Geographic Implications of (Anti-)Social Media

“Someday we will build up a world telephone system, making necessary to all peoples the use of a common language or common understanding of languages, which will join all the people of the earth into one brotherhood. There will be heard throughout the earth a great voice coming out of the ether which will proclaim, ‘Peace on earth, good will towards men.'” – John J. Carty (Chief Engineer at AT&T, 1891) (Credit)

He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” – Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

The Internet has brought seemingly limitless information and media, literally, to our fingertips. I have watched my mother reconnect with grammar school friends on a social media site, even though that time was decades past and half a world away. The Internet, like the Post, Telegraph, Radio, Telephone, and Television, have also served to speed information between people at distances far greater than human perception would typically allow. But, there are a few key differences. First is the ubiquity of the Internet. It can be accessed from your phone, your computer, your tablet, from a coffee shop down the street, your 5th floor apartment, your workplace, mid-air, the middle of the ocean, and extra-terrestrially (Twitter). Another difference is the sheer volume of people able to access the information – the International Telecommunication Union estimates that in 2015 3.1 billion (or half the planet’s population) was using the Internet. Virtually everyone has a cell phone (seriously the statistic is 7,085,000,000; the 2015 estimated population for the planet is 7,200,000,000). And of course, programming within the Internet has made information accessible to even more users through automated translation. There is also the depth of interaction, were bandwidth to allow it, all 7 billion users could conceivably be in the same chat room at the same time, passing information back and forth. So why hasn’t Carty’s prediction come true?

Well, Z isn’t going to sort out this thornier philosophical issue for you (an excellent place to get started, however, is Ted Robert Gurr’s Why Men Rebel,1970). Spoiler alert: academia still hasn’t come to an agreement (Z suspects the answer is both – nurture and nature, based on his observations).

The last 12-months has thrown into stark relief the impact that anti-social media (meant in its correct sense: unwilling or unable to associate in a normal or friendly way with other people) has on engendering a distinctive anti-social environment.

To put it plainly, the Internet empowers demagogues and provides a platform where one can find supportive listeners, watchers, activists, and foot soldiers anywhere in the world.

The Internet has seemingly negated the role that Geography played in minimizing the impact that these individuals would have. Would a certain Florida-based pastor (turned Freedom/French fry chef and 2016 U.S. Presidential Candidate) been known outside the state 100 years ago, outside the country 50 years ago? Only to the devoted watcher. Also complicit in the rise of demagoguery is a willing mass media complex providing microphones and coverage for various rants (I’m sure you can find your own sources).

Anti-social media and its anti-social users can now draw on social media half a world away in order to push their own message.

(via BBC)

The above image was created by a (self-described) conservative Japanese woman (all from the BBC). The caption reads: “‘I want to live a safe and clean life, eat gourmet food, go out, wear pretty things, and live a luxurious life… all at the expense of someone else.’ ‘I have an idea. I’ll become a refugee.'” The artist posts to a social media page that also includes anti-Korean messages. As the BBC astutely points out immigration in Japan remains a controversial subject despite an ageing and declining population (regular Z Geography readers will no doubt recall failed public policy encourage Japanese Brazilians to immigrate to Japan).

The publication of this image immediately brought back memories (not even a month old, sadly) of the camerawoman for Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party, who was video tapped ignominiously tripping and kicking two or three people running.

For the last month, Z Geography has watched the inevitable troll war in anonymous (and non-anonymous) comment sections around the Internet. Demagoguery has no shortage of willing participants. The Internet has flattened the Geography of Hate.

But what is shocking to Z Geography is the level of impersonal detachment shown by the camerawoman and female artist. One woman from one culture immersed in an ongoing human dilemma found it perfectly acceptable to kick a little girl as she ran by. While another woman from another culture thousands of miles away found it perfectly acceptably to create an  image based on a photo of another little girl to push a message of prejudice. Are we becoming desensitized to extremism? Probably.

But Z Geography’s bigger concern is whether this activity – cartoons, videos of kicking, and comments defending it all – serves to legitimize extremism. It is unfortunate that there isn’t a historical precedent for this sort of thing.

Oh wait.

(via wikipedia): From a 1919 Austrian postcard showing a Jew stabbing a German soldier in the back. World War 1 ended in 1918, the Holocaust began in 1941. At least 12,000 Jewish soldiers died serving Imperial Germany.

Disclaimer: Z Geography does not advocate the curbing of freedom of expression and artistry on the Internet (and sees all three as public goods, in both senses of the word).

Demographic Transition: Denmark and (Have More) Sex Ed

(welcome back to Z!)

