COMPLEXITY THEORY AS A TOOL
FOR UNDERSTANDING AND COPING WITH ETHNIC CONFLICT
AND DEVELOPMENT ISSUES IN POST-SOVIET EURASIA
Walter C. Clemens, Jr.
Some units of post-Soviet Eurasia have avoided or minimized ethnic conflict;
others have suffered from internal ethnic strife or ethnically inspired
wars with neighboring states; and still others have managed since 1991
to repress ethnic strife. Jack Snyder argues that democratization is
the key variable that accounts for these divergent outcomes. But achievements
and difficulties on the path from Communist rule to a new way of life
are more fully explained by each society's relative "fitness."
This term, derived from complexity theory, signifies a society's capacity
to cope with complex challenges and opportunities. A fit society can
deal constructively with ethnic as well as with other political, economic,
and cultural problems. If a society fails on any of these fronts, ethnic
grievances are likely to become more acute and may explode in violence.
When this happens, the society's ability to cope with other issues also
declines. Thus, societal fitness is both cause and effect of overall
development. Variations in fitness reflect the strength of what complexity
theorist call "self-organization." This quality, in turn,
depends heavily upon culture. Cultures long devoted to universal literacy
and to independent thinking have a far greater capacity for self-organization
than those that resisted universal literacy and free thinking.
Introduction: Qualifying Liberal Peace Theory
Liberal peace theory postulates that established democracies
seldom if ever make war on one another (Doyle, 1997; Elman, 1997; Brown,
1996). How then does the theory account for war between Armenia and
Azerbaijan, each of which--independent since 1991--has claimed to be
democratic? Seeking to show the limits of liberal peace theory, political
scientist Jack Snyder (2000) explains the presence or absence of ethnic
peace by treating democratization as the independent variable. Thus,
Snyder attributes the absence of ethnic violence in Estonia since 1991
to successful democratization. Ethnic calm in Uzbekistan, on the other
hand, resulted from an efficient dictatorship. Between these extremes
was a decade of ethnic strife pitting Armenians against Azeris and Abkhazians
against Georgians. Snyder traces these ethnic conflicts, as well as
the wars between Russia and Chechnya, to partial but unsuccessful democratizations.
To explain the successes and failures of democratization Snyder considers
many economic and cultural as well as political variables. For example,
he weighs the impact of early versus middle or late economic development.
The violent ways of Serbian nationalists, he contends (Snyder, 2000,
207), have reflected their society's early but partial democratization
(manipulated by rival dynasties while fighting the Ottomans) and its
late industrialization (under President Tito). Snyder's broad treatment
helps us to grasp the context but it leaves the reader unsure which
factor, if any, determines whether there is ethnic calm or conflict.
Taking partial democratization as a source of nationalist violence is
the more complicated because, Snyder concedes, it can cut in opposite
directions. President Boris Yeltsin sent Russian troops into Chechnya
in 1994 hoping to rebuild his popularity by appealing to nationalist
sentiment. Instead, partially democratized Russians objected to this
campaign and pressed the Kremlin to end it. "Thus, Russia's fragile
democratic institutions could be mobilized in crisis against imperial
excesses, but they were less effective in scrutinizing nationalist mythmaking
on a day-to-day basis [Snyder, 2000, 236-37]."
Snyder's leitmotif of democratization--whether successful, partial,
or nonexistent--serves as a heuristic organizing principle for assessing
a wide range of past and present cases of political and economic development.
But this approach embodies a tautology: "Successful democracy equals
ethnic peace." We can know that democracy has taken root because
there is no ethnic conflict; where ethnic strife appears, democracy
is shallow. The independent variable becomes the same as the dependent.
This paper contends that movement toward or away from resolution of
ethnic problems in newly independent states can be more fully explained
by concepts derived from complexity theory. These concepts do not contradict
explanations rooted in democratization but enrich them and offer linkages
to other fields of knowledge. They start with a wider lens than democratization
but include it. The concept of societal fitness, a major concern of
complexity theory, subsumes political, economic, and cultural strengths.
The precise role played by each strength in shaping societal fitness
becomes an important but secondary question.
