Our countries need us.

Humanity is at a high point. What our ancestors dreamed of is slowly becoming a reality: a world without hunger in which the vast majority of mankind live peaceful and long lives. We are not there yet, but in Europe, East Asia, Latin America, and even in Africa (our cradle), mankind is emerging from dark times. People live longer, healthier, happier, and more educated lives. Paid for and organised by countries, helped by international flows of people and information.

And yet, our countries are under threat from a disconnect between the elites and the population of individual countries.

The elites are having a great time. They can live almost anywhere they want; they have access to all the food and living space they could wish for; and their children are assured a fantastic education and long lives, aided by all the ingenious inventions of our best minds. They have multiple passports and speak multiple languages, choosing where to live, love, work and die.

This luxury has come with the temptation to abandon their role as the protectors of the institutions and cultures of their countries. Many of them feel constrained by countries, part of a world elite that runs countries and manipulates countries, but is not part of them.

So they live fluid lives, avoiding the duties that countries put on them but enjoying their hospitality and privileges. They and their companies avoid taxes. They trade on internet platforms that evade the scrutiny and regulations of nation-states, which they often re-write. They complain about the stupidity of the populations and how everyone should be like the elites. They are eroding the strength of the countries that gave rise to them.

I too am part of this group, currently living in my fourth country, welcome wherever I go. I am not a billionaire or a famous actor, but part of the academic establishment, the high priesthood of our time. We come and go as we please, enjoying the best of life, working on what we want, and dreaming of even greater powers.

My kind dreams of the world empire in which we are either the emperor or at least important members of his court. This includes the climate scientists who dream of directing the resources and energy uses of the planet. It includes the AI people who dream of a world run by hybrid entities that they create. It includes the economists who dream of transnational structures that they regulate. It includes the lawyers who dream of an international legal order. It includes the businessmen who dream of a world without government.

I too dream of a world governance system that maximises the well-being of the world, for the benefit of the living and the generations to come.

Yet, I say to myself and to you that there will be no world empire and that your country needs you. Yes, your country. You can probably choose which country you want to belong to, but your chosen country still needs you.

Your country needs your help in figuring out how to maintain a tax base so that the next generation too can enjoy a good education, a beautiful local environment, a humane law, and good health. That for instance requires you to figure out how those countries can get tax out of the internet.

Your country’s less able need you to protect their history and their self-image from the attacks to their self-esteem. That requires you to write a history that does not divide the country into victims and perpetrators but that allows everyone some dignity in the story of who they are, including a dignified self-image of who their ancestors were. So help those who are now told that they and their ancestors have always been b*stards, and that all their cultural habits are evil but those of others are not. Do not add to their belittlement by talking down to them, but help them.

Muster some sympathy for the civil servants in your country and the structures around them. They are under threat from within and without. You may not like them and sincerely think they are all useless, but you can’t have a country without a functioning and thinking civil service so help them. There is no police, no universal education, no law, no defence, or even any wealth without them. Make them better and smarter. Their enemies are your enemies, so help them win.

Have a pity for those without a yacht and without a private jet who currently look up in envy at all the images of how the elites live, afflicted by the lie that they too can reach the top as long as they tow the line and obey us. Help figure out how your country and your culture can reduce the reliance on jealousy and feelings of inadequacy to motivate the new generation of workers. Do not tell them to look up to you, but help them feel adequate and valued next to you.

Spare a thought for the criminals, the drug addicted, the ignorant, the homeless, and the miserable in your country. For we now know that you can organise countries such that you have very few of these, so do not condemn them as evil beings that need to be eradicated and hidden. They are produced, not born, so help your country figure out how to stop producing them. Think of them as real humans, even if they disgust you.

In short, please do not abandon your country by evading its demands or by despising the culture of large groups in your country. You may dream of being the world emperor: that is normal. But you are needed by your country. It needs your energy, your talents, your tolerance, and your sympathy.

This entry was posted in Cultural Critique, Democracy, Economics and public policy, Education, Ethics, History, Inequality, Information, Life, Literature, Philosophy, Political theory, Politics - international, Politics - national, Religion, Science, Social Policy, Society. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Our countries need us.

  1. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Paul, this is a departure for you at least in style – stirring stuff. Leading me to tweet:

    Great graduation address by @FrijtersPaul

    I have no idea whether it was a graduation address or even an address, but it’s inspiring stuff

    Who knew he could be this compelling and eloquent

    Not me

    Not until now that is

    Read it

    Read it now!

