The futility of nationalism, patriotism and the myth we call "the state"
by, 14th April 2011 at 11:09 (4451 Views)
Ok, so I wrote this on another totally non-political forum as an introduction to some of my thoughts that had been gathering some attention (and mostly confusion). Thought I might put it here too seeing that I invested so much effort in it (I wrote this in the middle of the night at six hours fueled by inspiration), comment if you want to. I know that it contains alot of the stuff I have in my first blog-post, but live with it god-damn it!
The lunacy which is "nation"
To begin with, I would like to tackle the issue of nation as it seems to gloom on the background of most contemporary ideological constructs. Indeed, it sometimes seems that the people who most loudly go after "ideological zealots" and consider themselves objective, are the ones who most blindly buy into the biggest ideologies around: the nation and the state. I do not intend to "convert" such zealots as such is usually impossible because these ideologies are based on emotion and cultural norms rather than reason. I do, however, want to invite more neutral readers to challenge these common myths as the metaphysical inventions they are. Perhaps you just never thought of this particular angle before?
On the issue of nation and nationality my basic statement is quite simple: "nations are imaginary". This is based on two observations. First is the deconstruction of the idea we call "nation" we are forced to accept upon our incapability to understand such idea. The second point is the positive definition we are forced to give to the word "nation" when we deconstruct the idea attached to it.
On the first observation: Define "nation" please...
Let me guess, you came up with something obscure concerning "cultural groups" and genetic make up? Perhaps even the second myth "state" was involved?
I will have to tackle the issue of state later, but about both culture and genetics I will have to say that defining individual nations is like trying to group real numbers. To support this claim I will use an example closest to myself.
The finnish nationalists are often uncomfortable when asked about the fate of the semi-finnish ethnic groups in russia. This is understandable as the very existence of these groups puts the definition of a "finn" in question. If we observe the cultural shift of the populace when traveling from Śland to Ingria (from western islands to the St. Petersburg area) we notice that the islands are habited by a cultural group that can be described as nothing else than Swedish, only that it identifies itself as finnish. When we continue to the mainland the presence of swedish language fades into more finnih culture but one that is still heavily influenced by swedish presence. From there on there is more and more russian influence and less swedish influence, until we arrive to the Karelian isthmus in which the language itself has no swedish influence at all, but is not entirely finnish either. And in the end we arrive to Ingria in where the finno-ugric minorities don't identify themselves as finns at all, but rather as some sort of other ethnic minority in russia. In no instance can we pinpoint a border between two cultural groups, for only the political state-border is in any way existent and precise.
All other nations seem to fade into each other in a very similar manner, with few exceptions completely explainable with political (often nationalist) interference. This presents us with a very interesting dilemma: at which point does one nation end and another begins? What cultural and genetic features constitute as those of one nation and not of the neighbouring one? These questions are impossible to answer with logic, due to the same reason why we cannot divide real numbers into "nations" of their own.
I will now ask you to take a ruler with measurements both in inches and centimeters. Ready? Now, lets say there are three nations of numbers between the beginning and the half-way of the ruler. Define them.
Now, we might use the numbers present in the ruler, but once we realize that the numbers in inches and numbers in centimeters have no common reasoning we must accept that while there clearly are different points in the ruler, there is no logical way to categorize them into "nations" in some objective manner. I am not trying to say that numbers are imaginary, there is some good deal of mathematical puzzles involved but that would go off-topic. The point is that differentiating nations from the fluent shift in cultural norms is completely arbitary akin to differentiating some groups in a straight continuum. Such arbitary notions might make it easier to discuss those cultural values, but in no way do these notions hold some objective truth-value that would be helpful in understanding our society or politics.
This might all sound very difficult or abstract, but in reality you don't even need to understand this first observation to understand why the notion of "nation" is completely imaginary. I am ofcourse referring to the second observation, the definition of the word: "nation."