Generated by scholars from various disciplines, complexity theory integrates
concepts from many fields to produce a new slant on evolution. Its exponents
seek a general theory able to explain many different types of phenomena--social
as well as biological and physical. If complexity theory has universal
validity, it should also help us to understand ethnic and other problems
in post-Soviet Eurasia. The contributions of complexity theory to this
understanding are evaluated in this paper.
The analysis here suggests that complexity theory can enhance our ability
to describe and explain the past and present. But the theory has much
less utility for projecting alternative futures or prescribing policy.
Still, complexity theory can enlarge our vision and complement other
approaches to social science.
All the theories discussed here are macro: They focus on state and society
or on the international system. They do not address the ultimate actor--individuals,
often the decisive factors in tipping the balance of forces one way
or the other. A full assessment of the past, present, and future of
any social system would have to analyze the key individuals and groups
who shape it.
Having registered these caveats, let us summarize the essence of complexity
theory and then apply it to explain divergent policy outcomes in the
former Communist states of Eastern Europe and the USSR.
Essentials of Complexity Theory
Complexity theory is anchored in nine basic concepts:
fitness, coevolution, emergence, agent-based systems, self-organization,
self-organized criticality, punctuated equilibrium, and fitness landscapes
(Lewin, 1992; Kauffman, 1993, 1995, 2000; Axelrod, 1997; Axelrod and
Cohen, 1999; Lewin and Regine, 2000; Richards, 2000).
Complexity theory defines fitness as the ability to cope with complexity.
To survive challenges and make the most of opportunity, a fit organism
can process information about and deal with many variables.
The theory posits that all life forms exist on a spectrum ranging from
instability (chaos) to ultra stability (ordered hierarchy). Fitness
is found in the middle ranges of this spectrum between rigid order and
chaos--not in a crystal, where every atom resides in an ordered hierarchy;
nor in gases whose molecules move at random. Move too far toward either
pole, and you lose fitness. The fitness of the United States hovers
close to the edge of chaos, while that of Singapore teeters on the brink
No organism evolves alone. Every individual, species, and society coevolves
with others and with their shared environment. A change in any one actor
or environment can alter the fitness of multiple actors (Lumsden and
Wilson, 1981). The more variables shape a system, the harder to anticipate
how change in one element will affect others (the "butterfly effect").
Nonlinearity and complexity are hallmarks of human social networks.
Complexity theory endeavors to explain the process of complex adaptation
within complex systems--whether they be ecosystems, the Internet, or
Coevolution often gives rise to "emergent properties"--holistic
phenomena richer than the sum of their parts--even their genes and chemical
ingredients. Thus, an infant's brain can learn more rules than are contained
in its genes. Sometimes evolution seems to manifest a spontaneous "order
An agent-based system is one in which independent actors, each following
a few rules, self-organize to form an emergent phenomenon without central
direction from above. Thus, many species interlock in a coral reef and
provide one another protection from predators, temperature extremes,
and strong currents. Without planning, they cooperate for mutual gain.
Like a coral reef, every durable ecosystem is an emergent phenomenon.
The key to fitness is self-organization resulting from the actions,
planned or not, by independent agents. Together, they generate a system
that copes well with complexity.
Balanced between order and chaos, a fit being is like a sandpile which,
if one more grain of sand is added, may collapse in an avalanche. This
fragile equilibrium is called self-organized criticality. The sandpile
metaphor, however, is not universally accepted and is not essential
to complexity theory.
The concept of punctuated equilibrium underscores that evolution is
often marked by surges of speciation and avalanches of extinction (Gould,
2002). Species often develop quickly, endure with little change for
a long time, and then die out suddenly--not gradually. Thanks to mutation
and self-organization, members of the species find their niche and hang
on to it. When their environment changes, they must adapt or disappear.
Critics say that what appears as "punctuation" may result
from an incomplete fossil record and analytical confusion between "individual,"
class," and "species" (Ridley, 2002, 11). Even assuming
that punctuation takes place, it difficult to say how long an equilibrium
will endure--especially in politics. Scientists in many fields noticed
in the 1990s that critical events (meteorological, geological, physiological)
occur more often--both earlier and later than forecast by the model
of a bell-shaped curve. Cosmologists in 2002 disagreed whether the universe
began with a Big Bang or alternates every 14 billion years between expansion
Complexity theory suggests that coevolution can be mapped as a rugged
landscape in which the relative fitness of each organism is shown as
a peak rising or falling as a consequence of coevolution. As in an arms
race, the peaks of a predator and its prey may gain or decline according
to changes in their offensive and defensive capabilities. If attackers
acquire more lethal weapons, the fitness peak of the prey will drop.
