Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Nationalism. Or, How I learned to stop worrying and love my country.

I’m in Helsinki. I’ve been here for about 2 and a half months now, and I don’t miss Australia. You know those people who know the second verse to Advance Australia Fair [or hell, even all of the first verse for that matter] and who actually care about the medal tally or whether Mark Webber is doing good this season? Yeah, I’m not one of those people. In short, I don’t love my nation, I am neither patriot or nationalist. But this does not mean that I think either of these things are bad, or evil. Oscar Wilde may have said that patriotism is the virtue of the vicious, but I don’t think that’s a declaratively true statement [and besides, he was like, totally gay]

In the course of “education” I’ve had more than a passing interest in politics, and by politics I mean political science, you know Totalitarianism and Democracy, the role of ethnicity and god, that sort of thing. Nationalism is a prominent feature of almost any conversation about change within a nation, because time after time we can see that the quickest way to mobilise a people is to stoke the fires of their nation-love.

But why? The idea of the “nation” and by extension “national identity” are fairly new concepts, they’ve only been around for a few hundred years, and lets not forget that until about 150 years ago [give or take half a century depending on who you look at] small lineages for fairly inbred people controlled most of the world through empire rule. Yet stand in the deep south of the US or on the river foreshore on Australia day for that matter and utter the phrase “fuck this country” and you will attract some violence pretty quick.

How have we become so caught up in the idea of the national family that we will attack members of that “family” for criticizing it? And why, in Australia at least, does it seem to be a province of the young [younger than 30]. I will allow that in the Australia day scenario booze would play a large factor, but when Alan Jones whipped that merry band of savages into a frenzy over in sydney, most of them weren’t on the piss.

The answer, for here and elsewhere, seems to be anomie. Anomie is a cognitive dislocation, a kind of social disconnect that leaves an individual rudderless in a storm. Anomie can be born of many things but from what I have observed one of its principal causes in western society seems to be the rift between expectations and reality. We expect to be successful, we expect to be rich, we expect to be famous. I’m not saying everyone is deluded enough to think that one day they will be Paris [or even Perez] Hilton, but the fact remains that we are sold on the idea of moving into the class above us at some point in our lives. The realisation that this probably isn’t going to happen, that dairy section manager at the local supermarket is about the best that’s going to come your way*, results in an anger, a formless, unexplained dissatisfaction that an individual is not aware of and cannot solve.

It is into this spiritual and emotional hole that some of the “answers” float. These answers might be God, Drugs [In Australia Booze, Weed, Meth. In order of impact] Love, or as is pertinent to this article, Nationalism. It gives us comfort knowing that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. It makes us feel victorious when members of our family beat members of rival families in contests. And it makes us feel righteous when some of these other families behave in monstrous ways. We can say to ourselves, much as your actual family may have done when you were little, “I’m glad we don’t behave like that”. I am glad our women have the right to vote, our citizens don’t have their ethnicity on their passport/identity card, and our citizens are free to criticise. These features of our country are good features, but I am not proud.

I am not proud because the facets of my nation that should arise pride are not representations of my families elegance or intelligence. How many of these qualities that I hold so dear would still be around if left to the constantly shifting discretion of my “family” members, rather than enshrined into law? Our nationalism revolves around a schema of exclusion, that is, we feel good by comparing ourselves to others. This I feel, is a crucial mistake. If we look at ourselves critically we will see a population of commodity driven worker bees. We make a big song and dance about people coming and trying to get in on the good life that we’ve all works so very hard to build, but Australians haven’t worked hard to build anything, other than our own personal fortunes. We think that because we’ve contributed to the economy in some kind of thrice-removed abstract sense that it not only absolves us of further effort but entitles us to claim the whole nation for ourselves?

What about this, what about we actually live up to the slogans and the t-shirts. What if we actually, as a people rolled up our sleeves and gave a shit. We stopped trying to accrue our sad little piles of stuff on patches of sand where every house looks the same. I’m not saying that the everyone has to become some kind of social welfare zealot, that’s the true absurdity of the situation, all people would need to do is to look around themselves and see the mechanisms in our society that are already in place but could use another set of hands once a week.

Australia is already not half bad, I mean, given how useless it’s population is, it’s kind of surprisingly good. Imagine what it could be if everyone actually started caring. Imagine if our nationalism revolved not around “this is ours, not yours” but around “We’re working hard, you’re welcome to work beside us”.


*Note. I do not for a second think that being the dairy manager at the local supermarket is a degrading or “low” job. Two reasons, first of all because I don’t think it matters where a person works, you can always bring pride and sincerity to your job, and secondly, sometimes I really fucking need a man who knows his cheeses. KnowwhatI’msayin?

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