In Partial Fulfillment of the Graduation Requirements
Mr. Eric Briggs
Director, Secretary of Defense Corporate Fellows
National Defense University
Ms. Dee Taylor
Director, Air Force Fellows Program
Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama
The views expressed in this academic research paper are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. government or the Department of Defense. In accordance with Air Force Instruction 51-303, it is not copyrighted, but is the property of the United States government.
Imagining Nations; Two Examples and Benedict Anderson’s Way of Seeing the Origins of Nationalism 1
Demographic and Industry Shifts; Technology and Globalization; “Alarming” Facts without Context Drive Xenophobia 17
A New Mindset Emerges; Imagining Other Communities 28
In what follows I pose questions relevant to today’s global environment and conclude with reflections about how the United States’ approach to national security should acknowledge new realities made possible by communication and collaboration tools that have enabled an acceleration in corporate globalization and a shift in public consciousness, but the lens through which I focus these questions began to form when I first became conscious of the origins of national allegiance and the heroic and tragic sacrifices offered in the name of that allegiance. As a consequence, though I submit this reflection on globalization and national identity as a requirement for academic credit--and though it addresses broad national and international questions--it remains a high-level examination that brings together disparate parts of my own reflections on these issues and does not pretend to answer questions better left to true experts in the fields I trespass. Still, I am not apologizing for this personal approach; national consciousness necessarily begins with individual people and properly considered allegiance is a personal commitment to a given community. Simply stated, it takes one to die for one’s country, and nationalism, as defined by Benedict Anderson and others, is a form of self-consciousness. That said, most of us find ourselves in these communities by the circumstances of inheritance. Better perhaps if we all had to choose consciously at the age of reason, and this study posits an evolving world in which that may become more common. So, a bit about that lens through which I first began to examine these issues and then a few sentences to thank those who have helped me focus it.
Despite serious study of war literature, just war theory, and the disillusionment of—for example—the trench poets of the First World War, I didn’t fully comprehend my own nationalistic consciousness, or the common origins of the nationalistic form of self-identification, until graduate school. My example only proves the power and ubiquity of national imaginings. Despite growing up in a small Midwestern town that cultivated patriotism and an unquestioning sense of belonging to the American landscape, from a very young age, I had pondered the reasons for sacrifice and the assumptions of patriotism. As a junior high student, I was asked to recite an original poem during our local Memorial Day ceremonies. At the time, I didn’t realize how controversial or even inflammatory some of my questioning sounded. In retrospect, I’m intrigued with why the aging veterans in the crowd didn’t shun my words. Strangely enough, they accepted them. Had they pondered the same questions? Was theirs a more considered love of country than I then believed? Were they merely tolerating a young man they didn’t take seriously? My point is, I was bothered by the loss of lives for the sake of “a few yards of land” (my first conception of war overwhelmingly focused on the stalemate in the trenches of the First World War), but I wasn’t questioning why anyone would so closely identify with a vast community defined by political boundaries. I took my Americanism, and the bonds I felt with 250 million strangers, for granted.
Later, I again posed many of the same questions to myself and formed slightly more sophisticated answers about service, sacrifice, and the morality of resisting evil. After graduating from the Air Force Academy and living in the operational world for several years, I considered my thoughts and opinions fully formed and somewhat nuanced. They were, in fact, in their infancy and crudely forged. Finally, not long after beginning coursework for my Master’s degree, the head of graduate studies in the English Department at Notre Dame assigned a full reading of Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. Naively, I took this assignment a step further and decided to write my required paper for “Introduction to Graduate Studies” on Anderson’s ideas. I read the book in the manner of an undergraduate, argued in the margins against what I thought Anderson was saying, wrote a combative draft of the paper, and arrived on time to review my progress with the professor. The session that followed constituted what I might now call “the beginnings of an education.” I learned in candid terms that I had completely failed to understand Anderson. I had written an indignant reply to his book instead of a reasoned argument about the ideas of a respected scholar.
Two months later, I better understood Anderson’s language and had a general understanding of the terrain he had so carefully mapped. The immediate outcome was a passable paper. Over the time since, I have observed the world of nations and nationalism through Anderson’s basic terms and principles and learned a great deal more about my own assumptions and deeply ingrained nationalistic biases, as well as honed my eye to begin seeing how changes in the global landscape may have begun the long, slow erosion of nationalistic imaginings. 13 years later, as I returned to his book in order to focus this paper, I saw his ideas in the context of recent history and better understood his application of this framework in attempting to understand the nationalistic forces at work at the time of his first edition in the early 1980s. In turn, that has allowed me to see the potential benefit of using his model to understand what might happen over the next few decades as the information age extends to the far corners of the earth.
Those ideas may be even more relevant today. So, I have three basic goals in this work. First, to forge a general understanding of Anderson’s terms and establish the validity of his claims. In that pursuit, I anticipate the need to overcome some healthy doubt in the minds of thinkers new to Anderson’s language. Second, to use this way of looking at the formation of national consciousness to examine current global trends and to propose that information-age realities not only flatten the world, as Thomas Friedman points out, but have the potential eventually to alter the nationalistic imaginings that have propelled so much conflict and sacrifice over the last 230 years. Finally, I will suggest in very general terms how national security strategy might best address this changing landscape, especially as it pertains to emerging peer rivals around the world.
