Some people are hinting that I’m a lousy driver but see how well I parked? And that’s on the very first try and barefoot (I was coming home from getting a pedicure).

I never try to impose my lifestyle choices on others but here I just have to say: if you get an opportunity not to learn to drive until the age of 38, please take it. Suddenly being able to go just anywhere at this advanced age is a very powerful feeling.

And now excuse me because I have to go to a home improvement store for the third time today.

Wealth-Extracting Elites

Mature and well-developed nation- states are ruled by groups we can call “wealth-extracting elites.” Their existence, riches and power don’t bother anybody a whole lot for two reasons:

1. They are mostly non-hereditary and ascension to their ranks is widely seen as merit-based.

2. They fulfill the basic contract underlying the existence of a nation-state and provide everybody with a fairly good standard of living.

If the wealth-extracting elites see a threat to their capacity to extract wealth, they will yet again mobilize nationalistic fervor (which has been dwindling in recent years) in order to send the particularly impressionable to extract said wealth from someplace else. We see this scenario playing out right before our eyes in the case of Russia, for instance.

This strategy is losing its potency because every new generation is more wary, disengaged, cynical, cosmopolitan, and mobile than the previous ones. The imagined community of a country has transformed for many of us into a much more tangible online community that recognizes no national borders. “People I’ve never seen but with whom I share crucial characteristics” are no longer those who wave the same flag but those who frequent the same chat forum, social network, or blog.

This is one more reason why the nation-state is receding into the past. If people don’t identify passionately with it, there is no nation-state. What arises in its place remains to be seen.

How Not to Talk About Israel / Palestine

I hate almost all discussions about Israel / Palestine because most people don’t care two straws about Israel / Palestine and just use the conflict for completely unrelated ideological purposes. I believe that it’s perfectly fine not to care. It is impossible to interiorize every conflict in the world and have an intellectual and emotional response to it. But I also believe that it would make sense for people who don’t care just to go talk about something else.

Here is an example of the kind of discussion about Israel / Palestine that I absolutely detest. It is wrong on every level to use the real suffering of real people to make some stupid “but if” point. And this is done by the supporters of both sides with equal intensity.

This is why I never talk about Israel / Palestine with anybody in RL. I always fear discovering some psychological problems I’m not equipped to address.

The Rise and Death of the Nation-State

The state and the nation soon achieved an inter-penetration. People rushed to die for their nation, enthusiastically and for free, but in return the state assumed as its central role ensuring the well-being of the people.

The system worked so well that eventually pretty much everybody wanted their own nation-state. Soon, however, technological advances changed the equation.

The creation of the nuclear weapons (and, later, long-distance warfare) rendered unnecessary enormous armies of conscripts willing to die for their nation. Many nation-states effectively ceded their sovereignty to those countries that possessed nuclear weapons and were promising to defend them in case of invasion. (What these promises are worth we are seeing now in Ukraine’s case).

The nation-state has served its purpose. It was an important purpose, and the world is obviously a better place now than it was in 1680. However, the basic contract between a member of a nation and the state makes little sense today. Regions that are pursuing a nation-state today are hopelessly behind the times.

We are witnessing a move in the direction opposite that of the nation-states. The borders that nation-states fought so hard to draw and secure once and for all are becoming porous. Attachments to national symbols are eroding. Huge migratory flows have turned the idea of “national character” into a joke.

What Is a Nation-State?

A student asked in class today, “But didn’t Ferdinand and Isabella care that people they ruled were living in dire poverty?”

The student is a Freshman and doesn’t yet realize that the mentality which expects “the people in charge” to be interested in whether those under their rule are starving is historically quite new and would have been entirely alien to Medieval Iberians.

Three hundred years after the times of Ferdinand and Isabella, the empire they created got into a state of such a decline that it became obvious to everybody that Spain’s model of territorial expansion was unsustainable. The times when a ruler paid a group of indifferent and shiftless mercenaries to fight a war the ruler’s subject had no interest in were gone.

It took about 120 years to design a new model. Now instead of loosely defined territories inhabited by people who had little in common, there would be nations. Nations would be united by a (completely invented) common purpose, a (completely invented) august history and venerable artistic tradition, a (completely invented) shared way of life and set of shared characteristics, and a set of symbols embodying this unity.

A comprehensive system of public education that accompanied the birth of the nation-state instilled a deep emotional attachment to these (completely invented) symbols and values. This emotional attachment would provide the very thing the creation of the nation-state pursued: free and limitless cannon fodder.