Binding the nation

I came across a talk by William James called The Moral Equivalent of War and began to think more about what effects a compulsory public service might have on the country. I was quite taken with the idea for a few reasons:

  • Such a service would bring together Americans of all backgrounds and place them in an environment where they could not ignore each other’s viewpoints; they must find ways to work together.
  • A service would introduce a shared experience that all Americans could reflect back on together, if nothing else.
  • This large-scale inward focus on the country’s infrastructure and underlying social fabric would surely make each individual more cognizant of their place within it.
  • Such a service would allow anyone in the country the opportunity to learn in-demand skills and increase social mobility in a way that only the military has so far been able to achieve.

The list goes on.

I then had a discussion with my partner about the idea and she pointed out a fundamentally flawed assumption I’d been making, and that the importance of social cohesion on the nation-level is questioned by many.

The increasing prevalence of thinking in terms of global-scale problems has led many, especially of the more progressive mindset, to call into question the value of the nation as an entity. Hence any sort of compulsory service for the purpose of national unity might be seen as seeding youth with some sort of nationalistic and patriotic fervor.

The territory here is obviously difficult to navigate, but I think there are some underlying foundations we might be able to build on.

Physicality is important

A nation is a geographic entity; an area of land. A nation is also social; the people that live on that land.

Feeling like you’d be able to understand something about people in your nation you’ve never even met yet is an important ingredient in being able to effectively live, work, and interact with those around you.

The psychological, spiritual, and digital worlds are secondary to the physical

Being alive is a precursor to any sort of experience. Living a life where you’re able to focus on things other than remaining alive is critical. Not to say that there’s nothing to learn from such a life. Also not to say that the psychological, spiritual, and digital worlds aren’t important. Just that being alive is more important than any of those because it means that you’re able to experience.

It is important to consider, then, that staying a civil-war free society might be a better idea than remaining entrenched in ever-deeper and ever-more-fundamentally-held viewpoints that sow inter-tribal disagreement.

The nation has special privileges

As a social structure, the nation is afforded privileges that other sorts of structures don’t. Most notably, it can form and enforce laws. While some with more anarchist tendencies–myself included–might question some of these privileges, it’s important to consider that they do exist. As a result, as a tribe, the nation is unique in a way other sorts of tribal affiliations aren’t. If we’re going to continue granting the nation these privileges, we should ensure that the nation-level-tribe is healthy enough to work in the way we expect it to.