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Friday, August 10, 2007

National Identity

Last updated: September 26, 2007

May 29, 2007

For the lack of time to post something real I repost here my comment on the Kishkushim blog with a minimal polishing.

Nobody, is this why people happily went without nations and nation-states for many centuries?

Nations, nationalism, and states based on them are relatively recent inventions; this does not mean that they are somehow less legitimate than other cultural practices or state forms. Nor does it mean that they are not perceived as "natural" today.

You mix two notions together - nations and nation states. There was not one single day in human history when people happily went without nations. This is for one simple reason that humans always prioritize their relationships with other human beings at several levels. And it is for this reason that people will never become cosmopolitan citizens of the world and they will never love equally all other human beings with the same love.

In the same way that you don't expect any normal person to care more for strangers than he cares for his family and his immediate friends you cannot expect from people to drop national identities or whatever may come in their place and become universal citizens of the world. The need to establish shared identities at this level is a deeply ingrained human instinct and need. The scope at which such a group identity is established may be influenced by the technology and the way of living but there will always be one and maybe several identity levels separating individual and the whole of mankind. And the degree of empathy and solidarity people experience towards each other is diminishing progressively as these identities are passed through from bottom up.

To insist on the opposite is to defy the very human nature itself since this prioritization of relationships between themselves is what makes humans and some other mammals different from herd animals. In this sense nation states are an expression of a timeless thing that was present in the world from the moment the first humans appeared and will persist as long as humankind exists.

And it's not the nations as such that are the problem. Israel offered the Palestinians a deal that could perfectly satisfy all their national aspirations expect for destruction of Israel itself. The fact that they opted instead for a few more decades of armed struggle is a result of fanaticism, lunacy and plain stupidity. But the fact that Israelis and Palestinians are two different nations does not mean in theory that they cannot peacefully partition the land and co-exist as two sovereign states side by side.

People should respect national identities and take demographic issues seriously without resorting to blaming others in racism. This way it's possible to achieve and maintain stability just as Czechoslovakia has done. Where it's possible to establish new borders, where it's possible to avoid pushing nations at the throats of each other and you can reorganize even such a region as this in a way that will reduce chances for more wars and violence. Most problems are created because the relationships between nations are mismanaged, but not because the nations as such exist.

In fact it's not for nothing that so much of the former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union has later descended into bloody chaos. It's a result of all these lunacies that held themselves to be above nations and national identities. Fantasizing about a world without nations, pushing people into 'two nations one state' or 'three nations one state' solutions is a sure way to create more Yugoslavias.

All these speculations about what nations are for are a waste of time. And whatever the enthusiasts for transcending national identities may be thinking is absolutely impractical, as people are not going to listen to and live by their wisdom anyway. And basically if one cannot figure out what function nations serve, then one can safely assume that he is lacking in real understanding. If one sees something so persistent such as nationalities that defies one's understanding and common sense, it's a safe bet that this is because life is smarter than this person, but not because this person is smarter than life itself.


July 4, 2007

Another my comment on the same thread:

To elaborate more on the nation states... It's an easily observable fact that a state which is a national home elicits in its citizens and even diaspora emotional attachment and a degree of commitment as no other form of state. Nation states obviously invoke in people a feeling of some sort of collective ownership. This feeling may be vague and difficult to define with precision but it certainly exists. When it comes to nation states people often take this approach that you don't choose your family. That's why such a state can be completely screwed up, yet you will always have people trying to change it, refusing to leave... You will rarely see such a commitment in a society that transcended nationality.

One of the contributors to my blog is an illustration to this idea. He is Israeli who lived for a decade in the far east and is married to a Japanese woman. He and his wife live in a big cosmopolitan place called Shanghai. He has a sort of lost his attachment to Israel. I would call him a true global citizen of the world. He is a nice guy who would like to make the world the better place. In one of our recent conversations we discussed education as a means to end poverty in Africa (he is an educator). I think he is even writing a thesis on this at university. It goes without saying though, that the very moment some form of shit hits Shanghai, like terror attacks or an economic crisis, he will just pack his stuff and leave the place in no time. This is what transcending nationality is usually about.

In a way it's no different than universal love and similar stuff. After transcending the particular and the individual and going universal it's suddenly revealed that there is very little left, apart from some abstract concept.

