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Why Nations Fail - a direction for a comprehensive synthesis

Why Nations Fail - a direction for a comprehensive synthesis

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Published by Neelesh Marik
At its very essence, the central theme of human history seems to be a story of power: the relational dynamic between those who have it and those who don’t. The authors do a phenomenal job of weaving the disciplines of history, economics and political science to posit a new framework of social science in the backdrop of the story of power. This paper suggests a way to deepen the inquiry, by including the implements of the new fields of complexity sciences and integral theory, so that the emergent framework can be used to inform global decision-making on key issues that impact human welfare.
At its very essence, the central theme of human history seems to be a story of power: the relational dynamic between those who have it and those who don’t. The authors do a phenomenal job of weaving the disciplines of history, economics and political science to posit a new framework of social science in the backdrop of the story of power. This paper suggests a way to deepen the inquiry, by including the implements of the new fields of complexity sciences and integral theory, so that the emergent framework can be used to inform global decision-making on key issues that impact human welfare.

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Published by: Neelesh Marik on Apr 01, 2013
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A direction for a comprehensive synthesis~ Neelesh Marik
At its very essence, the central theme of human history seems to be a story of power: the
relational dynamic
between those who have it and those who don’t 
. Can you think of anything significant that does not dependupon, or is inextricably linked to the story of power? Either in the past, or in the present, as one knows it,
understands it, relates to it, and accepts/ rejects it? I can’t.
The authors do a phenomenal job of weaving the disciplines of history, economics and political science to posita new framework of social science in the backdrop of the story of power. Over nearly 500 pages and 15chapters, the book demonstrates how human society is inevitably dependent both on the
nature of economicand political institutions
for growth, prosperity and most importantly, social equality and harmony.Panoramically global in scope, painstakingly detailed in factual enumeration, and adept in both analysis andsynthesis of historical data, the authors have created an insightful instrument for not only retrospectiveunderstanding, but also futuristic extrapolation.It is in that spirit that I would like to suggest a ways to deepen the enquiry, so that not only can we embark ona more holistic reconstruction of the past (which effort may be limited by factual information), but moreimportantly, attempt to formulate a more reliable, acceptable and credible framework that informs academicdiscourse, popular opinion and ultimately
socio-politico-economic decision making
in our world by leaders whostrive to make it a better place.It seems to me that a richer and more nuanced exploration would need the implements of two new fields of study
 –
complexity theory and int
egral theory. Both these fields have ‘hit the scene’ in the last 3
-4 decades and
hence it is not surprising that they are not regularly ‘used’ in the mainstream. They defy the usual
classifications of academia and sit somewhere between the natural sciences, the social sciences, thehumanities and philosophy, and yet they cover diverse terrain and uncover deeper and richer mysteries of thehuman condition without being tyrannized by any specific
school of thought
or paradigm. In that sense, theyare perhaps both cross-paradigmatic and trans-paradigmatic.Most of us know about the Newtonian approach
 –
it pioneered the human endeavour to understand natureand has been the bedrock of scientific understanding till the beginning of the 20
th
century. The Newtonianapproach has three main characteristics, which have transcended by the domain of complexity sciences:1. Determinism - the notion that things can be predicted by a simple set of equations. First quantummechanics and then non-linear chaos theory have proven this is not necessarily the case with reality.2. Reductionism - the notion that the whole can be understood by analysing the parts only. GeneralSystems Theory has debunked this with its deeper understanding of holism and emergence.3. Objectivity - the notion that reality is something objective and independent of the observer. Both
 
quantum mechanics and cybernetics contend that all knowledge is subjective, and that there is noreality independent of the observer.
 
