As economically and socially profound as the implications of the Knowmad Society are, as described in this book, the political implications are even greater. It would be a mistake of profound proportions to assume all Americans, or for that matter all Chinese, have access to the Knowmad Society.
Those with “Knowmad” skills are set apart from those without those skills. To prevent a further widening and deepening chasm between knowledge “haves” and “have-nots,” democratic societies and governments must dramatically increase opportunities for the information and communications unskilled to enter the Knowmad Society. This will be especially true for poor, urban youth who are much less inclined to have computer learning opportunities and the skills they produce.
The early 19th century transition from an agrarian to an industrial society took decades. Young people from rural and small town America found it necessary to migrate en masse to urban America to seek job opportunities in the emerging mechanized and industrialized society. Mid-career craftsmen, the so-called “buggy-whip” makers, also found it necessary to learn new skills on the steel and auto assembly lines. Many failed to do so and simply became victims of the transition.
The emerging industrial economy transformed the face and structure of American society and its economy. And it transformed American politics as well. After much civil strife and against considerable resistance, labor unions emerged to represent the financial and safety concerns of industrial workers. Those same unions came to play a dominant role in the fortunes of the Democratic Party in the age of Roosevelt.
As the assembly line came to characterize the industrial age, so the computer and its myriad wireless spin-offs have come to characterize the post-industrial communications and information age. The former aggregated skilled and semi-skilled workers. The latter are creating virtual networks among those who possess the magic technologies and the skills to manipulate them.
Since those networks transcend national boundaries, however, they are also integrating transnationally. Today, lawyers in Denver, Colorado, have as much, or more in common, with lawyers in London, Tokyo, and Beijing than they do with non-knowmads in their own communities. The same would be true of educators, businesspeople, government officials, and many others.
The implications for traditional political structures is enormous. Politics and public policies emerge from shared interests and loyalties. As transnational knowmad networks become more intricate, shared concerns will begin to impact domestic and international public policies. International knowmad networks will begin to insist on common economic policies in trade, finance, taxation, resource allocation, travel, information access, and a host of other concerns. What is good for my network in Rome, Dubai, Shanghai, Moscow, and Copenhagen is good for me.
The nagging question remains: what to do with those who have not entered or do not have access to the Knowmad Universe? As too much of a generation was lost economically and socially in the transition from agrarian to industrial society, so the same massive dislocation cannot be permitted to occur during our current transition from industrial to the knowmad information and communications age of the 21st century.
Great care must be taken not to create further stratified societies in the developed, developing, and under-developed world. The United States witnessed serious urban unrest in the 1960s and 1970s. London and other cities have experienced the same in more recent times. And the “Arab Spring” of early 2011 in North Africa and the Middle East arose, in part, by widening divisions between haves and have-nots and between elites and unemployed youth. Political instability springs from despair at seeing others nearby who have greater access to opportunity by virtue of class or privilege.
Politically, it behooves Knowmad Society to extend its reach as broadly as possible. Those inside the Society must demand public policies that open its doors and its windows. What could be better for a ghetto high-schooler than to have a inexpensive computer and a semester in a nearby foreign culture. This is a mandate both for governments and for capitalist enterprises as well, especially those which seek stable societies well into the 21st century.
A broad-based Knowmad Society will require public policies of training in technology and computer skills, revamping a good deal of traditional public education, a new influx of teachers competent in the knowledge and communications skills, rigorous insistence on student performance by both schools and families, increased insistence on core competencies in science and math, and a nation dedicated to a high level of international competitiveness. In all these categories, the United States has much ground to travel.
But the political implications of the Knowmad Society extend to the arena of national and international security as well. The Westphalian age of the nation-state, post-1647, based security concerns on the bargain between the state and the nation: the state (government) would protect the nation (the people) in exchange for their loyalty to the state. Thereafter, wars were conducted by uniformed national armies meeting in more or less orderly combat in the field of battle. That bargain collapsed on September 11, 2001, when the mightiest state in world history failed to protect its citizens from a new kind of conflict.
The 21st century features a host of new realities, including failed and failing states, climate degradation, viral pandemics, mass south-north migrations, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, the rise of ethnic nationalism, fundamentalism, tribalism, and a host of phenomena more characteristic of the 11th than the 20th century. These and other new realities have two things in common: they cannot be solved by traditional military means; and they cannot be addressed by one nation, including the United States, alone.
The rise of the Knowmad Society coincides with a revolutionary new century. Globalization and information have eroded the sovereignty of the nation-state and that in turn has helped transform the nature of warfare into an era of irregular, unconventional conflict. The Knowmad Society’s citizens, then, must be strongly encouraged to help fashion a new concept of security for this new age, one that breaks down, rather than erects, new walls.
That security concept and the strategies it produces will necessarily be more internationalist, more multi-dimensional (not just military), and more collaborative. The public health service of advanced and other nations must be networked to quarantine pandemics before they escape confinement. The International Atomic Energy Agency must be given greater intrusive inspection authority to detect production of weapons of mass destruction. Advanced nations must manage the transition of failing states to prevent emergence of ancient tribal and ethnic hostilities. A serious international climate stabilization regime must be created rapidly.
Thus, it is incumbent on all those who participate in the Knowmad Society to take seriously the duty they share to use their skills and competencies to address these new security concerns.
The key to international security in the emerging international Knowmad Society will be in anticipation of, rather than reaction to, crises, in multi-national collaborative networking and cooperation, and in threat reduction through preventive measures.
If the Knowmad Society creates new international elite networks, if it widens the gap between those in the “know” and those not, and if it fails to understand the post-Westphalian transformation of the nation-state, it will not have advanced the human condition to say the least.
If, however, those with the good fortune to enter the inner sanctum of this new society strive to be inclusive and to broaden its membership as much as possible, if they throw open the doors and windows of knowledge and access to as many young people, including especially the disadvantaged, as possible, and if they use the networks of knowledge upon which the society is based to break down ancient barriers of tribe, clan, and the elite, then the promise of this new century can truly be realized.
The emerging Knowmad Society has profound opportunities and even more profound public responsibilities.