As mentioned, my thinking in this area has come into focus for over a decade, but not without the help of a few friends and mentors. First among these, I must thank Dr Thomas G. Bowie, Jr. (Col, USAF, ret) who has patiently and thoughtfully guided the trajectory of my intellectual development for over 22 years now. More specifically, his comments on my prewriting helped focus this discussion and provided balance by offering the views of his peers from the community of academics in which he resides at Regis University. Another mentor and friend, Colonel Lee DeRemer (USAF, Director of Strategic Leadership, Department of Command, Leadership, and Management U.S. Army War College), from his wilderness outpost at Carlisle Barracks, offered insights and lent his eye to my simplified rendering of Benedict Anderson’s framework. If my summary of Anderson fails to compel readers to see value in this framework—or at least create further interest—the fault will be mine alone. Finally, my dear friend Thomas P. McGuire (Lt Col, USAF, PhD) at the Air Force Academy, has enriched the context from which I view these questions by offering his more educated comprehension of the historic evidence and literary reflections of nationalistic sentiment and sacrifice. Though my brief musings could not hope to capture even a thin wedge of his panoramic view, his broadening and coloring of my vision has hopefully helped me avoid some missteps in a minefield of cultural and political exceptions.
My expectations for this commentary are modest: to extend the vocabulary normally applied to discussions of corporate globalization and the spread of information technology, to provide one point of reference from which to assess the influence of information technology on national consciousness, and to motivate a few military professionals—including myself—to respond constructively to the inevitable changes being wrought by corporate globalization, demographic shifts, and increased internet penetration. Such a response may offer an alternative to the purely defensive response I believe is the intuitive initial reaction of most American military thinkers, and give us yet another reason to develop strategy that looks first at the future landscape rather than responding narrowly to a few potential competitors.
This brief examination of the influence of information-age changes brought about by corporate globalization and advances in information technology first establishes a vocabulary and perspective based on Benedicts Anderson’s important work on the origins of nationalism, then uses that perspective as a lens through which to view a few popularly disseminated data points on the so-called demographic “shifts” of the early 21st Century. Using that discussion, it returns to two examples offered in the first section to show how new forms of community may or may not be starting to erode the strength of national consciousness. On one side of this discussion arises a belief that new supra- or extra-national communities will soon eclipse the grip of national allegiance that has dominated geo-politics for over two centuries. On the other side, an insistence that national consciousness is alive and well and that some secondary effects of corporate globalization are actually reinforcing or even fomenting nationalism. The author dissects relevant information from a popular YouTube video, offers insights based on visits to major corporations by the Secretary of Defense Corporate Fellows, and suggests that current military thinkers may be falling prey to a false dichotomy. The examination concludes with a brief reflection on how such a perspective on nationalism might be used by national leaders to develop strategy and craft strategic communications.
Imagining Nations; Two Examples and Benedict Anderson’s Way of Seeing the Origins of Nationalism
I was perhaps the first one to stand up alive out of a burning machine. A man whose head was on fire. They didn’t know my name. I didn’t know their tribe. Who are you? I don’t know. You keep asking me. You said you were English.
Yes, Madox was a man who died because of nations. —Count Ladislaus de Almasy, in Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient (5, 242)1
Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient is a work of fiction set in 1945 and reveals the title character’s life in the decade or so prior to the Second World War. Many are familiar with the film adaptation of this novel and would describe it as a love story or tale of deceit and betrayal. As often happens in the screen version of a piece of literature, many of the writer’s central concerns are submerged. The English Patient tells a story of national identity, struggles with the notion of cultural domination, and illustrates the personal costs of political allegiance. Readers hear of unmapped borders, bridgeless rivers, improvised explosive devices, and an airplane buried in the desert. The “English patient” turns out to be a Hungarian polyglot burned beyond recognition, his Asian counterpart a technology-savvy young Indian in a British uniform, wearing the turban of a Sikh and constantly risking his life to diffuse bombs for the Western Allies. All the prominent characters occupy the liminal spaces between nations, cultures, and communities. A displaced Indian sapper, a defaced Hungarian count, and two disenfranchised Canadians are brought together in a decaying Italian villa behind the line of demarcation between the German and British armies; they discuss national anthems, personal and ancient histories, the battles in the so-called empty deserts of North Africa, and the meaning of personal loyalty and betrayal between friends who suddenly find themselves on opposing sides in a world war. They separate when an American airplane drops a bomb on a Japanese city. Are any of these themes relevant to a discussion of demographic shifts and national allegiance in the beginning of the 21st Century? The answer should be obvious by the end of this brief look at Nationalism in the Information Age, but in order to see clearly those issues that remain intentionally complex and nuanced in literature, it is first necessary to lay out a common vocabulary and unambiguous definitions. For that, Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities will serve as a starting point, but first, consider a working example.
To set the stage for later discussion, it will be helpful to have a concrete example from which to draw when explicating the less intuitive concepts inherent to Anderson’s definition of nationalism and the origins of nationalism he details. This example necessarily defines a stereotypical, or composite, citizen of the 1970s in America, and exemplifies an individual who supposedly existed in multiple. Of course, Anderson argues that such a homogenous citizenry has never been actual, only real, we might say. Certainly, examples can be found of actual people who fit closely the profile of such a citizen, but Anderson contends the power of nationalism resides in the fact that huge masses of people believe there are common attributes and values that citizens of a given nation share almost universally. The foundations of such belief are the first concern of this examination. Of further value to later discussion will be to offer a second, more recent example to show the change and trajectory of change of nationalistic consciousness. This change may tell us, through extrapolation, what to expect in the decades to come. Further, it will offer strategic thinkers a framework and vocabulary in order to locate the intersection of these forces with the concerns of national security.