If individuals among the prey population acquire characteristics that
reduce their vulnerability, their peaks will rise.
Differences Across Eurasia: Variations That Need Explanation
The huge area to which we shall try to apply complexity
theory is Eastern Europe and the former USSR (Karatnycky, Adrian, Motyl,
Piano, 2001). Adapting Snyder's analysis, we identify four large domains
that took shape in Eurasia after the breakup of the USSR in 1991--each
distinguished by the way it dealt with ethnic issues and development
issues. In zone A was a set of countries that benefited from ethnic
calm and enjoyed gradual economic and political development. Zone B
was a shatterbelt of ethnic conflict and material regress occurred.
Zone C was a region--virtually frozen in time--with little ethnic conflict
and stagnant economic life (except in countries where the promise of
carbon fuels brought injections of outside capital). Finally, we may
distinguish a hybrid zone D where major countries--Russia and Ukraine--shared
some but not all characteristics of the other regions.
Zone A consists of societies and states that have experienced almost
no ethnic violence and have made strong progress toward democratic institutions
and economic development through market economics. From the former Yugoslavia,
the exemplar is Slovenia. From erstwhile Soviet allies in Eastern Europe,
the leaders are the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary. Of former Soviet
Union-Republics, only Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania belong in zone
A (Clemens, 2001).
Zone B comprises societies embroiled in severe ethnic fighting--Chechnya,
most of the former Yugoslavia, and the erstwhile Soviet union-republics
of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Moldova. Each showed a very low
capacity for coping with ethnic differences and the problems of establishing
a viable economy and a stable democracy. In each case, as Snyder says,
partial democratization probably aggravated ethnic tensions. Thus, "democracy"
made it harder for Armenia's leaders to negotiate any kind of compromise
with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, because nationalist firebrands
could mobilize votes against them.
Zone C refers to Central Asia and Belarus, where dictators suppressed
ethnic or other challenges to their rule. (In the 1990s Tajikistan experienced
much fighting between political rivals, but ethnic differences were
not at issue.) In the former Soviet union-republics of Central Asia,
erstwhile Communist leaders became dictators claiming to be both nationalist
and democratic. Kyrgystan had a free press for a time, but this ingredient
of a true democracy disappeared in the mid-1990s. [Abutting the former
USSR, Moscow's one-time client state Mongolia is a special case: In
the 1990s Mongolia moved quickly toward democracy even though it was
poorer than most parts of the USSR with a weak infrastructure for education
and communication. The country had few internal ethnic problems (90
percent of the population is Mongolian; 4 percent Kazak; 2 percent Russian;
2 percent Chinese; 2 percent other) and did not clash with China despite
the potential for expansionist claims by each side.] President Aleksandr
Lukashenko tried to russify Belarus and negotiate its union with the
Russian Federation. His opponents sought to establish and maintain a
clear Belarusian identity, but Lukashenko repressed them with little
Where to place the other states not clearly in one of these three zones?
In the early 21st century there were signs that Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia,
Croatia, Montenegro, and perhaps even Serbia might join zone A. But
the scales teetered. Each of these countries could readily drop into
zone B or C. Thus, Serbia made major strides toward real democracy and
peace with Montenegro in 2001-2002, but could still become embroiled
in more ethnic warfare with Kosovars or the Hungarian-speakers of Vojvodina.
The two largest Slavic states emerging from the USSR comprised the hybrid
zone D. By the early 21st century neither Russia nor Ukraine had achieved
a real democracy or a strong market economy. But neither suffered from
outright ethnic violence with one major exception: Russia's wars against
Chechnya (1994-1996 and again 1999--). Nationalisms in the Russian Federation
were both ethnic and civic in nature. They were "ethnic" to
the extent that the state was based on the nation and its language.
