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Rethinking the State

A product of enlightenment thought, the nation-state tried from the beginning to make people into interchangeable citizen-workers. Whether in Japan, France, China, or Italy, no matter when, the program was always the same—to force everyone to speak the dialect of the capital city, wipe out regional differences, and mandate total participation in an impersonalized money economy. It allowed humans coordinate as never before, every citizen with an identification number and papers tracked from cradle to grave, everyone pumped through the same school system to be given the same standardized knowledge and experiences. By the 19th century, homogenized mass states were behemoths able to easily crush other forms of organization. The nation-state craze led to the colonization of most of the planet and culminated in the relentless meat-grinder of senseless world wars. Then an unstoppable force began to come apart.

The one-size-fits-all philosophy of the nation state is its demise. When nationalism stripped away traditional cultures, it never really replaced them with anything of substance. By making all a country one place, all the country became no-place and everyone became no-one. After the world wars, the cognitive dissonance was finally overwhelming. What had all the death and destruction been for? The mass state could grind on like a machine for its own sake and take on a hideous inanimate life devoid of the capacity to care.
The illusion of purpose in the nation-state slipped every time 100,000 young men ended up dead over one mile of ground or a beautiful ancient city was bombed flat for an airy idea. For some decades longer nationalistic zeal was perpetuated by the antagonism between the USA and the Soviet Union. But one could not continue without the other. Without the distraction of threatening outsiders, growing internal divisions could no longer be ignored.
Now, internet and smartphones have made 19th century nationalism obsolete. This is because the advantage of factory-style nationalism is the ability to coordinate millions of people at a time, however clumsily, and overwhelm the enemy.
This is a strategy appropriate for a world where the telegraph, railroads, steamships, and mass production were recent technologies. 1860s nationalism was a way for states to take full advantage of those advances in logistics and communication to crush their competitors. One mistake from a general or bureaucrat could get a million men killed, but so long as the other 10 million made it through, they could win the war.
The problem is communications and logistics have continued to rapidly develop since those days. In an agile world nation states are like drunken giants—mighty, slow, and clumsy.
War has left archaic nation states behind. Paralyzed by the threat of nuclear war, they continue to waste their wealth on massive conventional weapons that just sit there. When they try to use them against small, agile non-state groups, they fail. It’s like trying to swat mosquitoes with missiles.
The world of commerce has left the old nations behind. Corporations have little connection to any nation and they make a profit wherever they can. They are like nomads going from one pasture to the next as they will. When one archaic nation is used up, on to the next.
Culture is leaving behind the nation state as well. With the internet, only language barriers really limit communication any longer. This inherently challenges the ability of each nation to keep a closed off herd with limited access to information. It would be hard for us to imagine WW1 with smart phones. Everyone’s Mom and Dad would see the piles of dead on facebook and everyone would quickly realize the whole disaster had been caused by the machinations of a few effete nobles. With modern communications borders on a map are no longer the main way people determine affiliation. People are still limited by geography, but within their range, they naturally group with others who are like them and share their interests. This is the re-emergence of tribal identity within nations. In United States, politics become increasingly divisive as each faction in a diverse population begins to become more conscious of itself as a separate entity with its own interests diametrically opposed to those of other factions. Elections are thus becoming zero sum competitions to see which groups can screw over the others.

The nation-state became dominant even though it was less efficient and natural to humans than tribal groups because it could operate on a much larger scale. With mass communications, tribal groups can now also operate on a massive scale, neutralizing the advantage of having a monolithic nation.
I have pointed out there will be a state even if it’s just the local gang running things. The difference is there will be tribe-states instead of nation-states. This will mean the rules that could once only be applied to small groups will be applied to large groups.
In my latest articles discussing the ethics of economies, I am applying the rules of small societies to large ones, anticipating what the tribe-state might look like. The enlightenment thought that ultimately devolved into relativism and nihilism in government, commerce, and culture will be abolished. Every action by everyone will be understood to have a purpose in accomplishing a common goal.
It won’t be an order of equality, the most valuable will be rewarded best, though in proportion to what they offer. There will likely be informal castes where different types of people are encouraged to stick to what they’re best at. And I doubt it will be a peaceful time. The world is overpopulated and people are now scrambling to join whatever group they think will help them grab more scarce resources. History doesn’t take breaks and humanity is about to begin another big transition. There could be a dark age for awhile, but it will lead into the next age.

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