Friday, April 28, 2017

Passionate Rant Against Nationalism

I hate nationalism. I feel that anyone paying attention to twentieth century history must conclude that, as I once wrote,
Nationalism is always a noble-seeming mask for xenophobia. Show me someone who loves "Us", and I'll show you someone who hates "Them".
It's time to recognize that nationalism is a noble-seeming veneer we stick over our shamefully lingering tribal instincts. Nationalism is the driving force of most large-scale human violence. It is among the most dangerous of the deep, primal strings we must resist plucking. Yet there's something about it that makes people feel supremely righteous. We desperately need to stamp that out.

The bad behavior often ascribed to religious zealotry, for example, always stems from patently obvious tribalism/nationalism. Any sort of group affiliation can trigger the impulse. The banner doesn't matter; any will do. So we need to stop looking at the surface of things, and recognize the deeper tribal pattern. If you watch for it, it soon becomes almost corny.

I've been devoting myself to trying to deprogram nationalists. I'll recount two recent discussions with otherwise reasonable people from places where nationalism flares (both of which seemed to have actually had some effect):

A Turkish Waitress from Izmir:

Her: We are more cultured than the rest of our country. More educated, more modern. We can't relate to the others. It's time to separate!

Me: When I go to Texas, or Mississippi, or North Dakota, it's like another universe. I can't relate to the values, beliefs, or lifestyles of the people there, and lord knows they can't relate to mine as a New Yorker. But it wouldn't occur to me that we should be different countries!

I can't relate to my sisters, either, but we (more or less) agree to exist within the arbitrary, random framework of Family. Siblings don't need to share values or interests. One simply accepts the granfaloon (every human grouping is a granfalloon!) and goes about one's life in a world where someone who looks like you and lives next door might be unrelatable, whereas someone halfway across the world, who speaks a language you can't understand, might be a kindred spirit. There are cascading scales of identification, and it's all quite fluid. We can weave our own affiliations.

Those of us who fully embrace this all-leveling, world-shrinking digital age understand this, innately*. Why not identify with a nation of the spirit; with people who share our values? That's the new, positive, evolved way to go. The trope of making a big deal over geographic border-drawing - over what you call the groupings - and buying into the "loving my people" bullshit, which always entails disdaining the Other (I like the Other! I'm xenophilic!) is an old, musty, stupid pattern. So, so corny. And dangerous!

* - I was in Bogota recently, and the folks typing on laptops in cafes there were absolutely sophisticated and "modern"; indistinguishable in most important ways from my cohorts doing likewise in Brooklyn. I could have long conversations with any of them; we enjoy enormous shared knowledge and outlook. Their parents, however, are half their size and wear, like, blankets. The world is filling with first-generation immigrants to modernity, and we share an evolved sense of kinship. Travel a bit and you'll see...the Internet has changed everything (don't get me wrong, though....these people were all culturally Colombian for sure, just as I'm culturally a New Yorker....but my point is that that's just one affiliation!).

A Catalan musician:

Him: I'm not a totally crazed nationalist, like some people I know. Though I have to admit, deep down, I do feel a strong drive of that. I can't explain it rationally, but something about it just feels right to me.

Me: Let me tell you about a deep drive. You see that woman over there? (I gesture across the bar to an attractive female). I'd like to walk over there, throw her to the floor, rip all her clothes off, and fuck her senseless. This is not a drive, however, that I choose to indulge. Responsible people learn to disregard their drives, even if they might "feel right" at some dark, primal level.

For the ultimate parable of the ridiculousness of nationalistic fine-slicing (which never ends well; in-groups always shrink, and out-groups always grow), consider the Valencians. See the italicized footnote here. I love Valencia, by the way. I deem them completely out of their skulls from a position of utmost love and respect.

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