I’ve been interested in transnational entities since I delved into multinational corporations for a course in social ethics during seminary. I’ve observed multinational corporations claim their US heritage, manufacture those “American” products in Asian nations, trot out the “Buy American” label in the United States, and then shelter their profits in any of a number of other nations where these corporations maintain headquarters. So much for stimulating a national economy!
Other groups that move beyond the sovereignty of nations also interest me. Beyond multinational businesses, two categories come most immediately to mind: terrorist groups and businesses or organizations that exist solely on the Web. These three categories contain organizations that shift shapes far more effectively than any sci-fi shape-shifter.
Given that background, I read The Circle, by Dave Eggers, a novel that offers a compelling vision of the future. Imagine a Web in which all transactions—interpersonal, financial, marketing surveys, promotional efforts for the greater good of humanity, political processes such as voting and Congressional hearings—were offered in a seamless way tailored to the profile of each individual and in such a way that each user’s true identity were known. Users would receive feedback on all transactions, going perhaps only a step beyond the current feedback on Facebook and eBay and Amazon. In that future Web, no one would use multiple pseudonyms or disguises. We would know one another, and such knowledge would help us hold one another and society accountable.
An incredible premise for the next version of Utopia—a seamless social system! Eggers’ novel moves forward at a delightful pace toward the anticipated and inevitable collision of values and world-views. Every utopia moves toward its own peculiar form of dystopia. If Eggers ever wanted a subtitle for the book, I’d adapt the title of a Mark Twain classic and suggest consideration for An Innocent Abroad.
Read The Circle. I think Eggers offers insights into social structure and individual freedoms, and the book further contains some cautionary wisdom.
But this is not a book review; rather, I offer random musings about some aspects of daily life that pull us, sometimes transparently and innocently, beyond our understanding of citizenship in a particular nation. What’s next for our understanding of nation? How do we think about citizenship in this new era? I’m aware that such rhetorical questions invite a cacophony of sardonic responses. I invite you to envision a world in which we strive for a common good. Articulate those purposes and structure your life toward that vision.