Crises and the Decline of the State

By Ed Beakley

In On War #251, “War or not war?” Bill Lind wrote:

At the core of 4GW lies a crisis of legitimacy of the state. A development that contributes to the state’s crisis of legitimacy is the disintegration of community (Gemeinschaft). Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the powerful, highly intrusive state, community has increasingly been displaced by society (Gesellschaft), where most relationships between people are merely functional.

I draw a significantly different thread from Mr. Lind’s article than those indicated by other comments.

School shooting crises (and most others) are basically viewed as exceptional events. Current crisis management and analysis is then largely an event-centered approach that considers the crisis as the result of an event defined in time and space — the so-called triggering event. The triggering event makes the crisis visible. It crystallizes multiple dimensions and initiates a dynamic process that is often out of control. The story line then tends to lead to an attitude of fatalism or victimization. Here, the idea that crises are opportunities should be revisited.

That freeze frame point in time offers an information rich opportunity to examine much more than the event and its consequences and specific dynamics. A theory of crisis should be able to integrate a wider time perspective and should lead individuals to ask themselves questions about the meaning and origins of crisis, not just filling in the unknowns of the specific event.

If in addition to event-based analysis, crisis could also be viewed (and analyzed) as a process of organizational weakening that degenerates until the point of disruption — a triggering or precipitating event — research could focus on the identification and characterization of crisis-fostering environments and on the processes of weakening of organizations.

The question then raised is the ability of organizations and their leaders to decode this meaning and use it. We may not be able to abate the decline of the state, but neither must we be victims of technology, alienation, and isolation; however you define and relate them. Do we man the equipment or equip the man?

If crisis analysis as process can reveal crisis fostering environments, should it not also allow developing crisis mitigation environments — resilient communities?

It is only when (leadership) allows ignorance about the evolution of weaknesses and imbalances into crises to exist that crisis conducive environments can grow and intensify. The more established the dysfunctions and weaknesses the thicker the veil of ignorance. The vulnerability of an organization does not so much reside in its actual weaknesses as in the ignorance of these weaknesses, an ignorance that is activated by defense mechanisms that regulate the managers’ threatened self-esteem and leads them unconsciously to favor laissez-faire over correction. The more entrenched the imperfection, the more likely it is to lead to a disruption and the more prohibitive the psychological and sometimes economic cost of a correction. — “Is Crisis Management (Only) a Management of Exceptions,” Christophe Roux-Dufort, Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, June 2007

Lind is right — in sum, the decline of the state and the disintegration of community march on together — and that has nothing whatsoever to do with supporting communism. We must learn, unlearn relearn and become once again the resilient communities of our frontier history.

[Ed Beakley is the director of Project White Horse.]

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