Europe: Comfortable With OECD and Nation Lines on Maps

Late, late cocktails on the fjords of western Denmark can generate some great conversations.   I said to my hosts last week, "You know, in 100 years, I don't think 'nations' and 'nationality' will mean much to people.  Nations will probably be obsolete."

shooting lines were different
We had been talking about World War II, and I was headed for "Catalan France".   It seemed at the time to be harmless enough discussion, and I've said it many times before.  I think my grandchildren will have more "loyalty" to their dot-com address than they will to their "passport".   But in Europe, where I normally expect high falluting philosophical speculation to achieve flight, the idea of non-nationality fell with ze thud.

The lips of our Dane and Norwegian friends drew downward.   They explained the frown:  the idea of "the end of nations" meant "end of democracy".
That idea never occurred to me, an American who votes in state and national elections.  Losing a label does not mean surrendering a freedom.

Well before the end of nations and nationalities, I said that there would be universal democracy, as we are seeing now in the green revolution.  Democracy tends to support peace, not war, and nationalism is most strengthened by threat of war.  The way it would happen would be that cities would vote for mayors, and it would increasingly become meaningless whether a neighboring city - like Barcelona to Perpignan, or Boston to Montreal, or Kansas City MO - Kansas City KS, was inside some other hand drawn line or not.

If City A is a democracy, and City B is a democracy, and both cities have vibrant free trade economies, how are future children to keep up with the lines?

City A is EU, City B is non-EU?
City A is OECD, City B is non-OECD?
City A speaks X, City B speaks Y?
City A is Sunni, City B is Shia?
City A is Catholic, City B is Protestant?
City A ratified the Omega Treaty, City B signed but did not ratify the Omega Treaty?
City A is in WTO, City B is not in WTO?
City A uses Linux, City B uses Microsoft?
City A watches analog TV on PAL, City B watches analog TV on NTSC?

If I was better at math at 9 AM, I could tell you how many different-different, same/different permutations there are of the 9 silly "alpha-beta" tests above. Same-Same-Different-Same-Different-Same-Different-Different-Same squared?

The past century has largely celebrated erasing of lines.   Women vote.  Our children are taught to ignore race.  In northern Europe, that's both easy (they are very liberal) and difficult (they don't have many dark skinned people to practice not noticing). But they are very comfortable crossing language barriers.  My friends are a Norwegian and Dane, raising 3 kids in Bergen, but vacationing chez granny in Jutland.

They scribble through conversations in Danish, Norwegian, and English with easy, not really conscious of which language they are thinking in.   That's really difficult for most Americans to imagine.  We spoke Franglais to keep up.

Perhaps it's more difficult for Europeans to think of a world without "nation states" that Europe invented.  It certainly took north America by storm when the European colonists landed.   But the idea is less than 100 years old in most of the world.  A flat, wide, wadeable river separates Fulani tribes from their cousins (because rivers coming from the Alps are faster flowing and served as good "barriers" on maps, it makes sense to separate Maroua Cameroon from Chad on a map, though the river may be 6 centimeters deep).

Europeans whose national boundaries were formed over centuries, tempered by wars over which language would rule which square kilometer, enforced by church-instilled fear of heaven and hell, by schools run by monarchs, by tax collectors speaking in Latin, they have had a long time to get used to national boundaries, and to them a national boundary, when it stands still, is synonymous with "peace".  Jihadists look no further for precedent than north of the Mediterranean Sea.

When no one is actively fighting over the lines, the West declares "Peace".

This definition of an accepted geographical demarcation as an indicator of peaceful non-violence is at odds with the opposite - intermarriage, trade, interdependence.

The American melting pot experiment, I told my friends, showed that German neighborhoods on the east coast lost control by the third generation, as young 2nd and 3rd generation Germans fell in love with 3rd generation Irish immigrants.   Interracial marriage, still "newsworthy" when I was a child, is ignored with leaded precedent.   "How will you raise the kids", a question my friends learned to ignore in Danish (mothers tongue) and Norwegian (father), is similarly ignored when we marry across religious traditions, or across melatonin benchmarks.

