Thursday, July 23, 2009

When Rainbows Fail: A Thought Experiment

Somewhere, Dorothy is assured, there is a way for her and Toto to get to Oz and from there to Kansas. It seems so easy, a single, resolute step “over the rainbow” back to her family and friends in Kansas. But there is a catch: the rainbow has no substance, no “materiality.” It is ephemeral, an apparition of the ability (or power) of water to bend the sun’s light and separate that light into four “colors” that humans see in the sky.

The principal problem Dorothy faces is that first step, the one that becomes “material” when intent to act – a form of “fantasy” or imagination – is in fact transformed into action. But this is immediately followed by the second, third, and every “next step” demanding its transformation into “materiality.” As she travels on the “yellow-brink road,” the weight of materiality keeps accumulating. With one final dash, she reaches Oz, only to discover that the wizard’s city is a Potemkin fantasy. When the wizard’s balloon unexpectedly drifts away “over the rainbow,” Dorothy is left with no way and no road back to Kansas from Oz.

Dorothy is not the only American caught in a fantasy. In fact, fantasy overpowered reality sometime about the mid-point of the 20th century when Washington committed itself to continuous high military spending to defeat Moscow and Beijing in the international arena. Before the start of the 21st century, America stood at two for two – barely.

By 2008, it was clear that the U.S. could not balance the costs of ever-expanding Pentagon expenditures with the obligations that government provides, the basic services contributing to overall national security. For 60 years, Pentagon war-alchemists had attempted to sustain military security through the power of deficit spending and a dwindling stock of gold bullion. When that disappeared, budgeters went back to their books looking for how alchemists made gold from lead – and hoping they could discover how to do it. That too, however, was fantasy. The only course open was to paint the lead with gold leaf; pretend it was 24 carats; and hope renewed diplomacy could avoid the collapse of the global economy and the rise of insecurity throughout human societies.

The depth of the insecurity engendered by armed conflict did have two lessons for America, First, people cannot live forever in the unaccountable realm of rainbows. Choices and the depth of a population’s commitment to their dream will be tested by sub-national groups who dream their own transnational fantasy of domination “over the rainbow.”

Second, “national security,” like the rainbow, will be a reality only when it is finally transformed into a multi-facetted ephemeral phenomenon – political, economic, legal, military, social, and environmental. In this century, security is less a physical state and more of a psychological sense of being. But when the psychological sense is lost, as in the current global economic downturn, too often leaders may decide to take off with the “pot of gold” that anchors the end of rainbows in our fantasies.

When this occurs, the danger is that everyone comes to disbelieve in the rain, in the sun, and even in the rainbow.


Anonymous auctioneersgirl said...

Mr (Scarecrow) Smith, thanks for your analogy. Dorothy needs all the friends she can get giving directions out of our dark forest of past bad foreign policy choices.

12:18 AM  

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