They were "civic" in so far as citizenship did not depend
on ethnicity. Thus, Moscow recognized Tatarstan's "sovereignty"
within the Russian Federation (Rossiskaia Federatsiia, where rossiskaia
is more inclusive than the term russkaia, as "British" takes
in more diversity than "English"). In March 2002, however,
the Duma and President Putin seemed ready to require that any would-be
Russian citizen be fluent in Russian.
Ukraine achieved a kind of civic nationalism incorporating native Russian
and Ukrainian speakers. Kyiv avoided war with Russian irredentists in
the Crimea and with Moscow over its claims to ships and naval facilities
in Sevastopol. Like Russia, however, Ukraine failed to utilize effectively
its vast natural resources and highly educated work force (D'Anieri,
1999). Transparency International placed Russia and Ukraine among the
world's most corrupt countries in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Applying Complexity Theory to Explain the Past and
Adopting the language of complexity theory, this paper
argues that Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland,
and Estonia in the 1990s demonstrated a high level of fitness. As we
see in Table 1, they scored much higher on the United Nations Human
Development Index (HDI) than did comparable peers such as Belarus, Bulgaria,
Romania, and Macedonia. The same patterns held for the UN Gender-related
Development Index (GDI); for Freedom House ratings of political and
civil liberty; for the Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom;
and the honesty/corruption ratings of Transparency International. The
Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary joined the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO) in 1999. The Baltic countries and Slovenia were
the strongest candidates for NATO membership in 2002, when they were
admitted along with three more problematic countries-Slovakia, Bulgaria,
and Romania. The countries with the highest HDI ratings were also the
most likely to be accepted into the European Union.
Societies in zone A achieved high levels of fitness on many fronts after
the demise of the Soviet empire. Success in one domain helped them cope
with problems in others. Ethnic peace made it easier to raise living
standards, consolidate democracy, and nourish creativity. Economic advances
in Estonia, for example, make it easier for Tallinn to provide welfare
benefits for Russian-speakers residing in Estonia but who were not citizens.
On the other hand, countries in zones B, C, and D displayed low levels
of overall fitness even though many possessed assets lacking in zone
A. Thus, Azerbaijan, Kazakstan, and Russia possess energy resources
far superior to those in any zone A lands. Parts of Ukraine and Russia
have better soil than most countries in zone A.
Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, and Russia have evolved from states and cultures
dating back more than 1000 years. Slovenia, by contrast, was never an
independent state before 1992. Estonia and Latvia had only two decades
Table 1. Former Communist Countries Ranked by HDI and
Country HDI Rank GDI Rank Freedom Index Economic Freedom
Slovenia 29 27 Free 79 (MU) 27
Czech Republic 33 32 Free 32 (MF) 52
Hungary 35 35 Free 32 (MF) 33
Slovakia 36 34 Free 60 (MF) 52
Poland 37 36 Free 45 (MF) 45
Estonia 42 n.a. Free 4 (F) 29
Croatia 48 43 Free 108 (MU) 51
Lithuania 49 42 Free 29 (MF) 36
Latvia 53 46 Free 38 (MF) 52
Belarus 56 50 Not Free 148 (RE) n.a.
Russian Federation 60 52 Partly free 131 (MU) 71
Bulgaria 62 53 Free 108 (MU) 45
Romania 63 55 Free 131 (MU) 77
Macedonia 65 n.a. Partly free 97 (MU) n.a.
Armenia 76 62 Part free 45 (MF) n.a.
Kazakstan 79 n.a. Not free 125 (MU) 88
Ukraine 80 66 Partly free 137 (MU) 85
Georgia 81 n.a. Partly free 108 (MU) 85
Azerbaijan 88 n.a. Partly free 118 (MU) 95
Moldova 105 86 Partly free 105 (MU) 93
CODE: Economic freedom: F=free; MF=mostly free; MU=mostly
SOURCES: For "HDI" and "GDI," see United Nations
Development Programme ; for Freedom Index, see Freedom House,
2001; for Economic Freedom, see Heritage Foundation, 2002; for Honesty,
see Corruption Perceptions Index, Transparency International, 2002.
Most countries in zones B, C, and D faced simpler ethnic
challenges than in many zone A countries, because they were more homogeneous.
