The balance of moderation
As Presidents Xi and Trump step back from the brink of a massive trade war, we heave a sigh of relief that, for the time being at least, our worst fears are halted, maybe even reversed. How do the two sides come out of the abating conflict? Trump has certainly achieved some of his aim – more, perhaps, than we expected. He has made his own constituents aware of the burden the rest of the world was laying on the United States, not, it has to be added, without US agreement. Being the world’s policeman is good when not too expensive. It is expensive now.
Guns in the playground attract nasty characters. Trump’s whimsical muscle does the same thing. Threatening people has always been an effective way of subjugating the weak. In the jungle it dictates who is predator, who, prey. The ultimate manifestation is war. Humans have avoided major versions of that for seventy years. But absence of war is not civilisation. Many species in the jungle avoid war but lead frightened, uncomfortable lives.
What would be their definition of civilisation if could they think and communicate like us? I suspect to conduct life agreeably, ironing out unfairnesses, to use the gift of reason to avoid physical damage, to protect more than immediate family, to work for a collaborative society.
Reason would make them see beyond immediate issues to the wider spectra of the planet, longevity, health and comfort. Their counsels would initially be philosophical rather than physical, relying on brain not brawn to settle differences. Chest-beating would be that of mentor not dictator.
So, as well as intellect, timescale would change the perspective of the jungle beast. A life of ten or twenty years is a short time to plan for. A hundred years is more, immortality is infinity. It is reasonable to think that powerful predators emerging from basic survival to a societal world would see vision as vital, balance as beneficial, moderation as mandatory. That is not what is happening to humanity. Our lives get longer, more comfortable, healthier. We get greedier.
Two gorillas faced each other across the world, threatening trade conflict on a scale that has not been seen since WWII. They avoided war. That is good. They avoided the terrifying consequences of isolation. That is good. We are entitled to our sigh of relief, but only for a moment. The end might have been – may, indeed, yet be – a confrontation that doesn’t subside and leads to violence. Why? Because the conduct of the negotiation was aggressive and involved tremendous upheaval of many people to reach a decision.
What should be the tenor of relations between the two major powers? I suggest the following. Survival of planet by sensible climate plan. This is not affordable but not to do it will endanger so many people that it must be done. The financial crisis this will cause will be good.
 Cyber security. Concerted plan for a safer internet, addressed by all users.
 Getting to know each other. A systematic exchange and education programme, somewhat, but not entirely, subsidised by major companies. (Financial crisis – good time to do this.)
 Aim to reach universal free trade in 25 years time. Huge political effort, massive retraining of those dependent on price protection for their wages.
 Two years society service for all at 18. No excuses. Service to be community based not just military.
 Statutory transparency of earnings and wealth. Taxation continues but universal giving introduced by culture change and visibility.
 Health service for all. Basic payment for every medicine, every visit to doctor, every procedure, every examination. Families compelled by law to contribute this basic cost when patient cannot.
We cannot achieve all this by ‘friendly’ dinners. These are serious, life- and planet-threatening events. I’d lock the leaders in a cool room with minimum comfort, food, water and no sex until they had an agreed, sensible plan. After all, they volunteered to lead. Let’s make them do it. If we adopt this potentially controversial idea an interesting outcome will emerge.
They will start to balance their views, not from relative clout (although that would be evident at the start) but from understanding the other person’s point of view. Balance is what we are seeking and that would certainly be achieved. But instead of it being adversarial balance it would quickly become collegial balance.
Balance determined adversarially is a temporary moderator of behaviour. Balance determined by intelligent moderation is lasting.
And what a model of leadership we would see – at last.