Let’s consider the travel ban from a different point of view—not politics, not personal stories of suffering, not legal maneuvering. Hang with me… this is worth it.
Driving to a meeting Sunday morning February 5th, I heard a story about how Trump’s new travel ban is affecting the scientific community. People are rethinking where to pursue their science, cancelling meetings with international scientific bodies, or refusing to attend peer conferences for fear that they cannot get back to their homes—or the people they need to see, hear, and meet won’t be there. It is as if these long established international networks of scientists cannot function when they cannot meet. The same problem appears to be affecting sports federations, religious groups, activists, business elites, and family networks.
The media makes stories out of the individual suffering—the families separated, the kid who could not get his life-saving surgery—but in so doing, it misses the real conflict at hand. The science story illustrates it perfectly: the travel ban is based on the pre-eminence of states, whereas the practice of science is based on a global network of information and relationships. The sovereignty of states is in conflict with the ubiquity of networks. The stories arising from this conflict illustrate two important things.
First, they illustrate the coming postcapitalist conflict between states and networks. States celebrate and hold geographic boundaries (in such a way that one can actually imagine a wall), while networks disregard such boundaries. Networks may have membership rules or guidelines, but geography is irrelevant. The travel ban is, in a large sense, a desperate attempt of the state to salvage its waning power, and the response is a re-assertion of relationships built through networks that overcome the artificial lines of the state. It is a colossal clash in the early stages of the postcapitalist transformation.
Second, the ban-driven conflict illustrates that networks are not 100% digital, by which I mean that they are transforming the very social structures of society. Networks have dimension and depth beyond the the digital. They extend beyond Facebook, email, and discussion boards. They open us to new people in other parts of the world and give us insight, knowledge, and emotional connection. They enable us to care in ways that were previously reserved only for those who could travel and build relationships.
Whereas the state oriented system gives us “kinship” only to those who share the soil within our borders—and therefore elevates citizenship above most other social values—networks enable relationships across all borders and de-emphasize allegiance to the state and its geographic borders.
The travel ban is a lens into this simmering conflict. While there is little doubt that eventually the borders will be overcome by the networks, states and their borders will remain with us for several decades. Those borders will likely need to be defended. Wars will erupt. Various policies like these bans will arise in different countries to try to re-secure the border, the meaning of a nation, and the power of the state. People, however, will continue to connect. Their allegiances will shift. The real crisis will occur as more and more people feel a stronger affinity and allegiance to their network than they do to the state. I consider the travel ban, whether it eventually succeeds or not, as the first in a long line of convulsions states will experience as they try to defend and re-assert their pre-eminence.