March 21, 2014

Notes from Parag Khanna's "How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance"

Are the second Dark Ages and, subsequently, the next Renaissance upon us?

I'm proud to announce that I finally finished Parag Khanna's "How to Run the World" last month! I'm a pretty quick reader, but this book dragged over 4 months - in between which I finished the first 4 books of George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire"series and "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" (both which I highly recommend). 

"How to Run the World" bears an ambitious title, with a similarly ambitious scope. (But of course, it's international relations, n'est-ce pas?) Author Parag Khanna is an international relations expert: his résumé includes being Director of the Hybrid Reality Institute, Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, and Visiting Fellow at LSE IDEAS, amongst others. 

The basic premise: we're in the middle of a second Dark Ages. "Rising powers, multinational corporations, powerful families,... religious radicals, universities, and mercenaries are all part of the diplomatic landscape." Khanna raises a valid point in that our current world order is broken. For example, the United Nations is inert, bound by accumulated bureaucratic inefficiencies and the vested interests of its Security Council members. The American government has teetered on the brink of a shutdown twice. In Sudan, redrawing borders hasn't reduced violence levels in the South. Mercenaries were involved on both sides in the Syrian civil war. More recently in Ukraine, it seems that Crimea may secede - what Kiev calls theft, Putin claims is the legitimate desire to return to Moscow. 

To this end, Khanna proposes a grand solution: mega-diplomacy. Mega-diplomacy is not confined to officially-appointed diplomats. Mega-diplomacy involves influencers such as Bill and Melinda Gates whose foundation has granted US$ 28 billion for global health, development and advocacy efforts, and actress Angelina Jolie for her humanitarian efforts, among others. These efforts - along with various NGOs - cut across national borders. A firm believer in technology (check out the Hybrid Reality Institute - and, perhaps, suspend your skepticism), Khanna suggests that, armed with a smartphone, you and I can participate in this mega-diplomacy.

Khanna also suggests the mantra, "Govern globally, act locally". Without going into too much detail, you can watch what he means here.

I think the book only comes into its own in the third and final part, titled "A World of Need". It affirms that there is so much that we still have to do in solving issues common to all societies: poverty, disease, education, human rights and inequality, conserving the environment.

Otherwise, I found myself mentally arguing with Khanna's points as I went along. I found some of his recommendations dubious and "fluffy" ("make safari, not war" really?). I'm not sure if I want to sit down (and procrastinate) with it for another 4 months though.

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