"Let man's petty nations
tear themselves apart
My land's only borders lie around my heart."
"Anthem," from Chess, lyrics by Tim Rice
"Man's petty nations" have had a field day tearing themselves
apart in the last half decade -- and reconstructing themselves
in interesting ways. The Germanies reunited, the Czechs and Slovaks
gone their separate ways, the Soviet Union disintegrated, Yugoslavia
self-destructing, the Maastricht Treaty attempting a loose amalgamation
of Western Europe -- a new tide of historical gravity is pulling
apart old unions, spinning the fragments into new orbits, and
creating geopolitical collisions in the process.
Yet the word "nations"
more properly applies to those geographically nurtured ethnic
communities that languish within 20th century states. Modern states
attempted to compress their constituent ethnic groups into single
molds, e.g., "Soviet man." With many of those states in fragments,
cultural voices long pushed into the wings of the world stage
are once again being heard. And heard, furthermore, in the context
of a global media industry: world news, world music, the world
computer network. Bandwidth -- in many media -- is multiplying
exponentially. The electronic stages on which the world's many
voices may perform are exploding in size, as are the audiences
themselves, their access to media, and their appetite for stimulus.
This explosion in
demand for fresh perspectives, new music, new art -- the next
fad -- creates an economic imperative for the purveyors of world
media. And the increased bandwidth that creates the imperative
for new product also allows media moguls to focus on niche markets,
to appeal to specialized tastes, to present exotic voices and
views. The globalization of communications, media, and computer
networks, as well as of mass market products, has created a world
culture in which Global Generation X is as at home as in their
own homes. The world's youth are all members of at least two cultures:
the media-based world culture, and their native culture. Two decades
ago, the latter might have referred to their "national" culture;
in light of recent history, "native culture" more probably means
a reinscribed ethnic culture: Catalon; Basque; Croatian; Slovak;
Native American; Hawaiian.
The borders of the
heart are becoming more important than the borders on the map.
For some people, the micro-borders of ethnic boundaries assume
primary importance; for others, the macro-borders of planet-spanning
communities of interest. What trends might lie behind these shifts
in locating self-identity and group loyalty? Where might those
trends carry us in the 21st Century?
the Tides of Change: Al Toffler was Right!
In The Third Wave, Alvin Toffler contrasted the defining characteristics
of industrial "Second Wave" societies with post-industrial, information-based
"Third Wave" societies. Second Wave political, economic, and social
structures, he suggested, are characterized by standardization,
specialization, synchronization, concentration, maximization,
and centralization: marketing products that are interchangeable;
subdividing expertise into the ever-more arcane; regimenting schooldays
and regimenting workdays; increasing the densities of fuel used,
people housed, and information stored; building ever bigger assuming
economies-of-scale are better; and shifting power and money and
resources into the hands of the few, in the name of efficiency
and productivity. These driving characteristics of Second Wave
societies produced transnational corporations, cumbersome national
bureaucracies, and a throw-away consumer culture of mass marketing
and planned obsolescence.
The heat of mass
consumption gives way in "Third Wave" societies to the cooler,
choosier consumption of personally tailored, personally delivered
products. [characteristics -- INSERT MORE HERE]
boosted the throughput levels of Second Wave systems, prompting
a phase change. From the chaotic transition state of change, new
patterns have arisen. [INSERT MORE HERE]
Virtual Communities, Invented Cultures
"Nations" with specific "cultures" historically originated relative
to geographic location -- even nomadic cultures followed routes,
regular patterns across the land. Livelihood came from the land;
sense of identity came from place and role in place; religion
was often rooted in the characteristics of the land. Industrial
society began the uprooting of people. The subsequent acceleration
of physical and virtual mobility in the acceleration of transportation
and communication technologies allowed complete decoupling of
our livelihood, our sense of professional or avocational identity,
our worship or play, from place.
All that we are, we
can be, anywhere. In virtual space, we can enact ourselves in
several places at once -- invoking Internet's "chat" command,
I can project myself into many people's homes, and they into mine.
As a result, communities defined by interest, rather than physical
boundaries, will inscribe our lives in the future. Four particular
trends provide examples of the ways in which communities of interest
might overwhelm the importance of states in how we define ourselves,
develop relationships with others, and move through our world.
These four trends are 1) the increased relegation of public services
to private providers; 2) the increased assumption of public sector
responsibilities by non-profit volunteer groups; 3) the increased
use of the global computer/communications network for human contact;
and 4) the increased concern for the environment.
