Peripheral Thoughts


Sabai woke me with licks so early today that my morning gardening hours expanded significantly. Needing to find a nice home for the Alberta Spruce my friend Julie had given me, I wandered off my primary woodland garden path and spent some time in the periphery. There, I found a nice sunny spot for the dwarf tree along a clearing to the road. The baby pyramidal spruce now marks the pathway into Oglesby garden from the north. 

Naturally, these outer reaches of my small woodland have claimed less of my attention than the inner garden circles over the past few years. Still, I clean out the foreign invasive plants yearly and have planted crabapples, rhodies, viburnum and dogwood beyond the birch grove I had planted earlier. It is becoming garden now but the weeds tell the tale: the periphery is not quite so well tended as the garden core. 

Ideally, I imagine the whole as my garden. In reality, the complex and incoherent tangle of growth in nature has been hard to penetrate, and it is harder still to influence its direction. I have lived and experienced this garden for a decade now. And, I am beginning to understand how it regenerates itself and what I need to do to give my imagined garden the hope of being realized in this small patch of earth I tend.

A little humility before the power of nature when gardening is wise. A little humility before the power of cultures while conducting diplomacy might also be a good thing. Cultures everywhere are embedded in structures of power that are certainly in flux as the forces of globalization penetrate national boundaries in both welcomed and troubling ways. Information technology contributes to the concentration and disaggregation of power depending on circumstance and the legitimacy of actors engaged. Still, as sociologist James Davidson Hunter reminds us in his 2010 book To Change The World:

The individuals, institutions and networks most critically involved in the production of a culture operate in the "center"  where prestige is the highest, not on the periphery where status is low.

This status structure is not immutable, of course, and revolutions happen; but those networks of individuals and institutions operating within the core set the agenda and frame the issues that cascade throughout the system until they don't. When they are displaced as they can be, it is generally by networked actors in closer orbit than those who toil in the far fields. Any diplomatic strategy to engage global societies as a hedge against future upheaval should see people, not as individual faces on Facebook or solo Tweeters but rather in relationships within networks surrounded by communities whose influence structures can be studied and understood.

Imagening a new American led international order organized from the bottom-up engaging whole societies and treating every individual equally is not strategic thinking as Prof. Anne Marie Slaughter is said to have told the British Parliament in May: it is naive. Nearly, thirty-years of diplomacy around the world has left me hopeful about the promise of cross-cultural mutual understanding but doubtful that we either can or should try to reorder other cultures -- let alone from the periphery. After all, in their ecology, we are the invasive plant. If it seems we threaten the integrity and functioning of their native ecosystems, they will deal with us accordingly.

Except where otherwise noted, all original work produced by Donna Oglesby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License