There is a movement afoot to make our kids content with less. My sons, both of them, like their parents, unable to comprehend the fact that body and mind have limits, have always dreamed big. Now mind you most of their dreams are not predicated on “I will own” but on “I will do.” In that they also resemble us, aka “why we’re not rich”: because while we don’t want anyone to pay our way, our work has always been geared to what we want to do and what we feel must be accomplished than merely to “I must get rich.”
No, the two are not exclusive, and getting rich doing what you feel must be done is the ultimate objective, but my husband has the tendency to refuse advancement which means he can no longer do the work he loves and I… I refused to “sell out” in a way and it wasn’t all politics. It was also that the books that make you a darling of the industry could put an insomniac to sleep and are, therefore, torture to write. At least for me, your mileage may vary, void where prohibited, etc. (And the laugh line in all this is that the books I’d consider selling out and the ones I consider following my drive are completely reversed for the people using those terms.) As for the activities purely designed to make money, neither of us could ever stay with them for very long.
Which explains why we’re not rich, and why there is a very strong chance our children won’t be. That is not what the school was preparing them from. In “job day” after “job day,” my kids would listen then come home baffled with some variation of “My classmates want to be bureaucrats who make a median salary, marry a median woman, drive a median car and have one or two median children. None of them wants to push, invent, take risks, or make any waves at all. And I can feel the push to be the same. It’s what they want for us.”
If this were planned, I’d say it was attempt to make us like Sweden where the world “enough” has double plus GOOD connotations. I’d say that it was an attempt, in other words, to make the American people suitable to Euro Socialism.
I don’t believe it’s planned. Not in most of the people pushing for that. I think it’s part of fifty years of education that pushed “the world is overpopulated”, “humanity is a burden” and “diet for a small planet,” and other bits of insanity. The teachers and others pushing this point of view honestly think humans are scary and dangerous and if they don’t outright go out and start mowing them down, they try to convince them to do the equivalent of curling up in the fetal position and pretending not to be there. (And don’t get me started on the pledges not to reproduce pushed at 12 year olds. Just don’t. It won’t go well.)
This is not what I mean by going small. I don’t mean destroying your hopes and burying your ambitions and “leaving light footprints” or any of that nonsense. I believe humanity has as many rights as any other species to “Grow, multiply, and fill the face of the Earth.” More, maybe, since we have the means to control our environment that other species lack. More, because if Earth’s biome ever explands to the stars — its one chance at survival in the truly long scales — it will be because humans took it there.
IOW, growth is what life does and human life is not less than other life.
What I mean by going small is different.
I’ve confessed before that before 9/11 I was an INTERNATIONALIST Libertarian. This tends to make people who know me look at me as though I’d grown a second, evil head, and I confess those ten years were a sort of holiday from reason and thought. The fairytale was so pretty I wanted to to work. Besides, I have friends in a lot of countries who could work in a “one world” sort of thing.
Oh, I knew better — duh and derp — of course I did. I knew most countries in the world are kleptocracies and this is not just the result of bad politics, but of bad culture. The culture infects the politics and makes them what they are. The country I came from still gets its politics from Rome, aka “rule of law? what rule of law?” or “he who has no godfather dies in jail.” And this is not overcome by selling them slogans. Their form of government changed at least 3 times (in macro movements) in the twentieth century but “the way things are done” didn’t, as it hasn’t in at least 2000 years and probably more, because that’s culture and the only way cultures change that rapidly is through major trauma, like invasion or mass death and even then never that much (and also there’s a boomerang tendency to revert) as Portugal’s history is example.
But I wanted to believe. Not in a whole world of brotherwood or a Coke commercial, but in a world of free humans working together.
I read Grumbles from the Grave and P.J. O’Rourke’s all the trouble in the World and Eat the Rich and foreign news and history, but you can picture me with hands over ears going “lalalalalalala.”
9/11 shattered that and at any rate I was always a bizarre sort of internationalist as I was an American patriot and for small governments and didn’t wish national identities to be abolished, only, somehow, for countries to work in harmony for free minds and free markets. (And for my next trick, I shall make this elephant fly. Fly, elephant, fly.)
9/11 shattered my “lalalalalala.” It shattered a lot of people’s more serious belief in “one world” government/polity/entity whatever you wish to call it.
This is a very old idea, a very old thought, that people came up with to “prevent war.” i.e. “if we all were one nation, there would be no war.” Which is stupid, given the number and nature of civil wars throughout human history, but never mind.