Ethnic minorities were very small in Belarus, Moldova, the South Caucasus,
and in most of Central Asia (except for Kazakstan). About four-fifths
of the Russian Federation's population was Russian and most other groups
spoke fluent Russian. A million or so Chechens occupied only a dot on
the Federation's periphery. Still, the governments in zones B, C, and
D experienced great difficulty in dealing with ethnic minorities. By
contrast, Estonia and Latvia in the 1990s faced minorities of Slavic
speakers that made up more than one-third of the resident population.
Most Estonian and Latvian leaders espoused a kind of ethnic nationalism
but tempered it with some civic nationalism. They instituted a naturalization
process that required aspiring citizens to pass residency, language,
and civic tests. By 2002--more than a decade since independence--few
of either country's Slavic speakers had acquired a working knowledge
of the official state language. Still, ethnic tensions produced no deaths
in the Baltic. Estonia even permitted noncitizens to vote in local elections.
The city councils in Riga as well as Tallinn were sometimes dominated
by coalitions of old leftists and "unity" parties devoted
to the interests of Russian-speakers.
Self-organization takes in more than democratic politics. It entails
also a market economy and a system that, from the bottom up, produces
innovation and ways to meet needs and exploit opportunities. The centralized
regimes in zones B, C, and D attempted to direct economic and culture
life as well as politics from the top-down. As in Soviet times, they
squeezed out newspapers and news media that contradicted the official
line. President V. V. Putin was designated Acting President by his predecessor
before a snap election that confirmed the appointment--bolstered by
a then popular war against ethnic aliens. Privatization in Russia and
most other countries in zones B, C, and D permitted privileged insiders
to seize public resources at low cost.
Coevolution explains several features of post-Soviet Eurasia. Most countries
close to Western Europe have coevolved with the West more quickly and
thoroughly than those more distant. Thus, the Czech Republic is more
"First World" than is Kyrgyzstan. But if a country shuts itself
off or is otherwise isolated from global trends, its overall fitness
will suffer. Thus, Albania abuts Greece but its Communist rulers sought
autarky. Belarus abuts Poland and Lithuania, but the government's orientation
toward Moscow serves to minimize productive exchanges with the West.
Kazakstan "coevolves" with foreign oil drillers but this is
a very limited facet of coevolution. In many respects Kazakstan and
other Central Asia states resemble Communist Albania--cut off from the
West by government fiat.
Nowhere in the formerly Communist lands has there emerged strong patterns
of cooperation. Instead, it has been more like "every state for
itself"--indeed, "every national and subnational group for
itself." Even in zone A, each state focused on joining Western
Europe and NATO--not on cooperating for shared ends with its neighbors.
Rivalries in the Caucasus have persisted even though both Georgia and
Armenia need the energy that Azerbaijan can provide and for which it
Central Asian states have been unable even to find ways to stop the
shrinkage of the Aral Sea--an environmental disaster that affects the
The Commonwealth of Independent States has achieved many accords registered
on paper but not in practice. Subgroups meant to resist or strengthen
the commonwealth have achieved little.
Whatever the shortfalls of the European Union (EU), it is a triumph
of cooperation compared to the beggar-thy-neighbor behaviors of ex-Communist
societies. Indeed, it was EU and NATO demands for settled borders and
ethnic peace that persuaded Hungary and Romania to patch over their
differences and convinced Estonia and Latvia to renounce some border
regions seized by Moscow in the 1940s.
In zone A individual agents are free to innovate and carry on their
business with a minimum of government control. The system is shaped
by its members rather than by a central command (Epstein and Axtell,
1996; International Studies Quarterly, 1996). This is not quite "order
for free," which complexity theory attributes to established ecosystems
(such as coral reefs). Still, it resembles the positive results that
Adam Smith expected if individuals were allowed to do what they do best,
as if guided by an "invisible hand."
Complexity theory warns that societies may be less fit than they appear.
Fitness depends on the harmony of many factors. Just as an extra grain
of sand may cause a sand pile to collapse, a new or heavier burden could
seriously weaken an apparently fit society. How would Lithuanians respond
if a faulty nuclear reactor shut down their energy supply or spread
poison to the air and soil? Or if Russians simply turned off the oil
and gas flows on which many post-Soviet societies depend? Each Baltic
country endured severe stresses in the 1990s but one cannot be sure
what grain of sand may start an avalanche.
