The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Why I think Nations are dinosaurs

Understand something—anything I say here (or any of you guys say, as well) is colored by my own perceptual lenses, which are formed by my beliefs and values. My underlying belief: the vast majority of human beings are pretty much the same. And living and social systems tend to evolve toward greater levels of complexity.
I never said that progress (if that’s what it is) toward a world without Nations (as we understand them today) is a good thing, or that it would be smooth and continuous and uninterrupted. Much to the contrary, I’d say hell, no, it won’t be smooth. The breakdown of “artificial” states (colonial) as opposed to more organic (created by agreements or even conflicts between groups of genetically or culturally similar people) will not “create” conflict, but will release the potential energy of conflict that was tamped down by the oppressive force. My belief? There might very well be slaughters and internecine conflict. But after the most warlike have killed each other off, the peacemakers will have their chance, and evolution continues.

By the way: I think that Conservatives, in the main, tend to concentrate on what is different between A and B, while Liberals tend to concentrate on what is similar. Neither approach is correct. Both need to be factored in, and most sane and functioning people can move between both modes. An excess of either is toxic.
With the disclaimer that I KNOW my perceptions are skewed by my beliefs, here are the major reasons I think that Nations are evolving toward a world-wide network where “the difference between America and Japan will be about the same as the difference between New York and California” in four or five generations:
1) communication. Language creates barriers. With the advent of translated web pages and automatic translation across phone and computer lines, this is shifting.
2) Communication. Instant communication around the world makes a vast difference. Hard to convince voters that your enemies eat babies when they can pick up the cell phone and call a friend in wherever and get their own opinion.
3) Travel. Nations are geopolitical entities. When travel between nations is as rapid as travel between towns used to be, the flow of cultural and genetic information flows rapidly.
4) Intermarriage. As “White” “Black” and “Asian” start melting into shades of brown, those specific barriers lower. Exogamy is a simple fact of human existence—which is why authoritarian states have to pass laws against it.
5) Religion. The more people can discuss the differences between their religions, the less likely they are to kill each other over them. This goes back to communication—the more communication, the less violence.
6) Time. The younger folks tend to bond to the youth of other cultures, and ignore the barriers their parents took for granted. Of course, they themselves get more rigid as they get older. This may or may not be a good thing, but it is certainly consistent. Those who grew up thinking of America as a fortress against the world are going to have fits with the “one world” idea. It won’t be up to you, or your children. It’s 21st-22nd Century kids who grow up listening to African Jazz, watching Anime, and back-packing through Europe who will make the decisions.
7) The real test is your answer to the question: do you believe, at the fundamental level, that we are all the same? Or do you believe that, at fundamental levels, we are very different. Note that either point of view selects some information and deletes or de-emphasizes others. I am willing to state my own position clearly and for the record: I believe that the roots of Maslow’s Heirarchy are the same for everyone, all human cultures and probably most animals as well: survival, reproduction, sexuality, power. The further UP you go (emotions equaling relationship patterns, power equaling forms of government, communication equaling language, intellect equaling reality maps, etc.) the more “different” people get. Religion is one of the worst, because the “faith” aspect of all religions indicates things which, by the very nature of consciousness and existence, cannot be “proven.” But people tuck their fear of death away here, and become rigid as hell.

And this is another place where I think Conservatives and Liberals vary. Conservatives, in my experience, see two different people behaving in different ways, and assume there is a difference in the basic nature of those two people. Liberals look at those same people, behaving in different ways, and think that there is something different about the contexts in which they find themselves—in other words, it’s the software, not the hardware.
While most people come down in the middle on these, I think its not unfair to suggest that this is the broad strokes of the situation. Therefore, for those on the Right, as you see different nations, I think it is tempting to believe that the differences are created by differences in the people. Whereas on the Left, I think you almost inevitably come to the opinion (note that I didn’t say “conclusion,” which might imply accuracy) that those differences are the result of historical or environmental differences.

Add to this the fact that high-testosterone males tend to think in terms of high walls, while estrogen-types might be said to think in terms of open doors. This, I think, explains the problem with racism among cops—it’s perfectly natural for such Alpha types to think “Us versus Them.” And furthermore, at the lower levels of Maslow’s Heirarchy, it’s even healthier. And when I say “lower” I don’t mean “less than.” The roots of a tree are not less important than its leaves.

But once those basic needs are satisfied, we automatically evolve toward more complex and subtle interests and perceptions, including those of unity and Oneness. A percentage of folks will always hold powerfully to the “us versus them.” Most warrior-types I have known tend more toward this than the general population, for instance. They are not “wrong.” In fact, we are only safe because some of our best and brightest think this way.

But I believe we make social progress because of those who have the luxury of standing on the warriors’ shoulders and seeing the possibility of peace and commonality. “Segregation Yesterday, Segregation Today, Segregation Forever” used to be the rallying cry not of radical racists, but responsible representatives of the people, elected to high office. The level of racial intermixing we see today would have been incomprehensible to them, or to a typical 19th century American white or black.

It will not be uninterrupted. There will be plenty of backsliding. But meanwhile, I can use my Visa card all over the world without inquiring as to exchange rates. Exchange emails almost instantly with people in Africa and Europe and Asia. Learn about the lives and customs of people in other countries in their own words, not just filtered through the perceptions of educators and politicians. Visit anywhere in the world at speeds that boggle living grandparents, and for a percentage of my income so low it is absurd. Buy products made everywhere. Watch films and listen to music made everywhere. Watch people of all races and creeds marrying and strutting the streets with their little brown children.

“Nations” have only existed for a couple of thousand years. There's nothing natural or permanent about the concept. They were just the progression from family to village to tribe to state to nation, in a world in which a week on horseback took you to the edge of the map. Do you really think that nations are the end of the progression?
Can't you just hear the patriarch of a family saying "I won't join the village"? The headman of a village saying "I won't join the clan"? The head of a clan saying "we'll never be part of a state"? The leader of a state saying "Uhh-uhh, no Nation for me!" And now nations saying "No one world." And the all=Earth Federation will be FURIOUS at the idea of joining the Galactic Federation...
it is to laugh.

Saying that “things seem more fractured now than twenty years ago” brings a big fat “so what?” Tell me that over a period of generations, centuries or Millennia and maybe you’ve got something. But to me, all primitive (a little political incorrectness, anyone) societies are pretty much the same. As they evolve, they become more different, but the roots stay the same. My guess is that as individuals have more and more right of self-expression, movement, thought, communication and self-determination, societies will begin to look more and more similar, once again. The ONLY way this could not be true is if different groups of human beings are, at their core, quite different indeed. And then, of course, we are right back to a Nature-Nurture argument.

Unless you believe that there are some gigantic differences between human beings, it’s all a done deal. But don’t worry—you won’t have to live to see it. None of us will. But that’s where I think it’s going, and there isn’t a living thing any of us can do to stop it—any more than your liver can tell your legs where to walk.

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