November 12, 2001—In
Praise of Instability
In Praise of Instability. On November 1st, Ralph
Peters, U.S. Army Retired, authored "In Praise of Instability" for the
Wall Street Journal (p. A20). He wants the U.S. to stop propping up
dictators, satraps, and defunct regimes around the world. He thinks our top
policy dogs can't "move beyond Cold War models" and "diplomatic groupthink
that cuts across party lines in Washington." He finds that we are trying to
hold onto a world that is gone -- dangerous for the world and for us. It's
time, he thinks, to promote change in Asia and the Middle East, not resist
it in the name of stability. Of course, Peters, anxious to make his case,
neglects to mention that a president who has cosied up to Ted Kennedy and
Russia's Putin is not exactly fighting the future.
Preventive Health. What we are learning at the turn of the century is
that we need wrenching, giant steps to make our world work. Catalytic
converters in cars won't do it for the environment. New catheters won't do
it for the heart. And new ways of filling people with insulin won't really
deal with the national diabetes crisis. We are rediscovering in 2001 that
health is intimately connected with preventive health measures, which are
intimately linked to worldwide public health programs. We should be making a
whole lot more out of the U.N.'s World Health Organization and public-health
servants across the globe.
Our national health system is now surely a cancer on the body politic.
National health is getting worse, and yet healthcare costs are depleting the
national treasury, more draining than the Defense Department. We can barely
afford to fight real wars, because we are losing the healthcare battle.
The dynamics in developed countries (an aging population) as well as in
developing countries (starving children) favor preventive medicine. Our
health remedy apparatus (hospitals, doctors, medical equipment,
pharmaceuticals) has no economic leverage for society. We need prescriptions
that improve health, not band aids that lessen disease.
Eco-Effective. Recently, we chatted with architect and
environmentalist Bill McDonough. I asked him if we could say that his goal
is to be eco-effective rather than eco-efficient. He said, "Yes, but nobody
will know what you mean." What he means is that it's not enough to stop
poisoning the world: you have to start up the bliss. That is, if you are an
electric utility, you get no environmental points for reducing emissions.
Your system, whatever it is, has to make the environment better.
Environmental harmony means that what you take in from nature and give out
to it has to make nature happy, instead of causing the earth and the skies
to weep. One-time dean of the UVa Architecture School, McDonough now runs a
small architectural firm (http://www.mcdonough.com/)
with humongous ambitions. He claims not only to help the environment but to
do it in a way that makes economic horsesense. For instance, his River Rouge
project for Ford will probably save $30 million or so over conventional
engineering, his grass roof and swales creating major joy for regulators at
Radical Urgency. Having slept through the 1990s, we probably thought
we would have a sleepy 21st century as well. But in health, and in the
environment, and in international affairs, it is rather clear that an
incremental agenda will not work. In each case, we must turn the world
upside down to keep going. Stability requires large, measured doses of
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