So what image comes to mind when we refer to “an American” in the 1970s? (or any time prior to the information age). We lack time to complicate this brief glimpse of national identity with the legitimate variables of the gender and race of such a person; it is more important to look at his or her habits, sphere of influence, sources of information, and sense of belonging within a group. All this can be defined without limiting the gender or race of such a person. Let’s call him/her “Citizen 1.” Citizen 1 speaks and reads only English and gets daily news from the morning newspaper and the nightly news. Citizen 1 has a choice of two papers, both published in City 1 and drawing stories from the Associated Press and its own local reporters. Citizen 1 watches the evening news on one of 3 available channels: CBS, NBC, or ABC. Often Citizen 1 finishes the rest of the morning paper as he watches the one hour of national news (7:00 Eastern, 6:00 Central) before 30 minutes of news from the local affiliate comes on.2 Later at night, the one television in the house would be tuned to the late version of the local news before the “Tonight Show” monologue. When Citizen 1 arrives at work in the morning, a large percentage of the people in this small circle of acquaintance would have seen the same news, the same monologue by Johnny Carson, and very likely they will have watched many of the same programs in between the evening and late news. On Sundays, many watch 60 Minutes before the Wonderful World of Disney.3
If Citizen 1 works for a large American company, chances are the vast majority of the labor force resides in the United States and are U.S. citizens with similar educational and social backgrounds. One friend of Citizen 1 drives a VW Beetle and another crazy friend just bought a new car made in Japan, but everyone else Citizen 1 knows drive American-made automobiles. Citizen 1 hopes this friend’s “Honda Civic” doesn’t fall apart in a year, because everyone knows they make only low-quality goods in Japan. Of course, Citizen 1’s life includes many other points of intersection with other Americans, but the few mentioned here are prominent.
How would Benedict Anderson describe Citizen 1? Other than the geography of birth, what makes Citizen 1 an American? Most importantly, why does Citizen 1 identify so closely with the idea of being an American? In fact, Citizen 1 never questions that he or she has a communal bond with 203 million other Americans, whether they live in Tulsa or Tallahassee, Minneapolis or Manhattan, and the fact that Anderson would question that puts many American readers immediately on the defensive. His book is titled Imagined Communities. “Well, one thing is certain”, Citizen 1 might argue, “there’s nothing imaginary about the United States of America.” The need to discuss in detail Anderson’s definition anticipates this kind of resistance to his ideas simply because of the unique way he applies his terms to our conventional understanding of nationalism. So first, a look at Anderson’s basic definitions.
After multiple disclaimers, Anderson tentatively proposes one definition of nation: “it is an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.”4 Anderson chooses each word carefully here, and an expanded understanding of his exact meaning becomes extremely important to later discussion. His first adjective—and the foundational concept of his deeper understanding of the underlying origins of nationalism—often causes the most skepticism in newcomers to this sort of language. Nations are “Imagined,” Anderson says. Yes, and he means that nations are both real and imagined, but lay readers must understand these terms in the context of epistemological language and social psychology to understand them not as antithetical, but as reinforcing. For those willing to stick with Anderson for a moment, he makes this clear.
The nation must be imagined, he adds, “because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.”5 [emphasis added]. This truth is not meant to disparage those who firmly believe in this communion, only to point out that members of all large communities partake in a sort of creative mental process by which they conceive complete strangers as part of a cohesive group, for whom they show a willingness to make profound personal sacrifices. They must imagine that personal communion, because it does not exist in scale. “In fact,” Anderson argues, “all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact (and perhaps even these) are imagined. Communities [therefore] are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined.”6 [emphasis added].
Readers must also remain mindful of the distinction Anderson assumes between “real” and “actual.” Nations, as Anderson and most others define them, are always quite real. That is, the members of these communities have clear conceptions and images of these communities in their minds. In contrast, careful students of nationalism note the disagreement between how these communities are thought of and their actual constitution as political entities. Anderson aptly calls these disagreements “paradoxes” and lists the three paradoxes he most often hears discussed by theorists of nationalism:
(1) The objective modernity of nations to the historian’s eye vs. their objective antiquity in the eyes of nationalists. (2) The formal universality of nationality as a socio-cultural concept—in the modern world everyone can, should, will ‘have’ a nationality, as he or she ‘has’ gender—vs. the irremediable particularity of its concrete manifestations, such that, by definition ‘Greek’ nationality is sui generis. (3) The ‘political’ power of nationalism vs. their philosophical poverty and even incoherence.7
So, for example, though everyone knows the Constitution of the United States did not go into effect until 1789, thus establishing the political entity we might also call “the nation,” we look back to at least the time of the Mayflower (1620) when we imagine our national “roots,” and perhaps even earlier when we consider “the history of US.”8 The second paradox explains itself, but illuminates a curious point that seems relevant to how globalization and the information age might begin to shift some people’s conception of group identity. That is, for a couple of centuries, we have (properly) viewed the nation as the pre-eminent source of social identity. Being “French,” for example, has been seen as more defining than being “middle class” or “a socialist.” Being simply “An American” precedes being a Democrat or “an executive at Microsoft Corporation.” The question of whether this source of identity—and our intuitive way of expressing it—will remain unarguably primary constitutes a central concern of this discussion.
Finally, when Anderson refers to “the philosophical poverty of nationalisms,” it is important to note that he writes of the plurality of nationalisms and not of the philosophical shortcomings of any particular form of government. In other words, he is not insulting a concept of how to rule or govern a group as much as he is echoing the intellectual frustration some have with the fact that so many members of a nation are unwilling or unable to see themselves any other way and that nationalism as an intellectual construct should not be generalized across such a vast array of types of “nations.” Thus Anderson’s need to pose a very broadly worded definition of nation, and his need to further explain his terms and offer examples of the roots of this “ism.”