This is the reason why nation states are so common. They are so predominant by the simple law of Darwinian evolution. They are the fittest. You can also notice that most economic tigers and nations that did into the ranks of the first world after the WW2 are nation states like Japan or South Korea. This is because such states are more resilient to pressures of rapid modernization and painful economic reforms. They are more stable and much more difficult to knock out.

So when it comes to nation states there is no reason to invest so much thinking and emotions in trying to outsmart the reality. Just because life is smart enough.

August 10, 2007

The Downside of Diversity

The Boston Globe

A Harvard political scientist finds that diversity hurts civic life. What happens when a liberal scholar unearths an inconvenient truth?

By Michael Jonas | August 5, 2007

IT HAS BECOME increasingly popular to speak of racial and ethnic diversity as a civic strength. From multicultural festivals to pronouncements from political leaders, the message is the same: our differences make us stronger.

But a massive new study, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America, has concluded just the opposite. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam -- famous for "Bowling Alone," his 2000 book on declining civic engagement -- has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings.

"The extent of the effect is shocking," says Scott Page, a University of Michigan political scientist.

The study comes at a time when the future of the American melting pot is the focus of intense political debate, from immigration to race-based admissions to schools, and it poses challenges to advocates on all sides of the issues. The study is already being cited by some conservatives as proof of the harm large-scale immigration causes to the nation's social fabric. But with demographic trends already pushing the nation inexorably toward greater diversity, the real question may yet lie ahead: how to handle the unsettling social changes that Putnam's research predicts.

"We can't ignore the findings," says Ali Noorani, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. "The big question we have to ask ourselves is, what do we do about it; what are the next steps?"

. . .

In his findings, Putnam writes that those in more diverse communities tend to "distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television."

"People living in ethnically diverse settings appear to 'hunker down' -- that is, to pull in like a turtle," Putnam writes.

In documenting that hunkering down, Putnam challenged the two dominant schools of thought on ethnic and racial diversity, the "contact" theory and the "conflict" theory. Under the contact theory, more time spent with those of other backgrounds leads to greater understanding and harmony between groups. Under the conflict theory, that proximity produces tension and discord.

Putnam's findings reject both theories. In more diverse communities, he says, there were neither great bonds formed across group lines nor heightened ethnic tensions, but a general civic malaise. And in perhaps the most surprising result of all, levels of trust were not only lower between groups in more diverse settings, but even among members of the same group.

. . .


Probably another my comment on the same Kishkushim thread makes this point even more clear. This comment is a part of my reply to Lebanese blogger Jeha. The part of Jeha's comment I reply to is put in bold.

. . .

2 - I see our problems as related to the ideas of nation-states; Europe went through it since the French Revolution, and it gave us much bloodshed, suffering, and at least 2 World Wars.

Nation states are the most stable and resilient form of a state. I can confirm this from my own experience as one who witnessed the demise of one multi national state. You can find confirmation to this in the experience of your own country. A nation state can withstand pressures and crisis that will cause any other form of state to collapse on the spot.

Your utopia sounds good only on paper. In practice it's very similar to the communist idea of abolishing private property. The idea was of a collective ownership of the means of production. In practice everything became no one's property. People were stealing and had no incentive to care for and maintain equipment.

A state not based on some form of national identity (not necessarily ethnic, but at least cultural in the sense of a shared language or religion) is just another form of that thing. Dubai should be very close to what you are looking for: a multicultural paradise that is not based on any form of national identity. Indeed, it's not a nation but it will exist as long as no serious economic trouble or a war hits the place. At that point most people there will simply pack their stuff and go away. This is because another word for multicultural paradise is no man's land.


You can find some additional background for this idea in some of my comments on this post: Wahhabite Russia.

September 22, 2007

The Return of Patriarchy

In "The Return to Patriarchy" published by "Foreign Policy" Phillip Longman makes a few points demonstrating the inherent strength of the nation state or maybe rather the weakness of its opponents.

Across the globe, people are choosing to have fewer children or none at all. Governments are desperate to halt the trend, but their influence seems to stop at the bedroom door. Are some societies destined to become extinct? Hardly. It's more likely that conservatives will inherit the Earth. Like it or not, a growing proportion of the next generation will be born into families who believe that father knows best.

. . .

