lee_smolin's picture
Physicist, Perimeter Institute; Author, Einstein's Unfinished Revolution
The Internationalization of the Third Culture

The internationalization of the third culture, by which I mean the growth of a class of people who do creative work of some kind (science, arts, media, business, technology, finance, fashion...) who live and work in a country other than their own, are married to such a person, or both. This is not a new situation, but what is new is the extent to which the combination of inexpensive air travel, telephone the Internet and computer technologies makes living and working outside of ones native country not only easy but increasingly attractive for a growing proportion of people in these professions. This is a natural consequence of the internationalization of these areas, which has made frequent international travel, and periods of studying and working abroad the norm rather than the exception. It is made possible by the ascendancy of English as a global language and the long period in which the developed world has been more or less at peace. With the end of the cold war, the growth of democracies in Latin America and the Far East and the unification of Europe there remain few significant political obstructions to the growth in size and influence of a denationalized community of people who work in exactly those areas which are most critical for shaping the human future.

This class of people shares not only a common language and a common set of tastes in food, clothing, coffee, furniture, housing, entertainment, etc, but are increasingly coming to share a common political outlook, which is far more international than those from the old literary cultures, based as they are each on a national language and history. It is perhaps too early to characterize this outlook, but it involves a mix of traditional social democratic and environmental concerns with an interest (or perhaps self-interest) in the links between creative work, international exchange of ideas and technologies and economic growth. Moreover, they share an interest in the conditions which make their lives possible, which are peace, stability, democracy and economic prosperity, and these are more important to them than the nationalist concerns of their native countries. It is not surprising that the daily experience of juggling different languages, identities and cultures gives these people a much more optimistic outlook concerning issues such as pluralism and multiculturalism than those from the literary cultures. Most of them feel an attachment and identification to their native culture, but they also feel alienated from the party politics and petty nationalisms of their home countries. When they move to a new country they do not immigrate in the traditional sense, rather they enter a denationalized zone in which their colleagues and neighbors come from an array of countries and the place where they happen to be is less important than the work they do.

How they and their children will resolve these different loyalties is far from clear. One can meet young people whose parents each speak a different language, who grew up in a third country, did a university education in a fourth, and now work in a fifth. What the political loyalties of such people will be is impossible to predict, but it seems not impossible that the growing concentrations of such people in the areas of work that most influence public taste and economic growth may catalyze the evolution of nation states into local governments and the invention of a global political system.