The generation that fought WWI embraced it with the fervor of desperate, shell-shocked children. This is why so many of the early science fiction books assume it, and so many of the tv series use it not just as a background for humanity, but as part of what makes a world/breed/etc civilized.
This seems more plausible to America than anywhere else because, as noted here before, our states have a very different culture but the same, overlaying structures that ensure easy movement between states and communication between every citizen, as well as a sense of belonging. It’s easy to think this means we could extend it to the world and make it the same.
It’s easy to think but impossible to implement. I’ve heard that entire Italian villages moved en mass to NY in the early 20th century. This might be true but I suspect it’s a bit of an exaggeration. It’s more “everyone who was young and who had a mind to succeed moved.” IOW those who came what was then (due to slowness of travel, and expense) an almost for sure one-way trip were of a different mind as those left behind. They were also, consciously or not, willing to work to shed their centuries of culture and the things that made the land they came from what it was.
This is not the same now, because travel is a few hours and relatively cheap. We see the problem of this in moves between states too. Used to be you moved, you adapted to local ways of doing things. Moves were always piece-meal anyway save for great migrations caused by massive disturbances. And even then The Grapes of Wrath might have overstated the matter a bit. Now it’s easier to move between states for a job or an opportunity, and that means when states become inimical to job creation, they send vast hordes forth to get jobs elsewhere. Hordes that bring with them their way of voting that made the initial state inimical to job creation. Or as we call it around these parts, Californication.
Partly in reaction to that, and partly because it’s obvious attempting to get people to reject their country isn’t working, and partly because we have been pounded for a century, via all forms of media and education with the idea of “identities” hinging on totally insane things like skin color, food preferences and a myriad other incidental characteristics, there is a nativist/racial/statist movement afoot. Now that movement is more plausible than the one-worlders. I never understood how, having determined that dividing people into economic classes and setting them against each other wouldn’t bring about paradise, the one-worlder Marxists convinced themselves setting people against each other by melanin content and what is between their legs and other more or less arbitrary characteristics would a) yield uniform classes and b) bring about utopia. I think the underwear gnome was involved in their plans. And it is also, invariably involved in the “national identititarians” plan.
There aren’t many of them, mind, but like the one worlders they are convinced the world is inevitably going to go their way and they’re the way of the future. Look, guys, if you find an arrow in history tell me, okay?
And like the one-worlders, their conviction comes partly from the belief humans are widgets. All they disagree on is what divides one set of widgets from the other.
Unfortunately for them and everyone else who has sought to impose an arrow on history, humans aren’t widgets, and even if there is such things as an “average” woman or man, worker or intellectual, Masai cowherd or German goatheard, the “average” is a mathematical construction created by statistics and if you meet these people you find that each is highly individual.
And the tendency to view people as “average” and “median” and to divide them according to statistical characteristics is a twentieth century characteristic born of the typical industry of the twentieth century. I.e. when the watchword of the century was the refinement of the previous century’s “mass manufacturing” and “mass production” one had to know what the average or median person wanted.
Because while people aren’t widgets, it is possible to produce something with the maximum appeal to most of them. Surveys, statistics, etc, all reveal what’s the most acceptable to the majority of people.
If there are two TV channels (what I grew up with) none of them is going to devote three days to an extended documentary on dinosaurs, because the majority of people would be bored stiff by that, have their eyes roll inward on their skull, and go to sleep.
But if there are 300 channels, one of them can be the “dedicated dinosaur channel” and it will find enough audience to survive.
The technology of the time didn’t allow 300 channels, or personal 3-D printing, or authors to put their own books up for sale, worldwide.
For the two centuries before us, the economies of scale and mass production have tended to try to make everyone as close to the same as possible, so the industry could provide them with the means for civilized living.
And that’s where the one worlders’ dreams came from. “Make everyone the same and everyone will be happy.” (Not quite that way, but you get a whiff of this in early Heinleins. Never that stupid, because the man had a brain, and knew there would be malcontents anyway.
The nationalists’ dreams come from seeing the obvious flaws in that, the persistent nature of culture, the horrors of trying to make many nations one. Because that never ends well. And it is aided and abetted by “the future and its enemies.” Ie. the bureaucrats and other classes that have grown fat on the nation-state and who therefore long to extend and expand their power. Mind, it’s much easier to be a kleptocrat over a more or less small and homogeneous nation.