Demographics (Geography, really) have been in the news a lot lately, so finding a good starting point is difficult. Readers may remember (though it has been some time) that Z Geography has previously discussed the Stage 5 of the Demographic Transition (wherein a country experiences a declining population as birth rates fall below the death rate and net migration isn’t able to make up the difference).

There are two general ways to beat the falling population reality and both involve having more children (obviously). You either 1) incentive or coerce you’re existing national citizenry to have children or 2) you attract new peoples (say migrants) to shore up the population and hope that they have more children (which they typically do).

Denmark, it seems, is choosing the first course. A recent article in the Atlantic notes that sex education in the country was expanded last year to not only discourage teen pregnancy, but also “warning teens about the risks waiting too long to have children.” Presumably the “risks” referred to involve potential complications arising from so-called geriatric pregnancy.

Unlike its eastern Baltic NATO-ally Estonia (which Denmark had political control over in the 16th-17th century), Denmark’s population is not declining. Yet. According to my favorite U.S. government agency’s forecasts (the Census Bureau) Denmark will probably be in population decline by 2050. Estonia is already there. The Scandinavian neighbors Sweden and Norway are in a similar situation to Denmark. Each had an estimated total fertility rate of between 1.8 and 1.9 live births per woman (aged in her child-bearing years). Estonia’s is 1.6 births per woman.

Denmark has some time to figure out the winning policy formula. The problem is – does a winning policy formula exist? In Singapore (current fertility rate 0.8), a self-styled “sex guru” created a “love boat” getaway package in 2003. Spending $580 (U.S.) couples got a cruise, massages, aphrodisiacs, health classes, and other goods and services to put them in the baby-creating mood. Evidently the fertility rate has dropped since then.

Perhaps a more instructive case is the United States. In this country the total fertility rate (of all census respondents) is 1.9 births per woman, which is obviously below the replacement level of 2.1. Yet Census is not projecting a decline in the U.S. population – because of immigration. Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican, South Carolina) said it best in the past couple of weeks (via Politico):

  • [former South Carolina Senator] Strom Thurmond had four kids after age 67. If you’re not willing to do that, we need to come up with a new immigration system.

Whether he intended to or not (giving the Senator the benefit of the doubt here), Sen. Graham hit upon an apparent demographic truth. Given the economic imbalances in the global economic system, immigrants (from economically underdeveloped and often insecure countries) are needed to sustain the population’s of economically advanced and physically secure Western societies (like the U.S. and Denmark).

On this point, Denmark currently does not have a migrant resettlement quota (like the United Kingdom and Ireland) because of an existing exemption in the EU’s asylum policy. However,this may change and Denmark may take some asylees without a quota.

While the immigration “fix” to the demographic problem is easy, the implications are political. Europe was already experiencing a far-right and conservative backlash before the “migrant crisis” came to the fore (though why it wasn’t a crisis during the first 4 years of the Syrian Civil War is beyond the scope of this article). See headline (Jan-2015): Europe’s Anti-Immigrant Parties Stand to Gain Ground in Wake of Paris Attacks (Wall Street Journal). A key statement in the article is this: “Unlike in the U.S. or Canada, ethnicity and national identity remain closely intertwined in Europe. Melding Europe’s Muslim communities, which often are extremely devout, into Europe’s pluralistic, secular society is particularly tricky.” First and unfortunately for the majority of the world’s states – ethnic identity (to include race, language, religion, and other identifying markers) is the leading determinant for the conception of the imagined community – the nation. The U.S. and Canada, founded by immigrants and consistently reshaped by subsequent waves, are different (though angry nativist rhetoric always crops up during economic downturns).

The real catch is the second sentence – the interaction between immigrant communities and the host communities. But it is necessary to make a distinction, labor immigrants (for jobs) typically seek to immigrate and generally stay in the country, making a new life, often inviting family. Refugees are unwilling migrants. Most would probably wish to stay at home, if the home hadn’t been destroyed by a car bomb, a natural disaster, or some other cause of forcible displacement. Historically, migrants and host communities have integrated each other. Each changes (for the better) with each successive generation of children (migrants and hosts) going to school together and playing together. It was only a mere century ago when the Irish “need not apply” to jobs in and around U.S. metropolitan areas. Now Irish heritage is intertwined with American heritage.

A similar process is already at work within Europe, France and UK have experience accepting immigrants from the former colonies but the rest, including Denmark, must get used to the idea of becoming receivers of immigrants from abroad (whereas they were historically emigrants themselves) if they are to maintain population growth.

Z-Alternative: Russia and the U.S. as Strategic Allies

Let me begin by saying that, as we all know (or could figure out), it takes a lot more than similar geopolitical situations to create a permissive diplomatic and political environment for the creation of an alliance. Similar political and economic systems, histories, ethnic/tribal/sectarian/linguistic political elites, and perception of global threats and interests (and more) play a part in the calculus for a government to commit to the establishment or continuation of a “special relationship”. To borrow the term pundits and publics use to describe the U.S.-UK alliance.

