When I was seventeen I ran away from home in a complex way. I became an exchange student to Ohio.
I did it for various reasons most of them “enlightened self interest.” I thought the experience would be good and perhaps the only way to break out of my provincial upbringing as well as other issues which I do not intend to discuss here. I thought, in the parlance of another generation, that if I went away from home, I’d find myself and could then come back and deal with things. To an extent I was right.
Weirdly, I didn’t apply to come to the US. I wanted to go to Japan. The US was where I’d come – eventually, one way or another – but Japan was as different a culture as I could think of, and the idea was to sort of shock myself out of myself.
I got placed in Ohio, though, and that worked well enough. For one, I met Dan.
But even at seventeen, I was made uneasy by the organizations objectives, which seemed to me to be a variant of wishful thinking I’d only found in science fiction novels before.
The objective of the organization – started by ambulance drivers in WWII – was to introduce young people of different cultures to each other so that they would learn to know and love each other and a war like this couldn’t occur again.
I didn’t know at the time – or until recently – but most ambulance drivers were conscience-objectors of a religious nature. Maybe that explains the other-worldly beliefs?
Even at seventeen it seemed obvious to me some of the worst wars had been civil wars, brother against brother, friend against friend. And then there’s the deadly hatred between Poles and Russians, French and Germans, Portuguese and Spaniards – a hatred that’s particularly strong in border areas, where mixing is also more frequent.
And thinking of this yesterday got me to thinking of that peculiar idea of mid-twentieth-century sf, the “one world administration.”
Yes, I know even Heinlein did that. Heinlein also thought the UN was a force for peace. Look, we’re all prisoners of our time, our place, our upbringing. The middle of the twentieth century was the time when “progress” could solve everything and would erase cultural differences, and for that matter, the idea of a one-world governance, “scientifically” administered made sense.
Give Heinlein credit, though. When writing the stories, one world became the place to escape from and the colonies where it was man or small group for himself the place to go to. He was not writing a utopia.
My view of it is both more optimistic and more pessimistic. I think a one world government would be one of those epic disasters that is almost impossible to describe. The EEC writ large. And the EEC is going to end in tears and will/might escape blood only because they’re out of young people to do the fighting. Shortly and not exhausting all the reasons: humans are tribal. A world where there’s only a huge government at the top, far away, is a world of little tribes, everyone’s hand against everyone. Also the legitimate functions of government as they are are worse when performed from further away by a less connected ruling body. Also a bureaucracy the bigger it is, the more it attracts bad actors. A world-wide bureaucracy would make Chicago seem clean.
On the other side, though, I don’t think a world government can ever happen because it is one of those concepts that works well in fiction, but never in reality. Nationalism/tribalism will never pass away. It’s part of who we are. And nations will fight to NOT be absorbed into the maw of such an entity. Even if it were created, it would never work more than on paper. Like the UN it would be a nuisance and a burr under our saddle but not “real” as a government. And that’s a good thing.
Now the very idea is intensely American, as is the idea of the exchange students (I still think the program is worthy and I’m disappointed I can’t convince either of my kids to try it. I just don’t think it brings about world peace) bringing about world unity.
The reason the idea is intensely American came to me yesterday as I sat in the restaurant, surrounded by people of all races and from the accents all upbringings.
It seems to us, as Americans, that there is no reason we shouldn’t all get along, no reason not to have the world a big kindergarten under the supervision of benevolent teacher.
I have no problem with all getting along, and mixing and matching is already happening. It will happen more as travel becomes more widespread and cheaper. Racism shall always be with us. It’s built into the human gene. It will just go odder than we’re used to it. Some parts of the world maybe people with red hair will be frowned at. Or you know, it’s those red-head-Asian fusions that are a problem. But if this is from individual humans and not from above, it won’t be as bad. (True racism needs government backing.)
But let’s lose the idea of one world government. Cultures are important, if races aren’t. Erasing cultures is ultimately erasing individuals. I don’t mean by this the dopey “if it’s cultural, it’s fine” – I mean that people will die to defend their culture or subculture. Stripping them out worldwide would just destroy humanity.
And of course, again, ruling people as if they were units is a problem. Robert was talking to me about Soviet history and said “Lenin treated people as if they were things, but Stalin treated them as though they were numbers. He didn’t seem to understand people existed outside numbers.”
A world government would treat groups of people – tribes, villages – as numbers. We’d create a million Stalins.
There will never be a world government, because the world is not a vast America where people to an extent left behind their culture and willingly fell into the pot. (More in other ages, and don’t get me started on that.)
But that surrender of individual culture and regional ideas has to be willing and voluntary and man on man and woman on woman. If it’s pushed from above it’s worse than tyranny. It’s a destruction of the individual and a lack of recognition of individual thought and reaction. It is treating people like numbers — which always ends with destroying half of them and distorting the rest.
Let America be America. And let the world be the world.