And they come too from the fact that nation-states have been sold for what? three centuries now, as a form of uber-identity that replaced religion as Europe became industrialized.
Only nation-states are children of mass production, took off at the same time as the industrial revolution, and are, in the end, wholly artificial creations in human history.
Sure, humans identify with/are designed to identify with a tribe. And the tribe is, as far as studies can determine, suppose to be about 50. A couple hundred people, at the most. IOW “Me and my cousins.”
That means when the nation state “stole” tribal affiliation and put it to work for the nation state it had to pervert it. It had to devote its not inconsiderable mass-media and mass education to make people think of the nation as a tribe. This was probably (mostly) not done on purpose, though heaven knows I’ve read my shre of books approved of and designed by central states selling the idea of “the Portuguese race” or “the British Race” or even “The German race.”
Even in countries as small as Great Britain or Portugal, the regional differences are vast, the tribal loyalties often vivid and vociferous and the cracks the nation-state papers over momentous. For “countries” like Italy or Germany, children of the nation state movement, itself, it is about as accurate to speak of a national identity as it is to speak of a Kenyan or Rwandan national identity. The borders were drawn by bureaucrats, planners (or conquerors) and have bloody nothing to do with the “tribes” underneath.
The only way to keep the nation state cohesive and to sell them on the idea they are a tribe (and thus harness the instinctual need for a tribe) is constant propaganda by mass-media means, and the harnessing of people’s longing for a great tribal leader which was probably evolutionarily sane when we lived in hominid bands (IOW yesterday in evolutionary terms.)
This is why nation states are always and forever looking for the man on the white horse, the father of the nation, etc. IOW it’s why the twentieth century was the twentieth century.
But the thing to remember is that the nation state on a large scale, itself, was a creation of mass industrialization. Even the empires of the past were different. Even the Roman idea of making everyone a Roman citizen was a different thing, because they had no mass media and no way to sell “we are tribe.” So the Roman citizen might adopt a lot of the identity but it was overlaid on his local identity of Celt or Greek, and the underlying identity was made to work with the overarching one, instead of being crushed by it.
In the same way, even old and on an European scale relatively large countries like France, took centuries to eliminate — by education and identification, and ultimately by force — other linguistic/cultural groups within themselves. Because they couldn’t put on TV programs every morning telling children they loved Big Brother.
What I mean is that the last two centuries of civilized life have been profoundly unnatural for humans. Look, not complaining. Natural is sleeping naked in the Savannah.
But the point is that the type of industry and communication that brought about these massive nation states (the bigger the better) with their massive bureaucracies is being replaced by “smaller, more personal, more agile.”
This doesn’t mean the future is ripe for one-world. On the contrary. And it doesn’t mean the world is ripe for nation-states. On the contrary.
Go small, young people, go small.
I’ve been watching this work in my own industry, where the most agile people are the ones doing well, and to the extent that publishers will survive (let alone thrive) it will be the ones who are willing to keep as small a staff as possible, subcontract/pay bounties on individual jobs that need to be done for books, and generally be capable of shedding/adding functions as the market conditions evolve. (I’m not saying that the big publishers won’t stay around. It takes a long time to kill a behemoth. Just that they in no way are suited to the conditions on the ground now.)
It’s sort of the same with nation-states. Nation states serve some vital functions that smaller groupings (and certainly our individual, tribal groupings) aren’t very good at: mutual defense. Construction of large scale things, some of which will still be needed, like, say highways, and ultimately the suppression of tribalism.
But Sarah, you just said tribalism was good! No, I said tribalism is natural, and you have to accept it’s there, and by tribalism I mean the fighting of groups of about 100 people against groups of about 100 people, whether the fight is financial, of words or physical. We identify with an “extended family” of blood or not, and will defend it against all comers. It’s what makes humans so admirable — and so screwed up.
The bad side of that is that left on their own anything larger than a medium city would be a nightmare of internecine warfare, and why the one-worlders and “governments will just wither away” people are nuts.
So the overarching government of nation or state is needed to keep the tribal impulses at bay and to guide the entity to the common good.
But what the twentieth century has shown us is that decisions should be made on as local a level as possible, not only because people accept that better, but because people closer to the problem are less likely to think it’s a great idea to sow wheat in the snow or to teach all the kids that the sky is made of green cheese. Not that as small as possible rule doesn’t also go wrong. We all know tyrannical families and crazy-cakes small cities.But when polities that small are completely insane, at least the damage is contained, while when an entire country goes batexcrement insane you get WWII.
