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Borders of the Heart,
Passports of the Mind

for New Renaissance

Wendy Schultz
Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies
April 1994

Purpose of this article: it is not prescriptive; it is NOT a vision of an ideal future. The article explores POSSIBLE outcomes of many trends emergent but not yet fully realized. Before those trends bloom fully into scenarios, they will certainly meet resistance from the power structures of the past and from current day realities: that's what power structures do, protect their own turf. So of course nation-states resist redefinition. But I assumed the editor wanted a provocative exploration of possibilities re: citizenship, locale, identity, etc. I'm not saying any of these possibilities are more probable than any others: I can point in each case to forces both supporting and opposing the possible changes I'm discussing. I am also not judging the value or critiquing any of these possibilities, because that is for each individual reader to do.

"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?

Breakers in 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]

Information technologies 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 levels

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 could have!

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.


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15 February 2003. Email IF.
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