Christopher de Bellaigue’s NYRBlog post last week, “Should Afghanistan Exist?,” should raise broader questions of worldview beyond the mindset of our current military adventures in that part of the world. After all, one of the fundamental premises of the Internet age is that cyberspace is a “world without borders.” Yet in the physical world we continue to believe that “good fences make good neighbors,” that there is no way in which the “extended self” of any community could possibly coexist with any other community unless there are boundaries to define “who belongs where.” What makes de Bellaigue’s analysis interesting, however, is that it goes beyond the usual demographic question of where people are and considers questions of where they go and when they go there. In other words the fundamental assumption behind any boundary is that, at some level of spatial resolution, people are basically static; or, as I prefer to put it, we confine ourselves to a world of nouns modified by adjectives because our “supporting technologies” (if not our own minds) cannot manage very well (if at all) in a world of verbs.
This assumption is not likely to change. Thus, whatever the ideals of the United Nations may be, societies will continue to be obsessed with nationalism; and obsessions with nationalism will continue to lead to wars. The only things that will change will be the devices with which those wars are fought, which always seem to be one step ahead of our own provincial imaginations, no matter how technologically rich we think we are.