I cannot, ofcourse, know how every person goes about defining nation, but I have a hunch that if you had problems with the definition it is propably because people usually have a habit of trying to find some mythical, philosophical essence of the word. Rarely do people empirically stop to evaluate the usage of the word in everyday discussion. With such approach we notice how the meaning of the word is much more mundane than what most nationalists are comfortable with. To illustrate this I will use an example hopefully much closer to the average reader.
Imagine the world in the mid-18th century. Now tell me why Bavarians are not considered a nation but americans are. Bavarians have their own state, their own accent/dialect and they even have slightly different genetic make up from the stereotypical Germans. US americans have no state, at this point the differences between the dialects of the upper and lower classes are far greater than those between britons and americans, and they have had not enough time to come up with genetic make up equally different from the britons than what the difference between different french regions are. (For example...) Still, it is the americans who consider themselves a nation at this point. (Or at any point to be precise.)
We can notice similar absurdities all over the world! The Indian differences in culture and genetics are so huge that it is quite frankly ridiculous that we call them a single nation. Still we make national distinctions between such similar groups as Norwegians and the Swedes. Even with less diverse nations we can notice this clear grouping into smaller "sub-nations", as this is all part of the process of nations fading into each other both culturally and genetically.
But despair not! There is after all one feature that connects all the things we call "nations", and excludes those who have differences but which we don't call nations. The reason why Bavarians aer not a nation is because they did not come up with the idea of national identity. The US americans became a nation (despite cultural similarities with the Britons) because they just came up with the idea of cultural identity, and managed to make that idea a social norm.
This approach to the concept is suddenly capable of explaining all the absurdities in why some groups are considered nations and others more suitable to the philosophical idea are not, yet at the same time this explanation does render the ideology of nationalism quite laughable. Indeed, if we go by the nationalist mindset we are unable, short of descending into metaphysics and ontological arguments, to explain the weird usages of the word and understandings of the concept of nationality. Only the explanation, that the concept of nation is just some made up social and cultural meme, can give us an understanding of why nations "exist", and how do "they" work. At the same time the complete lack of objective justification for national states and national policies gives us some serious reason to undermine this meme if we are to preserve the achievments and values of secular humanism.
The state, aka this is why modern day youth hates politics
Questioning the state apparatus is even greater ideological taboo in the western world than questioning the meme of nation. I can already imagine people who are reading this going through with the one-two defences of state apparatus, quite often indoctrinated into our brains by "reasonable" and "moderate" authority figures on an early age. "But without the state apparatus we will descend into chaos!", "But the state apparatus provides us safety!", or the facepalm-worthy: "But the state protects our national interests!"
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The standard "defences" for states are so numerous that I will not even address them individually. Instead I will make my statement, and let the reader think for him/herself why such defences are not valid. So to make things shorter than with the national issue: "The state is nothing more than an organization with a monopoly of violence" (Note: This definition was, as I recall, introduced by a nationalist! Back in the 19th century they were alot more outspoken with their bigotry than what they are today...)
If we are to examine the word: "state" in a same analytical way we used at the issue of nationality, we notice that history supports this theory. States are hardly in any way connected to the notion of nation as the idea of a national state only appeared and gained ground in the 18th century. So if you see a movie with medieval nationalists you are propably being ripped off. (Braveheart ahem ahem cough!!...)
When you think about what would make state a state, try to think what unites all states. And now I mean all of them, reneissance Italian family-lead states, feudal oligarchic states, modern parliamentary (avoiding the term "democratic" on purpose here) states, antique centrally lead monarchies and all the other lot. Other approach is to seek societies where we don't consider states to be present, and see how they are different from those with states. Non-statist societies are surprisingly common in history (even in industrial era), we just don't hear about them in history lessons because they don't tend to be highly militaristic. Some north-american indian societies work as examples, some smaller and brief yet common societies born out of european peasant rebellions are others. Then there were the more popular examples of the spanish catalonia (1936-1939), paris commune, and the independent soviets.
It is now that we start to realize that not only are states organizations with monopolies of violence, but the organizations must also be top-down oriented before we seem to deem it natural to use the word "state." After all, many non-statist indian societies were organized, although not in a centrally planned manner. Also the more recent examples were highly organized, yet because the organization was highly democratic and bottom-up oriented we don't seem to feel natural with using the word "state".
