Salutary futuristic reading for those still inclined to “use a mechanical way of thinking in an age of complexity.”
Has there ever been an age without complexity and confusion? Probably not. However, as Kissinger Associates CEO Ramo (The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us And What We Can Do About It, 2009, etc.) writes, this is a time of disruption that lends itself to “seventh sense” thinking—in less trendy terms, the ability to discern how things connect to other things in nodes and networks, “to look at any object and see the way in which it is changed by connection.” These networks can be benign; they can be useful, as in digitized library connections; and they can be harmful, in part owing to the “hyperdense concentrations of power” that are produced by networks, introducing opportunities for chaos and complexity into situations that are already fraught with them. Ramo quotes approvingly from the philosopher Paul Virilio in this regard: “When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck.” Shipwrecks are all around us, as witness the network that is the Islamic State group, something that old-school thinking might imagine can be fought by air forces and bunker-buster bombs but that the Seventh Sensible would know requires different tools for dismantling. Ramo is sometimes vague but sometimes profound in a postmodern way that’s not the usual stuff of Washington think tanks: we have been busy “murdering the exotic,” he writes, with our first-world technologies and high-speed Internet connections, so we shouldn’t be surprised when “from time to time, the exotic shows up and murders us right back.” It all makes for provocative reading, and if the author is light on specifics, he offers plenty of interesting scenarios for such things as global power shifts, AI–enabled weapons systems, and the like.
Plus ça change? No, the more it changes, the weirder the world gets. For policy wonks with an eye toward the middle term, Ramo provides a good effort to make sense of it all.