Throughout my lectures on Nationalism, I am becoming increasingly aware, that if you were to substitute the word “Nationalism” for “Religion”, the context and the surrounding wording, wouldn’t have to be modified, and we’d still end up with a perfectly rational statement.
Like Nationalism, religion relies on the rather solipsistic idea that we as a species are somehow special and important. Nationalism narrows the field down, to those who exist on a specific land mass, sometimes using religion to attempt to strengthen its otherwise weak premise; but religion, whilst casting its net further afield, nevertheless clings to the same arrogant notion that we are indeed special. To illustrate this point, I would ask you to try and locate the August 2010 edition of Scientific America, in which Kate Wong (an evolutionary specialist) shows that around 195,000 years ago, Homosapien became as close to extinction as we’ve ever came. Climate change, she argues, meant that our species had fallen to just 600 breeding couples. Somehow, beyond all comprehension, we survived, and we thrived. Around 50,000 years ago, we left Africa. We ventured into a vast unknown, and we conquered it. We suffered deaths by teeth, deaths by easily curable maladies, we suddenly hit a new phase in human and social evolution, when, on top of the simplistic tools we were devising alongside other species in the homo genus, we began making art, and tools that appear incredibly complex. Humanity, was suddenly starting to show signs of brilliance. But we were still under threat. Climate, Neanderthal, awful disease. They all played their part in bringing us to the edge of destruction many times over. These early humans didn’t care what land mass they were born on, or the colour of skin, or what happened to be your first language. And yet, Christianity seems to suppose that all of that hardship, that hundreds of thousands of years of exploration, disease, creativity and the brink of extinction, was all because the divine wanted to get us to the point where we could be Christians. It seems strikingly awful a presumption, that for 199,000 or so years of our history (it varies, whichever scientist you subscribe to) heaven looked on with indifference, as humanity struggled to survive… by the way, for those 198,000, the most testing in all our history, we managed to get through it without any divinely proscribed ‘objective moral basis’… and only in the last 2000 years, having ignored 198,000 years did it decide to get to know us, by giving a book to a bunch of illiterate warring desert tribesmen, on the same plot of land as huge oil reserves. Did Heaven not think ahead? It seems massively incompetent. The Chinese could read and write at this stage; why not given them the most important book known to man? Silly little myths in an attempt to attract a following.
Nationalism similarly uses easily discredited constructed and largely false myths to attempt to bind people. The rhetoric is very similar to religious rhetoric. It is exclusive, not inclusive. It is divisive, not binding. It can be threatening and forceful when it doesn’t get its own way.
Nationalism requires the individual submit to the will of the Nation. The Nation takes the place of God. The Nation becomes the reason to live. Prior to 1517, Europe cared little for national unity, and more for their submission to the God of Catholicism. Luther changed that, and suddenly people started to question things they’d never questioned before. They had never read a Bible in English. They had never questioned why they had to pay to save their souls from purgatory. From the moment Luther attached those The Ninety-Five Theses to the Church door in Wittenberg, the questioning began; and over the next couple of centuries, religious dogma took a knock that it couldn’t come back from. But people still desired something larger than themselves. This desire started the building of Nations. And the Nation; once drastically unimportant, now became a sort of spiritual haven for people who need to feel like they ‘belong’ to an exclusive club. Suddenly, humanity had a new abstraction that many of its members were willing to die for. The Nation replaced God.
It is both odd and a magnificent appraisal of the brilliance of our species, to me, that humanity desperately needs to look up to something abstract and beyond our realm of understanding, to cope with trying to understand what is essentially a chaotic, uncaring, and amoral universe. We create order, where order cannot be found in reality.
John Armstrong, writing in “Nations before Nationalism” argues that one influence on the emergence of Nations, was the nostalgia for a power beyond the simple State; the religious power of the past. Nations are of course vastly different, to Nations of the past. People try to cling to the idea of a Nation from what they’d consider a Golden age; the defeat of the Armada. The bravery of Boudica. It just so happens that these events took place on the plot of land we were all born on. We had no direct say or participation in them. Boudica certainly wasn’t fighting for England, she was fighting for a tribe. There has never been a time when the Nation wasn’t dynamic and ever changing. And yet Nationalism tries to grip on to a fleeting static moment. Capitalism means that the Nation State will always be at risk. Two competing concepts; Nation States and Capitalism, fighting for the same ground, will always produce division and resentment. Capitalism relies on open markets, on open borders, on little to no regulation. Nation States rely on tightly controlled borders and regulated markets for the sake of the ‘Native’ population. It is a continuous tug of war. The free movement of labour is a disaster for the Nation State.