    It reads like a speech or something. Is there any story of note regarding its genesis or did it just roll off the keyboard?

  2. paul frijters says:

    Hi Nick,

    rolled off the keyboard, but it’s a set of thoughts and opinions I have had and lived by for a while now. Some of my earliest blogs had a very similar message. To see how things can improve is now part of my job as well.
    What prompted it more than anything else though is to see many people who could help their countries and who would feel much better about themselves if they did, nevertheless opt for something else. Smart people, but sucked into mindless career games, opaque religious orders, hatred towards the own culture, or consumption races. London has a lot of these people. Also, the Menadue blog has a lot of angry contributors to it who are ultimately not helping to solve anything, so it is also a bit of a reaction to the flood of self-indulgent anger articles I read on that site.

    And, to be fair, I recall you saying something quite similar once, in relation to the notion that the status race within elites could become directed to the benefit of their own population. They could set up new schools, hospitals, charities, but also science projects. You see quite a bit of that in London too. And there was a lot of that in the Victorian age. So if we are to return to a puritanical age, we should perhaps also return to the most useful part of that age.

  3. KC says:

    “Help figure out how your country and your culture can reduce the reliance on jealousy and feelings of inadequacy to motivate the new generation of workers.” [An unconditional basic income would help. We managed to achieve universal education and universal healthcare without limiting these to “the deserving”. A country like Australia should be able to achieve universal basic income regardless of merit.]

    “Your country needs your help in figuring out how to maintain a tax base so that the next generation too can enjoy a good education, a beautiful local environment, a humane law, and good health” [With automation and AI, the ratio of capital to income is likely to rise ever higher (per Piketty). In this wonderful new world, the tax base will increasingly have to come from capital, not labour. Taxing capital needs international coordination (like combating climate change!).

    So I would tax capital to fund a universal basic income.]

  4. suburbanite says:

    An interesting read, although your trademark cynicism had me wondering whether your new found humanism extends to fat people?

  5. John Burnheim says:

    The appeal to the traditional role of the nation-state ignores the fact that the identification of the nation with the sovereign sate arose from military necessities. Rule over a territory always was, and in a few places still is, dependent on the right of conquest, going back to the days when dynasties claimed ownership of lands and authority over their subjects. Nations are healthy cultural entities, but states, claiming unlimited powers over their territories, are an anachronism, ultimately accepting war as the only decider of disputes between states.

    The tactic that all the really ineluctable issues that face us now pose themselves on a global scale. That does nor mean we need a world state, but many global authorities such as those that already exist in some matters, subject in each case to the scrutiny and direction of committees representative of those most strongly affected by by the activities to be regulated. Already at the state level the different departments of government could each go their own way, were it not that they all depend on the state for money. (rents would replace taxation)
    The future of the world cannot be left to the cosmopolitan elites or to those who fancy that their partuicyukar Volk alone matters.

    • paul frijters says:

      nation states remain the only entities that can generate enough mass loyalty to enforce taxation and compliance with rules that benefit the collective. Nothing else comes close, so nothing else can organise solutions to major problems, including international problems.

      That is why we must help them.

      • Ingolf says:

        I think you’re right, Paul.

        Prophesying the end of the nation state seems to have become a bit of a fad. Some love the idea, some hate it but they appear unified in their belief that either globalisation or something will spell their end. Like you, I can’t see it. As you say, practically speaking, what else could possibly replace them?

        Doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of changes, of course. There’s certainly no shortage of crosscurrents at work.

        • Nicholas Gruen says:

          Me too

        • paul frijters says:

          “Some love the idea, some hate it but they appear unified in their belief that either globalisation or something will spell their end.”

          Indeed. That is the dream of the Empire. Some get joy to think that those with power will get taken down, and some get joy to think that something more powerful will arise where they play a large part. Very human, but in this case, mistaken. Simply that: to believe the Empire will arise is a mistake.

  6. Auto Clicker Mac says:

    The strategy that most of the ineluctable problems that confront us today pose themselves on a worldwide scale. That does not imply we want a world nation, but a lot of global governments like the ones that currently exist in certain things, subject in every case to the evaluation and management of committees representative of the most closely affected from the actions to be controlled. Already in the country level the various sections of government could each go their way, were it not that they are based on the state for cash. (rents would replace taxation)
    The future of earth can’t be left to the cosmopolitan elites or to people who fancy their particular Volk lonely things.

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