Thursday, March 09, 2006

What Good is Nationalism?

Seems like a fair question! What good can come of being all excited over the place where you simply happen to have been born? Your country didn't give you anything; the benefits simply accrue to individuals who are borne there. Sometimes nationalism gets people killed, some of them innocent bystanders in whatever affair provoked the violence that killed them.
How do you know if your reasons for being so proud of the United States or Russia are any better than an Iranian's reasons for being proud of his supposedly backwards country?
Despite what you just read I have no answer to the question of whether nationalism is good or bad. Of course you may not be able to answer either, unless you know two things: (1) What counts as good or bad when we are talking about a society, and (2) the personal and social consequences of nationalism. Don't make up some knee-jerk opinion then fish for justifications. This is precisely the sort of lazy thinking that I am trying to fight with this blog.

The Social Consequences of Nationalism:

1. Pride motivates us to innovate and work hard.
2. We are motivated to fight against threats to our society
3. We are better able to hang together when confronted with a crisis, like an invasion or a natural disaster
4. We gain a (probably unjustified) sense of superiority that can poison our relations with foregners and even lead to racism
5. Wasteful economic competition - lets build the biggest rocket, fastest train, or tallest building

The Personal Consequences:

1. Social approval
2. Opportunities to advance in the party or military
3. A sense of personal security in uncertain times - "We _________ have what it takes to handle this thing!"
4. Creates a sense of belonging to something bigger and more important than us.
5. Death - in a war or a pointless economic competition
6. Wasted resources - we devote money, time, and effort to activities that are misguided or dangerous

I may have left something out, or I may have left the list more obscure than intended. In either case, let me know! And, consider whether nationalism is really a good thing or not, considering those consequences that I just listed.


Blogger Flying Dutchman said...

Nice work! I have to write a paper on nationalism, and you made a few good points that helped te. Thanks ;)

11:17 AM  

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