Tom Able asks about implications for understanding what we should expect from the “Arab Spring”

October 12, 2012 9:19 am 1 comment

From Tom Able: “I’m interested in what the concept of Cultural Maturity and Creative Systems Theory can tell us about what we should expect going forward from changes in the Middle East. Clearly these changes are important. But the results can seem terribly unpredictable. And it is not at all clear how we in the West can be most helpful. Any thoughts?

From Charles Johnston: At the most basic, CST helps put the changes we are seeing in developmental perspective. CST proposes that what we witness is analogous to the changes that brought democratic determination in the modern West some 250 years ago. As far as what we should expect, unpredictability is what we should expect to see for a number of reasons. First, transition between stages take time and always happen in a two-steps-forward/one-step-back fashion. (If this were just about new learning or finally getting it right, we would be more likely to see rapid and more linear change processes.)  Second, the Middle East has it own, very particular history. Of particular pertinent is how most of the countries where change is currently taking place were until very recently  ruled by secular dictators put in place by the West to protect first-world-culture interests. We should not expect movement into more Modern Age realities to suddenly produce European style democracies. At least as often, “democratic” processes will produce theocracies (as in Iran), or even Medieval-like  structures that might appear even less developed that what they replace ,but which are now more authentically a reflection of that region’s sensibilities.

The West’s right role is in such necessarily “messy” change processes? Much of the time it is simply to get out of the way–there is simply less to do (that will in fact be helpful) than we might wish. We need to be careful with patronizing metaphores, but in a sense the role is like that of a good parent in the raising of an adolescent–we want to get out of the way a much as possible, but also provide solid external protections should things go bad in a serious way.  One piece of such protecting involves creating boundaries agains the imposition of  external self-intersts, including our own. Leadership in this kind of “asymmetrical”context–where cultures reside at different cultures stages–takes particular sophistication.