Monday, July 23, 2012

Soft Power

One of the the best organizations for free thought out there today is TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design). TED Talks have become incredibly popular among those who want to learn about certain topics. They are often bunched into various categories based on a topic. For example, there are subjects like architecture, green energy, political power, economics, food and health, and art. What's great about the TED Talks is that each lasts less than 20 minutes, focuses on a single topic, and features an speaker who is often a pioneer in the area that they are speaking about. It gives you the feeling that you are tapping into a huge reservoir of knowledge about your chosen topic.

I like watching various TED Talks, but one in particular grabbed my attention. I recently started in on a series of talks about political power and influence. One of the speakers, Shashi Tharoor of India, presented a talk on the use of "Soft Power" by nations.

We are all aware of so-called "Hard Power." That's things like the military, which are visible, physical strengths that a country possesses. What Tharoor is talking about are things that are intangible, such as culture, food, music, entertainment, etc. These are things that attract people for reasons other than economic opportunity. Consider that for a moment: Indian cuisine has become a popular subculture in American dining. Bollywood films have a cult following. Indian style, music, and religion all have exotic and attractive qualities that draw people into them.

As Tharoor points out, India is a fast-growing country, adding more people to it's population per day than any other nation on earth. It is also exploding economically and politically as more and more people around the world tap into it's potential. Tharoor posits that this growth has less to do with India's military, economic, political, or social allure, but rather has to do with it's Soft Power, it's reinvention of itself and its adherence to its own culture and traditions. Tharoor also makes the point that, comparatively, India is a very peaceful and tolerant nation, where there are more religions and languages than nearly anywhere else on earth, and this diversity continues in relative tranquility compared to other places around the world.

So, maybe the United States should invest more in its Soft Power. Perhaps we need to reinvent and revitalize the American Culture, not just economically and politically, but socially, artistically, and so on. Maybe we should draw people in, not just for our business opportunities and our security and liberty, but because of our culture. Why not expand libraries, universities, art galleries, museums, concert halls, theaters, and more to entice people to come here for those things? Wouldn't we be better off if that were the case?

I strongly urge anyone to check out the TED videos. There really is something for everyone, and a video to explain just about any topic, liberal or conservative.

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