Limited Spaces Call for Unlimited Thoughts

Vortrag auf der 2. Jacques Rueff Conference

der Centre d’Etudes Prospectives pour Monaco (CEPROM) und

der European Center of Austrian Economics Foundation (ECAEF)

in Monaco am 23. November 2017

I. Introduction

I will try to give evidence that it is not a disadvantage for humans to live in a small state today. On the contrary, I will describe why – in the meantime of human history and development – it has even become an advantage to be inside a small political entity. Supposed my thoughts are correct, the territorial extension of a nation does not play the meaningful role for the wealth of a nation as it used to do in the past. More than ever, the safety, the wealth and the pursuit of happiness of a state’s people depend on the fragile balance of two main factors: 1. on statecraft in terms of a well balanced cooperation between politics, citizens and administration. 2. on an institutionally secured, universal permission of free private communication and cooperation (among one another inside the state as well as with the entire mankind outside). Only an intellectually flexible, economically adaptive, well educated and homogenously committed community will have the tools needed to persist in a surrounding world full of unseen challenges and paradox requirements. In that sense, the call for unlimited thoughts is not only a question of practicability but rather a matter of wise political leadership, in special when standing on the grounds of a limited space.

II. Main Part

1.) Historical and empirical backgrounds

For a long time in human history, guaranteeing prosperous and wealthy living conditions for its citizens was the privilege of states ruling over extensive landscapes and widespread means of production. Armed forces were able to live off a land as long as farmers knew how to cultivate their spacious fields effectively. Protected by military means outward and by law inside, bright engineers and entrepreneurs were able to successfully advance their technologies. At least this is what a vast majority of people used to think and what many still hold to be true.

In the course of time and by acceleration of all kinds of technological progresses, not only the quantity but also the quality of all supplying industries and the goods inquired in that process, however, changed dramatically. First, the economic relevance of manufacturing trades was overrun by the significance of the services sector. Later the – as we call it – “digitalization” even overtook this evolution. Fortunately, today’s developed countries do not primarily have to cope with the task of nourishing a population. At the present time their focus is rather on how to improve the effectiveness of production, service and communication. That again leads to a substantial modification of nowadays wealth production: Behind the technological phenomenon that we call “digitalization” stands, at the heart, nothing else than the pure challenge of human creativity. Restless and hungry brains all over the world are continuously teaming up with one another, working on improvements and accelerations of all kind at any time. But division of labor, obviously, does not only increase economic productiveness exponentially. It also brings some typical problems for the intellectual culture of a society as well. None less than Adam Smith wrote:

“In the progress of the division of labor, the employment of the far greater part of those who live by labor, that is, of the great body of the people, comes to be confined to a few very simple operations; frequently to one or two. But the understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations … has no occasion to exert his understanding, or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become. … Of the great and extensive interests of his country he is altogether incapable of judging.”

Thus, human history brings again  the paradox correlation of simultaneously opposing trends: The progress of technology on the one side comes along with an individual intellectual regression on the other. While mankind as a whole is walking forward in the range of technology every day, each single human being on the other side goes backward and loses formerly given (and trained) skills of living together in content. Once more in history – but this time in unseen dimensions – individual humans are no longer connected to their social surroundings as they used to be in the times before globalization. Disruptive developments make it more and more difficult to feel embedded inside a community. That again, of course, makes people individually feel insecure.

But there is even more reason for mental discomfort: The German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk reminded us of the contrast between the soul of a Bayreuth opera-goer at the end of the 19th century and an excursionist in a forest around Berlin only one generation later.

As the parents of these times just had taken their fright at Wagnerian dragons and dwarfs inside the dark and mysterious forests, their children already went there voluntarily by car, enjoying the fresh air of the woods at a weekend-relaxation . This technologically induced revolution of changing world views is even accelerating today. And it changes not only the individual sights, but also the sensitivities and the behaving of communities acting inside the world as a whole.

It is likely that, in special, this collective uneasiness evolving out of confusing paradoxes and radical changes all over the world gives reason for another outstanding development: The call for newly defined collective identifications to safeguard individual human souls on the basis of a de facto inhabitable and inhabited region. Just at the turn of the last century the German historian Wolfgang Reinhardt pointed out that there is an overall, worldwide trend towards a new kind of closer defined self-awareness:

“All around the world we see a tendency of people not to identify within big national groups. Instead, they prefer to feel unified as a smaller entity, inside certain assemblies or assured movements. People began to define themselves rather as Alsatians than as French, no longer as a human being than as a female.”

Today those words from a publication of 1999 almost foreshadow the very latest ongoing that we saw in Catalan or Venetian places. Obviously, there seems to be a powerful human want for a spiritual home to counterbalance the centrifugal forces of globalization that are draining people everywhere.