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The three things above merge into the emerging field of complexity (both as a science and a philosophy) whichdeals with
multi-agent systems
that subjectively interpret reality, interact locally, but contribute to theemergence of global order (or disorder). Unlike in the Newtonian paradigm, uncertainty and subjectively arenot negative problems to be resolved, but positive assets that directly produce creativity, adaptation andevolution.Just as Complexity Science is a vast subject, unfolding every day with new insights and breakthroughs, so is thefield of Integral Theory. Integral theory is a philosophy promoted byKen Wilberthat seeks a synthesis of thebest of pre-modern, modern, and postmodern reality. It is portrayed as a "theory of everything," and offers anapproach "to draw together an already existing number of separate paradigms into an interrelated network of approaches that are mutually enriching." It has been applied by scholar-practitioners in 35 distinct academicand professional domains as varied as organizational management, art, and feminism. For the purposes of this
book review though, I would like to draw the reader’s attention to two key concepts: the Four Q 
uadrants, andSpiral Dynamics Integral.
Let’s
begin with the most fundamental element of Integral Theory: quadrants. To understand quadrants, onemust first consider the obvious fact that every situation can be considered from the perspective of theindividual (the citizen, leader, oppressor, oppressed) or from the perspective of the collective (the group, tribe,population). Next, we must consider that every phenomenon can be considered from an objective or asubjective point of view (also referred to as exterior and interior).Now, by simply bringing together the individual and collective on one axis and subjective and objective onanother axis, we have four quadrants. These quadrants represent primordial, universal perspectives. They areirreducible, meaning that one cannot collapse one into the other. See illustration below.Clare W Graves, the original proponent of Spiral Dynamics, which has later been amalgamated by some into
Integral Theory, said “Briefly, what I am proposing is that the
psychology of the mature human being is anunfolding, emergent, oscillating, spiralling process, marked by progressive subordination of older, lower-orderbehaviour systems to newer, higher-
order systems as man’s existential problems change.”
 
One of the variousrepresentations of the spiral is the diagram below:
 
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With the background information above, I would like to suggest four
pathways by which the ‘Why Nations Fail’
hypothesis could be enriched, deepened and broadened:The
first pathway
is about considering a multi-dimensional, non-linear approach
to exploring each country’s
historical circumstances, critical junctures, contingent factors, and key agents. It is possible, and perhaps highlylikely, that the institutional logic propounded in the book need not stand in isolation from the three otherfactors cited: geography (or natural factors), culture (shared worldview factors) and ignorance (intellectual,behavioural and competency related factors). On the contrary, each of these factors inter-weaves with theinstitutional factor to chart out a specific trajectory of emergence, which cannot be understood from theindividual factors alone in a linear manner. The dynamics of inter-dependence between the interior quadrantdimensions (individual consciousness of key agents, and shared worldview of the various collectives at play)and exterior quadrant dimensions (behavioural characteristics, competencies of key agents, and institutionaldrift and systemic particulars) would vary from country to country (geographical coordinates) and from epochto epoch (time axis coordinates). Said differently, the eventuation of every country destiny need not be an
‘either
-
or’ reductive causation dynamic, but most probably a
n
integrative formulation
of various factors, albeitwith varying roles and sequential relevancies.After all, who create the institutions in the first place? Surely the people of the region over a period of time, influenced by each other in an inter-subjective (cultural quadrant) sense, by external circumstances of natural conditions, colonial threat configurations (systems quadrant) and the agency and maturity of consciousness of key individual leaders (self-quadrant). As cultures progress up the spiral from animistic topower-centric to authoritarian to rational-modernistic to pluralistic worldviews, their institutions begin toreflect the same and cross-influence subsequent generations. So whether we compare England with Spain,Botswana with Ethiopia, Japan with China at any point of time, or Venice, Rome and the USA over fivecenturies, we will inevitably find unique inter-quadrant mechanics that chart out specific patterns of socio-cultural evolution/ regression.The depth of inclusivity of any institution cannot be independent of quality of consciousness of itsfounder(s) and the shared worldview of key stakeholders. Consciousness and culture thus have a vital inter-dependency, almost like the chicken and the egg. And that inter-dependency is subsumed under the tetra-

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