FORWARD BASE B

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Tag Archives: world war 1

The Obsolescence of the Nation State and ISIS

I found an insightful essay by an Israeli writer, Uri Avnery.  The trends of centralization until the World Wars and decentralization ever since has been a favorite topic of mine.
Excerpts:

“By the end of the 17th century, existing states could no longer cope with new demands. Small states were doomed. The economy demanded a safe domestic market large enough for the development of modern industries. New mass armies needed a base strong enough to provide soldiers and pay for modern arms.”

As I like to say: The main source of national cohesion is the fear of other nations.

“If I am not mistaken, it was Gustave Le Bon, the French psychologist, who asserted a hundred years ago that every new idea is already obsolete by the time it is adopted by the masses.

The process works like this: somebody conceives the idea. It takes a generation for it to become accepted by the intellectuals. It takes another generation for the intellectuals to teach the masses. By the time it attains power, the circumstances that gave it birth have already changed, and a new idea is required.”

“THE OBSOLESCENCE of the nation-state has given birth to a paradoxical by-product: the breakup of the state into smaller and smaller units.
While the world trend towards larger and larger political and economic units gathers strength, nation-states fall apart. All over the world, small peoples are demanding independence.”

“NATIONALISM WAS a European idea.
It never struck deep roots in the arid fields of the Arab world. Even in the heyday of Arab nationalism, it was never quite clear whether a Damascene, for example, considered himself first a Syrian or a Muslim, whether a Beiruti considered himself first a Maronite-Christian or a Lebanese, or whether a Cairene was first an Egyptian, an Arab or a Muslim.”

“The modern Arab nations were invented by European colonialists…THESE imperialist manipulations ran counter to Muslim history and tradition…THE HUGE attraction of the movement now called “Islamic State” is that it proposes a simple idea: do away with all these crazy borders drawn up by Western imperialists for their own purposes…With one swipe it clears the table of the nation-state and its derivatives. It carries a clear, simple idea, easily understood by Muslims everywhere.”

“THE WESTERN response is almost comically inadequate.  People like Barack Obama and John Kerry, and their equivalents all over Europe, are quite unable to understand what it is all about…They are facing a new phenomenon.”

The Obsolescence of the Nation State, Uri Avnery

Ottoman Empire before its non-Anatolian provinces were split up after WW1 into modern nations.

Ottoman Empire before its non-Anatolian provinces were split up after WW1 into modern nations.

Crowdsourcing, A Modern Patronage System?

Last post, I discussed the difference in creative output between an older system of patronage and a modern system governed by the mass market.  Older societies could turn out brilliant creative work with far fewer resources and people because a limited number of people called the shots. What’s for everyone is for no one.

A creative work that’s commissioned serves the vision of a patron, a work exposed to the forces of the mass market merely tries to please the most and offend the fewest becoming a grotesque Tower of Babel.
The internet has enabled a phenomenon known as crowdsourcing, a process by which an idea gets funding from just the people who want it.
This process has the potential to create a modern sort of patronage.  The idea that gets created exists to serve a limited group rather than the entire aggregate mass of humanity.

I have found an inspiring example in a youtube channel called The Great War.  The founder, Indie Neidell covers each week of WW1 as it was happening 100 years ago with lots of special episodes in between.
The show is filmed in a studio with a production crew and gets its funding from a crowdsourcing site called Patreon.
With a fraction the funding of a third rate History Channel special, they have done more than the History Channel could ever have aspired to.  The Great War now has many hours of runtime, hosts active discussion on its videos and reddit, and caters only to those who pay for it.  So if enough viewers want an episode about Bulgaria in WW1 or French WW1 Uniforms the episode appears.
Even as a kid, I referred to the History Channel as “The Lost Secrets of WWII Channel”  or the “The Lost Secrets of Nazi Superweapons Channel.”  And this was years before they descended into airing little more than reality shows.
Shackled by the tyrannical mass market, the History Channel was slave to the few events and passions that register on the popular consciousness.  They can cover a comic book WW2 endlessly, maybe get away with the American Civil War every once in awhile.  Other than that, conspiracy theories about Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle, the Knights Templar, and lost tribes of Israel sell far better.  They no doubt have millions of dollars to spend, but by comparison to The Great War, they’re a joke.  We can see how commissioned creative work can be orders of magnitude more efficient with results that can be exponentially better.  This gives us a glimpse into how relatively impoverished societies of the past did as well as they did.

While big individual patrons like the Medicis or Carnegie remain in the past, the internet is enabling people who want the same things to get together and create sheltered markets protected from the insipid Many.
Without this protection, people who want a show about Lettow-Vorbeck’s brilliant campaign in German East Africa in WW1 have nowhere to turn, for they are a drop in a great ocean, swallowed up unless they find a way to escape.
Furthermore, The Great War shows us how crowdsource patrons can form a community around the work they sponsor.  Those who watch enough episodes see how repeat commenters gain a reputation and begin to notice the recurring in-jokes.  It’s an environment where participants feel a sense of ownership and belonging, at least far more than most of us can feel towards impersonal modern institutions.  I could see these sorts of affiliations among the possible catalysts for cultural secession and the creation of new tribes within obsolete nation-states.

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