At this point it seems to be suitable – as an intermediate summary – to put it like this: The findings and manifestations of a globalized digitalization and its division of labor have made individuals lose their track of durable integration into a consistent social community. The permanent surplus supply of information does not provide consented (and, by this, secured) guiding directions for all members of a community. Instead, everyone faces disrupting effects in all places at all time. In effect, the intensively fractionized integration of every individual into a worldwide community on technical behalf comes along with its social isolation at the same time. And that, obviously, contradicts inherent human necessities.

2.) Epistemology as a switch stand for political developments

Precautionary, it might be useful to take a look at the theory of human recognition in general at that point. Thus, it seems reasonable and essential to insert a preliminary note on some established aspects of epistemology.

Human brains can only work and function (in the sense of any interaction with the world outside our individual craniums) if there is any perception of the world as the basic precondition of all intellectual understanding. In other words: Our five senses are the doors to our mind. By listening to our surroundings, by watching, touching, smelling and tasting, we accurately collect the information we then need to act and behave adjusted inside the world.

The quantity of optical and acoustical information that a cave man had to deal with was comparatively clearly arranged and easy to manage, even if he was hunting outside in the woods. Compared to his life conditions, a pedestrian, for example in the New York of 1930, met far more complicated challenges to find his way home without being knocked down by a horse buggy or being overrun by the astonishingly taking over motor-car behind it.

But even this citizen of New York did not rudimentary face as much information as any human being in the world of today has to bring to his mind without any substantial cease. This is what I call the permanent surplus of information supply.

To estimate the full consequences of this – for a start seemingly unimpressive – development, we have to bear one more simple fact in mind: Not even the most vigilant and attentive human being can foresee the future. All our activities are not only based on facts that we definitely know for sure. They are in addition, inescapably, based on sheer speculations about what will happen next. That again means: Every human being is inevitably convicted to challenge particular presuppositions as a fundament for all further activities without any chance to know whether they will turn out to be correct or not.

Even if we are not aware of this fact in our everyday’s life: Our brain permanently selects those fractional amounts of information out of a vast number of information offered by our environment that it judges to be relevant in a certain situation. And after this selecting process, in a next step, the information left is assessed within the scope of every individual’s activity plan. Although the skeletal structure of this process has not changed since the days of the cave man, the amount of possibly relevant information has, positively, exploded.

Engines have accelerated our lives for long and telecommunication has helped to melt away distances between all kinds of senders and recipients. But today’s internet has essentially changed the hearing range and the visibility range in historically unprecedented dimensions. Not even the velocity of sound safeguards our assumptions based on a certain status of information against opposing “breaking news”, possibly arriving from any point of the world on every given moment.

And since complex worldwide causalities can be interloped in any surprising constellation, the controllability even of simple and individual lines of action may be interrupted at any time.

Thus, the individual and the collective consciousness must unavoidably again and again get disorientated by the overreach of (even in the end mostly insignificant) information arriving. Nonetheless, reasonable protection against that kind of puzzling overreaches cannot even be provided by trying to block selected information to prevent the potential recipients from losing track. Because that again would require the (utterly impossible) knowledge of someone, what the fundament of that reasonability for any selection or non-selection could be.

To summarize: The human brain has, undoubtedly, entered a new age. Every human brain (at least each that has a present access to the internet) can be the target of any new information, no matter at which place on earth it stays. We can say: Information has become ubiquitous. But the changes we see are not only related to the dimension of space. Since a letter does no longer have to be shipped over oceans or transported over roads, the whole mankind has potential access to all information practically at the same time. Daytime or nighttime do not matter any longer. Therefore, we can say: This has become a world of isochronism. All information is – at least potentially – on every place in the world, at the same time . In the consequence, all information can restructure every reality on any place at any time worldwide. This fact is not just disillusioning any conviction of safe knowledge out of the past. It is, beyond that, a very stressful lesson to learn for all our presuppositions that we take as fundaments for our future activities. They are all doubtful and questionable at any time. Within the framework of epistemology, the age of a globalized and digitalized human consciousness will, inevitably, be an age of everlasting uncertainty.

It is crucial at that point to realize that this kind of perpetual uncertainty is not only the fate of all state’s citizens but of its political leaders and its administrators as well. One of the former presidents of Germany, Roman Herzog, once wrote: “Obedience is the gamete cell and breeding ground of the state.”  But if the commander has lost his leading knowledge, what could be the remaining justification for obedience? In case Roman Herzog had the right understanding of a state’s functioning, the ubiquitous isochronisms of a digitalized world thus erode and hollow out the fundaments of the state per se. This insight requires the taking of appropriate measures for a sustainably fruitful living together of people and peoples.

