I’ve been posting this week from Stockholm, Sweden, where I’ve been attending a fascinating conference on Social Citizenship, Migration and Conflict. The issues involved are important, and once I’ve absorbed the papers being presented, I’ll undoubtedly blog about what I’m learning and what the research tells us, but this post is based on my own perceptions and very unscientific anecdotes.
First, a caveat: the last time I visited Stockholm was some 20 years ago, and it was a very “touristy” visit. This time, I’m out of the city center, in a neighborhood next to the University of Stockholm, which is hosting the conference, so much more likely to see “real life” Swedes going about their business.
The most immediate impression: the people I see on the streets, in the (incredibly clean, convenient and efficient) subway, and on campus are absolutely indistinguishable from crowds in any sizable American city. They include the (mostly young) people on scooters just like the ones we have in Indianapolis, and the numerous people who are wearing jeans and/or headphones, or are fixated on their smartphones.
There are ATMs everywhere, terrible traffic, lots of advertising….
And there appears to be enormous diversity. Walking back to my hotel from the subway station I passed several Asians, a man I would call African-American at home (I guess he’s African-Swedish), two inter-racial couples, and several typically Nordic-looking folks speaking a variety of languages, including British and American English.
It was the same on the planes I flew getting here; passengers and crew alike represented a wide variety of nationalities. On KLM–Royal Dutch Airlines–the pilot introduced the flight attendants, who were male and female, black and white and (like Ms. Rodriguez) Latino.
The hysterical right-wingers mounting a last-ditch effort to defeat globalization and cosmopolitanism are too late. Middle-class folks, at least those from first-world countries, have become used to casually crossing borders, adopting each others’ cuisines and fashions, and working together on everything from construction projects to scholarly research. The two block stretch from my hotel to the subway station hosts a French cafe, a sushi restaurant, a gelato shop, and an establishment touting German beer.
There are still plenty of places on this planet that Americans would experience as exotic, but increasingly–at least in the west–large cities and their polyglot populations look pretty much like the places we call home. In a way, that’s regrettable–on my taxi drive from the airport, we passed McDonalds, Starbucks, a Ford showroom and numerous other establishments that mirror those dotting the American landscape. Although we also passed buildings that are architecturally recognizable as Swedish, there are a lot more that look pretty much like the buildings back home. Admittedly, this sort of homogenization deprives us of encounters with formerly unique–or at least different– cultures, and that is a loss.
Offsetting that loss is the immense increase in interaction and the resulting recognition that we are all members of one human family.
The process of globalization and integration is inexorable. It is no longer in its infancy–it’s probably at least at the toddler stage. It clearly has a long way to go, but my sense is that it is just too far along to be reversed. Too many people have seen enough of the world to be inoculated against tribalism– the notion (fear?) that there is something alien and dangerous about humans from other places, who speak other languages, or have different skin colors.
Too many people recognize the truth: White Nationalism barely elected Donald Trump and narrowly authorized Brexit, but those “victories” were among the last gasps of a dying world order.
It won’t be missed.