By Ghassan Karam, Special to Ya Libnan
Joseph Schumpeter’s idea of creative destruction has attained world wide use over the past quarter of a century as economists, sociologist’s businessmen and others try to explain the rapidity of change that seemed to have taken hold of most areas of the world. This phenomenal rate of technological innovation appears to be increasing at an exponential rate of growth. Ray Kurzweil who wrote the classic “The Singularity Is Near” projects that our knowledge will increase over the next 20 years by as much as it had increased over the past 200 years.
It is not enough to introduce a new product or a new way of producing an old one and at times the new innovation does not have to be superior to its direct competitors to dominate and prosper. Does anyone remember the Beta max vs. the VHS? Most observers admit that the Beta max was the superior product but it had to bite the dust. Why? Simply because it could not convince enough end users to adopt its technology. Apple computer on the other hand has been moving from one innovation to another , all successful beyond any expectations and all have left an indelible mark on the way that some functions are done. ( Obviously the reference in this case is to the ubiquitous iPod, iPhone and many expect the same to be true of the iTablet). So why did Apple succeed in this field as well as Google and many others in different fields? They managed to somehow create a demand for their new products. Once the demand was there the products sold in great quantities, dominated their fields and forced everyone else to adapt if they wished to survive.
But what is true of physical products is also true of ideas. What would have been the influence of Karl Marx had his dialectical approach to explain the way the world works had not found enough adherents? He would have been another Beta max if you willJ. Marx seemed to have the ability to attract followers and to appeal to some powerful intellectuals who took his ideas and almost precipitated a global revolution. But any study of history will demonstrate that many a time better ideas do not always win. Paradigm shifts are very difficult to achieve as Thomas Kuhn has explained in his Theories of a Scientific Revolution. That is precisely why in one field after another one person rises to prominence although that individual has basically revived ideas that someone else had introduced sometime in the past.
So what does all of this have to do with a column essentially devoted to Lebanese affairs? Quite a lot. Allow me to use one more real world example prior to my showing my cards. General Motors decided to produce city buses in large quantities , in the early half of the 20th century, but it did not want to take any chances about whether the expected demand would materialize. General Motors used its financial strength to buy many of the city transit tramlines through a subsidiary. Then it proceeded to declare all of these rail based public transport companies bankrupt. Naturally the cities then had no choice but to adopt the technology of the new comers and buses became adopted in large numbers. The effect of that “conspiracy” can be felt decades later all across the metropolitan areas in the United States.
As you can see from the above there is a fool proof way of making an idea spread or a new product take hold. Create a demand for it , by force and through a conspiracy and illegal means if you have to. Once the demand is there then the idea becomes established.
Hezbollah had a product with a limited appeal to some Lebanese as a result of their sacrifices to force the Israelis out of Lebanon. But once Israel pulled out and all other militias disarmed the Hezbollah leadership had second thoughts about relinquishing the power that they had become accustomed to. Hezbollah did exactly what GM had done. They went all the way out to create a demand for their arms cache as illegal as it might have been. To convince the Lebanese of the imminent Israeli threat they had to make sure that the borders were always ground for conflict and so they cooperated with some radical Palestinian groups based in Syria, pledged allegiance to the Iranian Mullahs and kept on increasing the level of rhetorical threats. When all of that was not enough Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers knowing full well that the consequences would be war.
Our intention is not to argue whether the Israeli threat to Lebanon is as real as Hezbollah portrays it, partially as strong or even non existent which it might be. Remember that the borders between Lebanon and Israel were very quiet for the first quarter of a century and that the brutal Israeli assault on Beirut was to a large extent in response to Fatah land provocations. Yet the question must be raised: What is the extent of the true Israeli threat to Lebanon and how much of the current emotional position about the threat is a result of a diabolical plot to create a demand for the military capabilities of Hezbollah. Let me conclude by raising another question; if the purpose of Hezbollah and the constant demand for an effective Lebanese Army is the ability to meet this perceived threat then why doesn’t Lebanon defuse this potential problem in the same way that its larger and more powerful Arab brothers, Egypt and Jordan have done? Or how about agreeing to a mutual defense treaty with a large and credible foreign power whether it is Russia, NATO, the Arab league or even Iran is immaterial. If the purpose is to neutralize the Israeli threat then it is incumbent on us to choose the most effective and least costly way. That would be real creative destruction.
A Podcast of the above can be heard at: ramblings11.mypodcast.com
The above text has also been posted to rationalrepublic.blogspot.com