Thinking aloud on nationalism

14 03 2010

Recently, I told a self-confessed socialist that I opposed ‘nationalism’.  Her jaw dropped.

The same day I somehow found myself in an argument with a person who can only be described as ultra-nationalist over the topic of refugees and asylum seekers.  I told him ‘nationalism’ was absurd and I rejected it.  His jaw dropped and he stared at me for a good 10 seconds.

Such comments seem to shock people, particularly when I inform them I don’t regard myself as ‘Australian’.  However, most people are then pushed to ask whether or not identify as some other nationality.  I tell them my ethnic/cultural heritage and then tell them that I don’t identify with any of these either.  I have no interest in joining one team or another, and this is what seems so shocking to people.

‘Citizenship’, for me, is just a legal document that has no real meaning except that it is a hoop erected by the State for me to jump through in order to do certain things.  It’s necessary in this regard only.

‘Australia day’ is ‘invasion day’, because that’s what it was.  I have no interest in perpetuating ‘Australia Day’ as a celebration of the ‘founding of the nation’ and a collective celebration of ‘Australianism’, when that ‘Australianism’ was founded upon the blood and bones of the indigenous inhabitants of this continent.

My understanding of ‘Self’ is all important in this.  It’s how I identify and clearly my understanding differs from the vast majority of people or I wouldn’t shock them when I mention it.  But why does mine differ other peoples?

We create a particular stereotype by defining ourselves by what we are not.  We then draw arbitrary lines to divide ‘us from them’ in order reinforce that stereotype and perpetuate it.   But little do we realise that what this creates is a bunch of ideas and nothing more, because these ideas are abstract and not based on in reality.  What makes a thing or a person the ‘other’ is make-believe.

However the damage is done. We have created an idea of what we ought to be, or what we ought to do to be ‘Australian‘.  Governments are the catalyst in this process as they mould it, expanded it and promote it because they profit from it.  It allows them to inspire us to band together, to play as a team for the good of the nation, to go fight and die for some concept of this shared, national identity.

Once a particular way of ‘being’ is created, a pressure is exerted upon every individual to conform to that vast collection of memes; to be Australian.  But in reality, that stereotype is false.  It doesn’t exist.  Remove ‘what we are not’ and parts of ‘what we are’, are removed with them.

It’s this that I oppose because the individual tries to be something.  They are trying to ‘be Australia’ when the entire concept of what an ‘Australian’ is doesn’t exist.  Ask anyone to define what, exactly, is ‘Australian’ and then compare it to reality and you find that it’s indefinable.  Thongs, shorts, shrimp on the bare-e, green and gold and singlets may be the ‘average Australian’ to many — and many people try to ‘be’ this, because it is what they think being ‘Australian’ is.  But all it takes is to look around you at the people who pass you in the street to see just how wrong it is.  Even the idea of Australian’s being ‘layed back’ and ‘larrikins’ is a farce.  They may be personality traits for some, but I know many who are highly strung, humourless and depressed.

So then, the individual in pursuit of that identity of ‘Australian’, over compensates.  They alter their behaviour to conform to what they believe is ‘Australian’, when really it doesn’t exist.  A person with black skin may see being ‘white’ as a requirement for being Australian and so bleach their skin to gain acceptance.  In the statement, ‘I am Australian’, the ‘Australian’ part is meaningless and the statement becomes, merely, ‘I am.’  Anything after that is bullshit.  This same thinking can be extrapolated to all sorts of thought processes that designate ‘us’ and ‘them’, and ultimately ends in destroying the ‘other’ or an individual fundamentally changing their ‘Self’ to gain acceptance.

Nationalism then, is simply a weapon for Governments who can increase their control by propagating this idea that somehow ‘our team’ is better and/or under threat from ‘their team’.

However, the biggest issue at hand then, is how to square with ‘positive’ nationalist movements which help to re-establish a marginalised or suppressed identity, such as indigenous peoples from around the world.  After all, these movements are positive in that they create a sense of solidarity among minorities and help them talk back to the privileged majority.  Nationalism re-establishes the oppressed as a cohesive unit and says, ‘we exist and you won’t walk over us.’  How could an anti-nationalist, such as myself, recognise, support and even work with nationalist movements such as these that seek to protect and established an oppressed minority as equals?

To be sure, there seems to be a contradiction.  But, I think, it needs to be recognised that such nationalist movements are positive and present a benefit to those they try to help.  That should be supported, but there is a limit on that support, as nationalism as a theory is not an ends in itself.  As a matter of course, nationalism requires the individual to bend and change the Self in order to accommodate it.  A person will over-compensate in order to gain acceptance and prove that they are more, to use previous examples, ‘Australian’ than you or the other, and I believe this is where the limit lies.  Acceptance is a powerful tool and weapon.  When a movement changes from re-establishing and fighting for the fair treatment and safety of a minority, to being one where the granting or removal of acceptance becomes contingent on the individual trying to ‘be‘ something more than themselves (eg, more hardcore than you), than support should be withdrawn.  Equally, when those movements call for the hatred or destruction of the other, support should be withdrawn.

No support should be given to any movement, organisation or theory from a point where it demands that a person hates their Self and attempts to destroy their Self for acceptance or where it demands that a person hate and destroy their friends, loved ones and supporters on the basis that they belong to ‘the Other’.


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