Roger Ailes’s objections notwithstanding — I’ll come back to them in a minute — David Ignatius’s column in today’s Washington Post comes close to saying the same thing I said in the “Patriotism v. Paranoia” post below. I wrote,
In the past century or so our species, worldwide, has undergone some seismic social shifts. People no longer remain neatly sorted by skin color, language, and cultural history. All over the globe people of diverse ethnic and social backgrounds are having to learn to live together. Once upon a time â€œforeignâ€ places were far, far away. But air travel has brought them closer in terms of travel time; now every foreign place on the globe is just over the horizon. Soon foreigners will be sitting in our laps.
I think nationalism arose and became dominant in the 20th century largely because of these seismic social shifts. People who canâ€™t handle the shifts retreat into nationalism as a defense.
Ignatius describes what he calls the “connectedness to conflict” paradox, which says that more “connected” people become, the more conflicts seem to arise.
… as elites around the world become more connected with the global economy, they become more disconnected from their own cultures and political systems. The local elites “lose touch with what’s going on around them,” opening up a vacuum that is filled by religious parties and sectarian groups, Sidawi contends. The modernizers think they are plugging their nations into the global economy, but what’s also happening is that they are unplugging themselves politically at home.
In his column Ignatius quotes Francis Fukuyama and a couple of over over-educated ivory-tower types as they try to figure out why it is that the Middle East is in such turmoil because of its contacts with the West. And that’s the problem; these guys are all westerners trying to figure out what’s wrong with Middle Easterners and not noticing that a variation of the same thing is going on right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A., not to mention Europe and other western-type spots.
If by “elites” you substitute “people who aren’t afraid of other cultures and of social and cultural change” I think you get a clearer picture. I don’t think the not-afraid people are necessarily “elites.” Some of the most retrenched nationalists are wealthy, well-educated and well-connected. What they’re not, is modern.
And in a kind of double-paradox, many people who are working hard at “plugging their nations into the global economy” are some of the same people who exploit local nationalistic and xenophobic feelings to stay in political power. Think Republicans Party.
Ignatius, Fukuyama, et al. scratch their heads over democracy and alienation, and of “elites” becoming “disconnected” with their own cultures, and write up a lot of verbose papers expressing highfalutin’ theories. Look, guys, this isn’t difficult. People are afraid of change. They are especially afraid of change that seems to threaten their autonomy and self-identity. And if they think this change is being imported by odd-colored people with exotic accents, don’t expect ’em to roll out the welcome wagon.
This rebellion against change, this retreat into nationalism, is happening all over the globe. It’s happening in Europe, big-time. It’s in the Middle East. And it’s happening here, too, although we’re a bit more subdued about it. So far. But as I noted here, the ongoing Muslim cartoon crisis, for example, amounted to Middle Eastern anti-modernists and western right-wingers whipping each other into a mutual hate frenzy. Granted the western wingnuts haven’t resorted to riots and destruction; they’ve been content with escalating hate speech. But the distinction is merely one of degree, not of kind.
Here’s where Roger Ailes comes in — in the remainder of his column, Ignatius postulates that all these people around the world are going berserk because they have the internets. Ignatius writes,
McLean argues that the Internet is a “rage enabler.” By providing instant, persistent, real-time stimuli, the new technology takes anger to a higher level. “Rage needs to be fed or stimulated continually to build or maintain it,” he explains. The Internet provides that instantaneous, persistent poke in the eye. What’s more, it provides an environment in which enraged people can gather at cause-centered Web sites and make themselves even angrier. The technology, McLean notes, “eliminates the opportunity for filtering or rage-dissipating communications to intrude.” I think McLean is right. And you don’t have to travel to Cairo to see how the Internet fuels rage and poisons reasoned debate. Just take a tour of the American blogosphere.
The connected world is inescapable, like the global economy itself. But if we can begin to understand how it undermines political stability — how it can separate elites from masses, and how it can enhance rage rather than reason — then perhaps we will have a better chance of restabilizing a very disorderly world.
Oh, good. Just cut ’em off from the Web and the natives won’t be so restless. Roger Ailes writes,
Oh, for the good old days — pre-1990s — a time when our sectarian wars and riots and lynchings and genocides were civilized affairs, based on pure, sweet reason. Oh, paradise lost!
I’d like to apologize personally to David Ignatius and Tom Friedman and Francis Fukuyama and Thomas P.M. Barnett and, most of all, to Charles M. McLean, who runs a trend-analysis company called Denver Research Group Inc., for coarsening the discourse. It was wrong of me to think that my opinions might be worth consideration even though I knew I didn’t have a book contract. Clearly, it was my rage that blinded me to the fact that I was poisoning reasoned debate and undermining political stability and separating elites from masses.
And I was such a nice fellow before October 2002; really, I was.
Let the healing begin.