. . . for more than a generation now, well-fed, healthy, peaceful populations around the world have been producing too few children to avoid population decline. That is true even though dramatic improvements in infant and child mortality mean that far fewer children are needed today (only about 2.1 per woman in modern societies) to avoid population loss. Birthrates are falling far below replacement levels in one country after the next—from China, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea, to Canada, the Caribbean, all of Europe, Russia, and even parts of the Middle East.

. . .

The conservative baby boom

. . .

Falling fertility is also responsible for many financial and economic problems that dominate today's headlines. The long-term financing of social security schemes, private pension plans, and healthcare systems has little to do with people living longer. Gains in life expectancy at older ages have actually been quite modest, and the rate of improvement in the United States has diminished for each of the last three decades. Instead, the falling ratio of workers to retirees is overwhelmingly caused by workers who were never born. As governments raise taxes on a dwindling working-age population to cover the growing burdens of supporting the elderly, young couples may conclude they are even less able to afford children than their parents were, thereby setting off a new cycle of population aging and decline.

Declining birthrates also change national temperament. In the United States, for example, the percentage of women born in the late 1930s who remained childless was near 10 percent. By comparison, nearly 20 percent of women born in the late 1950s are reaching the end of their reproductive lives without having had children. The greatly expanded childless segment of contemporary society, whose members are drawn disproportionately from the feminist and countercultural movements of the 1960s and 70s, will leave no genetic legacy. Nor will their emotional or psychological influence on the next generation compare with that of their parents.

Meanwhile, single-child families are prone to extinction. A single child replaces one of his or her parents, but not both. Nor do single-child families contribute much to future population. The 17.4 percent of baby boomer women who had only one child account for a mere 7.8 percent of children born in the next generation. By contrast, nearly a quarter of the children of baby boomers descend from the mere 11 percent of baby boomer women who had four or more children. These circumstances are leading to the emergence of a new society whose members will disproportionately be descended from parents who rejected the social tendencies that once made childlessness and small families the norm. These values include an adherence to traditional, patriarchal religion, and a strong identification with one's own folk or nation.

This dynamic helps explain, for example, the gradual drift of American culture away from secular individualism and toward religious fundamentalism. Among states that voted for President George W. Bush in 2004, fertility rates are 12 percent higher than in states that voted for Sen. John Kerry. It may also help to explain the increasing popular resistance among rank-and-file Europeans to such crown jewels of secular liberalism as the European Union. It turns out that Europeans who are most likely to identify themselves as “world citizens” are also those least likely to have children (!!! NB).

. . .

The Return of Patriarchy

Yet that turning point does not necessarily mean the death of a civilization, only its transformation. Eventually, for example, the sterile, secular, noble families of imperial Rome died off, and with them, their ancestors' idea of Rome. But what was once the Roman Empire remained populated. Only the composition of the population changed. Nearly by default, it became composed of new, highly patriarchal family units, hostile to the secular world and enjoined by faith either to go forth and multiply or join a monastery. With these changes came a feudal Europe, but not the end of Europe, nor the end of Western Civilization.

We may witness a similar transformation during this century. In Europe today, for example, how many children different people have, and under what circumstances, correlates strongly with their beliefs on a wide range of political and cultural attitudes. For instance, do you distrust the army? Then, according to polling data assembled by demographers Ronny Lesthaeghe and Johan Surkyn, you are less likely to be married and have kids—or ever to get married and have kids—than those who say they have no objection to the military. Or again, do you find soft drugs, homosexuality, and euthanasia acceptable? Do you seldom, if ever, attend church? For whatever reason, people answering affirmatively to such questions are far more likely to live alone, or in childless, cohabitating unions, than those who answer negatively.

. . .

Societies that are today the most secular and the most generous with their underfunded welfare states will be the most prone to religious revivals and a rebirth of the patriarchal family. The absolute population of Europe and Japan may fall dramatically, but the remaining population will, by a process similar to survival of the fittest, be adapted to a new environment in which no one can rely on government to replace the family, and in which a patriarchal God commands family members to suppress their individualism and submit to father.


The point of this section of the post is not about the virtues of patriarchy as I am an absolutely secular person with no traditionalist inclinations. But I would like to point out to the great similarity between Communist ideology and modern liberalism based on the ideology of political correctness. In fact political correctness operates with the same set of ideas and code of speech adopted by former Communist countries.

