Sources of global instability

The Q&A section of LinkedIn is a clever way to make professionals invest some of their most expensive time on activities with no immediate or clear return. One of the more recent questions was:
"From your perspective, what do YOU see as THE major source of global instability facing us? How would you overcome these instabilities?"
To which I replied:

According to Donald Rumsfeld's taxonomy,

1) As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.

There are only few universal sources of instability we can all agree on--e.g. death. Usually, one's source of instability leaves another indifferent and makes other prosper. For example, a gal in Africa may think AIDS is IT, while a British pal frets about global warming. Not to mention how one may think of globalization in the US or France vs. Chindia. Usually, these situations present arbitrage opportunities.

2) We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.

We all know that everything comes to pass--even the supremacy of the US, or of the Chinese Communist Party. What we don't know is for how long the US can maintain its supremacy and what price is everyone party to the world order willing to negotiate. Accepting Chindia in the power structures (e.g. G8) could be a palliative.

3) But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

Here's where anyone's imagination goes wild. In addition to the usual suspects (a large asteroid will hit the planet, the oil reserves are depleted before we find alternative sources, global warming, etc.) I would add the unforeseen externalities of R&D, such as nano-X, stem-Y and younameit-Z. And here's where some science fiction writers (include today's prophets just as well) make their money.

In conclusion, absent of the crisis, there is no single source of global instability, but a myriad of them that keep testing out optimism.

I would add that it's interesting finding out that most people's opinions, on broad themes like the one above, tend to be skeptical in nature and embrace major views already circulating in mass-media. In other words, is it that media become somehow source for instability, or instability cannot become a problem unless acknowledged by media?

A pair of similar puzzles

LinkedIn Question:

Without getting into idealogical battles, can you suggest models under which the "threat" can be effectively managed?

1. Terrorism is (largely) the act of stateless individuals/groups committing acts of violence against other individuals, groups and/or states. Given the completely amorphous nature of this form of activism - how does one effectively deal with the threat while preserving the very standards that the threat seeks to eliminate?

2. Open source software is the product of a stateless non-affiliated (corporately) group of individuals who self assemble on an ad hoc and as needed basis to produce an exceptional product that is distributed freely. The advantage over a corporate production environment is the ability for the open source "movement" to assemble huge groups of highly talented and passionate experts at the drop of a hat to solve problems or add features; whereas a corporation must manage operating expenses, adjust teams much more slowly (HR process), and is not as agile in terms of being able to accept or reject work at the drop of a hat. How does a corporation like Microsoft compete against a non-entity like open source without taking the battle to the point where the goal is to destroy the community that is the open source movement?

For comparison's sake - note the similarity in MSFT taking the war on OSS to the door of those entities that formed to make OSS more viable commercially (Red Hat, etc.) and the US Gov. taking the war on terror to the doors of those countries the (may have) supported terrorism. As I see it, in both wars - the true target is almost impossible to attack - so we find/fabricate a proxy and fight them instead.


[...] with all due respect, I think your questions belong to a framework too anchored into the PRESENT. If the answers were to come from within the same framework, the actors might be advised to do more of the same. However, as the history teaches us, solutions exist always outside/transcend the present framework--the one that create(d) the very conditions of conflict in the first place. And, for the incumbents impervious to learning, seeking solutions outside status qvo is too much already.

Follow-up question:

Having stated that my problem is too PRESENT-focussed, can you provide an alternative model that isn't present focussed and that encompasses the issues at hand? Please clarify.

Follow-up reply:

MSFT and the US reached unprecedented peaks sometime in the last decade of the 20th century. Since, the question has been whether or not their success models run their courses. And, especially from the inside, it is very difficult to come to the conclusion that change is still necessary once you reach the top.

Open source and terrorism could be viewed as manifestations of the world's reactions to the status qvo (i.e. the current world order). The rise of Google and of the idea of 'multi-polarity' in world affairs, for example, could be two more, respectively.

Consequently, my professional and cultural biases notwithstanding, I would rephrase the questions you raised along the following line:

  • Is this entity well prepared to face challenge X? What's at stake?
  • If the entity is not prepared, what does it take and how can things turn for better or worse?
From the history, MSFT could learn from IBM, while the US from France in Algeria or UK in N. Ireland. This would be in addition to better listening to their organizations. Indeed, MSFT owes the success of X-Box in part to the fact that it was built outside its OS. Moreover, the US-Lybia opening owed also to communication between Ghadafi and the Brits.

As a side note, the funny problem introduced by your questions is that one person in the US may agree or not with MSFT, but most probably won't take the side of the terrorists. So, there is either a paradox, or an illustration of the saying "one's terrorist is another's freedom fighter." Needless to say, I enjoyed taking the time to think about, and reply to them.

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