Monday, October 14, 2013

Digital Nations: The New Frontier

(If you're in for a long read, read it all. Otherwise, just skip to the bolded stuff)

Okay, so here's my proposition, and I want to hear your thoughts on it: just as America was the cultural and social heir of the British Empire and the British Empire that of the Roman Empire, the Internet represents the heir apparent to the cultural and social wealth of the American 'Empire' and will ultimately serve as a crucible for new, digital civilizations.  

So some of you probably thinking right now, "Wait a second... America heir to the British Empire? The British Empire heir to Rome? I don't know what you're talking about..." Well, that's okay, because the idea is still rattling around in my head, too, and it still needs a lot of refining, but I think you'll see my point as I explain. It all started out with the lovely drawing that you see to the right. Well, actually, it started out when I found out that there are Roman aqueducts all across Great Britain, but the drawing was really when it started to take shape. So, to start off, let's look at what goes into making a super-power (like the British Empire and America, for example):
The genesis of a superpower is contingent on a number of factors, but I would posit that two circumstances in particular are fundamental:
  1. The inheritance of infrastructural and cultural wealth from a larger nation or superpower
  2. Location on the border of the aforementioned nation, thus being in relative isolation and being capable of at least limited self-governance. 
Extent of the Roman Empire at its Height
Image courtesy of Tataryn77 (Creative Commons)
This first point, I think, is well illustrated by the aqueducts found in Great Britain. As you'll likely note in the handy map to the left, the Roman Empire at one time extended well into Britain, and part of the occupation involved building roads, aqueducts, and other infrastructural elements. Another cultural infusion was the introduction of the Latin language, which became the primary mode of communication for nobility and governmental figures and which was later used extensively in both the sciences and the arts. 

The second point can likewise be explained using Britain's divorce from the Roman Empire. Britain's relative isolation from the heart of the Roman Empire (and for that matter, from mainland Europe, which was undergoing massive upheavals) allowed it to claim eventual autonomy, a fact which though frustrated by the later invasion of the Angles and Saxons was nonetheless necessary for the birth of the British Empire. Around the end of the 4th century, as Rome began experiencing inner strife and pressure from Germanic tribes, legions were withdrawn from Britain, and despite repeated pleas for assistance, the Romano-Britons were left to fend for themselves.

For time's sake, I won't go into the conflicts of the Angles, the Saxons, the Jutes, and the Britons, nor will I address the Christianization of the Germanic tribes, but be it noted that these are all important, as is Britain's isolation from the main continent. The point that I want to drive home, though, is that of cultural capital preserved in relative isolation from a previous superpower. If we look at America, the same holds true. America benefited from the social and cultural advantages of Great Britain, sharing a common language and religion and likewise benefiting from agricultural and military advancements. Additionally, it was in a state of isolation--both from the British Empire and from other major powers--that allowed for eventual autonomy. The Roman Empire crumbled, and eventually Britain stepped up as heir; the British Empire began to crumble, and eventually America stepped up as heir.

Well, many have suggested that America has reached its zenith, and this begs the question, where is the heir apparent? The physical frontiers of the world are swallowed up in expansionism, and cultural advancement in many ways has gone in the direction of digitality, so it only makes sense that the next step is for civilization to spring into the digital realm. Wait, wait, wait... I know... it sounds kind of crazy. A digital nation would need its own methods of governance, its own monetary systems, it's own everything. But that's the thing. As the cultural heir to the American 'Empire,' a digital nation would already have certain political and governmental underpinnings in place. As the heir to America's technological revolution, it already has the potential for digital currencies like Bitcoin and complex bartering systems as can be seen in massively-multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs). Around existing digital worlds have developed forums for art, philosophical discourse, and ethical debate, and that's only the beginning. I foresee in future years an American diaspora that will scatter America's greatest innovators across the globe, and while this idea is still largely conjecture, citizenship within a non-centralized, digital nation would allow for such a possibility while maintaining the social aspect necessary for cultural growth and development.

Obviously, this concept is still very much in its infancy, and it deserves further investigation to determine to what extent digital civilizations are really possible, but in any case, I plan on focusing my next few posts on components aspects of civilization (like economy, government, etc.) and how the digital world does or does not provide for them.