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History Table of Contents
1994 Summer Conference
Summer Conference 1994
Globalism and Tribalism: The New World Disorder?

Nationalism: Can the Nation-State Cope?

Barbara Mossberg, Founder of VIA International Consulting

Before I came here I thought that I knew what I thought.

The world is complex, it is diverse, it is changing it is dynamic. I work with paradigms of this reality, to help people think about these elements, diversity, change, complexity in more positive ways. Well, that's okay for the world, but it is harder when it comes down to your own thoughts. The more I have thought about this topic – being here with you – I realize that my thoughts on this are changing, diverse and complex.

In Israel, they say two people; three opinions, I feel like one person; three opinions.

They are all co-existing. It is very radical and subversive, what is going on here at Couch. People stay and talk and interact, we all hear the same words, we hear diverse points of view. It destabalizes what we know; our ideas are influenced, we interact they change, they grow, it is dynamic, it is diverse, it is vital, it is inconclusive.

Yogi Berra said, it ain't over till it's over. And that is how I feel.

A man behind as I was checking checking in at an airport, looked at my briefcase and said, this is chaos. I turned around and said, why, thank you. And that is how I feel about you today. I appreciate participating in this cherished and remarkable, national happening; this Couch Chaos. I take it as a compliment when somebody says chaos to me, and I hope at the end of this address you will see why.

I suppose it is not a coincidence that your speaker from the United States, your chaotic neighbour to the south, should be speaking on chaos. In truth, that is how I got into this field. I was lecturing at an international conference when a journalist put a microphone in my face and said, how does it feel to live in a country with no culture? And two hours later I was still talking.

What I realized that from the point of view of other cultures, looking at a complex diverse society, regionally diverse, ethnically diverse, racially diverse, diverse in all kinds of diverse ways. We are so mobile, so pluralistic, so changing, how could we be a culture. I began looking at societies, nation states like Canada, like the United States, which are complex and diverse and dynamic.

Is an idea of a national culture in this case, this nation state of the future that David talked about last night, an oxymoron? Is it impossible? And I think this is an idea that we in the United States share.

I was on my way to a conference in Barcelona, and I was going to be meeting with directors of bi-national centres. The flight attendant on TWA asked me what I was doing, and I said I am going to speaking on the culture of the United States. And she said, you can't do that. And I said, why not? And she said, you can't say that a person who lives in Albuquerque has the same kind of experiences as a person who lives in New England or Oregon or Texas; we are all different.

And that idea from within, that if you are so diverse and changing and dynamic and pluralistic, how can you be a culture. Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes. – Walt Whitman.

Now which one does this describe, tribalism, globalism, or the new world disorder?

At first I thought this was an image of globalism, it is contradictory, we accept it, it is a co-existing, it is large, and it contains multitudes.

I am nobody, who are you? Are you nobody too? Then there is a pair of us? Don't tell, they'd advertise, you now. How dreary to be somebody, how public, like a frog to tell one's name the live long day, to an admiring bog – Emily Dickinson.

And I thought was a way to really understand the paradox and contradiction of tribalism.

But, what I realized in putting these together – in juxtaposing these ideas – is that they both are contradictory, they both are inclusive of contradiction, contradiction co-exists simultaneously and contradictory elements belong in both of those notions.

And I have come to the conclusion that tribalism and globalism we are talking about the same phenomenon, values, of looking at the whole.

Victor Borg addressed the National Symphony Orchestra a few days ago in Washington D.C., and said, each of you in your own right are dedicated masterful performers and musicians. It's only when we get together that trouble starts.

And it seemed again that these framed the challenges of how we are thinking about globalism and tribalism and the fate of the nation states.

On the one hand if we go down we go down together; we are all in this together, we are in an interdependent system culturally, economically, politically, biologically.

On the other hand, in the present day, we have never done very well at figuring out how to be together.

