|NONZERO THE LOGIC OF HUMAN DESTINY By ROBERT WRIGHT|
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PART I: A BRIEF HISTORY OF HUMANKIND
PART II: A BRIEF HISTORY OF ORGANIC LIFE
PART III: FROM HERE TO ETERNITY
DEGREES OF FREEDOM
TIP #1 ON SAVING THE WORLD
are two basic keys to saving the world. The first is to recognize the
inevitable and come to terms with it. Granted, this is not wholly
original advice. But, obvious as it sounds, the world has often failed
to follow it. World War I began with the Austro-Hungarian empire still
refusing to accept that, in the age of print, suppressing nationalism
was a loser's game. The Hapsburgs not only clung to their imperial
Balkan holdings but tried to expand them, notwithstanding obviously
fierce Slavic nationalism. The event that triggered the war epitomizes
Hapsburg hubris. The archduke Francis Ferdinand was visiting Bosnia when
a nationalist terrorist tossed a bomb toward his car. The bomb bounced
away before exploding. Rather than pause and humbly reassess the wisdom
of this particular visit, the archduke resumed the motorcade and
proceeded with his scheduled activities-and was assassinated later that
So what inevitabilities should the modern world recognize? For starters, the one the Hapsburgs ignored. The present information revolution is comparable in consequence to the print revolution and carries the same basic lesson. Denying self-determination to homogenous, determined groups will get harder and harder, be they Kosovars, Corsicans, or Tibetans.
Even apparent successes in repressing the new technologies of nationalism foreshadow long-run failure. Turkey, with its restless population of Kurds, had long tried to thwart the British-based broadcasts of Med TV, the world's only Kurdish-language TV channel, by cracking down on satellite dishes. Then in 1999, Britain, Turkey's ally, revoked Med TV's broadcasting license. The director of Med TV vowed to find a new home, and that shouldn't be hard; all it takes is one nation with a satellite uplink. But more important is that in five or ten or fifteen years, when the Internet's broadband revolution has reached Turkey, you won't even need an uplink to broadcast--just a computer. There will be dozens of Kurdish TV channels, and the only way to block them will be to ban modems--this in an age when having a modem will be like having running water. Call this Inevitability Number One--the inexorable spread of technologies of tribalism.
As we saw in the last chapter, technologically empowered nationalism and micronationalism needn't be a long-run problem. Newly sovereign polities will someday be securely cemented into supranational bodies, right next to older sovereign polities (with "sovereignty," in both cases, being not what it used to be). But getting from here to there is no snap. Secession movements usually inspire resistance which, in turn, usually empowers militants within the secession. So things could get messy in a lot of places fairly fast--a classic "transitional instability."
Making things even messier is Inevitability Number Two: the growing power, compactness, and accessibility of lethal technologies. This trend dates back to the invention of gunpowder and has now gone beyond chemistry, into nuclear physics and biotechnology. Meanwhile, knowledge of how to harness the new lethal forces is rendered ever more available by ever-subtler information technologies. It seems likely that, for some time to come, more and more people will have the option of committing atrocities of greater and greater severity.
These people will include frustrated nationalists, but also lots of other people most notably people who in one sense or another suffer from the cultural dislocation that globalization brings. There are Islamic and other religious fundamentalists who find their values threatened by modernization. There are plain old Luddites. There are environmentalists radicalized by the pace of deforestation. All these people, thanks to Inevitability Number Two, constitute a new breed of threat-what the journalist Thomas Friedman calls the "superempowered angry man."
In addition to the superempowered angry man, we face what you might call the quite disgruntled man-maybe not upset enough to bomb the World Trade Center [this was a reference to the 1993 bombing], but still displeased with the drift of things, and, thanks partly to information technology, able to have real political effect. This category includes Americans who lose jobs to low-wage foreigners, and French farmers exposed to high-tech competition from abroad. Their political manifestation is a reactionary nationalism with a nasty, nativist undercurrent that, amid an economic downturn, could get pretty ugly. These disgruntled men (and women) aren't going away. Indeed, the source of their grievance-the globalization of capital and technology broadly-is so basic as to constitute Inevitability Number Three.
So there you have it: three inevitabilities, all part and parcel of globalization, and all with disruptive tendencies, at least in the short term. What to do?
TIP #2 ON SAVING THE WORLD
An excerpt from Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, By Robert Wright, published by Pantheon Books. Copyright 2000 by Robert Wright. Other excerpts are available at www.nonzero.org