The open flow of labour is to Nationalism, what the open flow of ideas and free thought is to Religion. Until very recently, free thought was considered heresy.
Religion is used at a very young age to indoctrinate early. The Palestinian Authority in 1994, reissued copies of a textbooks that were just full of anti-Jewish sentiment. A PA TV show for kids, based on Mickey Mouse, called Farfur, teaches kids hate. Kids are taught to pray until there is:
“world leadership under Islamic leadership”
And until that day comes, they must oppose at all times, the:
“oppressive invading Zionist occupation.”
– At my own secular primary school, we were made to say prayer every day and sing hymns. If we refused, we were sent out of the room. We were never taught to question what was being said, and I certainly didn’t hear the name “Darwin” until I was at least 12. Nations, in their quest to fill the void left by a dying God, also indoctrinate kids at a young age; the pledge of allegiance comes to mind. The celebrating of Columbus Day; a day to honour a violent thug who introduced mass genocide to an entire population. A strong educational framework, is vital for the perpetuation of weak National and Religious myths.
We have Deified our National Flag.
The Prophets of the Deified American National Flag, are Jefferson, Madison, Adams and Washington. They are almost worshiped. Their shortcomings and their obvious hypocrisies are ignored. The imagery of “Washington at Dorchester Heights” by Emanuel Leutze, shows an heroic-like stance of the young Washington, like a new age Saint, to be worshiped by everyone as they pledge allegiance. As a young America grew, in a World where religion was still key to political success, we see a whole host of literature combining religion with the new Republic, as if the new Republic were divinely ordained. The marching song of the Continental army, as it fought the British, happened to be:
Let tyrants shake their iron rods
And slavery clank her falling chains,
We fear them not, we trust in God
New England’s God forever reigns.
– Young Nations, in the 18th Century, needed God. But gradually, the Nation replaced God as the abstraction of choice among men.
To back up the authority for their myths and fairy tales, for their incomplete nonsense, and their, quite simply, invented bullshit, both Nationalism and Religion seem to point to an abstract concept, that is largely, and for the most part un-falsifiable. The problem with anything that is un-falsifiable, is that by definition, it is not testable. So, for something to be unable to be put to the test, and yet still used as a way to ‘bind’ and ‘divide’ humanity, it is dangerous. It deserves no power. A good theory is one that is falsifiable, and still manages to stand up to scrutiny….. like Natural Selection. Saying “there is an invisible monkey sat on my shoulder” is not falsifiable, and so any claims on morality, or to authority, should absolutely be considered ludicrous. Nationalism is similar, in that the concept of that which binds us as a Nation, is built on non-falsifiable abstractions. It is a passion for pedigree that has very little evidence to back it up. No nation is a stock of a single blood line, and it is perhaps more true to say that we are separated far more by economics than we ever are binded by Nationality. I can relate far more to a Pakistani gentleman of lower middle class origin, than I can with a a multi-millionaire member of the Tory cabinet, despite being born in the same Country, or even the same city.
The myths – take the legend of St George and the dragon in England – are quite evidently untrue, but for some reason Nationalists will use the imagery to conjure up passion for the ‘motherland’. Religions do the same. It is pretty obvious to any right thinking person, that given the intense lack of evidence other than a book, Jesus was not born to a virgin, nor did he rise from the dead and walk around for a few days. Sam Harris in ‘The End of Faith’ writes:
We have names for people who have many beliefs for which there is no rational justification. When those beliefs are common, we call them religious; otherwise they are likely to be called “mad”, “psychotic”, or “delusional”.
– I cannot argue with this.
Nationalism and Religion; the EDL and the MAC; the British National Party and Extreme Islam; are all far more similar than they’d like to believe. Both thrive, by presenting anything that doesn’t fit the very narrow spectrum of their exclusive club, as ‘other’ and ‘other’ as ‘bad’. The rhetoric is identical, the targeted victims (be them people with slightly darker skin, or people who wish to marry someone of the same sex) will always be presented as a danger to society, whilst the religious or the Nationalistic will always present themselves as the saviours.
The Nation is the new God.