Relying on Others

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Most Americans have grown up with the idea of “rugged individualism” as part of their DNA. We were a pioneering nations and that spirit is part of who we are in many ways.

 

Now, it might be worth reevaluating the risks and rewards of relying on others. There’s no 100% right answer, and as the TV commercials caution, “Your results may vary.”

 

Robert Moore does a deep-dive into this question in his piece: “On the Trail of Interdependence.” What he suggests struck a chord in me, and perhaps it may in you:

“Among Appalachian Trail “thru-hikers” — that special class of backpackers dedicated (or obsessed) enough to walk the trail’s full 2,200 miles — the question of whether to carry a tent is hotly debated.”

“Thru-hikers tend to fall into one of two factions. Some (albeit a minority) insist a tent is unnecessary because the trail is punctuated with wooden shelters, or lean-tos, every 10 miles or so. As a rule, these hikers tend to travel light, cook simply or not at all, and sleep in the lean-tos or other shelters on the trail. But other hikers pride themselves on being self-sufficient: They prefer to camp in a tent far from other people; they carry detailed maps; they would never hitchhike into town just to grab a milkshake. We do not have a precise word for these two personality types. Not yet.”

“Since returning from my own through hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2009, I’ve begun to see these two approaches to life pervading every facet of our society. We could call the one “endarkic” and the other “exarkic” (from the Greek word arkeo, “to suffice”). In political science or economics, the word autarky is used to describe a state of self-sufficiency. Endarky is rather the drive toward self-sufficiency; exarky, its inverse.”

“We all know what an endarkist looks like. America has practically mythologized the type. Most of our best-known nature writers were vocal proponents of endarky: John Muir tramping off with a crust of bread tied to his belt, Thoreau hammering together a cabin beside Walden Pond, Edward Abbey advising his readers to “brew your own beer; kick in your TV; kill your own beef.””

“In the past, we may have called these people “rugged individualists.” They tend to internalize information and skills. They grow their own food, build their own furniture, distill their own whiskey. Truly endarkic people crave solitude and, perhaps less consciously, cataclysm, if only for the opportunity to prove their self-reliance.”

“The exarkic person, on the other hand, is utopian, the type who believes in improving systems, not rejecting them; who does not shy from asking for directions; who would rather rent or share or borrow a home than own one; who has no qualms uploading his digital memories to something called the Cloud; who welcomes the notion of self-driving cars. Exarks prefer a well-trained police force to a well-oiled firearm. They walk, nimbly, with a kind of holy faith, atop wires others have installed.”

“While these terms roughly correspond to the age-old dichotomy between individualism and collectivism, they are not synonymous with those terms. Individualism and collectivism are framed primarily in terms of cooperation and competition, while endarky and exarky are framed in terms of sufficiency.”

 

Curious to learn more? You can read the full article here

Four Scenarios – Non-State World

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We posted a number of stories under National Security that mined the National Intelligence Council’s capstone publication: Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds. In our last few posts we looked at three of those alternative worlds. This final Global Trends 2030 post discusses the final  alternative world, Stalled Engines.

Without putting too fine a point on it, the Nonstate World scenario represents what is arguably the most uncertain and unpredictable scenario presented in Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds. While the future worlds presented in the other three scenarios presented in GT2030 have their own uncertainties and conundrums, the Nonstate World scenario envisions a world where it is hard enough to guess, let alone “know,” what will transpire circa 2030.

Global governance institutions that do not adapt to the more diverse and widespread distribution of power are also less likely to be successful. Multinational businesses, IT communications firms, international scientists, NGOs, and groups that are used to cooperating across borders thrive in this hyper-globalized world where expertise, influence, and agility count for more than “weight” or “position” in this scenario. Private capital and philanthropy matter more, for example, than official development assistance. Social media, mobile communications, and big data are key components, underlying and facilitating cooperation among nonstate actors and with governments.

This is a “patchwork” and uneven world. Some global problems get solved because networks manage to coalesce, and cooperation exists across state and nonstate divides. In other cases, nonstate actors may try to deal with a challenge, but they are stymied because of opposition from major powers who, as noted above, often consider these NGOs, multinational businesses, academic institutions, and wealthy individuals as threats to their authority. This world may be shaping our future today.

