Again, not really. That was just an excuse to mention the name Benedict. And this time I’ll be talking about Anderson, not Cumberbatch. Still, I did get his name in the title.
Now then, about that pesky little thing called Nationalism .
I had a classmate in high school who had an insane thing for guys in the army, navy or air force. It didn’t matter which country they were from or if they could do up their shoelaces without a manual. She’d go for anyone in a uniform. Back then I thought it was weird, but now I can see where it comes from. I can see how it plays with people’s minds and push countries to do things that a lot of us don’t understand. It’s responsible for launching a thousand ships ( not because of anyone named Helen), deploying hundreds of men to barren wastelands on the other side of the world to engage in imaginary wars and accidentally shooting little kids dragging pails of water back to their families. it instills a sense of pride in people (which I and a lot of others consider false, but do what you like with it), and as a rather proud liberal leftie type, I want people to do exactly what they like if it makes them happy. Jump off of cupboards while playing Captain America, buy an Aston Martin before your fortieth birthday, believe that fairies live in trees and leave cookies for em at night, start your day by having a look at the astrology section of the newspaper, stand up anytime your national anthem is played, what have you. People should be allowed to do whatever they like.
As long as it doesn’t influence public legislation .
Religion is pretty high up on that list too, (in case you hadn’t noticed yet), but I’ll get to that one later. it’s standing in line alright, but I’ve got to deal with the thing that’s slammed up against the glass window at my counter.
Where does Nationalism come from?
I don’t know if this is coming from years of reading and dissecting books, essays, poems and basically anything that was written down (except menus perhaps) mostly by people who are no longer alive, but i’d like to think that nationalism evolved from a need to protect primordial human social groups. The gregarious nature of human beings evolved into nationalism on a larger level, but it obviously took centuries. Living in groups protected small social units from predators and the forces of nature, allowed them to reproduce enough to keep the species alive, and came with the bonus of evolving, mutating and weeding out genes and traits unfavourable to the progress of humanity.
Unfortunately, one of them was nationalism. Obviously, nationalism was born in the period before civilisation, but learned how to walk when countries were formed, borders drawn and empires and kingdoms were built. I suppose you could mark it down to the build up to the first World War, the opening act, with the actual band coming on stage during World War II. It makes you believe you have a connection with the people you happen to live around , by absolute events of chance, and it tells you that other such groups are not as well off as yours. It starts from villages and cities and then slowly builds its way up to the country and in some unfortunate cases, nations themselves.
At this point I’m going to add an asterisk and a footnote, just like you do when you’ve run out of room on exam papers. I see many hands in the air and I know what you’re going to ask me. It’s something that people struggle to understand and come to terms with even today, and it could be just about anyone from the milkman who comes in at five every morning and makes enough of a ruckus to wake you up, to your rather confused parents with knitted eyebrows staring at you across the table and wondering if that Masters in Literature was a mistake, or even your local MP who hands out free bottles of Glenfiddich to anyone who votes for him.
There is a difference between nation and country, but they’re both arbitrarily defined if you look at them individually. Countries only have borders because someone was asked to draw them. Australia chose to stick with geometry and share perfectly square or rectangular pieces of chocolate to all the kids playing on their street, India and Pakistan have a rather famous story about their borders being based on the imaginary (yes, I said imaginary) Radcliffe line, and Mexico and Texas fell out; tired of an on and off relationship and broke up for good. A country is a political entity, which can apparently be defined based on just about anything, but a nation is a cultural and socio-political concept.
Being part of a nation means getting everyone who speaks the same language, or subscribes to the same set of religious beliefs, who’ve got the same royal family (I’m looking at you, Commonwealth), to be on your team. Everyone else is just supposed to be pummelled to death on the field while you get a golden cup for sticking together. In essence, that’s why soccer matches draw hooligans with multicoloured hair who scream and yell and paint their bodies with their national flags, and this is why Joe Public wants to prove himself as a man and as a good _____ (insert nationality here) by pulling a trigger on a person he has been conditioned to hate. Basically, Uncle Sam is like Santa Claus for adults, except nobody believes that he isn’t real.
