By Sage Smiley
As Valentine’s Day approaches, uncoupled young adults worldwide are afforded the tremendous pleasure of contemplating the upsides, but mostly the downsides, of their solitary state. Inevitably, some pop-culture, fashion-type magazine runs an article (ironically followed by an article with 22 great date ideas) praising the joys of the unaccompanied life. But the question remains: is it really all that great to be single?
Let’s consider the question in terms of global politics. Why would a single and ready to mingle country with great prospects hole up in its room with its proverbial Netflix and sadness-chocolate and deny itself the benefits of trade, treaties, and alliances?
Strange as it may sound, the United States has a long, proud history of advocating isolationism, dating all the way back to George Washington’s farewell address. In the address, Washington warned against long-term “foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues,” which he believed would destabilise our country and lead to unnecessary and even dangerous commitments.
Although time and time again the US has involved itself in the politics of other countries, we have often been reluctant to do so. There was great public opposition to the US involving itself in WWI. The US didn’t enter WWII until we were all but forced to do so by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. However, after WWII, our isolationist policy faded. We involved ourselves in Vietnam, Korea, the Bay of Pigs, and Panama, to name a few. For a while, US public opinion supported a worldwide campaign of “peace.” But ever since the Bush Administration’s gung-ho involvement in the Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan—and our subsequent less-than-stellar results in those countries—US public opinion has once again favored a more isolationist, hands-off approach. In fact, in 2013, the number of Americans who said that the US should “mind its own business internationally,” passed 50 percent for the first time in 50 years. This ideological trend has only been magnified in the election of our newest President; one of his greatest appeals on the campaign trail was his advocacy of an “America first” approach to global politics. Although President Trump intends “America first” to mean something along the lines of “we won’t put up with people ripping us off / taking our jobs / selling us out any more,” the beginnings of the “America first” movement are purely isolationist, dating back to the pre-WWII era.
As America heralds a new era of neo-isolationism under President Trump, many other countries are returning to semi-isolationism themselves. The UK’s recent “Brexit” referendum, the rise of National Front candidate Marine Le Pen in France, the growing AFD party support in Germany, and Austria’s close election between a right-wing Populist and left-wing Independent candidate all demonstrate a burgeoning wariness of outside influence and a lack of confidence in the current democratic power structures. Populism is regaining ground worldwide as countries scramble to regain global economic and political power by focusing policy and tax money primarily inward.
Many believe that the worldwide movement away from globalization has mainly economic motivations. With China being the great exception, many countries—including the US, the UK, France, and India—feel that their jobs are being stolen from them by outsiders. As the wealth gap has increased, countries have experienced a growing gulf between “the elites” (especially the governing elite) and the working class. On top of the natural shift of jobs in a globalized world to more competitive markets, a string of global mini-recessions has led to cutbacks on social programs, especially in the countries where the programs are already stretched thin by the addition of hundreds of thousands of refugees. This lessening of social programs and the economic strain created by refugees, combined with the recent streak of terror attacks, has led to an increased number of developed countries to look for a scapegoat; someone to blame. In many countries, including the UK, US, and potentially France, the distrust and blame for instability and economic hardship has fallen onto the outsider—refugees and the globalized system of labor—and on the failures of international systems to stop recent terror attacks. Thus, the rise of populism and neo-isolationist policy.
Although many countries are rediscovering their affinity for single life, in today’s world, it’s all but impossible. We are too globalized, too interconnected, and too easily able to influence each other’s’ currencies. We travel to each other’s countries and hack each other’s computers too often to completely dis-involve ourselves with the affairs of other countries. We simply can’t get away from relationships without shooting ourselves in the foot. Don’t believe me? Take a look at North Korea (DPRK); the closest example of a modern-day isolationist state. It doesn’t even allow other countries to build their embassies within its physical borders. North Korea’s attempted isolationism has left its economy in shambles and its people to starve in labor camps or in the streets. However, in addition to being semi-isolationist, the DPRK is also a totalitarian dictatorship and a human rights violator with no parallel in the contemporary world..North Korea remains politically relevant because Kim Jong-Un retains nuclear capabilities and threatens to use those weapons on the developing world from time to time. The existence of the DPRK proves that countries simply cannot compete in a global economy and global political sphere when they try to remain self-contained. If we look to North Korea as the archetypal “single country,” it’s clear that being single is not, in fact, better.
So what does this all mean? The world is teetering, as it did at the eve of World War II, on the edge of a wave of populism, nationalism, and neo-isolationism. Global recessions and an uptick in terror attacks have motivated many countries to turn to leaders who throw around flowery promises of returning golden ages and eras of greatness. But what we’re forgetting is that in terms of global politics, singleness, despite its appeals, is a negative condition. We might feel more protected if promised the comfort of our own, walled-off borders; our own, American-made chocolate; and our own, USA-manufactured blanket to cuddle in, but in reality a re-implementation of isolationist policy will hurt us—and the world—in the long run. In reality, life is safer, better, and more enjoyable when you get out and mingle.
Latest posts by Sage Smiley (see all)
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- Is Pulling Out of Syria an Effective Strategy? - February 14, 2019
- Syria’s Idlib Gets a Break? (Alternately: what to do when you’re entrenched in a proxy war and also have been bussing all your enemies plus a bunch of innocent bystanders to one city for the past few years) - October 5, 2018
- Letter from the Editor: April 2018 - April 9, 2018