Taking the week off
38 minutes ago
Mankind has gone through three main stages of the political organization since Day One, say 200,000 years ago, when anatomically modern men appeared. We can call them Tribes, Kingdoms, and Nation-States.
In prehistoric times, the largest political/economic group was the tribe. Since men are social creatures, it was natural enough to be loyal to the tribe. It made sense. Almost everyone in the tribe was genetically related, and the group was essential for mutual survival in the wilderness. The local group was all that counted. “Others” from alien tribes, were not only in competition for scarce resources, but they might want to kill you for good measure. Tribalism is probably genetic—it’s a survival mechanism. Patriotism for your tribe also served a survival purpose, because you were always fighting with the neighboring tribes. You wanted your co-tribalists to be loyal and patriotic…
In the Kingdom phase, from around 3,000 B.C. to roughly the mid-1600s, the world’s cultures were organized under strong men, ranging from petty lords to kings and emperors. With kingdoms, loyalties weren’t so much to the “country”—a nebulous and arbitrary concept—but to the ruler. You were the subject of a king, first and foremost. Your linguistic, ethnic, religious, and other affiliations were secondary. Tribal leaders who were good warriors conquered neighboring tribes and set themselves up as kings.
Then came the nation-state, one of the mankind’s worst inventions.
Today’s prevailing norm is the nation-state, a group of people who tend to share a language, religion, and ethnicity. Like a gigantic tribe. The idea of the nation-state is especially effective when it’s organized as a “democracy,” where the average person is given the illusion he has some measure of control over where the leviathan is headed.
I think, however, that the nation-state is approaching its end game. What will replace it? I think Neal Stephenson was right in his superb novel The Diamond Age, where he put forward the idea of “phyles.” It no longer makes sense to be loyal to a group just because they have the same government ID that you do, or because they were born in the same bailiwick. I don’t feel any particular loyalty to the people living down the road in the trailer park, or in the barrio, or the ghetto, or the next town. As a matter of fact, they’re likely adversaries and liabilities. We’ve got little in common.
I feel more loyalty to people with whom I share values—and they could as easily be in France, or Burma, or the Congo as the U.S. Now, with the internet, modern telecommunications, and jet travel, we can find each other. Birds of a feather will wind up forming phyles, obviating the nation-state.