Copyright 2017 Don Ray
Today’s political polarization seems shocking, a new and unforeseen development, unimaginable and inconceivable, at least to us old goomers. But if viewed in the context of history and technology development, we can see this societal divergence as quite natural.
Bear with my brief recap of 100,000 years, and we will come to the key question facing our hyper-connected society today.
We began with family alliances, small groups of people hunting and gathering, parents and children and grandparents looking out for each other.
We evolved into tribes, groupings of people bonded by mutually beneficial survival advantages gained from group membership.
With the advent of farming technology (read “sticks and grinding stones”) tribes evolved into villages.
Eventually with wheel and ship technology allowing trade across vast distances, the city-state arose. People now joined together for defense, as always, but now also for economic advantages.
Occasionally a city-state, Babylon or Rome for example, would extend its power, and empire was born, but most residents of the empire would not identify with the distant city-state center of that empire.
With improved roads and spreading language and communication now possible over hundreds of miles in only a matter of weeks, the nation-state was enabled, and kingdoms spread their influence beyond the city walls.
These national identities were not as automatic as had been membership in the tribe or village. Coercion and manipulation and propaganda became necessary to convince people to kill and die for king and country when king and country posed no evident advantage to survival. But with enough flags and anthems and taxes, the nation-state secured its “natural” role as the geographic location of a given linguistic or ethnic or religious group.
During the perennial warfare of the age of nations French speakers in the Alsace moved west, Deutsch speakers moved east; Deutsch speakers moved north of the Alps, Italian speakers moved south; Muslims moved west of the sub-continent’s Line of Control, Hindus moved east; Shiites and Sunnis and Jews and Turks and Armenians packed up and moved in countless migrations in whatever direction the swords and guns pointed; Russians and Mongols and Magyars moved wherever they wanted.
We always had somewhere to move, even if only a desolate reservation assigned by treaty or a tiny strip of desert between the ocean and the tanks.
We moved as ethnic groups, as language groups, as religious groups, and we formed new nations, or conquered old ones, or assimilated into existing ones, but we wound up in a place with people of some shared identity.
All fine and good until recent decades. A new coalescing, a new great migration, now unfolds. A large swath of the human population has taken to a virtual road to journey to their promised lands.
That new promised land is populated with people just like us. That new promised land is run the way we think a land should be run.
Our new virtual migrations do not conveniently lend themselves to tidy borders and genocides and conquests and subjugations and expulsions.
We now migrate digitally. Our tribe and ethnic group has been replaced by those who listen to the same news sources. Our religious denomination has been replaced by a congregation of people of shared faith in political and social and football philosophies.
We once coalesced around a water source. Later we coalesced around a color on a map. Now we coalesce around a FaceBook page.
Shared genes once brought us together, then shared food sources, then shared language, then shared place. Now it is shared opinions and attitudes that bring us together.
Spears and clubs facilitated the tribe. Hoes and digging-sticks facilitated the village. Sails and compass facilitated the city-state. Wheels and roads facilitated the nation.
What “migration”, what new structure of human interconnection, is our digital technology facilitating? It is not a migration of place, not a structure of geography. It is something new and unforeseeable, as the city-state and nation were unforeseeable before their advent.
The word we associate with “tribal” is warfare. Name a city-state: Troy, Babylon, Rome, Venice, and we can list its wars. Mention a nation and you can list the nations with which it fought wars. Will the outcome of these new migrations, this new connection, this new communication, be new in its influence on our behavior?
The migrations of old separated us as we crossed rivers, mountain ranges, or lines on a map to be with those who spoke our language or read our scripture. Today’s digital migration to our preferred news source and web sites and FaceBook friends still leaves us living next to the same irritating neighbors, in the same country as those benighted voters we won’t talk to, and in the same world as those gentile/heathen/infidel heretics we fear and demonize.
The technology has changed and the geographic distributions have changed……but have we changed? Do we want to change? Each historic coalescing of identity: family – tribal – religious – and national, led to violent conflict with the “others”. Will our coalescing into right and left – red and blue – liberal and conservative – fundamentalist and progressive – NASCAR and Indy Racing League – science and superstition, simply lead to new iterations of conflict? …or will we finally learn that the person of different belief – opinion – perspective – attitude – philosophy does not necessarily pose a threat? When no longer separated by the mountain between villages, the river between tribes, the language between nations, when we have the same language – the same neighborhood – the same community – the same world, when we are done texting and tweeting those who agree with us, will we finally talk to each other?
Copyright 2017 Don Ray