December 05, 2005

Secret Weapon 2: Mapping Causality

In a recent satirical post, I attempted to consider the Anglosphere from the standpoint of its detractors and antagonists. What constraints and features of some "secret weapon" would satisfy the historical record of successes and failures of the Anglosphere? Could we imagine such a weapon, both humourous and historically valid?

Comments posted offered some good suggestions and highlighted the different kinds of causes or positive influences on Anglosphere history.

As suggested in the satire, there are a number of very high-level explanations for the Anglosphere - some rather ancient. They can be summarized as 1. Virtue, 2. Terpitude, 3. Historical/Geographic Circumstance 4. Non-historical circumstance (Fortune/destiny), 5. Mistaken Assumptions (e.g. There is no Anglosphere and/or it's not significantly successful).

Obviously, if one believes the fifth explanation, there's no need to make much effort to find causes for the Anglosphere but following up on my tongue-in-cheek attempt, I sought to organize my thinking on causality into a rough "map" as seen below.


Download larger image of chart - 35K .PNG file

Organized from left to right in series: personal, individual, social, environmental, and supernatural causes can be identified using terms that serve as "centres of gravity." This structure allows one to lay out whatever causes might be considered and to evaluate how causes might work in tandem or conflict with one another.

Now professional historians have felled forests in their efforts to discuss causality so my amateur efforts must necessarily be approximate and uneducated. A few issues arise immediately. Firstly, what kinds of causes are we interested in?

There are proximate causes for historical events (a Newtonian or Churchillian decision), and ultimate causes (the Royal Navy presupposes a body of water). And there are considerations of necessary causes which may nonetheless be insufficient on their own to explain some event, trend or process.

Apart from the broader issue of deciding what causes are central to any given aspect or event of Anglosphere history, we also need to consider appetite.

I must confess that the past year since reading Jim's book has been an enjoyable but industrious trip through political, military, economic, and even naval history, all in aid of educating myself on the various potential "causes" of the Anglosphere. However my interests, appetites, and fascinations are those of one firmly in the middle of the problem ... when Jim refers to an "Anglosphere Challenge" I see such challenge as existential, not cultural, racial, or economic. As the joke about ham and eggs says, the chicken's involved but the pig's committed.

The Anglosphere no doubt looks very different from the Outside, and if I was an Outsider, the question of causality would be very critical indeed. The happiest causality answer would be that the Anglosphere is an aberration set for imminent inherent destruction. Alternatively, if it can be halted or demolished through specific kinds of antagonism, then the Anglosphere's weaknesses need to be identified. The worst answer, for someone outside the Anglosphere, is that the "challenge" is effectively Over and the Anglosphere blocks any alternative approach to progress.

The question of causality has just as many vested interests in the domestic politics of the Anglosphere. If the cause of Anglosphere success is tied to geographic good fortune, or some moral value (inherent or inculcated), the centre of gravity for domestic politics, for the inclusion of new immigrants, must shift.

For both "foreign" and domestic observers of the Anglosphere, then, there are real questions (tied to causation) about what and how much of Anglosphere success can be shared and/or disregarded. What measure of global economic development, for example, happens in the penumbra of Anglosphere orderliness, and what measure is itself orderly (learned from the Anglosphere or inherent)? Needless to say, such questions tie into cultural self-esteem, which as we all know has risen to the status of greatest importance in public discourse, somewhere ahead of putting dinner on the table.

So while my chart is, I believe, a useful tool for thinking about causation (scaling from the personal to the cosmic), it leaves the question about what is to be explained and what is sufficient explanation to the user.

The three main themes of Jim's book were:

1. Anglosphere historical distinctiveness (exceptionalism)
2. "Network commonwealth" as an emerging form of social organization
3. Singularity as an imminent challenge to world culture.

For myself, the past year of zigzagging through the historical literature has focused on a general education but also on identifying what the nature of Anglosphere exceptionalism was ... whether the "network commonwealth" is inherent or intentional ... and whether the Singularity spells the end of the Anglosphere or merely its next challenge.

From my standpoint, if we are to look for a "secret weapon" it must lie in some universal human attribute interacting with some AngloSaxon social reflex. Something that (in retrospect) we can see evolving, elaborating, and increasing its impact on both the Anglosphere and the world. That's for installment 3 of Secret Weapon.

Posted by jmccormick at December 5, 2005 11:42 AM

From my standpoint, if we are to look for a "secret weapon" it must lie in some universal human attribute interacting with some AngloSaxon social reflex. Something that (in retrospect) can see evolving, elaborating, and increasing its impact on both the Anglosphere and the world.

T.R. Fehrenbach remarked (I paraphrase) that the Anglo-Celts who pushed into Kentucky had a singular ability to respect the rights of the individual yet band together in time of need and subordinate themselves as required.

This might be that weapon - the ability to balance the rights of the individual against the great good for the community.

Posted by: Brian at December 5, 2005 07:03 PM

James: While I think Anglosphere exceptionalism is a fact (as is Japanese exceptionalism, Sinosphere exceptionalism, and the exceptionalism of most other major cultures on the planet), it is the peculiar *mix* of Anglospheric attributes that seems to matter most. There are other high-trust cultures (Japan, for instance), but few that combine high trust with individualism. Similarly for other Anglospheric cultural traits such as entrepreneurialism, industrialism, pursuit of science, technological inventiveness, economic flexibility, and freedom of contract. Further, these Anglospheric traits are not merely cultural but also social, legal, institutional. It's the whole nexus that makes the Anglosphere so powerful or, to your Outsiders, so scary. Having read many of the same books you have (thanks to the bibliography in Jim's book), I too still puzzle over the etiology of the Anglosphere. There is so much to disentangle here, and doing so becomes of greater importance with each passing day (the Singularity is near...).

Posted by: Peter Saint-Andre at December 5, 2005 08:52 PM
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