This post is the fifth in a series of seven posts describing existential threats to our way of life and our civilization. It describes the increasing tendency towards tribalism seen across the globe. As our commerce and culture have become intertwined more tightly with other nations, a backlash has developed. That backlash has taken the form of nationalistic, xenophobic, populist political movements burgeoning within many nations. It evokes memories of the 1930’s, and the mass Nuremburg rallies that provided the German peoples with a sense of solidarity that really did generate the belief that it could be Germany Űber Alles, Germany Over All. The tendency within those countries that have surrendered their government to these populists is to denounce dissent, generate fear within the populace, and decry any attempt to hold them accountable, especially attempts coming from a free press.
So the expression of this populist anger is to return each country to a golden age, when the virginal nation was unsullied by the globalist villains who only wish to plunder the wealth of our nation. And a virginal nation needs to return to the state of racial purity that it held in its golden age. This may be the defining struggle of our age, where the old ideals of racial purity confront the reality of the world today. Borders cannot be seen from space (except for the South Korea / North Korea border in a picture taken at night). The world has been brought closer together by the technologies of the modern age. Whether it is transportation systems allowing mass movement of people and goods, or whether it is the internet which erases most borders for global communication, or whether it is multi-national corporations that search for the optimum global supply chain solutions, our prosperity and continued survival is now dependent upon not just those who live in this nation, but also those in other nations. The nationalist movement wishes to reverse this trend and allow each nation to float along independent of all other nations.
It remains to be seen whether the strategy of the populists can be successful. On the economic front, success has come when there are multi-national organizations that set the rules and provide a framework for transactions. But it is the desire of the populists to revert to a time when it was “us against the world”, leading to a plethora of bilateral agreements. Nations view each other using the lens of win/lose when it comes to trade relations. But once you get accustomed to looking at things through a lens of win/lose for economics, it colors your perception in all other forms of relations. Soon diplomatic relations are reduced to transactional relationships, in which one party is expecting to “win” against the other. We saw where this led in the 1930’s. One party in Europe insisted upon winning against its neighbors time and time again, eventually causing Germany to become emboldened to take direct military action against its neighbors. We have the same framework today, only the weaponry is orders of magnitude more powerful. Consider what would happen if India and Pakistan allowed their decades-long struggle over Kashmir to escalate to the point of using nuclear weaponry. Will China, lying downwind of the fallout pattern, be able to resist taking sides in this one-upmanship battle? And that’s only one of dozens of potential conflicts that can either result directly in nuclear exchanges, or cause another party to be drawn in to use them.
The structure of the post-war world has prevented further use of nuclear weaponry for over 70 years. That structure is fraying at the edges, and needs to be revised to reflect the issues of the modern world. But the desire of the populists is to tear up all arrangements and rely solely upon the internal resources of each country. Were all international organizations and alliances to be struck down, the vacuum that results will not be filled with peace and harmony. Instead, particles of strontium 90 and cesium 137 from nuclear bomb detonations will likely fill the void in the atmosphere as the children leading countries lose their tempers and cause the loss of the lives of millions of people.
This is not one of the problems that is solvable using science and technology. It is very unlikely that we will be saved by an alien civilization that uses its advanced technology to deactivate any nuclear explosion. That is what it would take to tackle this risk from a scientific perspective. Instead, this is a case where if the other problems can be addressed using science and mathematics, the economic conditions will improve to the point that the populists are rejected by the citizens of their nation. Otherwise the nuclear genie will show up and let us know that it has not gone back into its bottle, even though it has stayed silent for a long while.