The European "lines on maps" gives Interpol the comfort to arrest African internet cafe investors whose crime is to purchase used CRT monitors - which are virtually 95% working and repairable to begin with, replaced by flat screens for fashion reasons - as if pre-owned means "discarded".  Pre-owned does NOT mean discarded in English.   Commodities are not waste.

But the grey areas around commodity and waste, useful and scrapped, are hard to wade through in the enforcement of Basel treaties.  Geographic lines are easy.  So the easiest two metrics - new or pre-owned? in nation or transboundary? define innocence or jail time in Europe.

The "crime" being stopped?  There is no crime being stopped.  The children photographed at the side of the Accra city dump are burning, for the most part, TVs and computers imported decades ago, long since discarded by the Ghana internet cafe or government office.  100% arrests of trans-boundary movement will not threaten the job of Pieter Hugo or Jim Puckett, there are lots of dirty black children to photograph and raise money with.

We have corners of traditionalists in the USA who will photograph unhappy looking children from mixed marriages to emphasize their belief in race separation.   We have traditionalists who will scour the statistics to prove gay marriages won't last, or won't make good homes for children.  We have conservative talk show hosts who will jump from pro-abortion statistics to anti-arbortion statistics, using the same fact to demonstrate white superiority over hispanic (single motherhood is bad, so hispanic mothers who have high incidence of single motherhood is a bad statistic  - never mentioning that USA's hispanics are more religious and less likely to have an abortion in the USA).

It is difficult to recognize in ourselves that our biases and internal cognitive priorities play a factor in how we judge a consensual relation between two other adult parties.   An Egyptian in the USA wishes to pay $21 per CRT monitor to an American recyclers willing to sell them (and relabel them).  The false labelling was a crime, but the headline in EPA's press release was that they are "CRT monitors" and therefore waste.   Try paying $21, PLUS SHIPPING, for waste CRT monitors.  Go ahead.

But at least in the USA, there had to be some crime (labelling) committed to bring the arrests to conviction.  Here in Europe, hundreds of sea containers are being seized, full of pre-owned equipment purchased by African entrepreneurs.

They cross an EU- non-EU line.
They cross a national boundary.
They cross an OECD-non-OECD line.

Whether or not they worked is never in the arrest statistics.  The units were pre-owned, the buyers were extra-national.

Pictures by Pieter Hugo and fake "waste statistics" by Jim Puckett had nothing to do with it?  That's the European perception.   In Africa, where the internet is more important and vital than paved roads, there's a different perception.  There is a perception by dictators that internet leads to revolt.  There is a perception by African geeks that used equipment competes with OEM Planned Obsolescence.

Lines demarcate.   There's a simple word for simple demarcation.  It's not "Apples to oranges."

"It's black and white."  

The question about lines is always, how hard are they to cross, and what is the punishment for crossing them.

The line which endures, primum non sincere, is "do no harm".   The burden of proof, the threat that supports nationalism, that demands OECD certification, is that "harm may be done".   The fear of harm being done, particularly to innocents, is the root of enforcement, and as harms disintegrate in threat (e.g. civil unions in Vermont did not lead to hurricanes the hard rock Christians seemed to pray for), they lead to more experimentation.

Laws are passed not to take away freedoms in their own right, but to reduce threats of harm.   This is why the root of Annex IX of the Basel Convention, allowing export for proper recycling and repair, was to distinguish between exporting for harm and exporting for good.   It was a grey area which anti-globalists, who want strong national lines, felt threatened enough by that the invented a fake statistic, 80% evil dumping, and trumpeted it even to the lynch mobs, right up until 41 African traders swung from the gallows of environmental shame halls, like UNCTAD and EPA and others accused of the heresy of cooperative trade before them.

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