The late great John Lennon sang, "Imagine there's no countries. It isn't hard to do ... imagine all the people sharing all the world." And it has come to pass ... or, at the very least, it is in process of coming to pass.
Allow me to explain how this realization hit me today.
I called home this morning to see how my daughter Shana is doing. She hurt her arm in an athletic contest, and not only did I speak with her, but I saw the swelling on her arm. She is on the other side of the planet.
And I ruminated on the concept of "home." Is my home Afghanistan, where I was born and now work, or is it California, where my house and family are?
The third revelation came as I read the fascinating book Connectograpy: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, by Parag Khanna, in which the author sees an irrepressible new world order emerging as virtual superhighways rapidly erase national borders. "Imagine there's no countries."
Almost 40 years ago, I fled my native Afghanistan for a new home in the United States. It was the aftermath of the Soviet invasion in the early 1980's, and I believed I would never go back. But I did return, taking a post as interpreter for the Coalition Forces in 2008 after the U.S. removed the Taliban.
The question that never leaves my mind: Did I leave home or come home? What does "home" really mean? Is it a structure, a city, a nation, a planet, or a mindset?
Via live Skype video, I am able talk to my family face-to-face and watch my wife preparing breakfast. I communicate with people anywhere in the world, people I don't know, who read my commentaries on the Huffington Post blog. I order almost any kind of product online from Amazon, which could be at my doorstep in a few days.
Does geography really matter anymore?
Geography was a determinate factor in the progress of humanity. Social scientists love to figure out why some nations achieve stability and economic prosperity, while others do not. Is it geography, ideology, culture or resources? Whatever the factors, geography has always been a central part of the discussion.
In a paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, William Easterly and Ross Levine find that favorable geography promotes good institutions, and good institutions promote development.
Why did Europeans thrive in North America and not Africa? Because of geography - specifically, because of germs. Where settler mortality was low (where geography and climate were conducive to good health), Europeans grew healthy institutions. Where settler mortality was high, they faltered. These good and bad institutions put down roots, and the result was the pattern of economic success and failure we have seen around the world for centuries. (These are the observations of historian and archeologist Ian Morris, in his article The Meaning of Geography Is Changing, Not Disappearing, published on the global intelligence website Stratfor.)
Khanna, in his book Connectograpy, sees a future shaped less by national borders than by global supply chains. The world's most "connected" powers and people will win.
"Borders are disappearing and megacities are connected through superhighways, tunnels and pipelines," he writes, concluding that this is leading to a shift from "us-them" mentalities toward a broader human "we."
"Supply chains thus diminish the incentives for conflict," Khanna writes. "The causes of war as we have known them since the creation of a Westphalian world are evaporating."
Imagine ... "nothing to kill or die for."
You can see it happening all around us. President Barack Obama opens pipelines to old enemy-states Cuba and Vietnam. Just days ago, Iran, India and Afghanistan signed a trilateral deal to establish a strategic transit and transport route connecting the three countries.
China's leader Xi Jinping has proposed a "One Belt, One Road" strategy that focuses on "connectivity and cooperation among countries, primarily between the People's Republic of China and the rest of Eurasia."
This ongoing shift toward a new world order based on connectivity should provide a blueprint for the U.S. and other industrialized nations to focus on infrastructures at home instead of military build-ups, and for historic rivals like India and Pakistan to switch from gun-pointing to deal-making.
Coming back to the question of whether I left home or came home: For me, home is no longer where I was born or where I live. It can anywhere I am, anywhere I sell my skills or products. As Jackie Lomax, a former associate of the Beatles, sang: "home is in my head."
Am I Afghan or American? I believe I could be both and could be neither. Why? I quote again from Khanna's book: "Imagine a world where people are loyal to cities and supply chains rather than nations, value credit cards and digital currencies over citizenship, and seek community in cyberspace rather than country. As John Arquilla, an expert on emerging patterns of warfare at the Naval Postgraduate School, has observed, such networks are now taking on nations the way nations took on empires."
The world is changing beyond our ability to stop it. We can be visionary and ride the inevitable wave, as John Lennon suggested, or build walls around ourselves.
"You may say I'm a dreamer / But I'm not the only one / I hope someday you'll join us / And the world will be as one."