The illustrious Dr Johnson once uttered the words “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. While it is true that the context of the whole conversation was never recorded so the meaning of Dr Johnson’s quote is uncertain, we can take him at his word which is what I fully intend to do in this weeks update. I intend in the coming paragraphs to show why I have struggled in the past to buy into nationalism and further, to argue that we might all be better served if we gave up on nationalism in favour of the far more sound ideal of rationalism.
I’m not sure at what point in my life I realised I was deeply troubled with the idea of buying into a nation and giving said concept my unwavering support. I admit to having attended international sporting events or to watching them on TV in the past and feeling a shiver of the spine as a result of hearing my countries national anthem sung although reflecting on this I fear the spine tingling may have been more the result of hearing in excess of 60,000 people singing the same song which is an inherently powerful experience. The clue here was probably that the anthem is sung in a language I cannot speak or understand rendering the idea that I felt some connection with the lyrics nonsensical, and on further reflection I also imagine the subconscious effect of feeling the need to conform to the crowd behaviours has a tremendous impact. Besides sporting events I don’t ever really recall feeling much towards my nation, I never enjoyed dressing up like a twat to celebrate my countries patron saints day, for anyone who thinks im exaggerating on that front, see below ….
I also never remember feeling any great love for the history of my nation, everywhere else on earth seemed more interesting and less mundane frankly. All of the above being true, I do not remember at which point I decided I felt contempt for the farcical notion of national pride as opposed to the general uncertainty about the idea of a nation and feeling love for it that marked my childhood. I think perhaps the crux of this issue of mine revolves around my becoming aware of politics and realising that a lot of the people I lived around were firstly, just short of mollusc in the brain department and more importantly not a bunch of people that I planned to cling to in times of crisis or otherwise. It probably won’t come as any great surprise that the way in which I came to realise that I did not identify myself with the same notion of nationality as my peers was through hearing their constant boasting about the characteristics of their proud nation while concomitantly denigrating every other nationality on earth as lesser than their own. Considering the amount of times I heard someone accuse the entire Polish nation of being job thieves and petty criminals or heard another moron slander the entire “muslim” nation as terrorists I’m constantly in a state of shock that I ever left my ears attached to my head. Evidently the more time waxing about the greatness of ones own nation the less time spent realising that history is very rarely as compartmentalised as the most ardent nationalists would have us believe.
I think my main bone of contention with the whole idea of nationalism is that I understand how arbitrary the notion of a nation is and I cannot bring myself to identify with other people purely because of arbitrarily drawn lines on a map. I share the same chemical make-up and basic DNA structure with every other human being on this earth right now so I cannot comprehend why I should feel a greater deal of affinity with people spread throughout my country than I do with the rest of humanity. If nationalism was more focussed on conceivable and smaller spaces then perhaps yes I could bring myself to feel that I do hold more in common with my locality than I do in difference with them. Of course this is not the case with nations often constituting gigantic areas of space with hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, living within them and still the myth is continually perpetuated that it is normal to feel affinity with someone who lives hundreds of miles away but within the same border yet unnatural to feel that self same affinity with some one who lives ten miles away on the other side of a line haphazardly drawn on maps at some point in the last 300 years. In summary my central problem with the idea of a nation is that is based on nothing but baseless presumption.
All of the above having been said it is not for me to attempt to force my lack of affinity for national compatriots on other people. On the other hand, the beliefs I do intend to force on other people is that if they feel the need to define themselves according to the lines drawn on a map around them then they need to start facing up to the ugly realities of what people living in amongst those squiggly lines have done in the past as well as championing the good things that originating from their nation. Just to demonstrate that there are two sides to everything, including the legacy of any particular nation I’m going to play a little game now. I’m going to pick some countries whose history I understand fairly well and offer one aspect of that countries history as championed by nationalists from that country and counter balance this with some of the more negative parts of that countries legacy:
Positive – The birth control pill.
Negative – The complete state of lawlessness that now grips large parts of mexico as a result of the drugs trafficking to the USA which takes place there.
Positive – Arguably the worlds first and most thriving representative democracy.
Negative – The invention and use of the Atom bomb on civilian populations to cause the capitulation of Imperial Japan.
Positive – Compasses.
Negative – Rampant over-population which is drastically increasing strain on the worlds environments.
Positive – Sellotape aiding countless housewives and office monkeys in their day to day dealings
Negative – The Nazi party which went on from a bit of internal repression to starting the worst war in History
Positive – Association football, the worlds greatest sport
Negative – the Bengal famine, The Irish Famine, The Ethnic cleansing of Nova Scotia, The creation of the majority of the Middle-East’s client kingdoms borders and hold on power and last but not not least ….
I’m not saying that the UK is worse than any other country I mentioned, I simply feel the need to draw attention to more of the negatives associated with my country as it is myths about how amazing Great Britain is that I have to listen to on a daily basis. We can see here from my little exercise above that for every positive aspect of a countries there is an equal and opposite negative aspect to the legacy that if you feel national pride by rights you have to accept. Ultimately I cant force my views onto people much as I might try but I can suggest after this brief discussion on the topic of nationalism that we would all be served better by adopting a far more rational approach to how we view history and arbitrary borders than seems to be the norm now.