But in this post I will argue that geopolitically, Russia and the U.S. have more common interests than the U.S. and the rest of Europe. While I’ll limit myself to a discussion of the physical geography of this argument, an exploration of the human side is necessary.  The genesis for this post was a great Foreign Affairs article (Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin). One key point in the article is the eastward expansion of the EU and NATO presenting a core threat to Russian security (a very realist, rather than liberal view). It is this point that brought me to today’s post.

Overall, Russia and the United States share a similar geopolitical position. Both are, essentially, protected by their sheer land area. Russia, of course, is in the more tenuous position because of its land borders. Russian strategists and historians are keenly aware of this fact. No less military geniuses than Chinggis Khan (13th century), Napoleon Bounaparte (19th century), and Adolf Hitler (20th century) have invaded. President Putin, and other Russian nationalists and realists, probably view the expansion of NATO and the EU into Ukraine as a prelude to a 21st century invasion.

While the United States has experienced conflict along its two long land borders, these have been resolved since the 19th century and Canada is an ally besides. The main area of concern are the oceans. The water surrounding the U.S. is the guarantor of U.S. security and commerce. Alfred Thayer Mahan understood this in the 19th century, when the British Empire successfully blockaded Napoleon’s continental empire and prevented a French invasion.

The U.S. ability to control the seas has permitted it to consider the entire Western Hemisphere its strategic backyard, much like Russia’s bordering states (the near-abroad). American readers will no doubt recall the Monroe Doctrine of President Monroe (r. 1817-1825), which locked Europe from interfering (and creating new colonies) in North and South America, and President Roosevelt’s Corollary (r. 1901-1909), which saw the U.S. insert itself into bilateral disputes between European and other American states.

There is, as you probably guessed, a realist update to the Monroe Doctrine. The National Interest, an American-conservative foreign policy magazine argued, prophetically, back in 2009 (during President Obama’s historic “reset” with Russia) that:

It would be wise for [President Obama’s] administration to abandon its ill-advised campaign to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, which Moscow justifiably regards as a provocative intrusion into Russia’s security sphere. (The National Interest, A New Monroe Doctrine)

The article acknowledges Russian “violations” of activity in the U.S. strategic backyard.

More worrisome is a hawkish Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal authored by the American conservative think-tank Foreign Policy Institute (A Monroe Doctrine for NATO). FPI argues that “NATO today should apply something like the Monroe Doctrine to European states that geographic misfortune has placed outside the Alliance but whose sovereignty is essential to a Continent “whole, free and at peace.'” A recipe for just the opposite – a lasting conflict with Russia.

An alternative view, offered by Z Geography is to let the Russia have its strategic backyard, perhaps a neutral Ukraine neither fully in, nor fully out of NATO. Would it be enough to leave Ukraine, and Russia, within the Partnership for Peace? After all the point of that organization is trust-building, which is currently in short supply.

Z Geography argues, over the long-term, this strategic trust-building between the U.S. and Russia could lead to a more meaning partnership and guaranteeing of mutual security. The problem, as it so often is, is Russia’s lack of political and press freedoms. But then again, if we tacitly support President al-Sisi (former general, came to power in a coup) in Egypt, Prime Minister Prayuth (former general, came to power in a coup) in Thailand and various Kings in the Middle East (some of whom are particularly brutal to their people), why not the Russians? Aren’t both governments concerned about a stable Afghanistan? Sunni Islamist terrorism? A rising People’s Republic of China?

After all, aren’t we already pursuing the same strategic interests as Syrian President Asad (who is an Alawite) and Iranian Supreme Leader Khomeini (a Shi’a) in fighting the Islamic State (Sunnis)?

‘Death to Jews’ hamlet row in France

‘Death to Jews’ hamlet row in France

Z is trying something new today. Today’s post, geographic naming.

A hamlet in France is known in French as “Death to Jews” or Mort aux Juifs. The name has, again, attracted attention with calls from various organizations to rename the place.

Oddly named places stirring up controversy aren’t new. U.S. states Alaska and Ohio are in a tussle over the name of Mt. McKinley named for an Ohio-born president. Alaska is pressing for the name Denali, from a deity among Alaskan tribes.

And there are other less savory names that have been the subject of controversy. Canada, in 1961, renamed Nigger Creek in British Columbia to Negro Creek.

To Z Geography more effort should be expended in community outreach and development not in, potentially,  bringing litigation against communities. Changing the name of a place doesn’t address prejudice.

What it does do is erase human history. That’s the other lesson, these place names are an important record of things that we should never forget, lest we return to the bad old days of Crusades and purges.