This is the era of crossroads, confusion and chaos.
Which direction should we take to pursue the universal values of freedom and open society? We are rather anxious when we see the rise of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine by the name of democracy. Now will Egypt and Tunisia follow the suit since Muslim Brotherhood and alike are free to extend their fundamentalist authority far beyond the dark corners where they were previously forced to preside.
This presents us a moral conflict between the doctrine value and pragmatic value of democracy: is democracy a sacred holy grail of human aspiration or a mere tool that can serve the good and evil in the same measure? Failure to address this dilemma will drive us to the brink of ideology chaos. This ideology chaos is the major culprit for many failures of American Diplomacy, especially in the middle east. For example, Washington failed to deliver a timely response to Arab spring when the whole free world was seeking aspiration from the US. It was the US’s most staunch allies in the region against the Islamic fundamentalist who were embattled, which made the decision difficult.
The uncertainty of this chaos is frightening. Where should the US and Israel stand according to this? How should we address the possibility that the fundamentalist fractions prevail in the newfound Arab democracy? One way or another, democracy has sailed into some uncharted water with anxiety-stoking consequences, which are yet to be unravelled for years to come. What’s the true implication of this Facebook revolution?
No doubt, Facebook, twitter and Wikileaks have changed the landscape of democracy and diplomacy for ever. The decentralization of governance and diplomacy is inevitable. This is a coordinating mass awakening for millions of fringe citizens, who are previously marginalized by the establishments. Certain stakeholders feel poorly represented by the government and its foreign policies. This phenomenon is what I call the representation deficit. In the age of FaceBook, the representation deficit can be easily manifested into the national consensus, movement and in some extreme cases, anarchy. Arab spring and tea party are all the manifestation of this representation deficit.
How should democracy and diplomacy evolve to stay ahead of these challenges without comprising too many core values and interests, which may be against the citizen movement but deemed strategically important by the establishments? For example, how to protect the US and Israel’s long term standing during and after the Arab spring?
Another thing we should be really frightened about is the huge imbalance between monetary exchange and idea exchange among different nations. Here let’s talk about the US and China. The US buys and China sells 334 billion dollars worth of goods between them in 2010. That’s how the monetary exchange has progressed to an unprecedented colossal level between the two countries. However, the ideas the people of these two countries have about each other are still dominated by stereotypes and conspiracy theories with too much cold war mentality and not enough updated and first-hand interactions. The huge imbalance between monetary exchange and ideas exchange is the hotbed for the rise of excessive nationalism, confrontation, conflict, two-faced brinkmanship, and even wars.
The rise of nationalism in both China and the US should be closely watched: In the case of the US, if the democracy can’t offer a channel to balance the emotional deficit derived from financial crisis, the collective anxiety and frustration will seek out nationalist outlets to direct their angers and pursuit. In the case of China, nationalism seems the only legit high ground for people to relieve their anger over marginalization in the widening income gap and self-esteem deficit caused by China’s sudden economic might and relatively incompetent international presence. This nationalism movement can go on hijacking the democracy and even the authoritarian regime such as Beijing if unchecked. Nationalism is an infectious virus. We are too economically intertwined but too emotionally detached from each other. Distrust and destruction will set each other ablaze and fuel each other’s ambition of collision.
That’s why I feel the sense of urgency to mobilize the idea exchange among different nations’ people to correct that imbalance. We are not going to change the world for the better over night. However, as ordinary citizens we produce consensus, opinion polls, votes and leaders. With citizen diplomacy, we can bring together the people torn apart by religions, ideologies and propaganda. United by citizen diplomacy, we can come to be a world-changing force to be reckoned with.
We not only need the globalization of goods, services, and capital; but we also need the true globalization of idea exchange. Without idea exchange, the materialistic prosperity is merely a castle built on the sand.
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