First published on Pure Moth.
The great European author and semiotician Umberto Eco once posited the idea that the Erasmus project, so beloved of students wishing to spend a free year at another university in the EU, should be extended to all professions. Far from being confined to the elitism of higher education, it should be offered to all society – from shop assistants to refuse collectors. Concepts of cultural and ethnic differences would be eroded as young men and women from different backgrounds met, fell in love and had children beyond their own countries and ethnic groups, thus creating a sense of Europeanism that might eventually supersede state-based nationalism.
There are roughly 196 identifiable nations across our globe and tens of thousands of different ethnic groups within these nations. By 2025 the UN estimates the global population will surpass eight billion. We sit on the cusp of a new world where nations, reacting against economic downturn and aggressive nationalism, decide either to accept open borders and the influx of other cultures or close themselves off.
What if Eco’s prospective Erasmus idea could instead become a global rather than just a European project? If people from around the world were free to go anywhere, the old argument goes that they would gravitate towards the moneyed western hemisphere.
A recent study by the American Economic Association suggests that a world without national borders preventing immigration would be a world that would see a doubling of global GDP. It would also, according to the Centre for Global Development be the greatest possible tool for fighting poverty.
These liberal compassions that dream up a ‘perfect world’ where everyone has enough money are tempered by our innate sense of cultural identity and perceived threats to it. Without borders protecting ‘our’ economic security, without the proliferation of our own ethnic group as the dominant force in our land, what will become of ‘us’? Compassion gives way to self-preservation.
It is time, as Eco implied, to let go of these old affiliations and search for a way of seeing ourselves and the wider world that is not mired in the tribal structures of the past. We have strong evidence that open borders are healthy for the world economy. Let’s not forget that war between nations becomes harder when there is less of a sense of nationalism for soldiers to feel passionate about.
Our civilisation is founded on rational, evidential scientific thought. It is about time that we applied that to our sense of identity. All that you hold to be dear and true in this world is nothing but the flotsam and jetsam of history washed up on the shore of the present. Cultures and tribes have come and gone throughout recorded history. Yours, the one you identify with, the one that in some circumstances you might fight and die for, is no different. It is chance and circumstance that you were born in a certain country, to a certain family, in a certain political or religious ideology.
If we can begin to dismantle our rigid ideas of ‘self’ and ‘us’ then we might begin to see a world where barriers collapse and a relativist multiculturalism spreads into the heart of the precious institutions we hold so dear and the economic fortunes of the majority of people on this planet improve.
The naysayers would claim that in such a world we would lose our individuality and all become the same – a reactionary argument that is a wilful failure of analysis. Evolution works by mixing and matching different gene pools to create endless new variants. Culture is no different. We are all mongrels in this regard. There is no purity. A world of free movement and the inevitable inter-marriage it brings would not be a world where we morph into a nameless mass but rather a world where we are all even more unique, where we become the sum of a million different influences, none more important and more truthful than the other. That’s the world I want to see. Let’s have an end to a thousand nominal tribes closing their borders and pointing guns at one another. As the human population of this planet soars to almost incomprehensible numbers, we can become instead eight billion tribes of one, marching only to the celebration of our shared and accepted differences.