The similarity I am talking about is between the economic practices of former Communist regimes and the modern political correctness attempts to reform the most fundamental aspects of human society. Communism made an attempt to overcome private property in favor of the universalistic shared property. The modern liberalism made a very similar attempt to overcome nationalism and other "anachronisms" in favor of the universalistic and cosmopolitan milti-culturalism.

The Communist economic practices have eventually led to a total economic meltdown that destroyed the Soviet block. The Western liberal secularism may think that it got very enlightened and rational attitudes, yet it's becoming increasingly clear that like the Soviets it has been messing all along with something very fundamental, even though its exact mechanism and function in the life of societies is not sufficiently understood. Like the Soviets the present day politically correct liberalism will meet its end in a total, though not economic but demographic, meltdown (it will become an economic one later) and it will do it soon.

September 26, 2007

United to Split

The political crisis in Belgium has by now reached such proportions that it became impossible to ignore. Among others the New York Times and Washington Post both commented on the latest mess. Belgium spent last years in a semi disintegrated state but the recent calls for break-up have become too many and they are coming from many quarters. Flemish separatism on all its flavors scored impressive gains during the last elections. For the last three months the country was without a government and the parliament in Flanders was openly discussing the proposal to declare independence.

This is not the first crisis of this kind hitting the country but this one looks particularly severe and while most analysts doubt that the split is imminent, they do seem to share an attitude well put by a Belgian political analyst interviewed by the New York Times:

“There are two extremes, some screaming that Belgium will last forever and others saying that we are standing at the edge of a ravine,” said Caroline Sägesser, a Belgian political analyst at Crisp, a socio-political research organization in Brussels. “I don’t believe Belgium is about to split up right now. But in my lifetime? I’d be surprised if I were to die in Belgium.”


Apart from the obvious embarrassment for the EU (Belgium is hosting the EU capital after all), in some European circles doubts and confusion in the face of the resurgence of nationalism in Europe are all too evident, in particular, given the enormous progress Europe has achieved in economic integration of the continent.

The surprise is misplaced. Economic integration can do little to force a common national identity. Migration flows and mixing up populations can do much more in this sense (provided they don't end in a civil war). The nationalist trend is also in line with the demographic trends recently observed in the West that favor sectors with strong religious and national identities.

Moreover, there can be more to the interplay between economic integration and nationalism than meets the eye. Usually the splitting parties have to worry about separately renegotiating previous trade agreements held with third party countries, as well as about the consequences of economic disintegration with other parts of the former country triggered by establishing new borders and tariffs control. Here lies a certain paradox. The EU with its common market, transparent borders and collective trade agreements has actually removed one of the more serious obstacles that used to stand on the way of separatism in Europe. As long as the splitting part remains part of the European common market it has little to worry about in this sense.

The common European market seems to have unleashed separatist movements in some places precisely because it allowed the separatists to switch the debate from possible adverse consequences of economic disintegration to the rails on which the separatists feel more comfortable such as discussing regional subsidies that in the case of Belgium keep the Walloons on their feet but are paid by the Flemish.

There can be even more to the EU and separatism. There is a tendency to explain away national conflicts as socio economical ones masquerading under the disguise of nationalism. Probably in many cases, it would be more correct to say that these are national conflicts spurred by a particular economic or social crisis that exposed the lack of a clear common identity and the sense of solidarity within the society. What in a normal nation state would be accepted as necessary and correct measures to support economically weak regions and parts of the society, creates resentment and discontent in a multi-national one. The idea of the central government siphoning off resources from productive regions to faltering and wasteful ones is fueling separatist sentiments in various parts of Europe such as the same Flanders, North Italy or Catalonia and Basque Country in Spain.

The liberal and cosmopolitan thinking that's behind the integration may have indeed undermined national identities in some places. But instead of turning cosmopolitan (or maybe because of this) some polities in Europe started disintegrating into regionalism. In the same way the secular liberal culture led to atomization and individualization of the society at the expense of community, at the national level its universalism caused some societies to start losing the glue that has been holding them together until now.

One thing is sure. If some people were thinking that a common market and a hefty doze of economic integration are a guarantee against separatism and nationalism, they are plainly in for more surprises.


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