3.) Political consequences of ubiquitous isochronisms and permanent systematical disruptions

As I said in the beginning: It is not a disadvantage for humans to live in a small state today. And this thesis can easily be justified and explained on the basis of the empirical and epistemological contexts mentioned before.

Due to these increases of speed and the deriving uncertainties from that, big nations with extensive landscapes, millions of citizens, uncountable languages and dismembered cultures run without any chance in the future race for the best living conditions on this planet. The mere reaction time they require for all those social and economic adjustments that are perpetually needed is far too long to keep the pace with the ever changing framework.

Indeed, many still believe improvements of administrative productivity and a computerized rationalization of workflow could compensate the perpetual change of circumstances. Some even think that a unification and accumulation of processes could counterbalance the ubiquitous quantum jumps that are taking place at any time.

But these theories underestimate a core phenomenon of factor changes: Developments do not occur linear but with unforeseeable multidimensional disruptive effects.

And only human beings have the very creativity at their command that is needed to mend those disruptions in a way that is accepted by their fellow citizens in the long run. There is only one way to equalize the creativity of a visionary counterpart, and that is the use of one’s own creativity. The typical effect of this intellectual concept is, of course, progress and improvement on all sides.

Based on this, the path to design the smart state of the future is set. The only promising search technique and detection method inside an endless intellectual merry-go-round of worldwide ideas (while facing a shark pool of disruptions at the same time) is the permission of a totally open intellectual process by – at the same time – guaranteeing and safeguarding a reliable framework of procedural rules and inviolable competences. This raises the question: Which state will be fit to guaranty the stability that is needed?

Unfortunately, western democracies (including their supranational unions) have shown more than once to be structurally vulnerable at one certain point: Even the fundamental principles of their own constitutional groundwork can be made the envy of a majority decision at all times. And, to be honest, the group of people who can form a deciding majority is not very big in a system of representative democracy. Protective arrangements in their legal systems have also turned out to be inappropriate to prevent these very foundations to be shaken by any arbitrary political moods of a day.

The only stronghold against such attacks on the positive law seems to be the firm ethos of a ruling class – and, in special, its individually acting members – not to do so. But that ethos can only be a promising safeguard for the constitutional framework when it is deep-rooted in the vitally practiced values of a (may I say: touchable near) community itself.

As soon as a ruling administrator is not personally interwoven into the community he decides for, he loses the human contact that is needed to stabilize his ethos.

Administrators who decide and act anonymously without personally knowing the administrated people will always be tempted to modify even the holy rules of a constitution as long as this strategy only promises to bring a solution for any burning issue.

It is evident that political leaders in these puzzling times are perpetually tempted to simplify and to decelerate ambiguous situations by expulsing all theses ubiquitous isochronisms that I outlined above.

But disconnecting a society from intellectual and technical developments beyond the homeland borders is not a promising strategy to preserve any given political situation in the long run. The world has seen that neither the ancient Chinese emperors nor the almighty communist leaders of contemporary history managed to freeze human development by building walls. In times of digitalization all political attempts to hold progress by forcefully erected digital walls will, of course, have some short-term successes.

But their intentions to master the elemental forces of human creativity are already foredoomed mid-term because the prohibitive politicians will lose their control at least for two simple reasons: First, they will not be able to master the disruptive and multi-dimensional developments all around since they can not foresee the unknown future. And second, the violation of constitutionally guaranteed elbow-rooms of the people intensifies the citizen’s discomfort with their average situation of uncertainty.

Cutting off people from reality is not a winning way for politicians . If it is not only the factual world outside that spends uncertainty but also the political decisions (instead of establishing a reliable framework of procedural rules and inviolable rights) then a community and its organizations come to an end.

4.) The advantage of being a small state

Preserving and developing a state in such times of ubiquitous isochronisms and – deriving from that – permanent systematical disruptions therefore brings the challenge of walking the fine line between intellectual openness on the one side and institutional constancy on the other side. This all but paradox task can actually only be mastered by a very precise definition of the core area of a state’s institutions and of its functions that cannot (under no circumstances) be questioned.

That leads – as an almost crystallizing moment – to another surprising and exciting finding: The smaller a state and its authority are, the more insignificant and ineffectual are the points where uncontrollable and, by this, ungovernable disruptive forces can act. Big states with sophisticated institutions and excessive bureaucratic work forces are condemned to fail as soon as they are no longer in the position to maintain the accepted fundaments of their existence.

Inflexibility and immovability have always been the death sentence for the great empires in human history. But under today’s conditions of nonstop high-speed innovations even every seemingly normal-size state with its common institutions that we think to be familiar with can rapidly turn into a mortally wounded colossus.

