John Young was an astronaut in the early days of NASA. He piloted the first Gemini mission, commanded the first Space Shuttle flight, was the first man to be left alone in orbit on the far side of the Moon, and had the honor of walking – and driving – through the Descartes Highlands on the lunar surface. To sum it up, he is the stuff of legend.
Young, however, was known for giving the impression that he was merely a small town country bumpkin. His genius was often hidden behind a thick Southern drawl and ruffled attire. Yet he had a way of upending people’s perceptions not just of him, but of the world.
In his book, A Man on the Moon, Andrew Chaikin describes how Young would sit in meetings with specialists helping design the Apollo spacecraft. They would speak to Young slowly, hoping that he would keep up.
Young is a classic case of not judging a book by its cover, or more so not getting trapped in your own preconceptions about how the world works. A good solution can come from anywhere – you just have to be willing to keep yourself free from limited frameworks of thinking.
As academics and professionals focused on the world of international relations, particularly with an eye toward crime and society, we are presented with several such pre-programmed ways of thinking. My struggle has been to break free of these so that I might find solutions anywhere and everywhere.
My academic experience was heavily saturated with “isms.” Approaches such as Realism, Liberalism, Constructivism, and the all-too-meta Analytical Eclecticism became the main point of study, along with labored discussions on which is best. Unfortunately, that drive to define which theory best encompasses our world and predicts what will happen often clouded out the larger issue of how to best solve many of our problems. In short, we were arguing over which theory might give us the best solutions instead of actually trying to find solutions.
Upon entering the professional world of international development and diplomacy, I was presented with the same problem, but with an added complication: at some point the discussion has to stop and action needs to be taken. As such, there is a need to come up with quick answers to big problems. This leads to hastily constructed ideas – usually built around the most popular “ism” of the day – that grasp desperately onto the latest trend that brings in the most donor funding or votes. Often this leads us in whatever direction the wind is blowing. Once the storm sets us down, we tend find that our ideas didn’t have the effect we wanted and we’re doomed to chase the next trend in hopes that the answers lie there.
In the end, it seems that we’re quite guilty of putting the cart before the horse when it comes to international relations. We’re too busy chasing whatever theory works and then distorting issues until they fit inside that box. Instead, we should be focusing on issues one at a time and see if we can find solutions that aren’t based on a model.
It is my hope that this blog will be a space for that pursuit, where ideas and topics can be explored without assumption. This could lead to some interesting outcomes and it’s likely that you may see me contradict myself as we work our way through an issue over time.
I will certainly take positions and invite you to challenge them. If there is a strong reason to change or modify a position, then I’d like to explore that too. I will continually seek to write in a way that leads to conclusions based on fact and not ideology. I want the ideas on this page to flow without feeling like they’re trapped in a box. That they’re not subscribing to the latest trend. That they’re not based on a model. That they are without “ism.”