So the matter of organization being a definite part of state apparatus seems almost intuitively obvious, but the more controversial part of violent monopoly is also supported by this historical analysis. Of this one we have countless contemporary examples. One such example is the Somalian state. Many of us propably know already that the commonly acknowledged Somalian government only has the capability to enforce it's laws on an area of few blocks in the centre of Mosambique. (To dramatize a bit.) Yet still we have US ambassadors talking of this government as if it is in control of the Somalian state. With such obviously ridiculous political word-games most of us can not help but to feel slightly disgusted at the bureucrats who think we will so easily buy into their rhetorical measures. Indeed, once an organization loses it's capability to violently force it's will upon an area we immediately seem to understand that the state's borders have moved from that area. The same goes to the Indian government which has completely lost it's control over vast regions in eastern india. Most of us acknowledge that to say these areas are still parts of that state is quite out of touch with reality. Also, the entire practice of warfare seems to only be about states trying to defend their monopolies of violence, or to expand them. After all, governments and organizations can survive wars but still lose their monopolies of violence. In such cases we consider the state to have ceased it's existence, even if we know the De jure government has survived. An example of such instance would be the disappearance of the Polish state during the WW2 even when the De jure government did continue to exist in exile. (At least in some form)
In addition, to understand why violence is such an essential part of the state apparatus one can only imagine "a state" without police or armed forces, or any equivalent for either of the two. It is often argued that the police "ensures order" and that the army "defends the people", but we only need to look at what they actually consider their own objective to be in order to realize that these common myths are just that, myths. The police considers it's job done when it can freely force the will of the governing organization without hinderance from competing organizations (mafias or gangs), and it's job basically consists of three parts: Using violence, threatening with violence, and organizing the previous two with bureucracy and relations to the governing and judicial departments. The army has basically the same tasks, except that it is aimed at outward threats to this monopoly of violence. This is just my feelings, but I reckon that the division of the two violence agencies is purely for psychological reasons. Imagine how empty all the nationalist talks about unity would sound if your crimes were governed by the same organization that was set up to shoot at the "national enemies".
Now, I am fully aware of the more machiavellian arguments that the state is all this but it is still justified because we are "provided with protection against ourselves and against states that are worse", and that stateless societies just "would not work". (Now ignoring the fact that such people can rarely define what it means for a society to "work".) These arguments are usually hidden in empty rhetoric about us "getting to choose how things are done" and how parliamentarism really is the most democratic option available. To dispell these myths I would like you to watch (listen) a video...
+ http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature...&v=HFxYyXGMfZM" title="View this video at YouTube in a new window or tab" target="_blank">YouTube Video
... and to consider the following comparison:
You walk in the park, and are surprised by three rapists. You cannot escape as they surround you, and so they rape you. Now, I assume you do not approve as they use you for all their filthy foot fetishes and one of them is damn ugly too. Obviously you don't think this is comparable to you being subjugated to a parliamentarist state, even if it is completely valid comparison for more centrally lead states. But then consider this: The rapists say you get to choose who rapes you! (Of the three) Still not comfortable? Still a rape? Ok, then what if you get to choose the rapist, and the manner in which you are raped. (Anal, oral or standard intercourse?) Even if you started to like the idea (I hope you did not) it is still considered a rape and a criminal offense in any court.
I only have to ask, why is it that the same crime (involuntary subjugation) is considered one of the most horrific crimes on an individual level, but on a sociological level it is considered one of the biggest political virtues? Do we have an obligation to like rape just because we are told that sex by consensus does not work? The excuse seems particularly fabricated when we read any history book and realize that society by consensus has worked many times, even if it sometimes has failed right alongside with many of the state apparatuses, parliamentary or not.
The entire point of the opposition to the state apparatus is not that it would "work better". Actually, even if non-statist societies had a 100% failure rate it would not justify the existense of states. The point is that even if leading to failure and misery, people of all nationalities have all the right to take responsibility of their own societies, and at no point can you just justify their misery by saying: "hey, at least the state organization is responsible...", or: "Hey, state organized us some nice living standards, which means that you could not do the same democratically..."
