What does it tell us about our time when a first-world nation is shaking with fear at the thought of a third-world disease? What does it tell us about our entire civilizational structure when we lack the ability to defend ourselves against the most basic threats?
Some people confuse this issue as one of bad choices. They argue that if we just chose to institute a travel ban, then we could start to contain this outbreak and begin the process of eradicating Ebola from our shores.
This is almost true, but it relies on one fatal assumption: that the US has the ability to take defensive action. We have lost that ability. Years of creating threats in foreign lands have robbed us of the ability to win when we have home-field advantage. The nation that fought two wars on home soil in its first 40 years of existence has lost the very skill that enabled it to exist in the first place.
Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.
There is nothing we can do to protect ourselves. In light of this fact, fear has begun to take hold among many. This is a perfectly natural reaction. Yet, just as predictably, we now see a reaction occurring among people who claim that talk of Ebola is fear-mongering.
This is, to some degree, a reasonable claim. Yet, it relies on the assumption that fear in this circumstance is not rational. This is a point that can be contested fairly easily. We are talking about a highly lethal, easily transferable disease with no known cure infecting people in this country. The chances that this could become a major problem are likely enough to be worth considering. To be somewhat afraid is perfectly rational in this case.
Yet, making people aware of this is labeled as “fear-mongering” in some circles. This demonstrates fairly convincingly that some people are afraid not just of existential threats, but of fear itself. FDR must be rolling over in his graves to see what his ideological descendents have become.
But really, everyone knows that refraining from taking precautionary measures in the face of potential threats means that any harm that befalls you is unequivocally your fault. Now, not all threats will materialize (indeed, most of them will not, and yes, I do believe at the moment that this whole Ebola scare will eventually fall into this category), but it does not follow from this that we should not be at least somewhat prepared for them.
Most preparations fall into two general categories: eliminating the threat or fleeing it. Suppose you are being stalked by a tiger. Shooting the tiger would constitute eliminating the threat. Hopping in your car and driving to another state would constitute fleeing it. Fight or flight, and all that, you know.
Issues arise, however, when we scale up threats to the level of civilizations. A society cannot just pick up and move somewhere else. Nations cannot choose flight when faced with threats like hostile nations or lethal viruses. On the flip side of the equation, individuals cannot fight back against civilization-level threats, as they lack the power to effectively combat them. A nation can no more run from Ebola than an individual can fight it.
What this creates is a prisoner’s dilemma-type dynamic, in which the most rational response on the part of a nation is to devote all its efforts to fighting the threat, while the most rational response on the part of the individual is to flee.
Obviously, this fails to describe how many situations play out in real life (consider how many obstacles to a smooth exit and a prosperous resettling exist). But generally, we can intuit that in cases when it is likely that the civilization can fight off threats, more people will refrain from leaving, whereas the less likely it is that the threat will be adequately dealt with, more people will flee. This in turn reduces the ability of a nation to counter threats, because what is a nation if not its people? Past a certain point, a feedback loop kicks in, and once that happens, all hell breaks loose.
This is a very basic assessment. It is equally simple to understand from this that one can measure the degree to which a nation can handle threats by noting how many people flee it in times of crisis. However, this proxy measurement relies on the degree of rationality among the populace, as well as their ability to flee.
Note that ability to flee is actually key here. The more attachments to a community and an area that a person has, the less capable they are of fleeing. Thus, the more they will be forced to hold their ground. This in turn contributes to the ability of a nation to face threats.
What are the biggest attachments the tie most people to a geographic location? Family and employment. A nation with a strong family structure and a low unemployment rate will be one in which more people are forced to stay, and so will be forced to contribute to engaging with the threat. This is especially true if the circumstances of this threat entail an increase in jobs and families.
Thus, we can hypothesize that nations with strong family structures will be more resilient in the face of existential threats. Chalk that up as yet another reason to support the family.
Yet, what happens to those who stay when a nation fails to deal with a major threat? Chaos. Destruction. Bloodshed. Instead of standing strong in the fact of danger, the bonds of civilization shatter, and one’s former countrymen become the danger.
In this way, nations end the same way that stars do, devouring themselves until they collapse.
And what of those who flee? Either they assimilate to the existing culture of their new home, or they begin to build anew. A nation can rebuild itself if the people are properly seeded.
In this way, the statement I made earlier is not entirely correct. Nations can indeed flee from certain threats and take root elsewhere, in the same way the seed from a oak can grow into a mighty tree in its own right (consider, for instance, the history of the Jewish people).
The big question, of course, is whether this can happen with the destruction of the old nation. Though the death of the old certainly gives incentive to propel the birth of the new, the history of colonization suggests that it is not a necessary catalyst.
In this regard, the tendency of an individual to flee might not be so deleterious for his nation after all. A nation, as I stated, is not just its laws or its land, but its people. If an individual flees elsewhere, settles down, and breeds, his nation carries on.
A nation optimized for mobility in this vein will always find a way to endure, though it may not always thrive. A nation that manages to thrive both at home and in far off shores, however, will inevitably rule the world.
In theory, of course. The only way to know for certain, however, would be to build a new nation entirely, one that, from the beginning, would be constructed with one singular purpose: to one day rule the world.
IMPERIUM SINE FINE