Move: an excerpt from Parag Khanna’s new book on the power of mobility
Chapter 1: Mobility is Destiny
Children of the 20th century know the adages “Geography is fate” and “Demography is fate”. The first implies that location and resources determine our fate, while the second suggests that population size and age structure are the most important factors. Together they tell us that we are stuck where we are – better hope it is a well populated and resource rich country. Should we continue to adhere to such determinism? Of course not. Geography is not fate. Geography is what we make of it.
In my 2016 book Connectography, I proposed a third axiom to explain the arc of global civilization: “Connectivity is fate”. Our vast infrastructure networks – a mechanical exoskeleton of railways, power grids, internet cables, etc. – enable the rapid movement of people, goods, services, capital, technology and ideas on a planetary scale. Connectivity and mobility are complementary, two sides of the same coin, and together they give birth to a fourth axiom that will define our future: mobility is destiny.
So what’s stopping us from using our connectivity to the fullest? The root of our collective inertia lies in boundaries – physical, legal and psychological. The political map of the world looks like it is mainly for contingent reasons: where ancient civilizations settled, where European empires conquered and divided, and where natural features separate populations. Borders are where they are because that’s where they have been.
But the Earth is ours, not America, Russia, Canada or China. The question is: can we discover a new cartographic pragmatism that brings political geography closer to today’s needs?
Management guru Peter Drucker warned that “the greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence itself but to act with the logic of yesterday.” We can no longer afford to be passive observers of the unfolding of human geography. Instead, we need to actively realign our geographies, moving people and technology to where they’re needed while keeping places habitable livable. This requires a change of epoch in the organization of world civilization, a strategy of collective resettlement for the world population. But if we get the right results, we will strengthen our chances of survival as a species, revitalize struggling economies, and forge a smarter map of humanity.
Mass migration is inevitable, and more necessary than ever. In the decades to come, entire overpopulated regions of the world could be abandoned, while some depopulated territories could massively gain in population and become new centers of civilization. If you are lucky enough to be in a place that you don’t have to migrate from, like Canada or Russia, then there is a good chance that migrants will come to you. To paraphrase Lenin: you may not be interested in migration, but migration is interested in you.
The world of tomorrow is not only full of mobile people, but it is defined by the mobility of everything. Everyone has a cell phone, which means communications, the Internet, medical consultations and finances are accessible everywhere; nobody goes to a “bank”. Work and study migrated online; the ranks of digital nomads have exploded. More and more people are living in mobile homes and other mobile homes. Even “fixed” investments have become fungible: we can 3D print buildings, set up factories and hospitals anywhere, generate electricity from solar or other renewable sources, and have it delivered to us. by drones all we need. As we evolve, the supply chain also evolves: labor and capital can perpetually move to new lands, generating new geographies of productivity. Mobility is the lens through which to look at our future civilization.
The concept of mobility mixes the material and the philosophical. This raises questions such as: Why are we moving and what do these changes say about our needs and wants? Then there are political and legal questions to explore: who is allowed to travel? What movement restrictions do we face and why? And finally, there are normative questions: where should people go? What is the optimal distribution of people in the world? Mobility is also an intangible and spiritual experience. Take a break and appreciate the fluidity with which our anatomy transports us. Moving stimulates creativity, the process of seeing lifestyles meet. Philosophers such as John Dewey have pondered the aesthetic of free movement both in nature and in society, eloquently claiming that such interaction permeated life with meaning. Walter Benjamin spent a decade reflecting on the significance of the glass arcades built in mid-19th-century Paris and the wandering strollers they invited. To move is to be free.
Are you ready to relocate? Is your well-being threatened by political and economic crises, technological disruption or climate change? Would circumstances be better for you and your family elsewhere? What prevents you from going there? Either way, you’ll have to get over it. For billions of people, perpetual mobility is becoming the norm. Movement can become an end in itself: we will not be content to move; we will always be on the move. But maybe as we move forward we will rediscover what it means to be human.