2012: The Davids and the Goliaths

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The story (1 Samuel 17:41-57) is a staple children’s tale, and a figure of thought used everywhere. The apparently powerless, a boy, against the apparently powerful, a nine-foot tall giant. A narrow valley offering no escape, armies pitted against each other. David emerges, challenging the giant to battle–and wins. According to the Old Testament God was on his side; others might point to wits, courage, self-confidence, a slingshot and a collection of stones. One stone found the vulnerable spot in Goliath’s armor, and that was it. Keep God out of it.

A metaphor for world history and for the year we are entering. The new and young pitted against the old-fashioned and old. Among the slingshots the IEDs, the improvised explosive devices. Or new ideas. Or new goods and services. In all three realms of power: military, cultural, and economic. The young generation sees the issues in a new way; that is their privilege. Moreover, the old generation has heard so often that they are the world’s only superpowers that they actually believe it. If Goliath had done some good intelligence work, he might have known about the stones and been very unimpressed. The slingshot he may not even have understood closed as he was to new ideas.

Poor Goliath! Some space for pity for the overconfident giant? Whereas David, yes, very clever, very arrogant. Nevertheless, could he, and Saul, not have struck a good deal, showing the power in a non-lethal way? Did he have to become a military genius inspiring the many napoleons of the world? How about turning his talents toward peace?

Goliath expires. The story sides with the winner, as usual. Yet History whispers in the ears of Goliath, “OK, your time was up. David outsmarted you. However, I’ll tell you one thing: every David will sooner or later become a Goliath, victim of his own success. Look at Israel then, and today. Every Goliath was a David once.”

Looking at the world from above, four giant goliaths stand out: the West–actually two goliath twins USA/EU–Russia/India/China. China? Is that not the super-david challenging all the rest with very smart ideas? Yes, China is also that, and teaches us that there may be a goliath-david-goliath-david cycle at work. It dies around 1910, the end of the Ch’ing dynasty’s goliathism, and reincarnates as a david. However, goliath dying from hyper-capitalist economy sustained by growing inequality, a contagious disease it seems, manages to infect it. In addition, China is so eager to overdo and undo that falling giant that closeness disables its immunity devices. How lethal, it remains to be seen.

However, goliathism is deeper. It is not Bill Clinton’s “It’s the economy, stupid!” nor Mother Jones’ “It’s the inequality, stupid!” It is the stupidity, stupid! Democracy vs autocracy seems to have little to do with it; size, much. A history of davids fighting against odds turning into stupid goliaths, victims of their own successes. But they should know the handwriting on the wall by now. Look at the economies of the twin goliaths in the West, or the Russian classical third world resource economy, or the Indian never coming off the ground with it abysmal inequality. Look at Japan, once a david with a new, booming economy very different from Western economies; persuaded to go West by that center of contagion, Harvard Business School, down it went, not even qualifying for goliath status. With nothing smart in sight. It is pure stupidity, stupid!

And the davids? All over the place. Very many of them in the Arab-Muslim world, a fallen goliath from Ottoman-Caliphate times now pulling itself together. Its slingshot? Elements of IEDs, no doubt. Needle-prick terrorism against a giant goliath state terrorism, a goliath specialty. However, looming above that there is also nonviolence, political smartness, self-reliance. Going their own joint ways, South-South cooperation, leaving the goliaths to their devices.

The goliaths, nine-foot tall, armored like dinosaurs, enter those narrow valleys, an Iraq, an Afghanistan to meet their destiny, the slingshots waiting for them; and they back off in retreat. Too stupid to learn, too resilient: Libya proves irresistible, blind to “Gaddafi accepts peace plan offered by African peers” (The Washington Post, April 11 2011). African peers. A lot of davids among them, also in the making. Like Truth & Reconciliation, a slingshot aimed at nothing less than traditional jurisprudence. Go for that, they said, with Gaddafi, not for that (goliath) ICC-International Criminal Court.

Syria and Iran wait, down the road. Not that the goliaths and their smaller allies do not have some good arguments and goals. The problem is that nine-foot tall method of the twins USA-NATO.

So, what is the message? Davids all over the world unite, you have only your goliaths to lose? Something like that, but with a major proviso: use david’s nonviolent slingshots. Assad, please repeat Gaddafi as just quoted, and come up with a peace plan for Syria. Arab peers, please be more persistent than African peers. Iran, please open for inspections; come up with a peace plan for West Asia. Goliaths in the West, how about some reason, some smartness? You know perfectly well that an ever-expanding Israel is a major part of the problem; come up with a peace plan for the Middle East. Call a major UN Conference for Security and Cooperation in West Asia (or the Middle East) for peace plans to meet, challenge each other, arriving at something.

David knew what he wanted, so did Goliath: to slay each other. We have had enough of that. Smartness yes, but nonviolent, and of the positive variety, taking in, not only on, the adversary. The davids of the world should be generous to the world’s goliaths. Offer them space at all tables as observers, with no monopoly on the menu. Let the Icelands and Argentines teach them how to get their economies in order. Reduce the armor; save! Get down from nine feet to normal.

Johan Galtung
2 January 2012

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