The concept of punctuated equilibrium warns us not to expect steady
progress. West European unification did not emerge gradually but in
sharp jumps and some steps backward. Meaningful social change often
requires a period of preparation. New generations can be educated. In
Estonia and Latvia native speakers of Russian are learning the official
local language. Accumulating experiences may tip even middle-aged Russian-speakers
toward integration with Baltic society. Long plateaus without improvement
may drive some people to depart or take drastic steps to effect change.
But regress is also possible. How long will displaced persons in Bosnia
wait until they return to their homes?
The relative fitness of a fruit fly and a frog population may be portrayed
as "peaks" that rise and fall with coevolution. Can we graph
changing patterns of fitness among the societies of post-Soviet Eurasia?
This is not a simple task, if only because fitness among humans is multidimensional.
The UN Human Development Index (HDI) provides a solid starting point
to measure public health, education, and material living standards.
If we focus on ethnic problems, we would also study measures of ethnic
harmony and its opposite--injury, dislocations, and deaths caused by
ethnic unrest. We expect that low fitness in this domain will tend to
correlate with low scores in overall human development, lack of political
and civil liberties, low technological achievement, and corruption.
Though it is difficult to show all these variables in a single peak,
a cobweb graphic could illustrate the correlations suggested here (Maruca,
Predicting Ethnic Violence and Prescribing Remedies
Complexity theory provides useful concepts for analyzing
ethnic issues and other ingredients of societal fitness. But it offers
only general principles for anticipating future outcomes or prescribing
constructive policies. In this regard, however, it does no worse than
most competing theories--few of which provide useful handles for predicting
or shaping the future (Singer, 1999). Indeed, if complexity theory is
correct about the role of self-organization in cultivating societal
fitness, Social Darwinists and ultrarealists are wrong: Success in politics
does not derive from raw power plus cunning.
The fundamental insight of complexity theory is its prediction that
fitness will be found along the middle range of a spectrum ranging from
rigid order to the other extreme--chaos. This insight helps explain
why Central Asia is frozen in time, why the Caucasus explodes, and why
Russia resorts to an iron fist to overcome chaos.
This insight has clear policy implications: The leaders and publics
of societies seeking high levels of human development should eschew
the extremes of dictatorship and anarchy. To generate a healthy and
innovative community, they must cultivate self-organization--not a system
steered and manipulated from on-high. When Western policymakers and
investors look at new countries such as Kazakstan and Azerbaijan, they
should not count on authoritarian regimes to maintain order forever.
It is shortsighted to try and prop up local dynasties in the hope of
securing privileged access to oil and gas. Outsiders cannot compel internal
reforms but should do what they can to nudge these societies toward
greater self-organization. Countries such as Azerbaijan suffer not only
from top-down controls but from a rent-seeking mentality among many
well educated persons who will eventually play major roles in business
and politics. Their attitudes as well as formal structures will determine
whether Azerbaijan and Kazakstan use their petrodollars to create values
for the entire community (as in Norway) or follow more closely the Saudi
Complexity theory's attention to independent actors agrees with the
growing conviction among political scientists that institutions of civil
society help to buffer the ravages of free markets and curb the excesses
of willful governments. The stronger and more diverse the independent
agents shaping the formerly Communist societies, the healthier and fitter
they will be. Constructive policies will cultivate creative individuals,
businesses, and NGOs that enlarge public goods and are not dominated
by government. These independent agents face a difficult struggle against
the moral legacies of Communism--corruption, group-think, and a welfare
mentality that discourage initiatives from the bottom up.
Even if the goal of self-organization seems clear, questions arise about
the road to this goal. What if democracy terminates democracy--as happened
in Germany in the 1930s? Is self-organization desirable if the majority
votes against the minority, as happened in Sri Lanka and as Serbs feared
would happen in a democratic Bosnia? And what if the majority brings
in a government that imposes the laws and mores of one religion, as
in parts of Nigeria?
How to Acquire and Nurture Fitness
Culture matters (Grondona, 1996; Jacquin-Berdal, Oros
and Verweij, 1998; Harrison and Huntington, 2000). All the societies
in zone A became oriented toward universal literacy, free thought, and
open debate (relative to most other societies) long ago. The societies
in zones B, C, and D moved toward universal literacy only in the past
100 years. Many regimes in these zones still discourage or try to prevent
open debate on policy and other important issues.
