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The Mentality Revolution
The More and Mobility Revolutions have created a new, vast, and fast-growing middle class whose members are well aware that others have even more prosperity, freedom, and personal fulfillment than they do. These new members of the global middle class hope and expect to catch up. These expectations, and the discontent they breed among those left behind, are now global. They affect rich and poor countries alike; indeed, the overwhelming majority of the world’s population lives in what could now be called rapidly changing societies. The embattled middle classes take to the streets and fight to protect their living standards while the expanding middle classes protest to get more and better goods and services. This is a new mind-set—a change in mentality—that has profound consequences for power.
The Muslim world is a rich source of examples of how the Mentality Revolution is transforming long-held traditions, from the rise of a fashion industry aimed at hijabi (veiled or covered) women to the spread of no-interest banking in Western countries that have large Muslim immigrant communities. In India, the transformation in attitudes is spreading back from the young generation to their elders. A country where divorce was once considered shameful—and women, in particular, were discouraged from remarrying—now has an increasingly robust matrimonial advertising industry devoted to listings by divorced senior citizens, some in their 80s or even 90s, seeking love late in life and without embarrassment. Mature adults are leaving the arranged marriages into which they were inducted when they were teens or young adults.
Global public opinion surveys provide a clearer picture of the extent and velocity of these attitudinal changes. Since 1990 the World Values Survey (WVS) has been tracking changes in people’s attitudes in more than 80 countries, containing 85 percent of the world’s population. WVS Director Ronald Inglehart and several of his co-authors have documented profound changes in attitudes concerning gender differences, religion, government, and globalization. One of their key findings is a growing global consensus regarding the importance of individual autonomy and gender equality, along with a corresponding popular intolerance for authoritarianism.
Globalization, urbanization, changes in family structure, the rise of new industries and opportunities, the spread of English as a global lingua franca—these have had consequences in every sphere of modern life, but their effect has been most important at the level of attitudes. The more contact we have with one another, the greater our aspirations.
One of the best examples of all three revolutions working simultaneously is the Indian outsourcing industry. Young, educated Indians who belong to the country’s burgeoning middle class have flocked to work at urban call centers and other business-process outsourcing companies, which in 2011 generated $59 billion in revenue and directly and indirectly employed almost 10 million Indians. Although the jobs pay relatively well, they plunge young Indians into a welter of contradictions and competing aspirations—that is, aspirations to succeed in an Indian social and economic context while sublimating their cultural identities with fake accents and names, and dealing with abuse and exploitation at the hands of affluent customers a continent away.
For young urban Indian women in particular, the jobs have provided opportunities and economic benefits they might not otherwise have had, leading to lasting behavioral changes that are upending cultural norms. Never mind the lurid newspaper articles about call centers as “a part of India where freedom knows no bounds, love is a favourite pastime, and sex is recreation,” as an article in the India Times put it in 2004. Closer to the mark is a recent survey by India’s Associated Chambers of Commerce finding that young working married women in Indian cities are increasingly choosing to put off having children in favor of developing their careers.
The More, Mobility, and Mentality Revolutions challenge the traditional model of power. In that model, large, centralized, coordinated organizations deploy overwhelming resources and crushing force to obtain and retain power. As the three revolutions continue to progress, organizations that rely on coercion face ever-increasing costs simply to maintain market share and patrol their boundaries.
The inability of the United States or the European Union to curb illegal immigration or illicit trade is a good example. Walls, fences, border controls, biometric identification documents, detention centers, police raids, asylum hearings, deportations—these are just part of an apparatus of prevention and repression that has thus far proven to be extremely expensive and largely futile. The United States has failed utterly to curb the inflow of drugs from Latin America despite a longstanding and enormously expensive interdiction effort.
Power exercised through code or moral obligation also faces challenges as the three revolutions advance. Traditions embedded in family or tightly knit communities help people who live short lives marked by disease and poverty to cope, share support, and accept harsh realities. But as their material comforts increase and they gain access to more alternatives, the world’s lower classes become less dependent on their inherited belief systems and more open to experimentation. Consider the crisis of the Catholic Church, which is having more and more difficulty recruiting priests who accept the vow of celibacy and competing with small evangelical churches that can tailor their messages to the culture and concrete needs of specific communities.
Power that operates through persuasion, such as advertising campaigns or political patronage, is also challenged by the three revolutions. Imagine a political candidate or party trying to drum up votes through a combination of messages, advertising, and promises of rewards in the form of constituent services and jobs. The More Revolution is creating better-educated and better-informed pools of constituents who are less likely to passively accept government decisions, more prone to scrutinize authorities’ behavior, and more active in seeking change and asserting their rights. The Mobility Revolution is making the demographics of the constituency more diverse, fragmented, and volatile. The Mentality Revolution breeds increasing skepticism of the political system in general.
By no means is big power dead. The big, established players are fighting back, and in many cases are still prevailing. Dictators, plutocrats, corporate behemoths, and the leaders of the great religions will continue to be the defining factors in the lives of billions of people, even as they slowly lose market share. But these megaplayers are more constrained in what they can do than they used to be, and their hold on power is less secure.
The More, Mobility, and Mentality Revolutions are attacking the model of organization so persuasively advocated by Max Weber and his followers in sociology, economics, and other fields, and they are attacking it precisely at the points where it once drew strength. Large organizations were more efficient because they operated with lower costs, thanks to economies of scale. Today, however, the costs of maintaining order and control are going up.
The profound changes in the way power is gained, used, and lost drive many of the trends that are changing the world. Some of these trends are welcome and worthy of celebration: more competition in business, politics, or the sciences, tyrants and tycoons who are now less secure in their dominant position, more meritocracy and opportunity for those with talent, grit, and ambition. But the decay of power drives unwelcome trends as well: the inability to contain carbon emissions, reach a reasonable political deal about the budgetary choices of the American government, the failure to stop the carnage in Syria, and Europe’s economic catastrophe. We have entered an era where many players have just enough power to veto, undermine, or dilute the initiatives of others but no single player has enough unconstrained power to push through an agenda. Many democratic countries are overdosing on checks and balances and the resulting gridlock, dilution, and delays in governmental decision-making have become dangerously common. This can and will change. In the next decade or so, the wave of innovation that has revolutionized communications, medicine, and physics will inevitably drastically transform the way we govern ourselves.
Reprinted from The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be by Moisés Naím. Available from Basic Books, an imprint of the Perseus Book Group. Copyright ©2012.