Sunday, February 14, 2010

L'Etat C'est Moi

"L'Etat C'est Moi" roughly meaning "hey ya'll - look - I AM the state" is a very nice way for absolute rulers to say that whatever they say goes.

Louis XIV, der Fuhrer, Supreme Leader, even Vlad, have all espoused despotic designer ala prose and made it perfectly clear who is large and in charge.

Sometimes this a momentary mindset in personal relations too.

Yet not on St. Valentines Day! It's all about reaching out - dialogue, negotiations, alliances and relationships.

Is there anything that Internat'l Relations and theories can add to the mix?

Heck yeah!

"To begin with, any romantic partnership is essentially an alliance, and alliances are a core concept on international relations. Alliances bring many benefits to the members (or else why would we form them?) but as we also know, they sometimes reflect irrational passions and inevitably limit each member's autonomy. Many IR theorists believe that institutionalizing an alliance makes it more effective and enduring, but that’s also why making a relationship more formal is a significant step that needs to be carefully considered.

Of course, IR theorists have also warned that allies face the twin dangers of abandonment and entrapment: the more we fear that our partners might leave us in the lurch (abandonment), the more likely we are to let them drag us into obligations that we didn't originally foresee (entrapment). When you find yourself sweetly attending your partner’s high school reunion or traveling to your in-laws for Thanksgiving dinner every single year, score yourself an epiphany.

Realists have long argued that bipolar systems are the most stable. So if any one is thinking of adding more major actors to the system, carebeful!

Trying to juggle romantic relationships in a multi-polar setting usually leads to crises, and sometimes to open warfare. It's certainly not good for alliance stability.

IR theory also warns us that shifts in the balance of power are dangerous. There's an obvious warning here: relationships are more likely to have trouble if one partner's status or power changes rapidly. So that big promotion that you both celebrated may be a good thing overall, but it's likely to alter expectations and force you and your partner to make serious adjustments.

The same is true if one of you gets laid off. Essentially it takes tons of patience and love to work through a major shift in the balance of power.

Even the best relationships have scary times, of course, because even human beings who love each other deeply can have trouble figuring out what the other person wants and why they are acting as they are. IR theorists have written lots of smart things about misperception, and it's good to keep some of them in mind.

We tend to see our own behavior as constrained by our circumstances, for example, while attributing the behavior of others to their own attributes and wants. "I'm doing this because I have to, but he's acting this way because that’s just who he is!"

This sort of perceptual bias is potent recipe for conflict spirals, something IR theorists have long warned about. A small disagreement occurs, and each person's attempt to defend their own position starts to look like an aggressive and unjustified attack. And so we discover another core IR concept: escalation.

Which brings up another IR concept: appeasement. The term has been fairly dissed since Münich, but it is a critical strategy for preserving any romantic relationship.

Don't believe it? Then ask your sweetheart, who asked for this to be included.

So maybe learning some IR theory can actually help love and life. If it does, and luck intervenes enough to find the right person, and then opportunities arise for the chance to institutionalize the relationship by getting married.

And then the two of you might also decide to mobilize combined resources and grow a collectivist co op and alliance network. Like sweet precious little babies.

When that happens - the opportunities to learn another set of IR theories and concepts like sanctions, coercive diplomacy, deterrence, pre emption, preventive war and regime change are totally unbound!

Yet that is a whole 'nother essay from a whole 'nother source!

Happy St Valentine's Day Y'all!

75'458K hits in one year from all my sweethearts.



Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks for explaining abandonment and entrapment so clearly! I had a vague idea of them, but could not find anything that clearly laid them out and showed how they were related. Now I can write my damned midterm!