It’s 2012 and it feels more uneasy than normal. It feels like there is an imbalance and that imbalance creates uncertainty and uncertainty begets fear which inevitably means we begin scrutinizing whether this is actual change or simply a rocky patch in the status quo. Is this part of cyclical history (the study of the fact we are doomed to make the same errors because of generational experience or lack of experience depending on where we are in the cycle) and how will our existing attitudes which affect behavior & beliefs day in and day out?

Regardless. It appears to be a world becoming more troublesome and increasingly challenging right before our eyes and, to some people, the end of the world as we know it is upon us. Apparently enough people feel that way because National Geographic Channel has a new reality show, Doomsday Preppers, which profiles Americans who have taken extreme measures to plan for a forthcoming apocalypse — whether natural disaster, nuclear war or economic crisis. Oh. And the channel commissioned an online survey of 1,007 adults in the USA, and found that 61% of Americans believe the country will experience a major catastrophic event within the next 20 years.

Economist WorldMap global unrest

Personally I find programs like that silly and simply fueling the discussion, but you don’t ahve to be a researcher to hear a thread of   “will it really be okay?” throughout many conversations today.

Anyway. Let me suggest a one word reason for why we all feel this unrest.


Imbalance. It may sound too simplistic but sometimes the best answers are that simple.

There is imbalance in the inequality of income (haves and have nots).

There is an imbalance in global economic superiority (as the power of economy shifts).

There is an imbalance in government (if you think about it … almost 2/3rd of the world population will be affected by elections in the next year and a half). Oh.  And that doesn’t even take into consideration the ‘unexpected’ elections like in the middle east and countries in Africa.

There is an imbalance in currency & debt (anything financial makes people nervous).

There is an imbalance in military and politics (there is no such thing as a military war anymore … only geopolitical wars using military to enforce ideological aims).

There is an imbalance not just globally, but within individual country construct & infrastructure (and THIS creates an unsettling thought of country mortality, i.e., will my country even exist type thinking).


** note: country mortality is a consideration (book recommendation: Vanished Kingdoms) as historically nations cycle between consolidation (bigger is better) and fragmentation (city-states). I would also note this parallels the business world **


All that imbalance (not just perception, but reality) unsettles people emotionally — which increases the perception of risk. Inevitably, people tend to pay more attention to large-scale events (and troubles) that are unlikely rather than less catastrophic events that are more probable.

This emotional investment tires people and some unexpected things arise.

Social revolutions, or social upheavals at a minimum, adds to the general feel of geopolitical & global unrest & turmoil. We focused (in the West) on the Arab world which has been swept by the Arab Spring that we rushed to label as a chain of “democratic revolutions” (social revolution for ‘the good’). Unfortunately (although probably foreseeable if we had taken the time to think about it) the Arab spring turned later in the year to new regimes, which combine the old authoritarianism with Islamism, and appear to offer far weaker stability. In addition. Most ‘developed democratic-leaning’ countries predicted that the seeds of the Arab Spring would spring forth in Russia or China.  Instead social revolution bubbled up in unexpected places. In an especially remarkable phenomenon social protests and revolts have become grassroots efforts in affluent Western societies, and although the demonstrators calling for the occupation of Wall Street and other places refer to the example of the Arab Spring, the causes of protests in the West are certainly not rooted in tyranny combined with corruption, or in informational semi-openness and semi-famine evidenced in the Arab world, but rather a more foundational “imbalance” (or inequality) which is an inherent belief (if not an actual truth) within democratic societies.
The social unrest enhances an underlying “us versus them” narrative (which can be used for good – address institutional change – or for bad — populism).

What does all this mean?

Uncertainty of Nations. It translates into creating a larger general uncertainty of viability of individual nations within a larger global construct.

For example … while it is easy to think of today’s European countries as natural sub-units of the continent they were often welded together from a mix of peoples, overlapping in the same physical terrain, but willing to live together in some varying degree of harmony. And time & time again we have seen examples of situations where that welding has come apart (Soviet Union, Austrian empire, ottoman empire to Turkey, Yugoslavia, among examples). Therefore this deeper emotional underpinning has a longer term functional foundation (based on reality whether there is a conscious inherent knowledge residing in people’s brains or not we are all steeped in a historical knowledge we have gathered over the years).