From Public to
Private: The Second Wave characteristics of concentration,
maximization, and centralization nurtured the creation of multinational
and transnational corporations. The economic crises and the bureaucratic
overgrowth of federal governments in the 80's and 90's produced
growing paralysis in the public sector. This in turn has led to
increasing privatization of formerly public services. More and
more often, businesses both local and transnational are taking
on the services once provided by governments. Private corporations
administer high schools; the post office competes with private
mail and parcel delivery systems; where police protection fails,
private corporate and residential guards take its place.
In the end, corporations
may decide it's cheaper to provide all these services in-house
to employees and their families. Enhancing productivity by enhancing
quality of life for employees may thus in the end create transnational
corporate "countries," where your corporate ID entitles you to
basic services such as education and training; housing in a secure,
company-owned enclave; access to company recreation facilities,
health facilities, and parks; and access to the company-run communications
system and computer net.
From State Responsibility
to Volunteerism: As the gigantic bureaucracies of Second Wave
states immobilize themselves with their own density, mass, and
gravity, people move more and more to "just do it" -- themselves.
National governments, even local governments, seem less and less
effective at addressing, much less solving, modern social problems.
In reaction, more and more people are organizing at community
From Welcome Wagon
to Instant Messenger: People ceaselessly transform cultures
in which they live, and create new cultures. In the modern era,
we speak glibly of the "academic culture," the "scientific culture,"
"corporate cultures," "youth cultures," and the like. Virtual
reality, role-playing games, games of world-invention, Nintendo[tm]
electronic fantasy games, all allow people to create and move
through realities that suit their values, desires, and aspirations.
No wonder these games are a growing addiction at the turn of the
millenium [could this be an expression of millenialism? Creating
imaginary social spaces because we fear the cataclysms that will
create the social spaces of the next millenium?].
More and more,
people are investing increased hours of social time with "fellow
travellers" they meet on the Internet, or on other electronic
bulletin boards. [INSERT MORE HERE]
From Borders to
Bioregions: Pollution, resource scarcity, ozone depletion, and
global warming are all trends that know no boundaries. Grassroots
environmentalism is on the increase worldwide. [INSERT MORE HERE]
Electronic Multidimensional Macropolitical Citizenry
"Citizen of the world" is less likely to be the preferred moniker
of the millenium than "citizen of many worlds." People will want
to enhance the complexity of their identities: individuality defined
by the multidimensional boundaries formed when networks of relationships
interleave with networks of interests. I am a futures facilitator
AND a Shakespeare addict AND a subscriber to "sci.environment"
on USENET AND a cook AND a Babylon-5 fan AND a German-Norwegian-American
AND, oh yeah, a Midwesterner currently living in Hawaii. Each
of those groups has its own unique culture. Each has a central
location, a space to which its heart values are most closely attached
-- but some of those spaces are conceptual and virtual rather
than physical and geographic.
Thus "world passports"
are much less likely than "multiple passports." The passport you
choose to use will then depend upon the context within which you
travel. Is it a business trip; will my corporate ID get me better
service, more information, increase the number of people I'll
meet? Am I an adventurer in search of a cross-cultural experience;
will my cultural identity help or hinder arrangements to live
for a month in a Japanese farm village? Am I travelling to further
a hobby, can my INTERNET community smooth the way, get me access
to people and places and things that I want to see -- and do I
actually need to leave my house, or will my electronic passport
admit me to virtual landscapes in cyberspace that will satisfy
my curiosity? Do my goals include monitoring depredation of endangered
marine mammals; will my Greenpeace membership link me into wider
global strategies and logistical arrangements to accomplish that?
The increasing complexity
of social reality and the increasingly transformed environments
through which that reality moves will drive people either to increase
their own levels of complexity -- or drastically simplify them.
Forget nations and states! The concept of community will be less
based in place and center more around common concerns and curiosities.
Mobile communities of interest will rove the Earth, choosing to
reside in places linked to their founding metaphors (e.g., the
massive influx of lesbians each summer on the isle of Lesbos,
much to the geographic natives' mystification): the new gypsies.
In searching for meaningful metaphors and mythos, people will
rediscover the ancient: multiple cultures, multiple traditions,
multiple layers of time and history, multiple languages, all used
effortlessly and interchangeably to accessorize a mood, enhance
a performance, enable a lesson on some subject, to enhance mental
flexibility and creativity. What incredible graffiti the future
This extreme relativity
of culture and place and family may be too fluid for many, resulting
in a backlash of conservatism, some new strong definition of reality
arising to give the nervous a sense of place in the universe.
Or people could adjust, becoming comfortable in a world of mobile
selves, extreme relativity of values, complex diversities of culture,
custom, economy, ecology, and governance. The well-adjusted global
citizen of the next millenium will be stable only in motion and
change, achieving in fluidity and flexibility of culture and self
a dynamic balance.