26 September 2013

Scotland: An Abstracted State of Potential Grace

A wide-eyed Merida.
Image ©Alice the Photo Ninja
I used to be political; now I’m just politic.

Following on from my recent article Neuro with Everything, where I raised the vexatious issue of so-called neuropolitics, I will now take a deeper refractory look at our psychological blocks against things constitutional. Why are we uncomfortable about the mechanics of nationhood? Because we don’t really know what ‘nations’ are. Why is this relevant? Because, in Scotland, we are in a process of building a new one. Now, pass me that torque wrench.

Nations (yawn), how un-futuristic. Not so fast, there. While futurists tend to look forward to a time when all humankind will live in harmony, perhaps even under the auspices of a benevolent form of world government, some of us ponder what is the most expedient way to get there. Nations can be desperately un-futuristic, especially when they are cobbled together from the zombie vestiges of dead empires. Alternatively, they can be dynamic, paradigm-shifting agents in this world of exploding complexity.

Nations don’t exist. Countries don’t exist. Landmasses do exist, at least in the ordinary physical sense. People exist, living on landmasses. No, that’s not right. Roving biomasses exist on landmasses. Better. Some of these roving biological entities (us) are self-aware. These self-aware entities tend to group together with others whom they feel are like them – they are social entities. This can cause problems. These entities tend to argue with, fight with, and sometimes kill others whom they feel are dissimilar to them. Nations form. ‘In-groups’ delineate their territories using convenient geological boundaries, and then call these nation/territory constructs ‘countries’.

The term statist is often used as an insult, these days, against people who think that nation states can be effective vehicles for delivering on the needs and aspirations of individuals. You might expect such an attitude from capitalists (even the modern anarcho-capitalist variety) and ‘libertarians’, but why do many technoprogressive leftists also take this stance? I think it is because they assume that all nations, both existing and emerging, have been and will be built using the same failed templates that past nations used.

People are ‘agents’ within nations; neurons can be thought of as ‘agents’ within persons. Yet, perhaps because nations are seen as ‘not natural’ and ‘manufactured’ whereas persons are seen as wholly natural, we tend to dismiss the fact that they are both types of abstraction.[i] There are many ways in which neurons in their communicative context of human brains are different from humans in their communicative context of nations; I am not claiming that they produce the same types of abstraction, only that both can be seen as abstraction-generating agents of sorts.

Nations may behave unpredictably, but they each seem to have a unique ‘character’. They can be calm or aggressive, colourful or dour, outgoing or reclusive. They may form intimate relationships with other nations. Sometimes those relationships become strained, or abusively one-sided.

Scotland has a ‘character’. It is often identified as female. Some persons tend to think of her as traditional, wise, and cautious, but others see the growing scintilla in her eye. She craves.

We represent ourselves in myriad different ways. We change ourselves. We think. We act. Those of us who spend time pondering the future of the human race should not pretend that we can leap from here to utopia in a single bound. The Singularity might happen, but, then again, it might not. We need to interrogate our world, and engage with it. We cannot sit around waiting for some kind of ‘hard takeoff’.[ii]

The elevation of morality is important to me. I want to live in a morally-elevated world. On this trajectory, I choose the expedient of personal agency; I also find that I must choose the expedient of the fair, diverse, creative, forward-looking, independent nation state that I think we have an opportunity to create here. This may be unfashionable in futurist circles, but what should a futurist care for fashion?

Empires – and bloated nations that act like empires – shrink persons. They reduce us to mere ‘subjects’ with little more agency than synaptically-weak neurons in a conflicted brain. But consensual nations, chosen freely and fairly, can connect us together in fascinatingly teleodynamic ways. They can bring us together and help us to reach out. They can give us a clear voice in the growing din. Under the right circumstances, they can grant us citizenship within a well-adjusted, constantly-questioning, fully-functioning, enlightened ‘national consciousness’.

[i]     D. Parfit. Reasons and Persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.
[ii]    Inspired by a talk, in 2013, by James Hughes Ph.D., of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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