Almost all the problems we face as a society can be traced to the “lag time” between the accelerating pace of significant–even monumental– change, and the alterations to existing social and political institutions that are needed to deal with new “facts on the ground.”
Another way of saying that is that we are trying to manage 21st century realities with tools created for the problems of the (early) twentieth century.
The recent mass murder in New Zealand provided an example. As the Washington Post recently put it,
The United States and its closest allies have spent nearly two decades building an elaborate system to share intelligence about international terrorist groups, and it has become a key pillar of a global effort to thwart attacks.
But there’s no comparable arrangement for sharing intelligence about domestic terrorist organizations, including right-wing extremists like the one suspected in the killing of 50 worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, according to current and former national security officials and counterterrorism experts.
Governments have considered domestic extremists a domestic problem. In the U.S., such tracking as is done largely falls within the jurisdiction of the FBI. Thanks to the Internet, however, white nationalism is an international threat.
But increasingly, nationalist groups in different countries are drawing inspiration from each other, uniting in common cause via social media, experts said. Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the 28-year-old suspected gunman in Christchurch, posted a manifesto full of rage on Twitter in which he cited other right-wing extremists as his inspiration, among them Dylann Roof, who killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., in 2015.
It isn’t just the globalization of terrorist networks that requires rethinking where responsibilities should lie. Communication and transportation technologies have made a large number of institutional assumptions and arrangements obsolete.
Take federalism, America’s division of jurisdiction among local, state and federal levels of government. The division may still be useful (state and federal governments really have no reason to assume responsibility for handing out zoning permits or policing domestic violence disputes, for example), but many of the current assignments of responsibility no longer make much sense. State-level management of elections, for example, was necessary in the age of snail-mail registration and index cards identifying voters; in the computer age, it’s an invitation to misconduct.
In a number of areas, there are awkward pretenses of state “sovereignty” where none really exists. Think of federal highway dollars that are conditioned on state compliance with federally mandated speed limits. Or the myriad other “strings” attached to federal funding that remind state-level agencies who’s really in charge.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are an increasing number of issues, including but certainly not limited to the threat posed by white nationalism, that must be addressed globally. Climate change is the most obvious.
We humans are creatures of habit: we become accustomed to the world we have grown up with, and assume that the structures of whatever society we inhabit are just “the way it is.” A great example were the people who argued against same-sex marriage by insisting that marriage “has always been between one man and one woman.” That’s demonstrably false. Even if you ignore biblical history, more than half of the world still recognizes plural marriage. But it was true within the confines of their (limited) experience.
I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone defend a practice by saying “but that’s the way we’ve always done it!”
Unfortunately, the way we’ve always done it isn’t necessarily the way it needs to be done–and ultimately, those who don’t adapt to the realities of their brave new world become extinct.
I worry that we’re on the way…