I've had fortune to travel across Armenia in the past months. There I realize there's something warm about how people interact with me that is different from my hometown in Toronto.

The feeling is as if they give you undivided attention even if you're not saying something interesting or anything.

First I blamed it on the western individual culture. But it's not only so. Because even Canadians in smaller village is much warmer and respectful towards you. The thing about Toronto comes down to the absence of community because of the sheer city size.

  • Toronto metropolitan: 6 million
  • Yerevan metropolitan: 1 million

In Scale, Geoffrey West proves that as the city size gets bigger the duration of phone call to your friends increase proportionately. His conclusion was: we, the city rats, are hyper social today.

But another way to look at it is the lack of community. Because we are not attuned to our surrounding neighbors, our trust and social networks have collapsed to those in the immediate surroundings: friends, family, and relationships.

Sir Paul Collier described in his book Future of Capitalism this simple equation.

"""Self-Esteem = Job + National Identity"""

That equation is true in terms of urbanized cities. But in a healthy established community, your esteem is naturally given by your neighbors where their attention is modern-day currencies.

Stripping away the community in a large metropolitan, we've naturally stripped away the self-esteem that used to be given.

Then, people who live in the city responded in 2 ways according to Collier's equation. Some went for meritocracy and the other went with the national pride.

Job in the form of Meritocracy

This meritocracy will be broken down into 2 ways. One is the traditional career approach. As you gain financial reward and gain respectable position, you are naturally rewarded with the attention necessary.  These people often live in the downtown center commanding respect from those who commute in from the far apart suburbs. Let's say this is the top 10% of income group.

And there's a second new category of people. This is a modern influencer movement. Harris Poll survey conducted in 2019 demonstrated YouTubers are the top career choice for children ahead of teaching or professional athletes. In other words, people are dying for popularity contest. That's another way to gain attention people seek to gain self-esteem today.

Journalists with a large distribution channel and significant influence are the winners of this popularity contests. And they too likely see themselves as the winner in this job category (however much they write about their own countries).

People who belong to this group naturally looks down on national identity.

National Identity

Roland Tormey from EPFL compulsory education contributes significantly to form our national identity. That is obvious where we teach children the unique history of the country. That fabricates a lot of communication issue towards your peer.

That notion aligns with our innate biological limitation (Dunbar's number) to keep up with only 150 people from our hunter gatherer backgrounds.

National identity is a way to voluntarily give up your esteem in rewards to your arbitrary peer group. In turn, that facilitates trust and smooth communication.

In coordinating unprescendented amount of people in the cities, you need to coordinate millions of people. We will inevitably feel lonely as well as social anxiety in the face of being surrounded by the strangers. National identity turns these chimps on the street into someone you may relate to.

In cosmopolitan cities with a large foreign immigrants will have weaked national identities. People will come with a variety of educational background. At the same time, if the theory of  compulsory education is correct, however, a large city with no high immigrant ratio such as Tokyo or Beijing, those urbanites seek out for national identity.

Journalists miss the point about laughing towards populism. They're on the popularity contest. That's why they don't understand this movement.

Identify Culture that Appeal to Both Groups

Healthy countries need to balance the 2 ratio carefully. You need a system that rewards hardworking and proper cycle. Concepts such as globalization, GDP, stock market, startup, science, immigration, female leadership, freedom of speech are the signs of meritocracy driven culture.

National identity is naturally anti globalism. It's about doing something different from others. It approaches to our innate desire to be unique from the rest of other tribes. Most contentious political issue such as American exceptionalism towards capital punishment, gun law, as well as abortion issue may be rooted in this response.

When Trump said EU is one of United States' biggest foe, that proposal raged meritocratic folks. And this attitude may hurt US in the long run in a tangible manner. But national identity is not about any material benefit. It's a display of uniqueness of your own group identity in relation to others.

What Happens If Neither Is Offered?

Each groups holds contempt to one another in newspapers. One constantly worries the other has upper hand in the society. In fact, the political parties often play out to emphasizes either productive enhancement or national identity.

When the other party wins, they cry the country is doomed. However in fact, either one of them is extremely difficult to pull off and require significant political leadership. In a corrupted society, neither is offered.

Let's walk through what happens when one side is missing.

It's easy to see what happens when there's no meritocracy. Public workers taking up taxes, corporations going bankrupt, unemployment rise, and economy declines (ie: Greek and Venezuela).

When you lack national identity, the society collapses to religious/race base tribalism. Political system will be exclusive. Favorism will become dominant methods to win power. Public sector bidding will not be transparent and given directly to a few personal relationships. Slowly oligarchs slowly form and only their immediate surroundings start to benefit. And the system will be set out so that only the family from the riches would stay in the dominant classes, leaving the rest of national potential talents behind (ie: Afghanistan and Lebanon).

Meritocracy alone will benefit certain corporations but it will run out of gas eventually because they won't set inclusive system in place to maximize their internal talents.

The truth is that most countries in the world lack both. They offer neither strong national identity or respect for meritocracy. That's where terrorism happens and villages stay poor for centuries. Those are the silent majorities that don't make it onto our news.

When you understand these 2 competing forces playing out in your country, that's a sign that the society is operating under the healthy leadership. They are both needed to move a large number of people in a society. You will look at the politics in a new face.

Last Word about the Community for Modern Urbanites

National identity is inevitably eroding in the 21st century. Airlines enabled us to fly across the world at $1000. The internet lets us communicate with someone from Indonesia 24 hours. Businesses are done globally more than ever.

Its implication for our existing political system and social welfare is still unknown.

But with this erosion, people who live in the cities are falling behind in the social anxiety. What is only left is never ending climb in this meritocracy ladder.

Here's my alternative. Find your own community.

What we can do individually who live in the cities is to supplement the loss iof national identity by finding your own pocket of community. Real community should have more profound impacts than the Facebook group.

It's the weekend getaway to trekking and mountains + alpha, where the alpha is establishing social network with the local community. Instead of just enjoying the nature, get involved with the local events. Find local artists of your favorites. Try out the local bars.

We'll maintain the healthy emotional comfort in balancing the two.