November 2, 2006

The Internet and satellite television mean that "metaethnic frontiers" are everywhere

When new high-speed printing presses became available in the 1890s, the cost of a New York City newspaper fell from a nickel to a penny, vastly increasing readership. Press barons Pulitzer and Hearst, looking for some controversy to keep readers excited enough to keep plunking down their pennies day after day, seized upon Spain's brutal repression of the rebellion in its colony of Cuba.

Previously, Americans hadn't given a damn about the welfare of Cubans, seeing them as foreigners, and hadn't paid much attention to Spain, seeing it as colorful but over-the-hill European minor power. The urbane, well-informed readers who had previously paid a nickel for newspapers had realized that the world is a large place, with many instances of cruelty here and there. But the new readers of newspapers were horrified to discover that Bad Things Were Happening.

In effect, this media technology innovation allowed entrepreneurs to quickly (if briefly) redefine Cubans as Our Fellow New Worlders Suffering at the Hands of the Cruel and Corrupt Old World.

And soon we were at war with Spain.

To adapt biologist Peter Turchin's high-falutin' terminology, Pulitzer and Hearst were able to concoct a new "metaethnic frontier," one with Cubans and Americans on this side of it and Spaniards on the other.

Now, Turchin concentrates on how physical ethnic frontiers between traditional agrarian societies, such as between the Spaniards and the Moors or between North Vietnam and China, led to the creation of unified warrior states on the frontiers. (To withstand China's might, northern Vietnamese developed a bellicose sense of national unity, while southern Vietnamese, far from China, did not, as the U.S. discovered to its misfortune in the 1960s.)

In the pre-industrial world, since the dawn of agriculture, if your population was growing faster than your food output per acre, your calories per capita would decline, unless you conquered more acres. So, wars over lebensraum were common. Big states tended to coalesce near major ethnic borders since having a common enemy would cause people of only modest ethnic differences to overlook their dissimilarities in the interests of beating the much more different folks on the other side of the frontier.

Fortunately, in the industrial world, wars to add farm land don't make much sense. (Unfortunately, Hitler didn't get the memo.)

But in the modern world, an ethnic frontier can be created in newspaper readers' heads. (This could be done before modern media, too, most notably in the Crusades, but everybody recognizes the Crusades were extraordinary.)

And in the postmodern world of the Internet, Al-Jazeera, and FoxNews, it's hard to get the various ethnic frontiers out of your head.

The peculiarly agitated feel of this decade has a lot to do with the new information technologies. There have always been people doing things that would intensely annoy other people, but, mostly, those annoying people have been far off over the horizon and the potentially annoyed only heard about the terrible things they were up to in vague terms. But now bloggers like Little Green Footballs scan the world for us finding examples of the awfulness of people on the other side of the world. And now we can turn on the TV 24 hours per day and see those bastards doing the intolerable things they do ,and laughing at us while they do them.

And it drives us crazy.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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