Returning to that definition yields two more terms that beg for expansion. The first is “limited.” Nations are imagined as limited, according to Anderson, “because even the largest of them, encompassing perhaps a billion living human beings, has finite, if elastic, boundaries, beyond which lie other nations. No nation considers itself coterminous with mankind.”9 Nations, of course, also define themselves—or are imagined by their members—through contrast. One may not know exactly what it means to be Canadian. There may be variations in language or culture within the sub cultures of a nation, but certainly a Canadian is not an American and we cannot imagine a world in which all people consider themselves Canadian; as well, moving to a place within the physical boundaries of Canada does not make one Canadian, though being born there may. At the risk of oversimplifying, it might be said that a nation cannot exist in absence of a contrasting “other.”
The final element of the definition contends that nations are sovereign. Clear enough, one might say, but Anderson knows this cannot remain implied. Nations rule themselves and are ruled by no one else, excepting international governing bodies that—by mutual agreement of sovereigns—make rulings about war crimes or territorial claims or author “resolutions” on behalf of or in opposition to something a nation has done. It is important to note here that nations are not charged with war crimes; individual persons are accused and tried of such crimes. The fact that nations rule themselves gives them, regardless of their internal governing mechanisms, freedom from the influences and mandates of supra- or sub-national communities. One need only name a few examples of these types of non-national communities in order to begin hypothesizing situations in which this distinction becomes all important: the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the United Nations, the Roman Catholic Church, OPEC. These types of organizations wield power or influence only within the scope of their particular interest and never without the consent of individual nations. The nation remains sovereign. Even in the case of the United Nations, member nations must agree before enforcement action is taken against a sanctioned nation.
That simple definition from Anderson forms a foundation for further discussion but remains insufficient to translate the meaning of recent changes wrought by globalization that may be eroding the strength of national identity. Many of these changes spring more directly from advances in global communications and information technology, but have often arrived through doors opened by international companies in search of markets, tax shelters, inexpensive labor, and/or intellectual capital. Here we will find the intersection we seek between national identity and globalization in the information age, but first we must stock our heuristic toolbag with more clues about the origins of national imaginings.
The cultural roots of nationalism can be unearthed by answering the question: what cultural dynamics enable citizens of a particular group to imagine themselves part of a political community that is both limited and sovereign? The example of Citizen 1 gave clues to Anderson’s list of influences. We might ask the question another way to simplify our task: what allows people who are strangers to think of themselves as part of a tightly knit community of peers? The answer points to mechanisms within societies that help a person form an imagine of his or her communion with a group. Anderson lays out a convincing in-depth argument which looks closely at the predecessors to nations—for example, the world’s huge religious communities and the vast dynasties of monarchs—and why they eventually lost their hold and were replaced by nations. His examination is fascinating and compelling, but its detail and nuance should not detain us here. A few salient points will inform a later review of early 21st Century realities and how they may be assessed through Anderson’s lens.
Anderson points to three main changes in how people conceived their world: the way written language was produced and distributed that made it more accessible in vernaculars, the questioning of Divine Right brought about during the Reformation and before, and the altering of apprehensions of time—literally a fundamental change that allowed widely dispersed populations to have a sense of simultaneity among each other instead of with events of a distant past.10 Prior to the printing press and the advent of “print capitalism,” the sacred texts in Latin and other ancient languages gave only the literate few (royal elites and monastics) access to “truth.” These few elites then became gatekeepers of knowledge and—intentionally or not—helped maintain the rigid hierarchies of dynastic and religious realms11. Part of their power resided in the fact that they alone offered the promise of redemption and access to an immortality free from the drudgery and servitude then known by so many. Of course, one did not question the legitimacy of a king if his right to rule descended from the unquestioned, and unquestionable, God of the ancient scriptures. In this sense, communities could be imagined only in reference to the vertical connections within these “high-centered” dynastic realms.12
Of the factors Anderson discusses, perhaps the change in apprehensions of time is the most difficult for the modern mind to grasp. The vast majority of modern readers simply cannot comprehend what Anderson calls “simultaneity along time,” as contrasted to our normal frame of reference, which he calls “simultaneity in time.” The media through which stories were told—mainly aural and visual—and an intuitive sense of the immediacy of events in the shared narrative matrix of a given religion allowed people to see those events as simultaneous with events in their daily lives. In essence, they were able to think in a way similar to what we might call “out of time,” in which events are not associated by nearness in clock or calendar time (neither of which they would mark), but in the affective proximity of significant occurrences. In the Christian example, they would have seen the crucifixion and Christ’s second coming as very near in time to them—perhaps nearly simultaneous in the sense of their immediacy. To clarify, Anderson paraphrases Walter Benjamin’s definition of “Messianic time”: “a simultaneity of past and future in an instantaneous present.”13
One effect of this way of understanding simultaneity is that events that occur simultaneously in time, if they are distant in space, are conceived as less immediate than events that are at physically near, though separated along time. For example, an accident or death that occurs in Paris, though it occurs on the same day as a birth in Normandy, cannot be conceived as occurring simultaneously because no mechanism exists to link the two stories; the birth of Christ is seen as more nearly simultaneous because the aural and visual media used to convey the story are more immediate. This is because no mechanism or narrative structure yet exists to catalogue events that take place at the same clock time but which are separated by geographic distance. There are no town clocks, no daily newspapers, not even stories in which the narrator is omniscient and able to “see” events in two places at one time. The only markers of time are also associated with spiritual pursuits: morning prayers, church bells, vespers, phases of the moon which guide religious practice, and the liturgical calendar, to name a few. Within the Christian liturgical calendar, the seasons are observed according to the story of Christ: Advent, Lent, Easter, and even Ordinary Time (most interestingly) are marked with reference to biblical events—out of time and recurring every year. All draw the mind upward toward the hierarchies of the Divine and away from the fraternity of the masses.