Read the entire article here on the Defense Media Network website and consider what our world may look like in the future – especially if “Non-State World” prevails.

No Fear of Failure

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There’s little question that we’re a success-oriented society. Many carry around famed football coach Vince Lombardi’s mantra, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” as a personal mantra.

And in American society today, with our basic needs fulfilled for the majority of our citizens, we turn to “winning” as our measure of success. That covers the spectrum from getting our kids into the best schools, ensuring we have the best lawn on the block and being almost perfect in every way. In most aspects of our lives we all but shout, “Failure is not an option!”

Now, two Stanford professors ask us to step back and reconsider and try to accept the fact that it is OK to fail and that there isn’t just one way to deal with tough challenges. Here is part of what Steven Kurutz shared in his short piece, “Life Has Questions. They Have Answers.”

“The two professors claim that you can design an amazing life in the same way that Jonathan Ive designed the iPhone. They say the practices taught in the class and the book can help you (in designing-your-life-speak) “reframe” dysfunctional beliefs that surround life and career decisions and help you “wayfind” in a chaotic world through the adoption of such design tenets as bias-for-action, prototyping and team-building.”

“After nine years of teaching their secrets to future Google product managers and start-up wunderkinds, two designers, Mr. Burnett and Mr. Evans are opening up the curriculum to everyone. “What do I want to be when I grow up?” and “Am I living a meaningful life?” aren’t only subjects for late-night pot-fueled dorm hangouts, the men said.”

You can read the full article that hits the core question, “What do I do with the rest of my one wild and wonderful life?” here

Four Scenarios – Gini Out of the Bottle

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The National Intelligence Council report, Global Trends 2030, helps us to understand what the future may holds, both for our personal lives, as well as the broader issue of what the world will be like years hence.

We have previously looked at the “Stalled Engines” and “Fusion” scenarios as “Alternative Worlds.” Now we’ll turn to the third-of-four, Gini Out of the Bottle. This more nuanced scenario represents yet another way the world may look in 2030. The NIC’s companion report to Global Trends 2030 entitled “Le Menu” provides the Cliff’s Notes description of this third alternative world this way:

“Inequalities within countries and between rich and poor countries dominate. The world is increasingly defined by two self-reinforcing cycles – one virtuous leading to greater prosperity, the other vicious leading to poverty and instability. Major powers remain at odds; the potential for conflict rises. An increasing number of states fail. Economic growth continues at moderate pace, but the world is less secure.”

“In the Gini out of the Bottle scenario inequalities within countries and between rich and poor countries dominate. The world becomes wealthier – as global GDP grows – but is much less happy and stable as the differences between the haves and have-nots become starker and increasingly immutable. The world is increasingly defined by two self-reinforcing cycles – one virtuous leading to greater prosperity, the other vicious, leading to poverty and instability.”

“In this Gini out of the Bottle world, the lack of societal cohesion domestically is mirrored at the international level. With Europe weakened and the United States more restrained, international assistance to the most vulnerable populations declines. Major powers remain at odds; the potential for conflict rises. An increasing number of states fail, fueled in part by the lack of much international cooperation on assistance and development.”

Read the entire article here on the Defense Media Network website and consider what our world may look like in the future – especially if “Gini out of the Bottle” prevails.

Tough Enough?

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David Brooks typically writes thoughtful pieces on issues that impact all of us. He recently penned a piece, “Making Modern Toughness,” that spoke to me. It may speak to you.

Here is part of what Brooks said regarding how we seem to be working hard today to not induce toughness:

“When I ask veteran college teachers and administrators to describe how college students have changed over the years, I often get an answer like this: ‘Today’s students are more accomplished than past generations, but they are also more emotionally fragile.’”

“That rings true to me. Today’s students are amazing, but they bathe one another in oceans of affirmation and praise, as if buttressing one another against some insecurity. Whatever one thinks of the campus protests, the desire for trigger warnings and safe spaces does seem to emanate from a place of emotional fragility.”