In the consequence, it is necessary to precisely define this core area of a state’s institutions and its functions. Due to the tightness of time, I will leave out some traditional questions of state organization that can be perfectly discussed anywhere else. Instead, I want to concentrate on the essential question of today’s conference and on my subject in special: How can a small state manage today’s specific challenges of ubiquitous isochronisms?

The first of two answers to that question is part of the question itself: A small state is a state that is small. And strictly this quality predestines it to be the perfect tool, fit to endure all coming storms of disruption.

Big organizations are tardy, small ones are flexible. And flexibility is a feature that helps organizations to persist. A rowboat can already have left any uncomfortable situation before the seamen’s eyes see a tankship slowly change its direction.

But how could a small state with little natural resources and limited space manage to survive in a world full of bigger players? At this point we have to bear in mind that the primal source of our problem (called “ubiquitous isochronisms”) is to be found in the phenomenon of digitalization. We are dealing with a technique to record and send contents of human thinking and intelligence. Creativity is what matters. But brainwork does not require any noteworthy volume expansion. It was the scholastic philosophers who already knew that thinking can be done by millions of intellectual angels on one single tip of a needle.

That comes from the fact that reality has two dimensions: The tangible world of objects and the virtual world of thoughts. Traditional philosophers named these two worlds “mundus intelligibilis” and “mundus sensibilis”. Thus, interactive communication via internet (beyond pure algorithm work of the machinery) only requires two human brains and a certain hardware with some cabling or antenna and electric current somewhere out there in the real, touchable world.

For that you do not have to operate a spacious state with millions of public servants and impressive government facilities. From the perspective of intellectual exchanges via internet a state is already big enough inside the “mundus sensibilis” as soon as it has sufficient space to deploy and maintain a network-compatible computer of any considerable size.

And that state does – moreover – not even have to be big enough to shelter and accommodate the creative minds themselves. It is sufficient to welcome their brains inside the virtual “mundus intelligibilis” of this state. The tangible bodies of the creative minds can be anywhere outside around the globe.

According to practical experience, there is just one circumstance that is definitely indispensable for any successful innovative engagement: Creativity will only be promising in places where human brains have the freedom and permission to assemble for the work on their unlimited thoughts. In this regard, small states on the one side and creative minds on the other can enjoy mutual attraction. While intellectuals discover new horizons of human thinking, the allowing state increases its wealth and the contentment of its native and virtual citizens. As long as the ruling (and allowing) political power is not endangered by unrulable disruptive effects of innovation, the sensitive balance of this fruitful arrangement can persist to reciprocal benefit. Moreover, one might expect that – as a side effect – just the assembled creative minds that enjoy the liberties of free thinking shall be the best guaranty to safeguard this kind of state to stand its ground. And that again justifies the assumption that small states should wisely call for free thinkers.

III. Concluding Remarks

I think there is some reason to believe that the dominating political development direction of the last century that was slanted towards big states and impressive administrative unions is coming to an end.

More and more people understand that their personal strategies to master the challenges of human life are incompatible to the strategies of other people on the globe. And maybe the time has come to admit that the relevant discrepancies are too big to be dissolved by the sheer attempts of harmonizing politics within one region and one state. Especially an intervening state that tries to be in line with everyone inside a multicultural society must inevitably here and then head for self-contradictions. Wherever it is not within the realms of possibility to pacify these dissensions by trade and cooperation, it seems to be the best advice to disjoin and decompose incompatible groups and to offer the chance of peaceful separation.

Two scientists from Munich have just published an article on the subject of the political economy of secession that I found very impressive . Their research has not only shown an increase of nations worldwide from 57 to 194 within the last 100 years. They also point out that the dogma of unshiftable borders on the one hand indeed safeguards a status quo given. Nevertheless this dogma can collide painfully with the right of self-determination on the other hand. Isn’t it therefore a better way towards a peaceful political framework to allow secession, as the chief economist of the magazine “Wirtschaftswoche”, Malte Fischer, recently suggested ?

Ten years ago, the Ethiopian economist Eleni Gabre-Madhin formulated the secret of human happiness in a wonderful sentence. She said: “Happiness is freedom of choice” . If that is true (and I personally believe it is) we could transfer this economic insight into the world of states and citizenships. We would then come to the conclusion that the more states the planet has the more happiness could be provided for civilians. Although the surface of the earth is limited, human brains and their creativity is not.

So in the end I believe that the smartest strategy to stand one’s ground inside an ever changing world of uncertainties is to learn how to learn. If you cannot control your circumstances then you have to control your skills how to adapt to the changes. And in the center of all intellectual efforts it can never be wrong to study the philosophy of science. Together with training and schooling of the traditional canons of education a community can be fit for the future. Intelligence can survive on the tip of a needle.