's permission. Extend the egg or sperm to the child.

This idea of children being the property of the parents is often translated into a special right of protection (of property) from government seizure -- at least, deep in the national psyche, though not formalized by law. When we propose greater centralized control over the development of this property for the good of the larger community (the nation), we are suggesting a kind of communism which Americans instinctively distrust.

The justification we use for taking children out of blatantly abusive households is that removal of the child is obviously in the child's best interest, not the community's; but future "success" (potential) is much harder to quantify or qualify as a basic right than freedom from blatant abuse, is vague territory, so removing the child under those terms becomes much more complicated.

So I think for your plan to work, we would need to simultaneously establish rights of children (to future success/happiness, via education and general environment) and weaken the myth that parents are generally better at determining what is best for their children than non-parents. These are the most obvious political factors. A much deeper cultural factor would be to attack the notion that children are the property of their parents -- because property does not have any individual human rights, and we'd need to establish the rights of children.

On top of these considerations, of course, is the corresponding question of who will determine what's best for children if not the parents.

Also, I suspect that the class of children (and parents) is much more diverse than we've allowed so far in this discussion. Vonny's on the right path. I live just outside a small Midwestern town; we have no "ghettos" or easily segregated poor & undereducated class; but the disconnected are diffused throughout the community. Sometimes, the disconnected individual has connected siblings or parents. I'm not sure how we address these anomalies.

And since I'm on a roll and have made this comment more lengthy than I intended, I'll add that I wonder how the systematic approach you've suggested can be argued without the riposte that you want to set up special dispensations for one segment of society which will not also go to the rest of the society. The other members of the society may not need such special attention, but how do you convince them of that?
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Barnett is mired in a culture of bureaucracy, from the academy where he received his doctorate to the military he writes about. He is also stuck in a Star Trek mentality, where bureaucracies are effective and uncorruptible. He thinks he loves capitalism, and sounds like he loves capitalism, but he doesn't understand it at all. Thus, he invents a bureaucratic construct that fills the gap in his understanding and calls it the "system administration" function of...more government, i.e., bureaucracy.
" Thus, he invents a bureaucratic construct that fills the gap in his understanding and calls it the "system administration" function of...more government, i.e., bureaucracy."

In Barnett's original sense of the term " System Administration" for intervention in the Gap you are looking at a constabulary military entity around which you have government, international aid agencies, NGO's and private corporations are linked. Linked, nor state controlled.

I like free-market capitalism a lot but it requires the rule of law to function to protect property rights and uphold contracts. Milton Friedman, who hardly can be called a statist, thinks that we had understimated the role of law in supporting market liberalization.

Friedman on Rule of Law:

" We have learned about the importance of private property and the rule of law as a basis for economic freedom. Just after the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed, I used to be asked a lot: "What do these ex-communist states have to do in order to become market economies?" And I used to say: "You can describe that in three words: privatize, privatize, privatize." But, I was wrong. That wasn't enough. The example of Russia shows that. Russia privatized but in a way that created private monopolies-private centralized economic controls that replaced government's centralized controls. It turns out that the rule of law is probably more basic than privatization. Privatization is meaningless if you don't have the rule of law. What does it mean to privatize if you do not have security of property, if you can't use your property as you want to?

We boast in the United States that our nation is a bastion of private enterprise but, in fact, what we can do with our private property is severely limited. To begin with, the government takes a significant proportion, at times as much as nearly 40 percent of it for its purposes and, in that respect, we're a nearly 40-percent enslaved state.

The road from a centralized government to a truly free, private-enterprise society has three components. First of all, and most important, the rule of law, which extends to the protection of property. Second, widespread private ownership of the means of production. Third, freedom to enter or to leave industries, freedom of competition, freedom of trade. Those are essentially the basic requirements.

We've got a very interesting experiment under way. All of a sudden, countries are moving from centralized control in an attempt to achieve a market economy. We've had in the past 10 years a wonderful body of data with which to try to analyze what are the essential requirements for success in that venture. The mere elimination of communism does not convert a nation to freedom. "

Yeah. Love Friedman -- one of the greats. But back to Barnett.

Mark said:
"In Barnett's original sense of the term ' System Administration' for intervention in the Gap you are looking at a constabulary military entity around which you have government, international aid agencies, NGO's and private corporations are linked. Linked, nor state controlled."

When police force (a "constabulary" in your euphimism) is "linked" with government (police force), international agencies (police force), NGO's (unaccountable quasi-governmental organizations), and ... private corporations, which one of these things is not like the other? Which one will be swamped and corrupted by the others and then blamed for the corruption?

Property rights allow a market to function when the agencies which enforce them are constrained, limited and watched with an eagle eye. Barnett's plan does not allow for constraints on the bureaucratic apparatus because he does not understand what he is building the apparatus for -- the market, i.e. the free interaction of individuals optimizing their individual happiness.

Read his blog. He flails again and again at Bush for the tax cuts, for reducing government, for starving the bureaucratic beast he (Barnett) so loves. Even his (very good) article in Esquire only comes around to favor Rummy when he beleives that Rummy really does love the beast and only wants to improve it.
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