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Public Opinion Provincialism
Global Public Opinion on Territorial Aggression Not So Global After All

Pew has released the Spring 2015 Global Attitudes Survey, its latest worldwide poll of what worries whom where. Overall, the survey found that problems seen as global cause the most fretting; climate change took gold and ISIS silver, while economic instability came in third. Further on in Pew’s report, in a section titled “Territorial Tensions Remain within Regions,” we find out why geopolitics doesn’t even make the podium, so to speak:

Concerns about tensions between Russia or China, and their respective neighbors, are largely limited by geography. Just 24% globally are worried about tensions between Russia and its neighbors, but in Ukraine (62%) and Poland (44%), both former Soviet bloc countries, Russia ranks as the top concern. This anxiety is high among Ukrainians and Poles from all walks of life. Within Europe, the British (41%) and Germans (40%) consider tensions with Russia to be one of their top two concerns, second only to fear about ISIS. Elsewhere, relatively few are concerned about tensions with Russia.

On the face of it, this all seems pretty sensible. Each of the top three concerns listed above is a serious threat that citizens and policymakers will have to stay aware of and in some cases adapt to. And it’s obviously reasonable that countries closer to Russia and China should fret more about territorial aggression than other countries. “Threatened countries feel threatened” shouldn’t be a revelation.

But the rest of the world shouldn’t yawn at the tensions in East Asia and in Russia’s environs. It’s not that respondents should care about the problems of others’ regions out of empathy but don’t. Rather, it’s that they are wrong to see these problems as merely regional (which they perhaps do because a complacent post-Cold War media has not quite realized that geopolitics has returned). A quarter-century after the fall of the Berlin wall, the instability of something so abstract and remote as the ‘world order’ may seem unimportant. But it isn’t; the end of history is over. And the tensions in Asian waters and those between Russia and its Baltic neighbors are a real threat, and a global one at that.

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  • Tom Billings

    I have many friends who want to believe that the other side of the globe is not our concern. They do not want to look at the world-wide networks of industrial society, much less the fact that they support 6 of the 7 billion people on this planet. They deprecate the worth of defending the freedoms of action needed to build and maintain those networks anyplace else but here. In particular, they deprecate the idea that those networks include the intellectual networks that dictatorships do so much to crush.

    More than anything else, they refuse to believe that industrial society is a world-wide phenomenon. They want to believe *we* can retain industrial wealth in a world without industrial freedoms of action, …usually in some progressive version of “because we’re special”. I think these attitudes stem from the successful gramscian strategy of changing definitions.

    While many areas of our culture have been affected by that strategy, I believe two particular areas of definitions affect the above attitudes most strongly. The first is the redefinition of “culture” in the “multicultural” worldview, as “what other people do”, instead of what “cultures up” a human being to be successful in their environment. The second is the change of the definition of the industrial revolution and industrial society from Arnold Toynbee’s to Friedrich Engels’ definition.

    To take the second first, the Toynbee definition of the industrial revolution was “when a society moves from allocating resources by custom and tradition (read here, politics) to allocating resources by markets, they can be said to have undergone an industrial revolution”. From 1922 there was a broad push to replace this with Engels’ definition, which was acquisition of steam engines, railroads, and mass production lines. Of course, Toynbee’s definition marks “the socialist camp’s” politicization of production as reactionary, while Engels’ definition allows socialist States of the first 75 years of the 20th century to revel in the idea that “we’re industrial too”, just by building steam engines, railroads and production lines, no matter their paltry levels of productivity. Nevertheless, by 1972 I found it nearly impossible to find anyone outside historians of industry who knew of Toynbee’s definition.

    Alongside this we have multiculturalism’s praise for all cultures, but one. That one is industrial culture, growing in world-wide industrial society. This is excoriated because it “destroys diversity of culture” by “invading” the whole world. That the great mass of individuals are helped by integrating into industrial society in any particular country cuts no ice with multiculturalists, because their idea of culture is to consider each culture the primary reason to pay attention to a country at all.

    These two changes have penetrated even into libertarian and conservative thought fairly thoroughly, and they allow people to believe that they can ditch the rest of the world, and still have an industrial society here. Of course, networks consist of nodes and the links between them. Every node taken out of a network weakens the network, and cuts its productivity. Without other places and people free to build and maintain their own portions of industrial society’s networks, we will become increasingly impoverished, compared to what we would have been otherwise, materially, intellectually, and spiritually.

    IMHO, this is why we see so many otherwise intelligent people saying they see nothing harmful to the US in the Ukraine becoming a satellite/province in Putin’s new Russian Empire. It is why people want to ignore what happens to Taiwan, or to the Philippines. Their thoughts have been defined into narrowed channels that preclude seeing our interests as being the same as those elsewhere, participating in world-wide industrial society.

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