Me vs. Them vs. We – Nationalism/Populism vs. Globalism

The world is a shaky place right now. The best windows into this instability are countries where citizens can express their feelings in the voting booths. I am not alone in having mentioned repeatedly that the world is now entering into a period dominated by humans. For a global change this is taking place at a very fast pace – one which continues to accelerate.

In a previous blog (January 17, 2017) I cited the Economist’s description of a key proposal for the start of this new era:

The second slide (Figure 2) summarizes the state of approval for marking the Anthropocene as a new (and current) geological period. One important aspect, as shown on this slide, is the proposed marker for the beginning of this period. The Economist’s report from September 2016, demonstrates that the leading candidate for said marker is the high point of nuclear weapons testing in 1964.

Based on this proposed timeline, I am older than this new era, as are many of you. On a geological time scale that measures epochs in millions of years, this new era has barely reached infancy. An infant’s main job is to learn how best to survive in the new world that it is entering. Humanity is a collection of individuals who organize themselves into variously sized aggregates, including sovereign states, cities, towns, etc. Every one of these units keeps in mind its own interests as well as those of its largest grouping. Changes and instabilities always create winners and losers. In places where people can vote to decide on the direction of such change, people invariably have the choice of voting for either what they perceive to be their own good or that of the larger collective. On a global scale, these choices often exhibit themselves as a struggle between Nationalism (or Populism) and Globalism. Other scales are in play as well, including cities, towns, and states in federal systems, generational conflicts, etc. I will redefine these struggles as Me vs. Them vs. We (MTW – if you like abbreviation) and will devote my next few blogs to them.

These struggles are similar to the classic environmental NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) argument. (Type NIMBY into the search box and you will find at least 13 different blogs that deal with this issue in various contexts.)

Try to Google “me vs. them” and you will get a variety of results, ranging from police views on relevant conflicts with their communities to the band Radium’s album by that name. If you Google “me vs. them vs. we” you will get few entries that correct it to “me vs. them or we.” The distinction between “me” and “them” is obvious but “we” necessitates including myself in some collective that needs to be defined separately. The other thing missing here is some gradation of the collective; do family, friends, etc. count under “me” or “them”?

On the political side, two Op-Ed pieces from the New York Times do an admirable job of illustrating some of these issues within the recent United States presidential elections.

The first is R.R. Reno’s April 28, 2017, “Republicans are Now the American First Party”:

For most of my career, the Republican Party was pretty easy to define. It stood for small government, an internationalist foreign policy, free trade, and moral and religious conservatism. Ronald Reagan was the party’s North Star. Of course, there have always been Republicans who veered from that line — but everyone understood what the party meant.

Of all the people still trying to process Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency, perhaps none are more confused than my generation of conservatives, who came of age under Mr. Reagan and drank deeply of that old orthodoxy. We are, by now, the establishment — the senators, governors, think-tank presidents and columnists who, until Mr. Trump came along, got to define what “Republican” and “conservative” meant. My cohort simply cannot accept that Mr. Trump has taken away that coveted role and revolutionized not just our party, but also the very terms of the American political divide.

But we need to. Because as Mr. Trump recognized, the new schism in American life is not about big versus small government, or more or less regulation. It is about immigration, free trade and the broad and deep impacts of globalization on America’s economy and culture. “Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,” he told the Republican National Convention.

The second piece is much more controversial because it compares the Trump presidency with mid 20th century German and Italian Fascism and thus appears to “obey” Godwin’s Law (December 27, 2016 blog):

Godwin’s law (or Godwin’s rule of Hitler analogies)[1][2] is an Internet adage asserting that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1“[2][3]—​​that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler.

In this case, the Op-Ed was written by the grandson of Henry A. Wallace, the 33rd Vice President of the United States:

Seventy-three years ago, The New York Times asked the sitting vice president to write an article about whether there are fascists in America, and what they’re up to.

It was an alarming question. And the vice president took it quite seriously. His article, “The Danger of American Fascism,” described a breed of super-nationalist who pursues political power by deceiving Americans and playing to their fears, but is really interested only in protecting his own wealth and privilege.

That vice president was my grandfather, Henry A. Wallace. And in my view, he predicted President Trump.

To be clear, I don’t think the precise term “fascism” — as in Mussolini and Hitler — is fairly applied to Mr. Trump. Mussolini was a proponent of “corporatism,” defined by some as “a merger of state and corporate power.” And through that lens, using that term, my grandfather’s warning looks prescient.

Here’s an excerpt from an interview with the Israeli historian, Yuval Noach Harari, on the topic of the present conflict between Nationalism and Globalism. The interview was broadcasted as a part of an interactive TED talk:

YNH: Yeah, the old 20th-century political model of left versus right is now largely irrelevant, and the real divide today is between global and national, global or local. And you see it again all over the world that this is now the main struggle. We probably need completely new political models and completely new ways of thinking about politics. In essence, what you can say is that we now have global ecology, we have a global economy but we have national politics, and this doesn’t work together. This makes the political system ineffective, because it has no control over the forces that shape our life. And you have basically two solutions to this imbalance: either de-globalize the economy and turn it back into a national economy, or globalize the political system.

He continues:

YNH: Exactly. All the major problems of the world today are global in essence, and they cannot be solved unless through some kind of global cooperation. It’s not just climate change, which is, like, the most obvious example people give. I think more in terms of technological disruption. If you think about, for example, artificial intelligence, over the next 20, 30 years pushing hundreds of millions of people out of the job market — this is a problem on a global level. It will disrupt the economy of all the countries.

I wrote about Yuval Noach Harari in a previous blog (January 10, 2017):

I recently read Yuval Harari’s Homo Deus; he is an Israeli historian of some note and puts forward his view of humanity’s future. For those of us challenged in Latin, Homo is man or human (as in Homo Sapiens), while Deus refers to God or a deity. Harari’s implication is that man will become a deity, in the sense that he will have eternal life. As far-fetched as this concept sounds, attempts to prolong human life beyond the present limits of slightly more than 100 years are being widely pursued – including by people with significant means.

I will conclude with a paragraph from the Jewish Passover Haggadah:

What says the wicked son? He asks: “What mean you by this service”? By the word “you”, it is clear he doth not include himself, and thus hath withdrawn himself from the community; it is therefore proper to retort upon him by saying: “This is done because of what the Eternal did for me, when I went forth from Egypt;” for me and not for him; for had he been there, he would not have been thought to be redeemed.

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About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.

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