The Anywheres vs. the Somewheres

We have British intellectual-founder of think tanks, editor-David Goodhart, to thank for the distinction between “Anywheres” and “Somewheres,” the replacement for the more traditional left-right or class-based distinctions which were, until recently, used to describe democratic politics.

Anywheres “have portable, ‘achieved’ identities, based on educational and career success which makes them generally comfortable and confident with new places and people. . . . [They place] a much lower value on . . . faith, flag and family.”

Not so Somewheres. They “are more rooted and usually have ‘ascribed’ identities . . . based on group belonging and particular places . . . [Their] ambivalence about recent social trends . . . is shared by many in all social classes, especially the least mobile.” (Responsibility for the following applications of those classifications is entirely my own.)

Nowhere is this newer distinction more obvious than when we consider what, painting with a broad brush, I will call the Anywheres of Silicon Valley and most of the rest of the country. The SV Anywheres live and work in a world with no borders. Their world view is closer to the Anywheres in other countries than to the Somewheres that live between America’s coastal states. They likely have more “friends” in Asia and Europe than in Des Moines and Duluth. Their business activities are affected more by regulators in Brussels than those in Washington. It is the boys in Brussels who have been effective thorns in the sides of Microsoft, Intel, Google, and Facebook when it comes to mergers, privacy, business practices, and taxation. The future growth of the companies that house these Anywheres depends more on how they can work things out with Xi Jinping, president for life, than with Donald Trump, president-at most-for another half-dozen years.

In short, the Anywheres are über globalists, whose antipathy to boundaries on their work and reach extends to physical boundaries-borders.

On the other hand, Somewheres believe, as Goodhart puts it, that “national citizens should be first in the queue . . . They do not want to lose a sense that people like them set the tone in the kind of shops [they patronize] and the way of life.” This is in sharp contrast to “the insouciant response of the Anywhere-dominated political class” to mass immigration.

So we have Microsoft employees protesting the company’s $19.4 million contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for processing data and artificial intelligence capabilities. Most other Silicon Valley companies joined in the opposition to the “zero tolerance” immigration policy. Earlier, almost 100 companies, primarily from the tech industry, opposed the immigration ban that was depriving them of the highly skilled workers they needed. The irony is that several of the leading tech companies had formed a cartel to prevent them from competing for-“pirating”-each other’s workers, which depressed wages and therefore the incentive of American workers to train for these jobs.

Indeed, it is not only in America that Anywheres favor immigration on a scale that makes Somewheres feel like outsiders in their own countries. That position favoring such immigration was an important factor in the decision by a majority of British voters to withdraw from the European Union, and might just bring down the open-immigration German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

The Anywheres, in short, do not regard the needs of the nation in which their sumptuous homes and the schools that are turning out their super-achieving kids are located as paramount. Certainly not as compared with their own views as to their proper role in that nation. They are, in a sense, a super-state within the nation state.

Consider Googlers. Over 3,000 of the company’s 70,000 employees, including senior engineers, protested the company’s participation in a Pentagon program (Project Maven) described in the New York Times as using “artificial intelligence to interpret video imagery and could be used to improve targeting drone strikes.” “We should not be in the business of war,” the Googlers proclaimed, and asked that the company not “ever build warfare technology.” Never mind that China, which only recently told Secretary of Defense James Mattis that it has no intention of demilitarizing the islands it has built in the South China Sea, is investing heavily in artificial intelligence, or that drone strikes are an important anti-terrorism tool. Google will not renew its contract to participate in Project Maven. After all, this is a company founded on the principle “Don’t Be Evil,” and evil apparently includes increasing the effectiveness of drone strikes against America’s terrorist enemies. What does evil not include? China’s IT capability. Google recently opened a research center in China “dedicated to artificial intelligence” reports the New York Times. So Google’s Anywhere’s are concerned about the applications of their work for the U.S. government; but not with the uses to which China’s authoritarian government might put their work.

Then there is Apple. It has decided to modify its iconic iPhone in a way that will make it more difficult for law enforcement to open locked phones. Crime, of course, is a lesser concern in which Anywheres live than in communities home to Somewheres. That disinclination to cooperate with law enforcement is a continuation of Apple’s refusal to help unlock the phone of a terrorist couple that murdered 14 people in San Bernardino. The company even resisted a court order. Add Apple’s cooperation with China’s censors (the company derives annual revenues of about $50 billion, one-quarter of its total, from the People’s Republic) and its controversial definition of its tax obligations to the United States, and you have a virtual state-within-a-state. Which is the situation wherever Anywheres dominates the culture and policymaking, which they have succeeded in doing in recent decades, only now being threatened by what have come to be called “populist” movements.

Somewheres find it difficult to understand how Anywheres who benefit from the freedoms guaranteed to them can refuse to aid in the defense of those freedoms. Or cooperate with law enforcement agencies. Or the insensitivity of Anywheres to the costs of mass immigration. But of course, the Anywheres generally avoid these costs and reap only the benefits: immigration provides them with an abundant supply of relatively cheap household laborers, while the Somewheres bear the costs of the crowded schools and emergency rooms that the Anywheres can generally avoid.

Hence Brexit, Trump, and the populist movements in Europe.

Over 200 years ago Sir Walter Scott asked, “Breathes there the man with soul so dead who never to himself hath said, This is my own, my native land!” Unfortunately, the answer is “Yes there are. They can be found Anywhere.”

Note: I have sole responsibility for the applications herein of Goodhart’s insight.