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Monday, September 2, 2013

Op-ed: "Experience" not necessary for GUM leadership

With the election for Chair of the Grand Unified Micronational approaching, opinion pieces endorsing candidates have begun to appear and the election is gradually migrating to the center of community attention and discussion. A significant amount of the commentary thus far has relied (at least partially) on the hackneyed appeal to “experience”. The appeal to experience is not yet cemented as the primary concern of the community in this election, and so I hope to dislodge it from the dialogue with this article. In this article I hope to demonstrate why experience is not relevant to the coming GUM election and serves merely to distract from more important qualities.

It is undeniable that experience -- if defined as “an understanding of micronational politics and the lessons of the community’s history, attained by participating in micronationalism for a significant amount of time” -- is useful to some extent. However, experience is not usually defined this way; rather, its definition is more vague and shifts periodically, granting privilege to community veterans. (This is not, by the way, an anti-”elite” screed; I believe that this use of the word “experience” is a result of an endemic use of vague and thoughtless wording rather than a conspiracy to suppress younger members of the community.) This use of the word causes us to forget that an increase in one’s amount of time in the community increases one’s experience only up to a point; the law of diminishing returns must apply. As applied to the choice between Ciprian and M. Kennedy -- what is there that takes three years to experience, and for which one year is not enough?

The answer, I think, is very little -- especially given that the history of the community and its conflicts is readily accessible to a new micronationalist, both on MicroWiki and through conversations with more experienced micronationalists.

Further regarding the definition of “experience”, it is important to note that the word is often used in reference to the past emergence of a cadre of micronationalists who called for the overthrow of the “influential elites”. These micronationalists were justly considered to be mistaken, and their “revolutionary” aims were justly rejected. Many of these micronationalists were also considered, again justly, to be immature, and many of them were very new to the community. However, the fallacious connection was then made that these micronationalists took to these mistaken revolutionary ideas because they were new to the community. This revolutionary group has since faded, and the present group of new micronationalists (including M. Kennedy) disprove this idea, but few micronationalists seem to realise this; thus we are left with a notion of experience that is not only fallacious but also outdated.

Returning to the law of diminishing returns and the accessibility of the community’s history to new micronationalists, there are other things that reduce the importance of experience for micronational leadership. For one, advisors are always available. There is no reason for an experienced micronationalist to be any less effective in contributing their experience as an advisor than as a leader, and there is no reason that a less experienced micronationalist cannot compensate by appointing more experienced micronationalists as advisors.

Further, reason and common sense seem to be more useful than experience in navigating diplomatic conflicts. Consider three examples: the December 2012 GUM expulsions, the Nemkhav Stability Mission in Zealandia, and the 2013 Freedomia conflict. The solution to the expulsion crisis was obvious -- it is patently unacceptable for a GUM Chair to expel member states simply because he perceives them to be political opponents. It was not necessary to be a longtime community member in order to recognise this; an ability to write a good press statement may have been helpful, but not essential. With regards to the Nemkhav Stability Mission, many years’ micronational experience was not needed to set up a BallotBin account or to persuade an obstinate head of state to adopt democratic reforms. (Two of the community’s most experienced micronationalists -- Marka Mejakhansk and Alex Whitmarsh -- were unable to accomplish this latter objective.) In mediating the Freedomian crisis, experience in psychiatry would have been very useful, but again, experience was irrelevant. (The primary negotiators, in fact, were all from younger nations.)

I have concluded my general argument about experience with a discussion of diplomacy, but my argument about the specific upcoming GUM election does not center on diplomacy at all. And, perhaps, the reader is unconvinced by my general argument about experience. Therefore, I will shift the topic to a discussion of the relevancy of the GUM.

The community’s new nations were mostly established within the past year (the W├╝rtige Empire emerged from the CSP just one year ago, Ashukovo was established in the early months of 2013, etc). The generational shift in which these nations became a critical subset of the community has taken place during the recent period of GUM inactivity. These nations have adapted, conducting diplomacy and forging cultural ties outside the auspices of the GUM. The GUM is a thoroughly irrelevant organisation to them; this is also true of the nations migrating from the Wikia community. Therefore, the necessity of increasing activity and recruiting new nations is far more important than the remote possibility of a diplomatic crisis in which the GUM could impose itself. Outreach to the new nations will depend on a leader with close ties to those nations; such a candidate probably will not have a long-standing community presence, and thus the GUM should be willing to sacrifice experience in order to maintain relevance.

The community’s old guard certainly continues to hold the same cultural value as always, and most of those nations also remain somewhat politically active. I certainly do not attempt to make the ludicrous argument that nations such as Sandus and Juclandia are irrelevant to today’s MicroWiki. Rather, I argue that a focus on experience and matters which are perceived to depend on experience (such as diplomatic crises) represents a failure to acknowledge the importance of the new nations in sustaining the community’s activity and cultural output. The GUM must take steps immediately to tie itself to this group of new nations or risk continued irrelevancy and possibly a second collapse. In dealing with this issue, strong ties to the new nations will be essential -- and experience will not be a necessary asset.

Update: After publishing this article, I realised that a few things need to be clarified. First of all, this article is not an endorsement of Joseph Kennedy for Chair of the GUM. I am skeptical of both candidates, and will withhold judgment until more detailed platforms, plans, etc. are released. Second, this article is not meant to sing the praises of young micronations. I realise that many of these micronations are unprofessional and could benefit from mentorship. My point is that, with a wave of new nations coinciding with inactivity among the older nations, the community will trend toward these new nations, and thus it would behoove the GUM to strengthen its ties to these nations. I will have to elaborate upon this point in a future article. Third, I do not believe that the community has reached a permanent peace; rather, I believe that the issue of increasing the GUM's relevance to a changing community is more important than focusing on hypothetical internal diplomatic disputes.