Let’s look at good old Benedict Anderson now, whose last name often becomes Arnold to Presidents, Eurovision, Korean pop stars and that little kid who wears a flag on his lapel and looks at you like you’ve just suggested that two and two equal a tomato.
Here’s a direct quote from the book, thank Google and proceed to read it very carefully.
“It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion. Renan referred to this imagining in his suavely back-handed way when he wrote that ‘Or l’essence d’une nation est que tons les individus aient beaucoup de choses en commun, et aussi que tous aient oublié bien des choses.” With a certain ferocity Gellner makes a comparable point when he rules that ‘Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness: it invents nations where they do not exist.’ The drawback to this formulation, however, is that Gellner is so anxious to show that nationalism masquerades under false pretences that he assimilates ‘invention’ to ‘fabrication’ and ‘falsity’, rather than to ‘imagining’ and ‘creation’. In this way he implies that ‘true’ communities exist which can be advantageously juxtaposed to nations. In fact, all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact (and perhaps even these) are imagined. Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined. Javanese villagers have always known that they are connected to people they have never seen, but these ties were once imagined particularistically-as indefinitely stretchable nets of kinship and clientship. Until quite recently, the Javanese language had no word meaning the abstraction ‘society.’ We may today think of the French aristocracy of the ancien régime as a class; but surely it was imagined this way only very late. To the question ‘Who is the ‘Comte de X?’ the normal answer would have been, not ‘a member of the aristocracy,’ but ‘the lord of X, ‘the uncle of the Baronne de Y,’or ‘a client of the Duc de Z.’
I wanted to highlight that in red, but it would seem I haven’t quite figured it out, so we’ll leave that one for later. This is the equivalent of my mum learning how to use the internet. When she first got her hands on a computer and learned how to send (and I use the term loosely) emails, the first four would always be blank. And if she’d scrolled down the page, she’d panic because she thought the email she’d been writing for the last 30 minutes with a word count rivalling a novella had been lost.
Perhaps it is premature of me to say that nationalism is the only reason why wars are fought and why some people spend their twenty fifth birthday in a small urn on their mothers’ mantles rather than at the local pub doing Jaeger bombs with their friends. I’m not saying that’s the only alternative to enlisting in the armed forces, I’m just saying that nobody should be either compelled or brainwashed to fight a battle that isn’t even theirs in the first place. It’s between two world leaders and two imaginary, abstract concepts that have unfortunately manifested and spread through every country you can think of like MRSA.
In my opinion, it’s a combination of factors that lead to war and as much as I don’t like labels, I will count myself as a hippie when I say nationalism and war are the most uncivilised ideas that ever existed in the very short time that human beings have been on this pale blue dot. I don’t think civilians should be taught to hate other countries with or without reason, I don’t think men and women in the armed forces are to be admired- I feel sorry for them because they’ve been brainwashed and that there’s nothing me or anyone else can do to make them see that setting the table with your significant other is a better use of your time than lying flat in a foxhole with lice and bugs in your hair, fighting a war that isn’t really anyone’s.
Yes, I know what they say. No atheists in foxholes.
I’d like to hope there won’t be any foxholes in the decades to come, but I’ll be sitting on someone’s mantle and judging people who use those fake blue cigarettes and kid themselves that they’re going to live a little longer because their smoke lights up.
Nationalism equals anti immigration policies equals mad, angry crowds of civilians and armed forces killing just about anyone equals… a good number of things.
But come to think of it, as nationalism will play a rather large role in the extinction of the human race, I’m rooting for it.
The Earth would do marvellously well without us on it. Well, before we’ve learned everything there is about space, black holes, the space time fabric and the long standing petition I’ve been meaning to hand out that will posthomously knight Oscar Wilde.
That’s all going to be in the future. For now, I’m just going to put the quill down.
All images courtesy of Google.