End Of Nations: Stage 5 Geography?
The State Of Nations
This post will be engaging with an article in New Scientist called End Of Nations by Debora MacKenzie. The featured image is also copyright New Scientist. The article suggests that nation states are currently ubiquitous, they also seem timeless and inevitable. However nation states are neither natural, nor inevitable. Instead, they arise from the demand for increasingly complex social behaviours/increasingly complex activities.
“The key factor driving this ideological process, [of creating nations] was an underlying structural one: the development of far-reaching bureaucracies needed to run complex industrialised societies.”
This tallies well with the pages in Meaningness relating to Modernity and the rise of the systemic/stage 4 society. David’s pages state (and I agree) that these notions are academic common knowledge. This article by Mackenzie is an excellent read in terms of demonstrating the academic literature in an easy to digest way. So… go read it.
Still here? Well one takeway from the article is that Nations are currently the largest “container” we have for power. This is not useful when trying to solve global problems.
“… there is a growing feeling among economists, political scientists and even national governments that the nation state is not necessarily the best scale on which to run our affairs. We must manage vital matters like food supply and climate on a global scale, yet national agendas repeatedly trump the global good. At a smaller scale, city and regional administrations often seem to serve people better than national governments.”
So, what is the future?
The article discusses the European Union’s strengths and weaknesses. The integration of European states to benefit from economies of scale is very positive. However Europe has a problem, because it is just another layer of heirarchy on top of heirarchical nations, and heirarchy might be a bad thing. Nations are a new and uncomfortable idea, so they have to preserve themselves with patriotic fanfare, sports teams and the like, but Europe’s heirarchy layer does not use all the patriotic tricks that nations themselves use to promote national identity, which is probably why everyone hates it, even though the principles of the EU are pretty solid.
The article also points out the global meetings of nations exist but have varying degrees of effectiveness – eg NATO, the UN. However, the more informal, variable and goal-oriented groups such as the G-numbers (G8, G12) might actually be more effective.
The remainder of the article describes a proposed answer: evolving from heirarchies to networks. “Networks of regions, states and even non-governmental organisations”. Proponents call this neo-medievalism (because the medieval model was much more fuzzy around the edges). “Networked problems require a networked solution” says Anne Marie Slaughter. The article also talks about the possiblity of collapse as a crucible for new things.
I’m sure you’re by now with me thinking that this sounds like grasping towards stage 5 fluidity.
The article concludes that everyone agrees we still need nations, as a “container” of power (you can’t just throw out stage 4) but no-one can really imagine how politics would work in a network. Given that the world is changing and we have global problems, “it’s time to start imagining”.
I find this sentiment at the end of an article frustrating.
It reminds me of my frustration with AI movies. They often end at the moment the AI steps out into the real world (Ex Machina) or fall back onto unfulfilling, unrealistic emotional crap (Transcendence). Some tech friends claim we are experiencing a “fiction singularity”, a place where we simply cannot imagine our way beyond a certain point with AIs.
It seems we have a similar block here, imagining our way beyond stage 4 politics, capitalism, etc. Postmodernism is the “stage 4 politics singularity”.
Failures of imagination irritate the shit out of me. It seems like a poor excuse for failing to do something, or for believing something is not possible. If you can’t imagine something, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Try harder! Find imaginative people and ask them! Grrrr.
I believe I am no more imaginative than average but we can’t all just throw our hands up in the air and hope someone else is dealing with it. So, here is an attempt at “imagining” how politics would work in a fluid network, rather than a heirarchy of discrete, nation-sized containers.
Imagine There’s No Countries
It seems obvious to me that large cities should work together in a global way. I imagine the mayors of London, New York and Tokyo could have a lot to say to each other. At the moment I think there is probably some borrowing of knowledge from one city to another, but a global network of cities creating shared goals (such as how to integrate travel between them more efficiently) for everyone’s mutual benefit seems like a good way forward. I think creating carbon emissions goals between major cities could also have as a big an impact as nations could. Luckily, mayors also already have some power.
Regional Networks & Tasks
The same idea could be applied to rural areas – in the UK Prince Charles is really into that sort of thing. I am imagining conferences on farming that are wider than just either: corporates or NGOs or charities or Government departments, but rather mix their participants based on topic, not polital unit.
This also implies the strength harnessed by Kickstarter: organise around tasks/goals. This is where the G-numbers have had success. It is important however that participants have the power to make changes. We could confer temporary task-force power on such people.
Some regions might want to hang out around “not feeling like they are part of their surrounding nation” like the Basque area of Spain and Massachusetts. They could chat about how to make free cities actually work.
An idea to get our heads around might be that it is ok for some cities/regions to have more fuzzy boundaries. There are huge back and forth debates about country boundaries and visas, which I’ve only vaguely looked into, but I propose that boundaries can be more flexible than that.
They could be fuzzy for certain things or for certain people but solid for others, such as perhaps creating a global accord for academic visas, but still be more strict on tourist/working/immigration visas. Europe’s national boundaries now work in this way, with open borders for EU residents, while political borders remain in tact.
But boundaries could also be fuzzy only for certain times. Burning Man is an example of laws, cities, resources and boundaries that only exist at certain times of the year.
What are your ideas for stage 5 politics?
Your brainstorming sounds a lot like Bookchinism, known sometimes these days as democratic confederalism. It involves starting at the local/municipal/regional level, and then building voluntary, networked confederations upwards to tackle larger and larger problems that affect more people and require more expertise to solve.
Needless to say, I think it’s a very good idea.
Has taken me a while to find enough information about Murray’s actual beliefs.
His life / intellectual history seems to mirror a common arc. Something along the lines of: capitalism is terrible, hierarchies are terrible, we need an alternative. Plausible alternatives are hard, but maybe look a bit like a mixture of going back to village-sized democracy / desire for tribal benefits (without recognising tribal problems), then things like ecology, citizenship and democratic participation will naturally and magically manifest (but there is also a kind of hierarchical structure anyway, sssshhhh!) More research/ blog post needed on this I think.
The details with Murray are interesting as you say: utilising local level, then networking confederations together. I think there is too much back-to-village emphasis though, and stage 5 would be more like networking the mega-structures we already have. Not that I come up with anything decent in the original post, but hey.
He also rightly bemoaned the majority of anarchists engaging in “romantic rebellion”. From an interview with his daughter:
“When Murray saw the predicament of the alter-globalization movement and similar movements, he asserted that simply engaging in “festivals of the oppressed” failed to offer a structural framework within which to address deep-seated social and economic inequities.”
‘Festivals of the oppressed’ made me LOL.
The alternative to nations is empire, for reasons like those in your “utopia acid test”.