That means subconsciously we are quite aware that many city/states have disappeared over time.

Do we believe it can happen today … and to us? Well. I am not sure this is all about “belief”, but rather it is about ‘possibilities’. The possibility it could happen. It is a possibility, and belief, “nothing lasts forever.” History argues that while today’s major countries may seem permanent, they too will eventually fade, or change into very different forms. This current imbalance is creating an unprecedented swift redistribution of power in the economy accompanied by an increasing redistribution of power in politics. Even Europe is considering asking for financial assistance from the communist China (who would have ever thought that) and Russia is forcing itself into the oil economy (and using it as a tool to politically maneuver).

We are witnesses to an unfolding sharp competition for natural resources, food and even land/territories that looks much like what happened in 1850 – 1950 period. The old geopolitical struggle is obviously making a comeback – on a markedly new footing.

depth & breadth. I think what is surprising everyone is the depth & breadth of the unrest.

Maybe call it a sea of change. Yemen, Sudan, USA, china, Afghanistan, Belarus, Ukraine, Israel/Palestine, Egypt, Greece, Tunisia, ivory coast, north & south Korea … the list seems endless. The list includes big & small. It feels like the highest level of turmoil and unrest globally I have felt in my lifetime.

What is going on in the Middle East just seems part of something far bigger.

Who would have thought we would see protesters in Iran, New York City, Paris, Moscow, Kiev all at the same time. It is reminiscent of the labor protests that spanned America and all of Europe in the early 1900s when communism was rearing its head for the first time.

With that 1900 reference, does the fetid breath of world war three whispers in our ears? (source: foreign affairs essay)

Well. On one hand World War Three seems long overdue in the cycle of things. World War Two was supposed to be the war that ended all wars in the world. And while there was a Soviet Union and a USA and a Cold War, the geopolitical situation was balanced, but with the shifting of economic power among a variety of nations vying for superiority (power) things are now unbalanced.

Anyway. I mention WW2 because it does feel like a WW3 (or some version of it) sometimes feels imminent (note: a world war may not be conducted in a traditional military fashion but rather thru cyberwar, economic war, informational war). For context all we have to think of is the late 1800’s into early 1900’s.


I am not suggesting we are aiming for a global military conflict, but I am suggesting we should be prepared for several more years of turmoil and global unrest. And mentally be prepared, because it isn’t Armageddon, it is simply a confluence of factors & change which will attack our attitudes and beliefs.


Let me go back to the late 1880’s leading into World War 1. Several things created the perfect storm for WW1 but simplistically it was a combination of social unrest (labor & communism), cultural unrest (countries welded together were becoming unglued as each distinct segment sought some individuality) and alliance/national power within a fragile interconnected global construct. Almost every country was truly trying to deflect domestic issues by focusing on foreign issues. It is a fact that leaders are more likely to engage in diversionary foreign policy behavior only when domestic unrest threatens a loss of political support from groups that are politically important to the leadership.

By the time all aspects of all causes had reached their apex almost every nation involved was just looking for an excuse to start the war. Regardless. Some interesting things from this time period:

–          Dollar diplomacy — President Taft urged American banks and businesses to invest in Latin America. He promised that the United States would step in if unrest threatened their investments.

–          Spanish-American War: Puerto Rico was annexed by the United States.                                                 The United States asserted the right to intervene in Cuban affairs.

–          Panama Canal and the role of Theodore Roosevelt (boy … this one is going to sound an awful like middle east waterways and supporting middle east ‘democracies’). United States encouraged Panama’s independence from Colombia.

–          U.S. efforts to depose Hawaii’s monarchy; U.S. annexation of Hawaii.

–          Americans wanted to “make the world safe for democracy.” – Woodrow Wilson

–          In 1890’s (report from the Superintendent of the Census):

Many Americans believed U.S. had to expand or explode … increase in population, wealth, and industrial production demanded more resource.

