Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Rethinking normal 6: when my normal is different than yours, and yours than mine 3

Posted in book recommendations, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on September 27, 2013

This is my sixth installment to a series on change, and more specifically about our understanding of what is normal, and how normal and assumable change (see Reexamining the Fundamentals, Section III for other postings to this series.) And this is my third posting within this series to consider how a sufficiently rapid pace of change as it determines and defines normal, can create societal friction that limits the pace of this ongoing change as if through a self-braking effect (see Part 4 and Part 5.)

I focused in Part 5 on a development arena where friction can and does arise simply from differences in access and availability and where all parties involved might even actively desire new – and even if that means fundamentally changing their sense of normal. But barriers to change can also arise as resistance to any challenge to what is seen as traditional and standard – any perceived threat to what is locally considered normal and acceptable.

The friction arena example that I would cite here as a working case in point, is one that has significantly shaped the world that we live in and certainly since the al-Qaeda led attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001. And I begin this part of this overall discussion on what some might see as a controversial note. I would write here of:

• The role of change and its pace in the conflict between Islam and certainly its more extreme protectors, and the West – and the way that jihadist anger stems more from fear of being overrun and forced into identity and culture-denying change, than from anything like a sense of arrogance.

Islamists who would join the path of groups such as the Taliban or al-Qaeda, hate the West and all that they see it as standing for because they fear it, and the consequences of accepting what they see as the lures and traps that it offers. Individually, the innovations and offerings of the West and of the larger outside world in general, might not appear to offer any real challenge. But collectively they reframe ways of life and undercut any preexisting alternatives. Collectively, embracing this flow of change challenges traditional concepts of normal and acceptable and certainly for closed and authoritarian societies. And they see this as fundamentally undercutting their culture and their religion and their sense of place in the world.

The point that I am trying to raise here is fundamentally important as acknowledging this manner of understanding the other side’s view of the War on Terror compels a complete rethinking of what this conflict really entails and it most definitely forces a rethinking of what victory in it could mean.

If this was simply a power struggle with competing sides: national on one side and loosely organized extra-national on the other seeking out competitive advantage, then it might be possible to achieve a balance of power agreement and a backing down from direct confrontation. But when the people of al-Qaeda see the West and its allies as offering a fundamental existential threat to themselves and to everything that they stand for and simply by existing, then any concept of victory becomes a lot more murky – and a lot starker if taken as an absolute goal.

• The peoples and nations of the West, and increasingly of the rest of the world as a whole keep innovating and changing and sharing, and more and more ubiquitously and all of the time.
• The people who see this flood of different as a fundamental, irreconcilable challenge to their existence and to their religion and culture and their sense of normal and acceptable, resist and actively strike back against this change – the very change that these foreign voices so enticingly offer.
• This makes them very late adapters at the very least and even fundamentally non-adapters. So they fall further and further behind as global change and adaptation to it take place around them, and they progressively come to see this ongoing flow of new and different as progressively more and more different and more and more threatening.

People of the West and others who embrace this same fundamentally global process of change can and do find rapprochement possible with more moderate voices and visions of Islam, but they are not led or populated by the people who would see that as coming to terms with fundamental evil. It is no accident that as extremist elements from within Islam strike out at the West and their allies, they perpetrate even greater levels of violence against fellow religionists who they if anything they see as worse for seeking dialog and accommodation.

• Perhaps the best way to think of this type of friction to change and to rethinking normal is to view this as consequence of fundamental conflict between conceptually closed and absolutist, and open and more relativist systems.
• When one side predicates everything on holding absolute and unchallengeable truth then any alternative becomes a threat.

I have been offering book references and recommendations throughout this series and continue that pattern here, citing a seminal two volume work on the meaning and significance of open societies:

Popper, K.R. (1962 and 1966) The Open Society and its Enemies. Princeton University Press.

As a final thought for this posting, I note that challenges and conflicts between open societies and closed and authoritarian ones have arisen many times in history, as Popper and others have noted. But our emerging systems of increasingly ubiquitous, from anywhere to anywhere communications and information and perspective sharing have come to make any significant source of potential conflict and friction there, a realized, actualized source of problems and for all of us.

I am going to turn to my third and final arena of friction in my next installment to this series:

• Generational and other divides, and even within more online connected countries and societies, and with this coming from both access barriers and from early versus late adaptor comfort levels – where late enough means never catching up and in fact means falling further and further behind.

And after discussing that I will proceed to at least discuss in speculation a newly forming wave of fundamental change that is fast approaching and that will fundamentally challenge and change what it means to be normal and expected, and for most people. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Reexamining the Fundamentals.

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