Another natural number?

April 1, 2007

Last December I blogged on the natural numbers of 5,15 & 150 along with some of the implications in subsequent posts. All represent limits: 5 of memory, 15 of trust and 150 of acquaintances. I have also thought for some time that there may be a fourth, namely 5 million which represents the natural size to which a community can grow without loosing social cohesion. As evidence for this I have pointed to the social policies and cultural identity of small nations (most of Scandianavia, New Zealand, Singapore) and of former nations (Wales, Scotland, Catalonia etc). We have evidence of this today with Wales (now we have some independence for the first time since 1282) making medicine free to its citizens at the same time as the fee goes up in England. (I realise that for US readers all of this may be a shock, not to mention the Canadian drug industry which relies on cross border sales). With the polls increasingly indicating that Scotland may vote a nationalist party into power for the first time life becomes interesting. We had similar differences emerging over student fees.

Of course it is not just the celts. I was in the East Riding of Yorkshire last week and no one will ever persuade me that Yorkshire is other than a distinct cultural identity, let alone its northern neigbour which has maintained am ambivalent position between the English and Scottish nations over the years. Tribal, collectivist cultures (such as Wales and Scotland) in contrast with atomistic cultures (England and the US) tend to see education and health as a community not an individual responsibility. Devolving government allows those differences to emerge. With Europe as a whole offering the possibility of a wider platform for economic, foreign and military policy maybe it is time to ask what is the future for the nation state in Europe? Catalonia and the Basques both cross the Pyrenees, sharing a culture within the two nations of Spain and France. Maybe in a connected world, Balkanisation should not longer be a signifier of instability, but of stability?

… and in case anyone thinks that this is an April Fool’s joke, no it isn’t. Those of us who share a birthday with All Fools tend to take it more seriously. That said my two favourates of all time were the Spaghetti Harvest and Sans Serif. Both are referenced here along with others and some great comments.

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