Ebola & ISIS - Two Peas in the Globalisation Pod

There has been a month’s gap since our last posting only because we have had some late holidays and a great deal of work to do. We will be re-launching our sister company PendryWhite in a new format and you can expect a posting on that in due course. Meanwhile, the world continues to turn.

The two ‘hot’ stories (since we live in a world of fireside tales) in the last few weeks have been the emergence of Ebola out of West Africa and the emergence of ISIS in Greater Syria – both have ‘snuck up’ on Western policy-makers and both have resulted in cautious, almost desultory responses from the West.

What could these two issues – a deadly and horrible disease and a violent insurgency thousands of miles away from each other – possibly have in common. More than we might think perhaps. Perhaps both represent types of crack in the globalisation paradigm that policymakers find difficult to handle.

Similarities should not be over-done. Ebola is a virus that mutates through natural selection so the conditions for its evolutionary success amongst humans are what is most interesting to us. ISIS is a coalition of human agents who can reflect on their situation and adapt.

Nevertheless, the simple organism and the complex political phenomenon both require human beings to exist and to spread themselves. Both are presented by the established authorities as existential threats to be contained. Both (if Ebola had a mind) would see themselves rightfully resisting their exterminators by any adaptive means necessary.

There is a type of radical philosopher who tries to get outside what it to be human and see existence from a non-human stand-point. Often it is those political fictions the planet or the singularity that concern them but it is useful to see us from the viruses’ (or the extremist’s) point of view as these philosophers might do. To them, we are both threats and exploitable vectors.

This is easy to deal with if you are a realist with that wonderful phrase, ‘so what?’, because the point about Ebola and ISIS are that they are threats to me the realist – but how real is the threat and what do we expect our political lords to do about it.

As President Obama suggested, the risks of Ebola infecting the advanced West as a full-blown outbreak are ‘extremely low’. The real chances of ISIS killing more than 10% of the death toll of the Hamburg Raid of 1943 even if they are lucky and determined are also ‘extremely low’. Yet, in both cases, two more real threats within each category are competing for attention.

The first is an internal political threat that a small Ebola outbreak or a terrorist incident will destabilise the mandate of the ruling order and the second is that non-Western communities are being shattered beyond repair after failed military and market interventions by the West.

Having helped to trigger the conditions that permit both ‘evils’ to be let loose on weakened and confused populations, Western Governments have to a) be seen to be doing something when they know that all that they can do is contain the horror without levels of spending and a mandate they do not have and b) manage domestic panic to their own benefit or stop political rivals exploiting that same panic.

The actual facts of the matter (from a realist perspective) and the humanitarian issues in the tragic epicentres of the horror become secondary. What seems paramount in the current situation are strategic confusion and mixed messages.

Yet Ebola and ISIS are not accidents. They are both cracks in the globalisation paradigm that are merely the largest and more obvious cracks amongst many small fissures – some as small as viruses, others as large as drug cartels or militia – but of that another day.


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