So it would seem the ideal political organization for what our industry is becoming and what our technology is enabling would be a “nation state” loosely connected and with a relatively powerless central government whose only function would be to prevent inner strife, defend the nation (both in the sense of war and guarding the borders) and oh, I don’t know, provide for the common good by arbitrating those projects that must be large enough to span all the myriad states that otherwise comprise the nation.
And each of such states and each of the entities under them should be as free to govern themselves as possible, each unite, down to the individual, retaining as much autonomy as physically and mentally possible.
Such state would be very agile and able to change itself in an era when technology and industry are changing at an incredibly fast rate. It would be a chaos dancer, capable of being both very large and very small, and flowing into the future seamlessly.
Of course, such a country would not have survived very well in the nineteenth and twentieth century when the ideas of the mass-industrialized “tribe” nationalistic state were ascendant and what every right thinking person “knew.” And it would have trouble, being relatively powerless at the central level, countering the naked aggression of those nation-states. So it would change to fit the times.
It is probably pure coincidence that the way it was founded is now more suited to the coming technology and industry. Or possibly because the coming industry and techonology allow for the emergence of very old tendencies in humans, it was designed that way by people who thought deeply about the nature of humans.
I’m not a materialist determinist. I don’t believe that the material conditions determine the mental and emotional state of men by themselves. In many ways not only doesn’t man live by bread alone, but man lives by belief alone, in that he is able to hold on to beliefs contrary to reality even when it destroys everything around a culture/nation/etc. Look at North Korea or Cuba.
But by and large, and always providing for stragglers, the way the cultures of humanity are expressed, the way people LIVE is determined by the technology/industry of the time.
Thus, mass industrialization birthed the nation state. And as mass industrialization is tottering, the nation state as we know it (which is not the same as tribal identification/regional loyalty, etc, but is an overarching bureaucratic entity selling itself as a tribal entity) is tottering with it.
This is not to say the one-worlders are right — I can’t imagine a HUMAN world in which they would be right. You can’t just blend all human cultures and come up with anything usable. The only possible one-world government would be in a world settled exclusively by one culture. And even there, as the world population grows, it will fragment.
In fact, both nation-states and one-worlders are ideas of the past, brought about by mass-everything.
I expect the world of more individualized everything will bring about a lot of small units — down to the individual — that connect upwards in ever larger/less powerful entities, till at the top of a large enough territory is one that just provides for the common welfare (ie. too big to be done in small scale) and common defense.
Where I differ from other people who see that and see “one world” is that there are common cultures and common geographic areas that must be respected, and people are not widgets. The importation of say masses of middle easterners into Germany is not possibly while watching out for the common defense and welfare of Germany. Not that Germany is really an ethnic entity (it is composed of smaller tribes, and since WWII it has absorbed masses of immigrants) but because it is a geographical and cultural entity and you can’t simply move individuals in and out of those.
In other words, I think we need nations. I just think in the coming era those that survive, thrive and make their citizens rich will be those that are as decentralized as possible at their center, while defending themselves and understanding the cultures that comprise them.
How we get there is something else. It will happen, because humans always adapt to the changes in tech and industry.
But it’s not straight forward or rational. Which is why at least half (and possibly more) of the right AND left feeling we’ve gone down a wrong path are reaching back for solutions, but not far enough back, which is why there seems to be a growing consensus for national socialism.
It won’t work. It’s like the publishing houses trying to solve their problems by pricing e-books higher and giving myriad interviews about how ebooks are vanishing.
The denial of reality is strong in humans and can be imposed for a period of time, but not on the whole world and not without consequences.
The future is small, more fragmented and overall (not accounting for small pockets of tyranny) much freer.
IOW in the end we win, they lose.
Getting there, OTOH, as any great movement in “how we live” in the history of humanity is going to involve convulsions and conflicts and mass-scale dislocations that will at times feel the world is coming apart at the seams.
That’s because it is. But it doesn’t follow, no matter how painful the process, that what results from that is a bad thing.
The important thing is to neither prematurely try to make the world burn nor (prematurely also) reach for a solution of the recent past. Both of them are normal human reactions, but both of them will do nothing but delay the solution and create devastation and suffering.
In the end, the future is small. And if we can get there it would enable the biggest and most glorious form of human civilization yet:agile and capable of rapid change and keeping the bad side of the human nature to as small a group as possible, while maximizing human ability to create and prosper.
Go small, young people, go small. And dream big.