Most of us are busy just living the dream.
Whether we’re expats or locals, American, British, Arab, Asian, gay, straight, black or white, we’re hustling to make a living. We’re raising children.
We’re trying to get ahead.
So, we might not be paying full attention. But at Dispatches, we are … and it’s getting scary. Literally.
While Dispatches celebrates global opportunities and freedom of movement for all people, there’s an emerging counter-movement that is all about fear and hatred.
The attack of the trolls
Because Dispatches advocates for the global mobility of talent, we’re increasingly a target of trolls, and I’m confident many of them are sitting in some Macedonian village, funded by the Russian propaganda machine.
When Britain voted to leave the European Union in June, 2016, Nina Avramovic-Trninic wrote “Dear Brits,” an incredibly prescient post about what it’s like to be a non-EU citizen … and what Brits are in for post-Brexit. Nina attracted the wrath of dozens and dozens of venomous Brexiteers and Russian trolls.
Beth Hoke just wrote a gentle and wistful post, “With each closed border, the world gets a little smaller … and sadder,” urging us all to get out and travel before freedom of movement becomes a memory.
On our Facebook page, she was attacked by trolls notably angrier as well as more overtly racist, anti-immigrant and antisemitic than those who commented on “Dear Brits” back in 2016.
There are a lot of clues these aren’t ordinary readers simply taking issue with globalism or industrial-scale tourism. For one, they’re not regular Dispatches readers and they seem to have hours to dedicate to endless angry missives. For another, their Facebook profiles are often thin, lacking photos or regular posts.
What cinches it in my opinion is many of the trolls use a weirdly similar lexicon no matter where they claim to live.
Diego Mendoza – supposedly a Guatemalan living in Prague – used the term “cucks” while commenting on Beth’s post – uniquely the jargon of America’s AltRight who hang out on 4chan’s White Supremacists boards and the Daily Stormer, an American neo-Nazi website.
Others, such as Vladmir Danilla from Romania, seemed authentic, complaining about what he perceives as ethnic double-standards.
“Asians” who “have no respect for local culture and values, wreak havoc in their neighborhoods and cannot be criticized because it’s ‘racist,’ ” he wrote.
“If the Asians were criticized in the British press as the Romanians are, everybody would scream ‘racism ‘ at the top of their lungs.” “Asians,” by the way, is code (wink, wink) for people from the Middle East, not Asia, Vladmir told us.
Then there is Peter Mills from Allington, Kent outside London who railed about the halcyon days borders “when millions traveled all over the world with no terrorists and bombs ….”
Peter, news flash: I was in Europe in the 1980s when there were borders … and regular bloody attacks all over Europe by the Baader-Meinhof Gang, Black September and the IRA.
What Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen will never tell you is, Europe in 2017 is much more peaceful and prosperous today with the EU, open borders and free trade than it was in 1985.
I’m with Beth: Let’s savor it while it lasts. But it won’t.
Fear of technology. Fear of foreigners. Fear of The Unknown.
If we’ve learned anything from history, people who are afraid and angry are easily led. Economic turmoil was the spark that has set off each historic upheaval from the French Revolution to the rise of the Nazis to the current reemergence of Tribalism.
In a way, the rise of Donald Trump in the United States and Brexit in the United Kingdom started with the Great Recession. Which is over, right? Well, I have some bad news … things are going to get worse.
Though the world is firmly in recovery, there’s a new existential threat to almost everyone’s earning power – technology unleashed and out of control.
Once upon a time, you could know very little yet make a reasonable living working in a factory, driving a truck or selling shoes. Those days are over. Let me give you a tangible example of what’s coming.
Here in Eindhoven, the smartest people in the world – physicists and engineers – make the equipment that makes the digital age possible. And their skills are about to go obsolete as technology advances beyond microcircuits on silicon chips.
The new new thing is quantum computing, using light rather than electrons as the fundamental mechanism that makes your computer compute or your autonomous car self-driving.
If the smartest people in the world are about to be redundant, what’s that mean for the vast majority of people who don’t have 21st century skills?
The Good Old Days … that never existed
It’s not surprising that a lot of people are longing for the Good Old Days when they felt like they understood where they fit into a local economy and a local society. It all made sense. Now, there are no sure things.
Well, there’s one certainty: Globalism is a fact and irreversible if for no other reason than there’s not enough talent to go ’round. Which will further divide the world into haves and have-nots.
The millions of refugees who’ve poured into Europe since 2015 have stressed countries such as Hungary, Greece, Austria, Sweden and Germany, no question. But aging populations and diminishing workforces across the continent will elevate many of those educated Syrian and Iraqi arrivals into well-paying jobs and speed assimilation.
Countries can opt out, build walls and shut themselves off like the UK post-Brexit and the U.S. under Trump.
But they’ll quickly be replaced in the global financial ecosystem by competitors where leaders know free trade and freedom of movement are essential to progress and affluence … and that global competition makes economies stronger, not weaker.
Though the “certainties” we all believed in might prove ultimately illusory, we can take comfort in knowing one thing: Those atavists and nihilists enjoying their moment won’t endure.
Come what may, the trend line for 6,000 years of civilization has been always been toward progress … and toward the world becoming more united.
There is no going back.
Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.