“John R. Lewis may not have been intrinsically tough, but he was tough in the name of civil rights. Mother Teresa may not have been intrinsically steadfast, but she was steadfast in the name of God. The people around us may not be remorselessly gritty, but they can be that when it comes to protecting their loved ones, when it comes to some dream for their future self.”

“In short, emotional fragility is not only caused by overprotective parenting. It’s also caused by anything that makes it harder for people to find their telos. It’s caused by the culture of modern psychology, which sometimes tries to talk about psychological traits in isolation from moral purposes. It’s caused by the ethos of the modern university, which in the name of “critical thinking” encourages students to be detached and corrosively skeptical. It’s caused by the status code of modern meritocracy, which encourages people to pursue success symbols that they don’t actually desire.”

“We are all fragile when we don’t know what our purpose is, when we haven’t thrown ourselves with abandon into a social role, when we haven’t committed ourselves to certain people, when we feel like a swimmer in an ocean with no edge. If you really want people to be tough, make them idealistic for some cause, make them tender for some other person, make them committed to some worldview that puts today’s temporary pain in the context of a larger hope.”

You can read the entire article here

Debut Novels!

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Two writers, Leslie Jamison and Ayana Mathis have some interesting thoughts about why debut novels command so much attention.

Jamison suggests:

“Debut novelists can prove intoxicating in shallow ways — by virtue of their youth and precocity, their big advances, their buzz and hype. Hyped debut novelists are the writers who most resemble actual celebrities — actresses or singers. The snowball effects of publicity can operate with a logic like Don DeLillo’s most-photographed barn in America: The barn is a tourist attraction because of all the tourists who have been attracted to it. And all this attraction, in turn, deepens the pleasure of its counterforce: the satisfaction of participating in the backlash against the debut novelist, pushing back against her hype. It’s the shadow-fixation embedded in the fixation itself: Gossiping about the overhyped debut novelist has become its own kind of contact sport.”

“Of course, most debut novelists don’t find themselves greeted by seven-figure advances and photo shoots in Vogue, and many people who write beautiful first novels never get to be “debut novelists” at all. They never even get published. American publishing isn’t a pure meritocracy any more than America itself is.”

Mathis has a different point of view:

“A debut novel is a piece of the writer’s soul in a way that subsequent books can’t ever quite be. This isn’t to say a debut is a writer’s best novel, God forbid; only that the movement from a single blank page to 300 written pages is a psychic and creative feat rendered that much more arduous because it has been undertaken for the first time. Stakes are high, and even those who wouldn’t ever admit it are afraid. And so we devour news about other debuts. To which publishing house? How much was the advance? Were there prizes involved? We obsess about these bits of information with a certain desperation, as though they were tea leaves through which we might divine our own futures.”

“Much is expected of a debut these days. The arts have succumbed to the more pernicious aspects of novelty culture; we are increasingly less mindful of the fact that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Great novels sometimes come roaring out of the mind of a first-timer, but more often greatness is the product of years of striving. The most reasonable and realistic conception of a writer’s trajectory focuses on her artistic development. Her career shouldn’t be a one-shot, winner-take-all enterprise in which her debut has to succeed, or else. I don’t mean to imply that publishing doesn’t invest in careers anymore; it certainly does, but it is also the case that early-career writers don’t have as much room to fail as they used to.”

This killer-good article is well-worth reading in its entirety.

The Existential Threat

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Earlier this month, the international media “flooded the zone” with reporting about North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear tests and its expressed plan to develop ballistic missiles armed with WMD that could strike the United States. Most reporting suggested this was an achievable goal for the “Hermit Kingdom.”

All this reporting begged the question: Is North Korea – and particularly its leader – crazy or calculating? In a September 11, 2016 article in the New York Times, Max Fisher answered this question in an emphatic way: North Korea is completely rationale is doing things most of us in the west find crazy. His must-read article is here.

When Dick Couch and I came up with the high concept for our second book in the re-booted Clancy Op-Center series, we decided the focus of Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Into the Fire would be North Korea. While some at the time thought North Korea was, at worst, a nuisance, today’s events confirm that “life imitates art.”

If you want to see how life imitates art, read more about our New York Times best-selling Tom Clancy’s Op-Center series and our just-released Scorched Earth here.

