Monday, May 05, 2008

Nationalism

On April 25 was ANZAC Day, which is a much bigger deal in Australia than in New Zealand. Over here the day is a public holiday, equal in status to Christmas Day or Good Friday, with basically everything being closed. In NZ, after 12 o'clock, there are ANZAC Day sales and everything goes its usual merry commercial way.

It was a bit of a surprise, this ANZAC Day thing in Australia. Not surprisingly then tofind, that Australia ranks pretty high in the 'Patriotism' list worldwide. Patriotism is Nationalism's near-identical twin, and most people won't even distinguish between the two. The main difference is that Fatherland-dom—or Mother-land-dom—which is what Patriotism emphasizes, has to do with being born in some place, while Nationalism is 'adoptable', if you will. Like I could become either and Australian or New Zealand 'Nationalist' if I were so disposed, seeing that I am a naturalized citizen of both countries.

My gut reaction to Nationalism has always been derisive. As a native German, that's understandable, and for someone of a libertarian disposition, that's maybe even more understandable. And, let's face it, there are versions of patriotism/nationalism that make me shudder. Mindless flag-waving, with patria or 'nation' assuming the status of deity, is troubling; though not more so than, say, common-garden religion. Or any ideology for that matter.

But Patriotism can also be rational and based on open-eyed personal decision making that has nothing to do with flag-waving or jingoism.

How is that possible? Well, you can start with the simple insight that Cosmopolitanism, the notion that all of humanity is effectively a single community that should be united in thought, belief and action, is a canard. I know it sounds nice and utopian, but, let's face it, if it were ever come to be it would have some extremely unpleasant implications, social, philosophical and possibly evolutionary. Moral Universalism is possibly the worst of these.

Fortunately, I suspect that it won't come to be, because it's also impossible to implement because of its intrinsic absurdity and misalignment with human nature.

If Cosmopolitanism is bullshit—which it is—then one has to make some serious decisions. One of these has to do with choosing, if one is given the choice and most people aren't, which of the nations that cover human space are likely to be the most suitable and promising for providing a 'future' for oneself and one's own, family and friends alike. A place as safe as 'safe' can ever be. A context to raise a family and have a notion that your kids do have a future; that they are protected, as 'protected' they can be; that their environment isn't going to be a toxic waste dump, as many environments are; that when the shit hits the fan, as it will, this is the best place to be; and so on.

Escape to the Fringe isn't really an option anymore. There is no deserted off-the-map place on Earth one can flee to and hope to survive for any medium or long term. 'Civilization' is a fact of our existence, and so let's make the best of it, and learn to live with its sometimes grim attributes; because it also has a lot of good things to offer. Very good things.

And so, the question is only: which part of civilization, which locality, which nation, is worth living in and, if necessary, fighting for? Which is worth defending, because, shitty as it may be, it's your best hope to take care of you and yours?

This leads to something that may be called 'Rational Nationalism'. It isn't about love of 'country', but of love for those you love and care for and the environment will provide them with the best assurance of a future. And from it may even grow an affection for that country or nation, because it provides those things for you and yours. Just like you might develop affection for, say, a house, which, though inanimate and a mere 'object', has provided your family with shelter and safety against the tempests and the heat and the cold.

And, just as you would defend—or at least one might hope you would!—your house, imperfect as it is, against those who intend to destroy it, be they tempest, termites or people, so one might reasonably expect that you'd defend the 'Nation'. Or that you would give it a 'loyalty' in return for the protection it affords to you and yours. That seems like a simple tit-for-tat thing; an instance of the Law of Cosmic Equipoise in action.

Such loyalty doesn't have to be blind. It can acknowledge the flaws and prompt one to strive to improve the 'Nation', to make it more liveable and like what you think it ought to be. But in case of doubt you have to be able to say "On this side I stand. This side, no matter how imperfect, I stand by."

Basically then, this kind of Nationalism becomes a matter of revelation of character, because it is based on personal decisions and choices; all of which really are 'character'-revealed. And it occurs to me that the kind of Nationalism I'm talking about could do with being promoted more, because ultimately it is more solidly grounded than the mindless flag-waving kind. For flag-wavers are fickle. Give them another flag and tweak their emotions here and there and push this button and that, and they'll wave that other flag with just as much, or even more fervour than the one they're now trampling upon. They'll be Catholics as readily as Socialists, Crusaders as readily as Greenies; just push the right buttons. They may appear solid and unwavering, but in the end they're easily manipulated by anybody with the right mind-tweaking tools—and there's lots of those, from 'state' to 'media' to 'church' to 'environmentalists' to...ahh, you get the idea.

'Rational Nationalism'. A notion I'd like more people to think about, and ponder it; and discard their knee-jerk reaction—like my former ones—and think about it some more; and maybe understand that there can be such a thing and that, as the world is going and for those who actually have a choice, it may be a sensible attitude to adopt.

1 comment:

Haszari said...

Me commenting on the first sentence as per usual...

Maybe it's more a NSW thing but the pubs were definitely open and that was a huge part of the deal, including playing two-up, a form of gambling (of course!!) that apparently the ANZACs were into.

[cue drunk cheers]