The Dangers of Nationalism
I remember when I was a high school English teacher, I used to teach a lesson on similes. You know, a comparison using like or as? I used to tell my students that there was a particular reason to use a comparison….to help gain a greater understanding of something. So, we then started talking about similes (and other comparisons). I would start with giving a simile stem and having them fill out the end.
All men are _________.
In almost every occasion, there would be two answers.
So, I asked the students what about men were like pigs? The trough? Rolling around in the mud? Sex (just so you know, pigs are some of the most meticulous lovers in the animal world)?
Their answer? Because all men are pigs. They just are.
Run like the __________.
Say it with me now…..wind.
Well, what kind of wind? Breeze? Gust? Gale?
The discussion would come around to the use of stale comparisons and how they replaced thought. They were convenient. They were easy. They were expected.
And people would nod in approval because they were comfortable and they didn’t have to think.
You can hear the chant. USA.
There is something that seems endearing about honoring your country with the chant.
But, it also replaces thought. It replaces critique. It replaces awareness. People will cheer along to be part of something.
But, blind adherence without thought is dangerous. Because it is easy. And you don’t have to think.
Imagine this. Think about the person you are. Your essence. The thing that makes you, you.
Imagine if that essence was born in Mexico. Or Guatemala. Or Scotland. Or Zambia. Or Bangladesh. Or East Timor.
Would you be a Tri-Colore? Of course. That is where you were born. Would you be singing Himno Nacional at the top of your lungs? Sure.
Because that is where you, the person who you are was born.
Unity, Action, Progress (motto of East Timor).
Here is my point. The only reason you are nationalist about this country is because this is where your essence was born. And it has been turned into a rallying cry. A chant. Without thought.
Throughout history (Germany, France, Italy, China) rampant nationalism has been used to unify people against others. Any others. It has been used to galvanize against the other. It has been used to snuff out those with a different opinion. It has been used to silences critics. The press. The opposition.
Nationalism is dangerous.
What is this chant? What are you celebrating?
The genocide of the indigenous people of this land? Moving them to reservations? Taking away their right to vote?
A history of slavery? Racism? Red line neighborhoods. Civil rights abuses? Lynchings?
Economic inequality? Rampant capitalism that has caused a situation where the richest 40 people own more than the bottom 50% (2011). And we are fighting for pennies.
Turning away desperate people that are escaping gangs and warfare? Because you are afraid they are going to knock on your door (this was said to me)?
A health system controlled by insurance and pharmaceutical companies that only care about profit over life?
A president that has made racist, misogynist, bigoted comments? That is trying to put into effect policies that would take rights away from transgender citizens? That is trying to silence the press? That focused on rallying cries when his opponents were being attacked? That wants the rich to get richer? That wants to take from social security and medicare? And you chant with him. And celebrate him.
Shutting down the press?
Keeping your stuff? Only your stuff?
I would love to say that I feel great about being born into a country that doesn’t have to deal with the issues other countries do.
Drugs, gangs, poverty, racism, sexism, xenophobia, bigotry, ableism.
Wait, we have those things.
So, let us honor this country for what is about. Democracy. Free speech. Free press. Freedom to worship whom we want. Freedom to peacefully assemble. Helping the world. Being a nation of immigrants (except I was recently told the famous “huddled masses, yearning to be free” message only counts on Ellis Island). Looking out for each other. Being open. Accepting.
Think. Don’t parrot. Use your mind. Don’t just follow the crowd because it feels good, is convenient, and gives you confidence.
Be critical. Be thoughtful. Be kind.
And when you chant, chant….
With the exception of a year, I have been a teacher or a student for my entire life. I have taught on many different levels. I have been a middle school teacher (okay, for one semester for student teaching...because of this, I have a profound respect for middle school teachers), high school, undergraduates and graduate students. I have coached soccer in youth leagues and high school. Education is in my blood.