The compulsion of comparison—an instinct too powerful for most social scientists to resist—proffers this analysis for your perusal.
And I will try to make that my last ridiculously nerdy statement. Try.
So. It starts with the Claremont Cash. A handy, somewhat contrived monetary system that, as the currency of a small but punch-packing group of local entities, competes with the dollar on the basis of collective clout.
Then, the integration-differentiation complex—pardon my math. I observe porous borders and impervious cultures. Same block, different pavement. You wield your visas with jubilation; a swirling hierarchy of hard-won admissions letters born of perseverance and paperwork that promise one for five and five for one. Yet upon entry there is an unanticipated friction. Subtle signs, very subtle. Distinctions, trademarks of indefinable nature and origin that underscore the difference between you, me, and zie. To say nothing of they. But of course we will.
Let me explain, for it is quite complex.
You have, if you please, autonomy of administration yet unity of policy amongst these states; harmonized laws help prevent arbitrage between the crafty denizens
of this utopia. It is a common market, ostensibly. Although naturally the occasional premature keg will roll across an unsecured border. Knowledge is not the only thing that percolates, excuse the pun.
In the same vein: the sops, to keep a restive and indignant populace content. Token jobs. Welfare and subsidies in red plastic cups, if you know what I mean. Tally ho. At least you know that the budget will always run a surplus here, I suppose. The other thing is of course that one must convey the impression of important radical activity; ergo the unions are placated, rigorous crusades waged against gluten, oh-so-unsafe Congolese cassava and/or yak meat from Urumqi, and wreaths laid on the altar of diversity.
And, but, yet, so, stereotypes proliferate—coaxed like grass from the desert dirt by lavish sprinkler systems of innuendo. It is an exercise in self-fulfillment: I am
German and my nation drives the union, therefore I must look down upon the little people; I am French and think Germany has a stick up its alimentary canal, therefore my chosen form of insurrection is a state of perennial orgy; I am Swedish and my mind is fixed on higher things, therefore I remain icy, remote and bizarre. And I am Dutch, therefore I must like weed, bicycles and sex museums. Haw. Minor squabbles. Healthy conflict. This is a beautiful, teetering ambivalence, is it not? Our capital is safe in a two-million-volume vault. We are an advanced, munificent, sophisticated civilization: just feel that liberal lifestyle, smell that ecofriendly compost, hear the many languages of Oldenborg, see our foreign aid and patronage transforming the global neighborhood. We are, as you see, in so many ways the microcosmic mirror-image of the most ambitious integration experiment between nations the world has ever known.
But who can deny that our cozy, overdeveloped little circle is, well, round? That dependence is not independence? That clamor is not melody? Who can guarantee that our way of life will truly be able to survive in its bubble, that our attempts to anchor ourselves against the currents and riptides of world around us will succeed?
We are the Old World. And the competition is closing in fast. We are small and sparse and ostensibly separate, our learning rooted in abstractions, our outlook in quaint traditions. We have ruled the roost for a long time. But here come the overpopulated behemoths, with their economies of scale and utilitarian fervor. Degree with just one year of night school! Learn how to program anything for just 50 bucks! Online lectures from marketing gurus and millionaire industrialists! Improve your office lingo! Do-It-Yourself! Methinks, having had a taste of both noodles and pasta, that we need to start worrying now.
Or at least to introspect. What next? Do we maintain the status quo? Do we unite as we never have before? Do we go our separate ways? Is our ambition individual or collective?
It is interesting to speculate. And also important. I may be committing the fallacy of composition here, but if there’s one thing a tiny liberal arts consortium can learn from a transnational union entering its era of doubt and decline, it is that every unique experiment has an uncanny precedent; a sister in a different dimension. Lego models can learn a lot from the mistakes of a concrete skyscraper.
Just something to keep in mind for an unknown future.