This all began to change, Anderson posits, when these cultural roots were undercut by the advent of new types of narratives and new factors of production which led to market capitalism, especially in Western Europe. Simply stated, the printing press allowed the commoditization and spread of information at the beginning of the Industrial Age and new forms of narrative—the novel and the newspaper—enabled readers to re-imagine the communities around them.14 Both new forms were mass produced in vernacular languages that found broader audiences beneath the oligarchy of elite Latin readers and the translators of religious texts. Both also provided a foothold into a new way of perceiving simultaneity such that a reader could now imagine events much as a newspaper or novel presented them. The otherwise unrelated events of a single day—a campaign speech in Colorado and a worker’s strike in California, for example—are brought together on the same page and could be seen as occurring at the same time, thus forming a community of shared experience between readers.
Novels also enabled this new sense of simultaneity by telling of distinct events occurring simultaneously in time. As such, people are able to conceive of a community of a new type, of which the nation becomes pre-eminent because of the strength of its particular appeals and the limited reach of its print language. Anderson defines this type as “horizontal, secular, transverse time”15 and concludes his discussion of the origins of national consciousness by pointing to the “convergence of capitalism and print technology” as the primary drivers behind the formation of that consciousness. Print capitalism bridges multiple spoken dialects by offering broader print vernaculars that may nonetheless be understood by these new communities which spring up below the dynastic realms and religious communities, but far above the level of face-to-face relationships.16 By generalizing on these two primary factors, we can say that capitalism crossed former borders while also creating distinct communities of shared print languages. This dynamic is analogous to the internet’s ability to connect across borders and create communities of shared ideas and interest.
Quite literally, advances in technology (the printing press) and new forms of communication (novels, newspapers, and translations) enabled formerly disparate peoples to conceive of themselves as belonging to peer communities not determined solely by religious affiliation and which could share experiences seen as simultaneous according to clock and calendar. Later discussions of recent advances in information technology and the thrust of corporate (capitalistic) globalization will attempt to establish that the same types of forces may be acting to erode the dominance of national consciousness in the 21st Century mind, but this is not to suggest that the political force of nationalism is in danger of near-term extinction. No serious student of international politics is predicting the demise of nations as the primary sovereigns, but even short of that, these changes and new ways of conceiving global communities do show the potential to influence international relationships or weaken the resolve of populations towards wholly nationalist pursuits. To illustrate how changes in technology, social culture, and globalization might perform this shift, we must posit a second example citizen.
Citizen 2. Citizen 2 speaks and reads English, practices conversational Spanish, and knows a few words of courtesy in Japanese for the sake of business meetings. When Citizen 2 logs on at Starbucks on his telecommute days—Mondays and Fridays—his homepage is customized with hyperlinks to world news from BBC Online and Yahoo! News17. Those stories are a few minutes or a few hours old and are posted directly from the regions they address18. The homepage—the settings for which reside not on the laptop or Citizen 2’s two other wireless network devices, but on the secure network through which he or she accesses this information—also has links to favorite blogs which offer further commentary on the “official” news and give Citizen 2 a look at public reactions to the stories, including input from both local readers and those closest to the happenings.
When Citizen 2 is unfamiliar with the background or history of a particular story, the most immediate source of such information is a wiki—quite different from Citizen 1’s beautiful full, 10-year-old set of WorldBook Encyclopedias. Citizen 2 fully comprehends the potential for erroneous or biased information within the so-called “corporate mind” which contributes to these online compilations, but has made a conscious choice to trust more in the social vetting and democratic review process inherent in the wiki process. The powerfully skeptical mind of Citizen 2 quietly wonders whether a different sort of bias and erroneous information had crept into his father’s encyclopedias. Citizen 2 has also developed a belief, not in balanced news, but in the power he wields when trusted to balance his own views when offered the full spectrum of opinions and reported “fact.”
Citizen 2 sporadically watches CCN International or surfs the 200+ channels available on Direct TV19. Every Sunday, Citizen 2 records Meet the Press, but watches it on weekday evenings while others are watching the programs they record on DVR. Though advertising is ubiquitous, and much of modern culture can be absorbed via advertising, Citizen 2 forwards through commercials. On his homepage the advertisements are specifically targeted at Citizen 2 based on demographic preferences, which pages are visited most often, and online shopping history. Citizen 2 pays very little attention to local news, but frequently participants in two online chats about local issues.
Citizen 2 often works at home during traditional office hours, but also at odd hours. Even on weekends, Citizen 2 answers e-mails in a matter of minutes on the ever-present smartphone. During the drive to work on Tuesdays, Citizen 2 attends an online meeting over this phone; between the car and the building, the phone automatically switches from cellular technology to the office Wi-Fi system with voice, data, and video over Internet Protocol. In the late afternoon, Citizen 2 might work between innings, or during innings, of a child’s baseball games. There are no borders or boundaries between professional and personal time—the day is a seamless mesh of work, play, and movement. Company news and world news both arrive on the smartphone or the laptop, at any time, and often intermixed, just as work and play, news and business form a mesh of information with overlaps and mutual relevancies.