Following the leads of John Wyclif, Jan Hus, Martin Luther and other
reformers, each society in zone A acquired its sacred religious texts
in the vernacular between the 15th and 17th centuries. For the first
time in history, some princes and religious leaders also urged individuals--female
as well as male--to read and interpret sacred texts on their own. This
twin revolution helped to liberate all who experienced it (Clemens,
2002). After the Peasants' Revolt, however, Luther feared that he was
provoking chaos. He then wrote his Short Catechism instructing people
what to believe. But Luther could not stop the transformation he had
unleashed. The synergies of literacy and individualist thinking were
empowered by the printing press, the Renaissance, the discovery of New
Worlds, and growing refinement of scientific methods. Catholic France
and Italy had Bibles in the vernacular even before Luther's challenge
to Rome. In the 17th century Sweden's monarchy and state church wanted
their subjects--even servant girls--to read and discuss the Bible. Bibles
in the vernacular also helped cultivate a sense of national identity
(Hastings, 1997; Lepore, 2002).
Certainly many factors shape human development, but Figure 1 shows a
strong correlation between high HDI scores and early publication of
Bibles in the vernacular. Where Orthodox Christianity prevailed, Bibles
in the vernacular were not widely published until the late 19th or the
20th century. (The sole exception was Romania, which published both
the New and Old Testaments in the 17th century.) Wide-scale literacy
came to the Orthodox countries much later than in Protestant and Catholic
countries or in Jewish communities.
Unlike the Christian Bible, the language in which the Quran was first
written is regarded by Muslims as sacred--the only truly accurate way
to express God's message. Islamic societies did not encourage literacy
or individual interpretation of sacred texts. For Arabs as well as non-Arabs,
memorization and recitation of the Quran have been far more important
than discussion. Few Bosnians, Azeris, or Central Asians have been able
to read classical Arabic. Translations of the Quran into Persian, Turkish,
and Chinese have been largely in the form of paraphrase and commentary
SOURCES: United Bible Societies, 2002: United Nations Development Programme,
By the 1950s Communism brought near universal literacy
to the USSR and Eastern Europe--even to Albania. But Communist regimes
and schools discouraged free thinking. Centralized controls channeled
thought and discouraged debate. Even when Communist regimes sought to
foster technological innovation, this proved difficult, because of state
secrecy and communications networks that ran vertically but not horizontally.
Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov lost his security clearance and was
sent into internal exile; many other dissidents suffered worse fates.
In the early 21st century most governments in zones B,
C, and D still do not encourage free thought and debate. Until they
do, they will not possess a necessary ingredient of social fitness.
Comparatively unfit, they will lag their more Westernized neighbors
in many ways. In the language of complexity theory, these countries--even
erstwhile superpower Russia--will wander in valleys, looking for ways
to propel their peak(s) upward. Lacking self-organized economies and
polities, they will have great difficulty dealing with ethnic issues
within and across borders. Democratic in form but authoritarian in substance,
they will tend to repress dissent rather than create solutions for mutual
gain (Clemens, 1998).
At the onset of the 20th century most Russians still hoped that a vigorous
leader, Vladimir Putin, like a legendary vozhd, would unite and mobilize
the people for a better life. A few years earlier, Georgians had entertained
similar hopes when Eduard Shevardnadze returned from Moscow to Tbilisi,
promising to end a reign of chaos. But in Georgia, reliance on top-down
leadership did not end turmoil. Rather, it added to the already heavy
burdens of corruption at the center.
Russians, Georgians, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz and other denizens of the former
Soviet Union got a fillip of hope from America's post-September 11 war
on terrorism. Washington needed allies and even bases close to Taliban
strongholds in Afghanistan. Perhaps America's strategic requirements
would generate more foreign assistance for some former Soviet republics.
But outside aid can be counterproductive-the nemesis of self-reliance.
Greater dependency on the United States could harm self-organized fitness.
Lacking internal strength, each people's capacity to cope with ethnic
diversity could well decline--especially if exploited by political entrepreneurs
hoping to gain power and wealth from others' differences (Singer, 1999,
Axelrod, Robert M. 1997. The Complexity of Cooperation:
Agent-Based Models of Competition and Cooperation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton
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