So next time you are asked for loyalty to the state don't think that because you can go to a different state it is OK. Choosing the rapist does not make it a non-rape, even if some rapists are less violent than others. The fact that you have chosen this particular rapist does not give him/her any priviledges, you still got to have the right to withdraw from their jurisdiction without negative setbacks or it's a rape. So demand that you are the one making the decisions, not just choosing the rapist and the method of rape. Democracy is so much more than just voting (not to mention that in parliamentarism you get the occational funny vote every few years), it is an entire decision making process that must involve all those affected and willing to take part in the process. Anything less just does not cut it on moral grounds!
If you think nationalism is important, it might be useful to remember that nationalism is extremely new phenomenon in the history books. Of over 5000 years of high-civilizations nationalism has only existed for about 300 years. If nationalism is so important, how come humanity has survived without the concept for so long?
Besides, even if nations existed in some useful form that could be pinpointed, it would not make nationalism a moral idea. Nationalism is prioritizing nationality above all else, for these nationalists usually oppose giving "national resources" to "illegal" immigrants and those of other nationalities. There is some kind of sociopathic idea of your nation being so good that other nationalities don't deserve the produts and resources of your nation, and even if they do they don't deserve it as badly as your nation does. One has to wonder who is such a sociopath as to prioritize some arbitary group, even if existent, above human needs and humanity.
And if you think you are even somewhat free to have a say in contemporary parliamentarist state, name me all the regions who desire independence from the yoke of their current states. Now name the ones who are likely to receive that independence.
"Gee MM! Even if you're right, I have no reason to believe any other theories, so I'm gonna stick with these! I hope you enjoy deconstructing my worldview..."
I sure am enjoying, thank you very much my stereotypical critic.
But as to the point, I have no intention of giving any solid alternative proposals in this article/post/thread/whatevah, and there is a very real reason for this. Trying to milk easy answers from people who "have read on the subject" is no different than surrendering to some other more bureucratic authority. When you justify your own ignorance by just handing your support to someone else you would be just as gullible than those who just surrender to less honest sources of information, but you just wouldn't know it. Persons truly in favor of real democracy forget all arguments of authority and search for the answers themselves and take nothing at face value. This is because inequalities in knowledge automatically result in inequalities of power, for reasons that should be obvious.
That is why instead of concrete answers I am just going to nudge the reader towards some ideas on the futility of state, ideas that are not 100% compatible (to encourage individual thought).
+ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pd60n...layer_embedded" title="View this video at YouTube in a new window or tab" target="_blank">YouTube Video
+ http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature...&v=NbTIJ9_bLP4" title="View this video at YouTube in a new window or tab" target="_blank">YouTube Video
And for books:
Noam Chomskys - Manufacturing consent: the political economy of the mass media - Helps to explain why the most common information sources are not the most reliable in political and societal issues.
Lenin's - State and revolution - goes deeper into alternative societal models and non-justification of state apparatus. (the book is surprisingly condemning of the soviet union, and is often referred to as the anarchist book of Lenin)
Adam Smiths - Wealth of nations - is surprisingly condemning of capitalism, and it is absolutely laughable to think that these modern day capitalists think Smith would agree with them in any way.
Perhaps surprising in this company, but Wittgenstein's - Tractatus philosophicus and philosophical investigations - go into great lengths explaining why metaphysical and philosophical ideas, such as nation and most arguments in favor of state, are plain non-sense.
And some articles:
Albert Einsteins - Why Socialism? - is actually pro-state, but is a very good introduction to anti-nationalist reasoning.
Rosa Luxemburgs - Reform or revolution - tries to explain why simple voting is not enough. Warning! Heavy dose of advanced Marxist jargon!
I am sure some of the forum's anarchists are willing to link more advanced anarchist sources, but this is from the basic marxist perspective.
EDIT: Sorry, I used the word "Indian" instead of "native-american", but unfortunately here in scandinavia we don't consider such words to be politically incorrect. You will just have to live with those.
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