Because many of the members of Citizen 2’s virtual work group are scattered in other time zones—from Europe to the Middle East, to India and China—the meetings are often at odd hours and the “local” news of the team members becomes local news for everyone. At the beginning of meetings, the team often asks one another for the personal take on world news stories they’ve heard or read that day. Citizen 2 watches “prime time” shows from the DVR while the neighbors watch the Letterman show on live television and the old widower across the street watches The History Channel 12 hours a day.
Citizen 2 works for a huge global corporation headquartered in San Jose, California, but even the local office is a quilt of cultures. The company staffs a full-time office for the management of green cards and work VISAs. The clear majority of his peers in Silicon Valley are non-US Citizens20. A few friends often get a coffee mid morning. The bachelor transplant from the Paris office has a double shot, the 50-ish Indian accountant stops outside the company café for a quick cigarette; Citizen 2 has a decaf latte, and the Air Force Colonel orders an Americano. The bachelor pays for all as they discuss the grand opening of the new corporate campus in Bangalore, and Citizen 2 muses how absolutely necessary it is to hire a native driver and plan for extra time when one travels across that city in traffic. In California, the Frenchman drives a Volvo, the Indian a BMW, and Citizen 2 and the Colonel compare the mileage of the different makes of the gas-electric hybrids they own—one a Prius, one a Civic. Later, the Colonel asks Citizen 2 about a news story he read in the WallStreet Journal online about internet filtering being done by the Chinese government. Citizen 2 missed the story; only listens to National Public Radio during the morning commute and heard instead that China announced it had passed the United States in total internet users when they topped 220 million users.21 Citizen 2 also mentions the irony that the same program reported unrest in Tibet due to human rights violations but that details were unavailable due to press “blackouts.”
For now, it can go almost without explanation how the lives of Citizens 1 and 2 differ in ways that constitute a fundamental difference in how they each might imagine the community or communities in which they work and live. Citizen 2 has less in common with his fellow citizens and perhaps more in common with the diverse and dispersed people with whom he shares news, work, time, and interests. Quite literally, Citizen 2 may identify more closely with other employees of Corporation X than with fellow American citizens. Certainly, it becomes easier for Citizen 2 to empathize with people far beyond national borders and for this view to color Citizen 2’s opinions on geo-politics or national interests.
Demographic and Industry Shifts; Technology and Globalization; “Alarming” Facts without Context Drive Xenophobia
Over the next 50 years, a much more multilateral or cooperative global government [could arise]. —Laura Tyson, Professor, UC Berkeley, 2007
The reality is quite plain; the ‘end of the era of nationalism,’ so long prophesied, is not remotely in sight. Indeed, nation-ness is the most universally legitimate value in the political life of our times.22 —Benedict Anderson, 1991
Internet links to several versions of a You Tube video variously entitled “Shift Happens” or “Did You Know?” have been circulated in e-mail for 2-3 years, at least within the Air Force and civilian educational institutions23. Mentioned within the video, which looks much like a PowerPoint presentation, are scattered—not quite random—facts about demographic shifts, population statistics, broadband internet penetration, and the exponential growth of information … or at least data. The original version was developed as a presentation to 150 educators in Colorado—to help them visualize what might be needed by American students in the coming decades. The conclusion—if there is any coherent conclusion beyond some vague implications—seems to be that the United States is falling behind Asia (namely China and India) in educating its youth for the highly technical challenges of the information age and the overwhelming (supposed) onslaught of the educated Asian hordes both coming to our shores and stealing employment from our nation because of the resource offshoring (labor outsourcing) of U.S.-based corporations. After a closer look at the sources from which it draws, there is no reason to argue the basic facts it presents, but the lack of real analysis begs questions about the implicit conclusions to which it leads the passively receptive audience. Reactions vary. Most viewers register the alarm the video is apparently intended to incite. From higher academic circles, a more measured response arises, and a sense that perhaps the more common reaction betrays a pre-existing Xenophobia. Anecdotal evidence suggests that U.S. defense leaders often focus on the threat of Chinese technological advancement coupled with the fueling influence of U.S.-Corporate “sponsorship” of China’s economic development. Much evidence suggests that their fear of state-sponsored cyber attacks is well founded, and the recent efforts of China to bolster its military have driven other reasonable thinkers to view the government as a continuing threat. Less often, they look at a balanced collage of China’s economic, political, and cultural landscape and consider the realistic alternatives to protectionism and isolationism. A few reflect on whether the nature of the new global economy will require simultaneous competition and collaboration. The corporate model seems to suggest that even competitors can also be successful strategic partners.
Large corporations, based in the United States or Western Europe, have increasingly looked beyond the borders of their nations of origin for one of three basic reasons: 1) a much reduced tax burden on infrastructure and assets, 2) proximity to huge potential or emerging markets, and 3) large pools of low or lower-cost labor (skilled and unskilled). The first two are not the concern of this analysis, but certainly relate in a general way to the conclusions and concerns of the final section. In the meantime, many of the same corporations have begun importing talent and intellectual capital from anywhere well-educated and motivated information workers, technicians, and engineers can be found. Thomas Friedman exhaustively catalogues these phenomena in The World is Flat24, but the pop-culture form of this type of information which has captured the imagination of many Americans and which forms the basis of much discussion and opinion is the You Tube video mentioned above. Though it is reasonable to question the “seriousness” of this source, it makes sense to use it here as a primary focus because it simultaneously demonstrates the power and appeal of its form—which is of the age it addresses. In this section, a closer look at this information will lay the foundation for two wings of the later discussion: first, how technology and the globalization it enables might be changing national self-perceptions and second, how we might differently craft our response to these facts. Put a different way, the purpose of this next section is to explore just a few of these facts and to look carefully beyond the instinctive visceral reaction that is so common. Once that reaction is tempered, perhaps a more balanced and sophisticated understanding of these shifts will emerge. The blindness that attends sensationalism and the protectionist postures that result from cultural resentment do little to improve our vision of the future or help us develop a more reasonable approach to national security in the mid 21st Century. By stepping back a bit, a broader view often reveals the irrelevancy of “alarming” numbers and allows a more measured response to the panorama. So, first a look at just a few of those interesting bits of information.
