Friday, October 12, 2007

A "Tipping Point"?

I really hate to write this. I thought of it a couple months ago, started the draft 10 days ago, and only now got up the nerve. Here goes: Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea of a "tipping point"-- the idea that certain happenings in society, and in nature, occur as the result of slow subtle changes suddenly reaching a critical level, resulting in sudden and dramatic change.

In nature, the gradual lowering of temperature resulting in water icing over. Or adding sand to a pile to the point where the pile collapses in an avalanche.

In society we can have tipping points in fashion: men wear hats, until all of a sudden in the late 50's early 60's they don't.

In wars we can have tipping points. Looking at Iraq, it seems to me that one was averted early this year. The situation was deteriorating. The "surge" stabilized and reversed the deterioration, meaning we didn't have the sort of collapse we can see in South Vietnam in 1975.

Now, it's perhaps possible that we are seeing a possible "tipping point" the other way. Sunnis in Anbar province have changed their position. Today's Times carries a front page article on the souring of relations between the Shiites and the militias. For anyone growing up in the age of guerrilla warfare, as I did, that's important; for as Mao said--the guerrilla fighter must be as a fish in the water of the society. Another straw in the wind is, as Megan McArdle notes, an uptick in the Iraq Index on power.

It's too early to say, but it's possible for the appearance of things to change quickly.

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