Saturday, October 4, 2014

Where's the World Headed & the Rise of Cities, a Quickie

Scotland recently came close to pulling out of Great Britain. What’s that about? As the day of the vote drew near I’d see stories on the theme: If Scotland goes, what next? Catalonia? Quebec? Vermont? Is the world falling apart?

Maybe?

Is that good or bad?

Interesting question. Perhaps large nation states like the USA, China, India are too be to succeed and too big to fail. At the Federal Level America is approaching a stalemate. If the nation is ungovernable, what happens to national politics? Does is devolve to mere divide and plunder? Is the nation state obsolete? If so, what’s next?

I’ve been seeing books about cities, most prominently Benjamin Barber, If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities. Has anyone read it? Here’s the blurb:
In the face of the most perilous challenges of our time—climate change, terrorism, poverty, and trafficking of drugs, guns, and people—the nations of the world seem paralyzed. The problems are too big, too interdependent, too divisive for the nation-state. Is the nation-state, once democracy's best hope, today democratically dysfunctional? Obsolete? The answer, says Benjamin Barber in this highly provocative and original book, is yes. Cities and the mayors who run them can do and are doing a better job.

Barber cites the unique qualities cities worldwide share: pragmatism, civic trust, participation, indifference to borders and sovereignty, and a democratic penchant for networking, creativity, innovation, and cooperation. He demonstrates how city mayors, singly and jointly, are responding to transnational problems more effectively than nation-states mired in ideological infighting and sovereign rivalries. Featuring profiles of a dozen mayors around the world—courageous, eccentric, or both at once—If Mayors Ruled the World presents a compelling new vision of governance for the coming century. Barber makes a persuasive case that the city is democracy’s best hope in a globalizing world, and great mayors are already proving that this is so.
Sounds good, but is it valid?

Meanwhile I’ve been reading Christopher Goto-Jones, Modern Japan: A Very Short Introduction (2009). Though I know a bit about manga and anime, I’m certainly no expert about Japan; so I can’t judge the book against current scholarly literature. But, taking the book at face value, it tells a fascinating story (I’ve only read 2+ of 5 chapters). I’ve just been through the second chapter, “Imperial revolution: embracing modernity,” which is about the Meiji Restoration. What’s interesting, and compelling, is how drastically Japan was able to remake itself within a generation or two.

When Admiral Perry landed in 1853 the country was ruled by the samurai class. By 1880 the samurai class had dissolved, though The Samurai and its bushidô (way of the warrior) creed had become enshrined as a national myth.To be sure, this was no popular democratic uprising, nothing like it, but still, the change was dramatic. And it was not imposed from the outside (that wouldn’t happen until the late 1940s).

Could something that drastic happen in the United States? Inquirng mninds want to know.

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