Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization

November 30th, 2016

By: Parag Khanna, Author of Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization

This excerpt has been reprinted from Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization (2016), with permission from the author

connectography-parag-khannaThe combination of urbanization and immigration has made Toronto –alongside London, New York, Dubai, and Singapore– one of the world’s most diluted* cities with as many or more foreign-born residents as native populations. Because cities must be open to trade (and traders) to survive, they are what the political theorist Benjamin Barber calls “naturally networked”, evolving from the ancient homogenous polis to the connected and diverse cosmopolis of today. A world that looks less like Iceland and more like Toronto, less Tokyo and more Dubai, needs a new political frame. Countries will have to hold themselves together through common laws and post-racial identities. When David Cameron was pressured by church groups in 2014 to declare that Britain should be a proud “Christian country,” he faced a backlash from many who cling to Britain as a multi-faith or nonreligious society- something Londoners take for granted. A better articulation came from Tony Blair a decade earlier after the July 2005 Islamist terrorist attack in London, when he declared that there is a “British way of life” that would not bend to cultural enclaves seeking to impose their practices on other or create parallel systems of justice. The former sought an unrealistic exclusivity, while the latter suggested a progressive and inclusive civic pluralism.

Societies built on immigrant assimilation strive toward common identity despite racial differences. Singapore became a cosmopolitan hub through historical migrations from China and Indians circulating across the British Empire and then by design as Lee Kuan Yew insisted on multiethnic public housing to prevent any ghettos from forming. Today Singapore ranks as one of the world’s most religiously diverse cities, with a surfeit of monuments for each religion. Only half of Singapore’s population is citizens, and more than 20 percent of marriages are mixed race, mostly Chinese-Indian- creating a growing number of “Chindians” each generation. As Indian and Filipino migrant workers mingle in Singapore and Dubai, an “Indipino” race is emerging as well. The more mixed-race families become the social norm, the weaker pleas for ethnically based politics become. One of Lee Kuan Yew’s longest-serving ministers, S. Rajaratnam, rightly said that to be Singaporean “is not a condition but a conviction.”

Such city-states are the incubators of the new mongrel global civilization because they can succeed only though inclusive rather than exclusive policies. For most cities, it is too late to prevent ethnic ghettos, but it is not too late for pragmatic mayors to promote place-based rights rather than identity politics. We have to think less in terms of ideal-type multiethnic states governed through mostly liberal parliamentary factions and more in terms of technocratic tool kits for dense cities, some highly ethnically mixed and others with Balkanized neighborhoods. Either way, the notion of “citizenship” seems a quaint anachronism as foreigners become permanent stakeholders. Jaime Lerner, the Brazilian architect who became a pioneering mayor of the southern city of Curitiba, calls cities “the last refuge of solidarity,” places where many people must build and provide for themselves and thus cannot afford to tear themselves apart. Building common identity requires strategies to promote cohesion amid economic inequality. It is in this context that global cities have become crucibles for experiments such as Toronto’s non-citizens voting in municipal referenda and New York’s ID cards for half a million undocumented immigrants. The rapid feedback loops possible at small scale compensate for any deficit in cultural trust; indeed, they are the agents of building trust amidst diversity.

Even as global cities embody centrifugal cultural forces, they are also the incubators of multiple identities. Their density and diversity allow individuals to explore and adopt multiple identities based on neighborhood and community, ethnicity and race, professional class or other association. In this way, cities do not trap but liberate. It is in geographies that lack choice where the only option is national identity, whereas in cities identity can be cumulative.

Nationalism is viewed as either a powerful human impulse to be celebrated or a dangerous force to be defeated. The former makes it seem immutable to change, and the latter creates a false antagonism between identity and accommodation. The spectrum of nationalist phenomena today spans European-style ethnic nativism against immigrant influxes as well as Asian geopolitical patriotism against historical rivals. That these forces continue to exist does not mean they will prevail.

Indeed, taken together, the surging trends of migration, urbanization, and proliferating identities present global cities as a major alternative to nations and nationalism as the foundations of global social order. The more cities make all residents meaningful participants by virtue of their contributions and obligations rather than differentiating by citizenship or ethnicity, the more loyalty to the city supersedes that to the nation. The Canadian scholar Daniel Bell calls this rising urban pride “civicism,” a twenty-first century rival to nationalism. Civicism harks back to the ancient world of Athens and other Mediterranean societies where politics was open to all residents.

For today’s mobile and itinerant youth, civicism seems a more fitting ethos than nationalism. Nobody would have believed in the early 1990s that Berlin would emerge as the world’s coolest city, with ultramodern architecture, a buzzing tech scene, and productive cultural collisions unseen elsewhere on the Continent. I’ve been traveling and living in Germany off and on since the Berlin Wall fell. In the 1990s, integration was difficult: Only by learning to speak German like a German did I differentiate myself from the large Turkish population whom I resembled to the native German eye. Today it seems everyone is a foreigner fumbling his way through German- or just defaulting to English. In the 1990s, I had to commute an hour on various trains, trams, and buses to find a good Indian restaurant; today there are several in every neighborhood. In addition to the Turks, Russians, and Poles, Berlin has close to 100,000 Chinese, Vietnamese, and other East Asians.

Berlin thus emerges as Europe’s most future-ready city, not just technologically, but demographically. Situated on the vast northern European plain with ample space to expand in all directions, Berlin has become an urban geography so vast that with only 3.5 million people it would feel vacant with double the population. This accounts for why its property prices have barely nudged in a decade and why it is in such deep debt. Its flamboyant former mayor Klaus Wowereit rightly boasted that his city is “poor but sexy,” but it is not financially sustainable without more people. Officially, most European countries are cynical about the benefits of immigration, but in reality Africans, Arabs, and Asians are streaming in to study, work, and settle in livable cities like Berlin. Berlin’s magic formula has been affordable rent, openness to immigrants and lots of babies: It has the highest birthrate in Germany, especially the trendy areas of East Berlin, where students came in the 1990s and have stayed to raise families. The rest of Europe must learn from Berlin: Exclusive thinking is a recipe for suicide.

*Dilution: the genetic blending of populations through mass migrations

Parag Khanna is a leading global strategist, world traveler, and best-selling author. He is a CNN Global Contributor and Senior Research Fellow in the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. His previous books include The Second World and How to Run the World. He is also Managing Partner of Hybrid Reality, a boutique geostrategic advisory firm, and is a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum.


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