Individuals, tribes, and nations operate within cultural systems. They influence changes in systems and, in response, the systems influence them. Comprehending how to work well with and within the system is not an easily obtainable skill.
Alonzo Harris 2001
In the fall of 2001, the year that changed the United States forever, the critically-acclaimed movie “Training Day” premiered in theaters worldwide. Denzel Washington’s leading role ultimately landed him an Academy Award for the best actor. His character, Alonzo Harris is a corrupt Los Angeles police detective in the narcotics department, who controls a neighborhood through fear and intimidation. Ordinary residents and neighborhood thugs go along, because they fear repercussion from standing up to his unchallenged power. They are afraid of open display of resentment.
Toward the end of the movie, an outsider police officer stands up to Harris and fights him in public, while the neighborhood watches. When people realize that someone can indeed challenge Harris, they overcome the fear and decide to ignore orders to shoot Harris’ opponent, simply walking away leaving him standing in the street alone. He could no longer project any fear.
Figure 1 (Source). Alonzo Harris
At that moment Harris realizes that he cannot return to the status of the neighborhood king, regardless of how hard he would try. Not even killing everyone in that neighborhood would make the residents follow his orders. In cultural terms, the system has now turned against him, pushing him from the center of influence to periphery. His verbal threats are ignored.
With a sudden feeling of loneliness and anger a corrupt cop leaves the neighborhood. Later that night, he is shot and killed by a group of Russian assassins as a payback for his previous actions against the Russian organized crime. The Russians tend to never forget disrespect, whether in Hollywood or in real life.
[For more about culture and systems, I recommend a book The Concept of Cultural Systems: A Key to Understanding Tribes and Nations (1975) by an American anthropologist Leslie A. White.]
Nimrata Haley 2017
Other than being the year of “Training Day’s” box office success, 2001 was also a year of great tragedy for the United States. In the aftermath of September 11th attacks, Americans unified. The rest of the world joined together in sympathy and support for the Americans and helped them in the Global War on Terrorism. Even the Russian villains offered and provided support.
As time passed by, the United States’ global leadership transformed. It began to resemble that of Alonzo Harris. Rather than to continue cooperating with allies and perceived regional thugs (Russia et al) alike, the threats and intimidations became an increasingly common element of foreign policy. The global cultural system had to accept it. Like in Alonzo Harris’ neighborhood, no one was willing to step out and openly challenge the status quo.
By 2017, however, conditions began to change. Challengers, led by the Russian villains, have stepped out in the open. They have lost the fear-generated respect, willing to accept confrontation. We are now witnessing the change in a cultural system similar to that in Harris’ neighborhood at the end of “Training Day.” No intimidation and threat of killing and destroying can work to bring the system back to its previous condition.
Alonzo Harris’ fruitless attempts to retain respect through intimidation are strikingly similar to the current American diplomatic efforts in the United Nations. Rather than work though the decorum of respectful diplomacy and cooperation, threats and intimidation dominate the country’s approach to conflict resolution.
Figure 2 (Source). Nimrata “Nikki” Haley, current Ambassador of the United States at the United Nations.
In a series of unfortunate events, the leader (of the free world) has descended to new lows where, like Harris, the words spoken and actions taken are making our country look laughable in the eyes of foreigners. An approach built on fear and intimidation cannot be changed once it goes too far. It eventually leads to isolation and anger. It also leads to a direct confrontation with the villains who never forget how they were treated in the past. In the global geopolitical theater, however, no Academy Awards will be given for this kind of performance.