In different versions of this video, the content is arranged in different order. “Did You Know 2.0” begins with birth rates and a comparison of three primary nations of interest: China, India, and the U.S. For each birth in the United States, it reports that four births will occur in China and five in India. Apparently, this ratio should alarm U.S. citizens. In fact, the raw numbers are astounding, but are not a recent development or reflect a radical “shift” in proportions. As well, the CIA World Fact Book’s 2008 birthrate estimates place India 87th in the world for births per 1000 population and lists China (155th) behind the United States (152nd)25. In the top fifty, we find these familiar nations: Iraq (49th), Sudan (43rd), Kenya (29th), Yemen (11th), and Somalia (7th). These statistics do not address percentage growth, mortality rates, quality of life, the meaning of numerical superiority in peer rivalries, or the attendant problems of rapid population growth and increased population density. These contextual and analytical expansions on basic facts are culturally and strategically relevant. When the Secretary of Defense Corporate Fellows visited one major multi-national corporation26 in December of 2007, one of the topics was globalization and that corporation’s involvement and investment in China. One senior executive, when asked whether he had concerns about the threat posed by China emerging as an economic and military peer rival to the United States, gave a reasoned and unemotional answer that focused primarily on the huge challenges China faces in dealing with growth, increased industrialization and urbanization, and the environmental impact of sustaining this level of growth in a nation unaccustomed to external review and criticism of its environmental policies. His was not a dismissive tone, but one of fatherly teaching. Having traveled to and done business in China for decades, he harbors few of the fears our average military officer entertains. If China is a sleeping giant, he seemed to be saying, it sleeps under the Lilliputian ropes of its internal problems.
Other executives of the same corporation echoed similar sentiments, but no one expressed any fear of globalization as it related to their corporate aspirations. They did express an urgency in making sure the United States didn’t fall behind the rest of the business world because of naïve protectionist restrictions. Their director of LEAN/Six Sigma championed the need for a “common global language” for international growth, regardless of the particular acronyms applied to the specific approaches. Their Vice President for Research and Development unapologetically announced, “I want the brightest minds regardless of where they’re from.” A Senior Vice President for Corporate Supply Chain Operations even registered regret that “Taxes are driving us out of this country” [the U.S.] because developing countries are offering tax incentives and the U.S. no longer offers an Export Tax Credit27. More than one of the military officers attending these discussions expected more guarded—or more evasive—answers.
Instead they heard candid replies delivered in matter-of-fact tones; the speakers were not unaware of the impact these changes are having on the economic and technical hegemony the U.S. formerly enjoyed, and most understand the national security implications of the loss of that hegemony. They simply believe that economic prosperity can no longer be maintained in a vacuum, or even through international relationships that reinforce traditional boundaries. The same messages echoed during other corporate visits, and the bottom line was clear: yes, developing nations are challenging U.S. economic and technological dominance, but isolationism and protectionism would be self-destructive in an interdependent global economy which needs intellectual capital far beyond what any single nation can produce. Huge advances in information technology have enabled worldwide information flow and eased global communications. This change has created a global business community in which companies have no choice if they hope to remain competitive.
The optimism about globalization the Secretary of Defense Corporate Fellows so often heard at major corporations could easily have been dismissed as the result of corporate greed: the conscious decisions to focus on the opportunities while admitting only mild concern for the potential pitfalls or the subconscious denial that any downside existed. What they heard instead were reasonable assessments by presumably loyal or even patriotic Americans that the best way forward for the United States was to keep pace with the global trend towards collaboration and interdependence in business and information technology. The synergistic effects of cooperation and globally shared intellectual capital, one must conclude, cannot be matched by any single nation’s most ardent or well-funded efforts. Further, any such attempt would amount to a step backwards relative to the pace of 21st Century change. Simply stated, many corporate executives see the protectionist ideal of “going it alone” as economic and diplomatic self-destruction. America may still lead the world in technological innovation, but many of the team members who contribute in that winning effort reside elsewhere. Many corporate executives have embraced this reality and understand the imperative to lead this cooperative rather than becoming the victim of an exclusively non-American dream team.
The sports analogy holds and can be seen even more convincingly in the NBA and MLB. In fact, major professional sports provides not just an analogy, but a direct example of how big business remains competitive by looking beyond borders to find the best talent. The lesson is old and simple: whoever builds the best team and helps them reach their greatest potential will achieve the desired outcome. What has changed are the mechanisms by which a team can be formed and work together, and the way its members define success. That change is occurring at the intersection of information technology and corporate globalization, and forms a nexus with the origins of national consciousness discussed in the first section. The picture of how these factors come together will become more clear in the final section of this inquiry, but more “random facts” should be sampled first.