And what I am going to do in my initial time with is to discuss the meaning and the mechanics of community for world citizens from a new and hopefully more optimistic vantage point, as illustrated in Chaos Theory.

Chaos theory is a philosophy of perspective. It is a way of understanding complexity, diversity, and dynamic systems; of mutual contradictions co-existing and the kinds of dynamics that you heard today in our two extremely witty and eloquent presentations.

I think that chaos theory can help us envision new possibilities and mandates for community in today's society. We are a self- selective group, here today. Each of us by definition is committed to defining and meeting societies needs. We share the sense of urgency with which we consider how we are going about our business. Our social problems are more complex today and what we do matters more than ever. We have taken on more challenges, we have held up the magic mirror too many times and seen distorted and horrific images we want to change.

And more is at stake if we do not succeed.

If we do not succeed our world headlines will continue to taunt and haunt and demoralize us, as they should. We will read the newspaper in any city in the world and know that what we are reading is our thought. The news, world, local – it is the same – will continue to be tragic and unbearable, because we know we should know better.

The most upsetting and uplifting thing about this, is that not only are we responsible – we who think and care about education and government and leadership in our world society – .but we are not helpless, we are not relegated to the sidelines of chaos.

In order to have a positive impact, I think we need some new paradigms and how we think about and frame these challenges, which we now think of in terms of diversity and change and so on.

How are we going to cope with that? Even the language of today's session is, how can the nation state cope?

I think that each of us has a mental and perhaps published list of what we think society needs for our outcomes. Mine goes something like, citizens who have learned not only how to contribute to society, but who have been inspired to want to contribute to society in productive and leadership roles, responsible to themselves their community, their society, the globe, the planet, the past the future, each other. Self respect, respect for other, the ability to work with others to connect, to recognize complexity and order, the ability to change, flexibility, creativity, resourcefulness, critical and analytical ability, independence of mind.

After hearing the papers the last few days and I would add that government and leadership have, even more compelling responsibilities to try to create an environment in which this can happen for our citizens through laws and values and education. Where diverse citizens feel needed and indispensable to the whole interconnected and above all a sense of equity and justice.

We have to figure out ways to connect these two concepts in a way that can co-exist.

What values structures, policies, practices, ideas, mind sets and habits, are in our default drives that are keeping us from producing the kind of governments and leadership and world order that we claim to need and believe is achievable, through education, through peace, harmony and good government?

If we look at that I think we see we are very ambivalent, in what we say we want for each other. We create our own fate in how we see our world, our past our present our future. It shapes our destiny and we are frightened. We are frightened of more than our streets, or old age, or for our children or parents. I think we are frightened about our ability as human beings to behave responsibly for each other and for the earth to be global in thought as well as in technology and business. We are afraid of each other, unsure of, and disappointed in ourselves and we think that pessimism is a sign of intelligence.

One of the best things that I have heard ast this conference is that we can not afford pessimism, we need optimism. But chaos theory is a theory based on reality, that gives optimism, hard scientific basis for the bottom line. It is pragmatic, it is profoundly self-interested.

The front pages, the editorials, the oped pages, the world news and the metro sections, even the business section of the newspaper use chaos to describe what we see in nation state today; republics, federations, provinces, and countries, as chaos.

We're out of control. Nothing is working. There is no stability, cohesion, coherence, no reliable indicators of predictors, to where things are going, except wrong.

We can put up a sign at each border, "Out of Order". The daily headlines around the world echo Yates.

Things fall apart, the centre can not hold, mere anarchy is loose upon the world. Different tribes clash with ethnic groups nationalities, political parties, religious groups, intellectual schools and affiliations are harassing and maiming and excelling one another.

And off our campuses it is even worse.

We define ourselves as different from others and we strive to keep our own differences intact. We are invested in our differences. And we think that the stake that we have economically, politically and culturally in our differences, are greater than the stake we have in the fate of larger structures of community, whether they are tribal, the nation state or global.