Some feared existing resources in U.S. might eventually dry up

Panic of 1893 convinced some businessmen industry had overexpanded resulting in overproduction & underconsumption

Labor violence and agrarian unrest (Populism)  rampant due to industrialism.

–          Foreign trade becoming increasingly important to American economy in late 19th century. Americans considered  acquiring new colonies to expand markets further.

And we shouldn’t ignore the ‘little things’ that led to WW1:

Venezuela Crisis, 1902 — Germany sank two Venezuelan gunboats trying to seek forced payment for heavy Venezuelan debt to Germany.

Russo-Japanese War (1904) and Japanese-American relations. Russia and Japan went to war over issue of ports in Manchuria & Korea.

–          Japan destroyed much of Russian fleet (this was the first defeat of a non-European power since the Turkish invasion of 1500s)

–          As war dragged on, Japanese ran short of men and money.

–          Theodore Roosevelt eager to prevent either side from gaining a monopoly in Asia but did not seek war (Japan secretly asked Roosevelt to help sponsor peace negotiations)

I am not going to walk through every correlation between past events and current events because some are too obvious to ignore. Different time and different attitude? Surely. But to ignore re-occurring events is like putting your head in the sand.

military campaigns have actually turned into international political campaigns. The new strategic logic aims not to destroy an enemy state but to overpower it with a view to subordinating it to the victor’s interests politically and economically. The meaning of war has changed from inflicting a military defeat on the enemy to “tailoring” it to the attacker’s needs.”

Alexei Bogaturov, Russian Foreign Ministry

All that said. There is an imbalance in military, diplomacy and politics (there is no such thing as a military war anymore only geopolitical wars using military to enforce ideological aims).

A World War3? Probably not. Today’s ideologies dampen enthusiasm for that extensive a conflict. It is more of a geopolitical conflict than a military one (where military is subservient to politics and more enforcing ideological direction rather than simply destroying the enemy).

But. I would imagine there is an exception to this thought … where someone with enough military impact decides to break the code and like dominoes (similar to WW1) militarily things escalate. If I were in Las Vegas I would put it at low odds, but it could happen.

In the end … individuals or nations?

Interestingly the internet plays a role in the unrest. It has created a platform for a Global Voice therefore making differences between nations and antagonism between peoples less and less on a daily basis. The unrest is actually being created not between nations, but rather more often WITHIN the nation.

It is an interesting unexpected dynamic.

It is antagonism between classes moreso than antagonism between nations (although an opportunistic amoral leader could leverage antagonism by making a ‘nation’ a common enemy of the classes).

And I imagine that makes the unbalance hit each of us on more of a personal level.

That said.

As I have said many times before. Individuals can make a difference. And we can impact the depth & breadth as well as the feelings that are all part of social unrest. And, in the end, the unrest will only really end when we find some balance. Because the balance will end up linking domestic change and international conflict — ‘war’ conflicts combined with labor/social unrest. With today’s far reaching technology, while there are natural Global conflict cycles, conflict (or unrest) feeds upon itself.

Think about this (and bear with me because I won’t have the numbers exactly right but you get the point)..

Over 25% of the world’s countries will have a change in government (this includes China, USA & Russia). That is natural domestic unrest. And it creates some global angst as this affects almost 50% of the population with these three alone. I say that to help people understand there is going to be some natural unrest globally just due to the cycle of governmental things.

But those things bleed into our psyche. And it all becomes exacerbated by many countries which are experiencing immense difficulty in adapting to the results of shared unrest (and shared thinking).

And all nations are concerned at any prospect of losing a meaningful role in the global society.

And all governments are haunted by the specter of unrest and revolution <and as a result many are far too happy to deflect conflict from the domestic scene to foreign affairs and to form dangerous domestic alliances>.

In the end. Hold on to something tight because this isn’t going to end for another 2 years (at minimum). My prediction is that this is a decade-long shift of power before we find true balance again.

Ok. That’s what I am thinking about all the global unrest and global imbalance. No solutions, just observations.

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Written by Bruce