“Did You Know 2.0” continues by comparing the number of 2006 college graduates in the three nations of interest: U.S. (1.3M), India (3.1M), China (3.3M), then remarks that 100% of those Indian graduates speak English, and that within a decade, China will have more English-speaking citizens than the U.S. Again, some context is missing and the syllogism leading to a logical conclusion is incomplete. Are these statistics intended to strike fear into high school teachers across America? What surprises us? That China and India have huge populations? That people should want to learn? What drives our fears? Would the American You Tube audience prefer to hear that U.S. universities have made Mandarin or Sanscrit compulsory? Listeners should also realize that English is the “associate” language of India, used in almost all transactions for business and government and only 30% of the people speak in the primary tongue—Hindi—among the 22 official languages of India, a country with a total literacy rate of only 61%28, compared to 91% in China and 99% in the United States. Of course, “Did You Know, 2.0” selectively chooses facts and the focus is education and intellectual capital in the sciences and engineering, but out-of-context facts cannot long remain compelling.
According to the Department of Homeland Security’s Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, the People’s Republic of China also ranks second (to Mexico) in number of legal immigrants to the United States. In 2007, over 76,000 immigrants from China obtained legal permanent resident status (Green Cards); India ranked fourth with over 65,000 legal immigrants29. Most corporations in Silicon Valley maintain fully staffed offices for the purpose of managing Green Cards for technical experts on their employment rolls. John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco Systems, reported in an October 2007 interview with Charlie Rose that 71% of Cisco’s engineers at their headquarters campus in Silicon Valley are of Asian descent.30 The DHS’s data on “Persons Naturalized During Fiscal Year 2006” show that over 35,000 natives of China became U.S. citizens that year. Of those, the majority were women (59%), most were under 45 years of age (61%), and of those who listed occupations outside the home, 57% reported their occupation as “Management, professional, and related occupations.” Far fewer (20%) reported working in service occupations.31 The numbers from India were higher. Over 47,500 became U.S. Citizens. Again, the majority were women (51%), most were under 45 years old (69%), and an even greater percentage (73%) of those who reported occupations outside the home listed “Management, professional, and related occupations.”32 What conclusions may be drawn from these statistics?
In his popular book, The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman points out that much of the information work that U.S. companies outsource to places like Bangalore, India consists of “commoditized,” repetitive, and purely technical tasks like accounting, tax preparation, and statistical analysis. These tasks require detailed knowledge and technical education, but require little innovative spirit or personal interaction. This leaves much of the creative or visionary work of crafting individualized investment plans, tax shelters, and the like to the supposedly more liberally educated U.S.-based professionals.33 Much of what Friedman exhaustively explains in the remainder of the book would seem to call this initial conclusion into question though; looking at those naturalized U.S. Citizens, and at the highly creative work done by Green-Card holders in Silicon Valley, one must conclude that the U.S. holds no magic wand for technological innovation or entrepreneurship, but that the American melting pot still holds great appeal and many who arrive on our shores choose to stay here and become U.S. Citizens, thus strengthening not only our technological capability, but enhancing the diversity of our gene pool.
“Did You Know, 2.0” goes on to discuss the exponential growth of available and evolving information, and points out how quickly educational institutions must adapt if they hope to offer relevant knowledge to tomorrow’s work force. Before concluding with rhetorical questions about whether U.S. students are being prepared for the collaborative workspace of the future, it presents predictions about the dynamic nature of the future job market and the transience of workers within that market. “Did You Know III,” containing much of the same information, begins with the educational mandate and points out the lack of technological savvy of most of the world. As such, it touches at least tangentially on two topics that are important to later conclusions: broadband internet penetration and the explosion of social networking, both for personal and business applications. After demonstrating the need for analysis that goes beyond random facts such as compiled in the “Did You Know” videos, it will be more efficient simply to present some basic information about these two topics before moving to the third section.
MySpace and Facebook are the two leading social networking sites on the World Wide Web. They allow similar types of interaction, but like traditional consumer goods and services, appeal to slightly different markets and demographics in the user community. MySpace currently holds the lead in number of registered users, but Facebook is growing more rapidly and web analysts predict Facebook will catch up in the fourth quarter of 2008.34 As of January 2008, the total number of registered users on both sites totaled more than 170 million, but the growth rate makes that number nearly irrelevant. Well over half a million new users join these communities of online users DAILY. Though these sites have proliferated to most developed countries, it is important to remember that the vast majority of users are still in North America, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. Not surprisingly, this usage pattern mirrors the current statistics on broadband internet penetration, but the correlation does demonstrate the likelihood that internet access nearly guarantees participation on available social networking sites.
Most people who follow the news on the spread of technology and web access would assume the latest statistics on internet penetration are easy to find with a simple Google search. Not so. Complexity arises when considering levels of access, frequency of use, speed of connections, and sources of the usage information. Different sources report varying numbers, but most agree within a range that is acceptable from which to draw general conclusions and in almost all cases within the same order of magnitude. The following numbers are consistent with most reporting on the topic. Internetworldstats.com reports worldwide basic internet penetration (of all bandwidths as a percentage of population) at 20.3% as of March, 200835. According to the same site, which compiles and correlates statistics from several reputable sources, total internet penetration in the U.S. is approximately 72%, with broadband penetration at nearly 22%. In comparison, China, even according to its own claims, has achieved only 16% total penetration and 3.7% broadband penetration. Despite an incredible growth rate in its user population and its obvious production of intellectual capital, India lags well behind with just over 5.0% overall penetration and 0.2% broadband penetration.36 Two developed countries with small populations, Bermuda and the Netherlands, lead the world in broadband penetration, with 36.5% and 32.8%, respectively. Coincidentally—or perhaps not coincidentally—these are two countries often thought of as socially liberated in the world community. They may form an interesting case study in the next few years for what we are to discuss next.