In the early part of the twentieth century, Woodrow Wilson‘s America decided upon an Isolationist Foreign Policy concentrating their efforts on the battles at home. It wasn’t a new strategy – since the days of George Washington, the country as it emerged tried to distance itself from foreign entanglements, notwithstanding repeated encroachment on its borders by regional competitors and the death throes of European Power. The German ascendancy in the Atlantic finally forced their hand, and in order to protect the interests of America the country was forced into the war, and away from its isolationism. America, it appeared, could only advance her domestic interests if actively engaged on the International Stage.
The United Kingdom is under tremendous strain of late. It may not appear to be at first glance, but considering the following points.
First, there is the long struggle as retrenchment from Empire finally reaches its apotheosis, and the multicultural misfit that has wracked both The Netherlands and France. Legitimacy amounts to different things for each cultural grouping, whether that is the legitimacy of the police service (amidst allegations of institutional racism), or the problem with British Muslim representation.
Trundling along through Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order, we have surged through the Chinese and Indian experiences, pushing past Islam and on to Christianity before moving into the Rule of Law in Part Three. I had not really to this point considered the extent to which law and religion are part of my considerations; at least certainly not the law. In thinking through the impact on state legitimacy of technology, it is most likely my view that the changing nature of identity is more important, and that that, by extension, undermines the state (insofar as identity is constructed substantially by associations with non-state or super-state groups). To put it more simply, people associate less with community and nation, and more with brand and interest group, connected through globalised technology. Identity is also being changed by the decline in religious tradition, at least outside of Muslim states. However, I had a problem connecting that aspect of religion to my thesis, as it seems only peripherally attributed to the rise in technology.
A data scientist at Twitter, Edwin Chen, has used twitter to measure the prevalence of the term ‘soda’ versus ‘pop’ or ‘coke’ across the US, and the world. He compares his work to work done ten years previously on a survey basis, which reveals slight changes over time, but essentially concurs with Chen’s conclusions. In order to arrive at the data set, Chen had to clean the data by removing extraneous references. For example, references to specific drinks – like Coca Cola – were eliminated; and only those references to drinks were included. Then he was left with a pretty accurate picture as represented by Americans who use Twitter – and let’s presume for now that that’s a statistically accurate sample.
Wednesday’s Op-Ed by Jules Boykoff in the New York Times criticises the IOC for its elitism and arrogance. Sidestepping the conventional criticism of corruption, Boykoff attacks governance, the preponderance of royalty on the committee, and, essentially, its condescension. It is in effect a commercial construct that denies accountability (such as the ethics committee who report to the IOC executive, populated no doubt by – as Sir Humphrey would refer to them – sound men) and retains, as he concludes, “the arrogance and aloofness” that make it very ordinary indeed.
I linked yesterday to Ann-Marie Slaughter‘s excellent presentation to PopTech on International Relations and the non-state actors that influence and even dictate so much development in the world. Watching it again this morning (and it’s worth watching twice) a number of questions crossed my mind. First, she talks about social actors and ad hoc networks, but never quite gets to social networks. Just as ad-hoc supra-national organisations are bringing together strange bedfellows, and getting ahead of the State actors in driving change, people are developing connections and social networks beyond traditional family and even cultural groups; one could argue that technological change is facilitating the re-structuring of the DNA of culture. Kin, geography, language, religion and race remain important, but they are no longer the exclusive determinants of social alignment. People connect now through trade, sports, entertainment, hobbies, and other interests, forming close relationships. People’s identity – closely tied to these relationships – is changing. National identity is less relevant.