Missile Defense!

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Most national security and military experts agree that the threat of ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction represents the primary existential threat to the United States. One only need read the extensive reporting of North Korea’s recent ballistic missile and nuclear tests to understand that this is a clear and present danger.

But few realize it is the U.S. Navy that is doing the heavy lifting to protect the homeland and our forces forward from this threat. U.S. Navy Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) is the key. While the story of Aegis writ large has been told more extensively in many fora, most notably in the 2009 Naval Engineer’s Journal, The Story of Aegis: Special Edition – the story of Aegis BMD, that is, how Aegis BMD evolved from just a nascent idea into arguably the strongest pillar of national BMD, is a relatively new story.

When President Ronald Reagan asked, in his now-famous speech; “What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, but instead that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?” it caused a sea change in the entire concept of U.S. national BMD. That single statement still provides the organizing impulse for the United States’ ballistic missile defense efforts.

When the U.S. Navy commissioned USS Ticonderoga (CG 47) in 1983, it was, to many, merely the first ship of a new class of warships, one among many in a U.S. Navy that numbered well over 500 ships. Then a tiny fraction of an almost 600-ship Navy, Aegis cruisers and destroyers have now become the Navy’s primary surface combatants. And, importantly, Aegis has enabled the nation and the Navy to take a significant step in accomplishing President Reagan’s vision three decades ago.

Read more about the United States journey to provide world-class missile defense in my series of articles on missile defense on the Defense Media Network’s website here.

Reality?

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How much time do you spend online? Oh, come on, be honest. I mean all of your time online!

Ross Douthat has a technology-driven hypothesis for why adulthood has become less responsible, less obviously adult. Here is part of what he suggests:

“For the first time in over a century, more 20-somethings live with their parents than in any other arrangement. The marriage rate is way down, and despite a high out-of-wedlock birthrate American fertility just hit an all-time low. More and more prime-age workers are dropping out of the work force— men especially and younger men more so than older men, though female work force participation has dipped as well. This mix of youthful safety and adult immaturity may be a feature of life in a society increasingly shaped by the internet’s virtual realities.”

“It is easy to see how online culture would make adolescent life less dangerous. Pornography to take the edge off teenage sexual appetite. Video games instead of fisticuffs or contact sports as an outlet for hormonal aggression. (Once it was feared that porn and violent media would encourage real-world aggression; instead they seem to be replacing it.) Sexting and selfie-enabled masturbation as a safer alternative to hooking up. Online hangouts instead of keggers in the field. More texting and driving, but less driving — one of the most dangerous teen activities — overall.”

“The question is whether this substitution is habit-forming and soul-shaping, and whether it extends beyond dangerous teen behavior to include things essential to long-term human flourishing — marriage, work, family, all that old-fashioned “meatspace” stuff. That’s certainly the impression left whenever journalists try to figure out why young people aren’t marrying, or dating, or in some cases even seeking sex. An article in the Washington Post put it this way: “Noah Paterson, 18, likes to sit in front of several screens simultaneously … to shut it all down for a date or even a one-night stand seems like a waste.”) The same impression is left by research on younger men dropping out of the work force: Their leisure time is being filled to a large extent by gaming, and happiness studies suggest that they are pretty content with the trade-off.”

Read this article here.

What the Dickens?

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Most writers have well-known authors who they admire. For many of us, it’s someone who writes in the genre we do, whether its science fiction, romance, fantasy, thrillers or any one of a number of genres.

And for many of us, there are paragons of the craft who we all honor and admire – masters of their craft whose work has been read or decades or even centuries because they speak to all of us, regardless of what we do in our day-to-day lives or where our writing interests take us.

Charles Dickens is one of those iconic writers. When Nathan Hill published “The Nix” a critic for Booklist called it an “engrossing, skewering and preternaturally timely tale” and compared it to works by Donna Tartt, Michael Chabon, Tom Wolfe and John Irving. Mr. Irving, in turn, compared “The Nix” to works by Charles Dickens and other 19th-century masters.

But as Alexandra Alter tells us, being compared to Dickens had some unintended consequences.

Read more of this article here.