I think that most people don't take the view of the nation state, unless it acts as a tribe, confers on people identity, meaning, significance and order. This is good but it can also be coercive. People want escape clauses to always define themselves in more and more particular ways.

There is a group of people right now in Washington D.C., who say we don't have community any more we don't know our neighbours. We want to live in a place where our neighbours know us, where we have a community of trust.

So, they got together and they said, let's buy some land; let's hire an architect and let's get together. And their first discussions were, well, what if somebody wants to join us that we don't like; what if there are single mothers, what if there is someone that smokes? And already they started coming up with these rules for who could not be in this community. This is what is in our default drive.

We live in a society of we's and they's in which the we and the they are increasingly splintered, a tale we spin and chase, broken up into a thousand potent pieces like the broom stick Mickey Mouse sets loose in the Sorcerer's Apprentice in Walt Disney's Fantasia. And each new broom begets more brooms, each needing order peace and good government. So we are constantly fragmenting ourselves.

What does this have to do with chaos theory? How does it work?

Chaos theory tells us that if we look at any phenomenon in the universe, whether it is a star system, whether it is a whole galaxy, whether it is the way your liver works, your heart, whether it is a protein cell, on all kinds of scales, we see that how things change and how things move, follow the same patterns.

So even things that look unrelated, to each other, fragmented, fragmenting, dissociated are, in fact, related in the structure of how they change. And if you step back far enough in time and space, you can see these interconnections.

Another aspect of the theory is that you think that there is order. There is what we call peace and all of a sudden it begins to fragment. An example would be that if you go outside this afternoon, and you go down to the lake, look at the clouds in the sky and look at how they move. Look at how the trees grow, look at how the branches move out. Look at the pattern of wind on the water, and you look at these phenomenon andwhat you are seeing, if you pour cream in your coffee at the breakwhat you see is that it starts out very smooth. There is order, and it begins to break up and it begins to fragment.

And that, that ability of a system to change, to diversify, to become more and more various, is what keeps it alive and dynamic.

This is true of a species, this is true of living systems. And if you apply this to patterns of peoples, around the world historically, you can see these same patterns of cohesion and further divisions. Organizing yourself and becoming disorganized. And it just depends on where you are at what point in time or space that you are looking at it that you would say this is a failure this isn't working, this is chaos.

Chaos theory fundamentally turns our notions of chaos on its head. It turns it inside out. What we thought with chaos is profound complex order, which was good news. It means that we thought did not work, is actually working, we are just too close. We are too immersed in it to see it. And this applies to all of the disciplines.

What is new about the new world disorder is the idea of disorder as an organizing principle. There are ways that chaos theory gives us to think about the fate of the nation state and tribalism in new ways that are related to systems in the organic and physical world. These are success systems. This is how, in nature, things work.

That might be a very positive way to look at where we are. The order and what looks like disorder. Globalism and tribalism, in fact inter-function. And what chaos theory, if you think of a globe, instead the world as it looks to us as flat. If we do this counter- intuitive experiment, and we think of the round world, we go into space, we see that low and high and wet and dry are all inter connected. And you see a world without borders, there is no centre, there is no east or west.

Concepts like majority and minority don't make any sense. It makes it illogical to think of polarities, of either or; of adversarial mindsets.

In a round world, it is all and, and, and, and and and. And the balance and the stable function of the whole require the interdependence of the connection of all of the diverse parts. So that this theory of the whole requires diversity; requires diversity to be strengthened for the functioning of the whole and the diversity that interrelates and inter functions.

So, chaos is really a matter of global and round world thinking. We could say that globalism and tribalism in fact inter-function and they create each other. One is a function of the other.

The key word for chaos theory is this adage: "A butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo, causes a cataclysmic storm system in New York".

That the smallest thing in an interdependent round world, creates momentous changes, so that each of us, can create things that matter. And that is the stakes we have in being interdependent.