The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us And What We Can Do About It
by Joshua Cooper Ramo
(From Publisher, Hachette Books)
Category: HISTORY, POLITICAL SCIENCE
Format: AUDIO BOOK (CD, unabridged)
Today the very ideas that made America great imperil its future. Our plans go awry and policies fail. History's grandest war against terrorism creates more terrorists. Global capitalism, intended to improve lives, increases the gap between rich and poor. Decisions made to stem a financial crisis guarantee its worsening. Environmental strategies to protect species lead to their extinction.
In these sand pile systems, there is no simple input output relationship, and to complicate matters further, there are combined effects when we link, or "mashup", systems in novel ways. Two pills taken together are lethal, but otherwise perfectly safe when taken independently. Combine home mortgages with mortgage backed securities, and we unknowingly have a recipe for financial disaster. That’s one reason why simplistic ideas such as “Soldiers in, Democracy out” don’t work. There’s a tragic paradox here. The policies designed to make us safer, in effect make the world more perilous. Measures aimed to fight terrorists end up creating more terrorists. Measures enacted to stem a financial crisis seem to guarantee its arrival. We can declare that a war has been won when in fact it has just begun, or observe a recognized expert such as Alan Greenspan admit that he got it all wrong. Indeed, we are living in a disruptive age.
So what should we do about it? For starters, new systems require new ways of thinking about them. Our government institutions are old and inflexible and designed to solve problems that are centuries old and nations are no longer the sole concentrations of power. What we need now is new and radical thinking about these problems, the kind of radical thinking and action we see in novel, highly adaptable, responsive groups such those we find at Google, the brains behind the Wii, or heaven forbid, Hezbollah. A better model for dealing with the sand pile is an immune system. Just as there are decentralized forces for evil in the world (e.g. Hezbollah), there needs to be decentralized forces for good, “T cells” to further the analogy. Thus when a disruption occurs, there are positive local forces available to respond in order to bring the system back into stability. It’s a thought provoking idea, but will we be able to collectively institute such a radical shift in thought? Perhaps there’s a chance if Ramo’s book were to somehow become required reading for those in power, and decidedly not just for those in power, but for the rest of us “T cells” as well. Unfortunately, I found the execution part of Ramo's proposed renaissance to be lacking, so I'll propose the following: instead of dropping bombs, drop copies of this book!
Clarification: After receiving some comments about my review, I realize that I may have inadvertently given the wrong impression about the book. Actually, I found "Unthinkable" to be one of the most insightful and refreshing books I've ever read (I would give it a five star Amazon rating). As I mentioned in my review, I do believe this book is essential and should be "required reading". In fact, I plan on listening to it a second time. Perhaps it was my last statement "instead of dropping bombs, drop copies of this book!" that threw people off. My only criticism of the book is that Ramo doesn't exactly spell out how to institute his excellent ideas (fodder for a follow on book?) so my remark was a somewhat tongue in cheek suggestion that drew upon an analogy of dropping wartime leaflets (as opposed to dropping bombs). In no way did I mean to denigrate the value of the book by suggesting that it be dropped from an airplane! I regret any misunderstanding that may have turned people away from the book. That is the opposite effect of what I intended. Wait a second... This just helps further Ramo's point as I now suspect that the book review system itself is also a "sand pile system" :)
Joshua Cooper Ramo is Managing Director and a partner at Kissinger Associates, one of the world's leading strategic advisory firms. Prior to joining Kissinger Associates, he was Assistant Managing Editor of Time and worked in the advisory and banking business in China.
For more information, visit Josua Cooper Ramo's website, here.
Thanks to Hachette for providing this audiobook for review.