Saturday, September 23, 2006

Nationalism is Fascism

Or, at the very least a dormant form of Fascism, with all the key elements smouldering in place, ready to flare into full-blown flame should a sustained and powerful gust of wind come along.

Nationalists will tell you that they respect the rights of other nations, but this is a polite, but threadbare fiction. Nationalist ideology promotes the "ethical" principles that:
i. The moral duties of individuals to fellow members of the nation override those to non-members (the rest of the world).
ii. The national loyalty, in case of conflict, overrides local loyalties, and all other loyalties to family, friends, profession, religion, or class.

There in a nutshell is the problem. Within the nation state, I cannot violate the laws of the state to protect, defend or otherwise promote the interests of my family, or those who live next door, or those in the same city. So why stop at the nation state? If armed gangs rampage through the street it's considered criminal in almost all societies everywhere and everywhen, yet bizarrely, this arrangement does not extend past the completely arbitrary borders of the nation state.

Once it's a military engagement, we are free to kill each other in enormous numbers, within a broad and very flexible framework, a framework I might add, largely ignored by all parties once hostilities are in train.

WHAT THE FUCK? Seems hardly adequate to articulate the lunacy of this arrangement. Yet it is accepted as perfectly sensible, and those who propose binding global laws to eliminate the problem, are considered naive, or worse.

Nationalism (after dogmatic religion) is possibly the most toxic idea ever introduced into the human blood stream. It at once harnesses all the most laudable impulses of our kind, while directing them to nefarious ends. Like religion, the momentary inhumanity of the nationalist at full extension, is excused in the context of some nebulous, future "greater" good, or "superior" morality.

The horrors of the French Revolution, the long dark decades of terrorism in Ireland and the current "fight them over there" meme prevalent in the US all have their roots sunk deep into the bloody soil of nationalism. They are all nourished by the same insidious greater good, ends justify the means thinking, that short circuits rational debate, because the "good" or the "ends" are an unknown quantity which must be taken on "faith".

The idea that "we" are intrinsically better then "them", is a keystone of this philosophy. The water is often muddied by claiming that "we" are objectively better!!! For example, we might have better education systems, less people in prison, lower crime rates, lower unemployment, longer life spans, healthier children, greater freedoms or any of a hundred objective metrics that indicate "we" are better than "them". This is an insidious thought process, because it allows us to indulge in a kind of superiority, apparently bolstered by objective reality.

It is of course an illusion. All of the above simply condense to "we were born here" and in no way tell us anything about the relative value of people. It is my contention, and the contention of the founders of the United States, that people are of equal worth everywhere. If that idea strikes you as peculiar, try and put yourself in the position of an 18th century nobleman contemplating the American Revolution.

Today, those of us in the developed world are, like the nobility of the past, absurdly proud of our education, cleanliness and overall superiority to the "lower classes", when our "station" is simply a product of the lottery of birth. We might just as well consider the random colouring of our eyes, our hair or our skin as indicating our intrinsic greater value. This thinking is just a subtle form of racism, lets call it .... regionalism.

This thinking quietly paves the way for "we" are better than "them", to become, "we" are better than "them", and therefore must kill them in large numbers if we feel remotely threatened by anyone of the miserable "other". Or anyone in the region, or with the same skin colour, language or religion. This is how killing 50,000+ Iraqis to protect the "homeland" of the US could be considered perfectly reasonable behaviour by Americans. After all, American lives are of far greater value, and must be protected regardless of the cost in foreign blood.

At its root, nationalism, even the less virulent versions, can never be compatible with the values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights. For the simple reason that those rights all stop at some arbitrary, imaginary line in the sand, and that dear reader, is total bullshit.


At 5:02 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a fellow athiest, I have to post this.

You were going on in the Eagelton thread on Dawkin's site about the lack of any "concreteness" to theology. You are treading on dangerous ground by simply rejecting, out of hand, millenia of western thought. Would you also abandon logic, which was developed in the service of theology?

I think Sean's post does an admirable job of illustrating the problem with naive rejectionism:

First let me state that I myself am an agnostic and am much more inclined to Dawkins' perspective than Eagleton's. I believe in reason rather than miracles. But reason requires that we subject everything, whether we agree or disagree with it, to at least a moderate level of critical scrutiny, atheism and our belief in reason among them.

The sheer ignorance of those who have launched ad hominem attacks upon an author with whom they are utterly unfamiliar in these comments is apalling. You should be ashamed of yourselves for not taking the time to at least google the phrase, "Terry Eagleton," before asseting that, for instance, "perhaps Prof Terry Eagleton would love to be in the limelight for his academic work but he isn't" (#2313). He is, Topmum, and has been for decades.

But the real violence that the commenters have done is to the realm of ideas. The blithe, a priori assumptions of many here, such as Josh Timonen ("He says this as if there was anything actually to be learned from theology, as if there was some database of knowledge that theologians kept separately to themselves.--#2283), belie a fundamental ignorance of the vitally important role that theology has played in the development of logic and reason in the history of thought. From Aristotle to Descartes, Aquinas to Kant, the theological mindset has actually been a tremendous influence in the development of reason and science; in a profound sense, your very belief in science, which animates Brian Coughlan's statement that, "Either god is empirically observable or he isn't. And I think we can agree that he isn't. Thus "study" of god is a pointless waste of everyones time, and worse, a cover for religious extremism" (#2295), is something you owe to theology. This is something too many of you are evidently unaware. (An aside: what does Mr. Coughlan have to say about string theory? That is certainly not "empirically observable." So is it not science? And what might he say to Mike Torr (#2333) regarding the "bold thinking" of the 'multiple universe' solution?)

There is also a distressing lack of understanding of the assumptions upon which science is based. Has none of these individuals ever questioned their own epistemology? Has none ever questioned the veracity of their own senses? I say this not to denigrate the scientific method, which is far and away the best means we have of knowing anything at all, but rather to illustrate the point that even our reliance upon reason is based in a certain set of assumptions. Assumptions, you might be interested to know, which were bequeathed to us in large part by men of faith. Greywizard is almost singular here in his evident knowledge of this most basic problem.

Finally (although there are many more points I could make), it is rather sad to see how far many of you have strayed, in the making of your arguments, from the very reason which you claim to espouse. Take Jason Gersh (#2291), who asks, 'Would Eagleton prefer that Dawkins be an “irrationalist”?' I can't answer that for you, Mr. Gersh, but I suspect he'd prefer his critics avoid the false dichotomy, especially when critiquing the validity of his own argument from authority. Or take Mr. Coughlan again, this time employing the straw man fallacy (#2288): "Imagine if people insisted we worship Santa Claus or Luke Skywalker." Well, Mr. Caoughlan, imagine if scientists claimed that everything was "bunk" until it could be proven? Oh wait, that is what you are saying. Any scientists out there want to agree with that one? The distinction between poppycock and the unexplained seems to be lost on you. Imagine a pre-Newtonian thinker actually claiming that things falling reliably toward the earth was "bunk" simply because gravitation had not yet come along to explain it! And then there's the oft-repeated complaint that the claims of religion can't be proven, or at least aren't in Eagleton's review. Do you not understand that this was not Eagleton's point? Do you fail to grasp that no one has ever claimed to prove the existence of god in the space alotted a reviewer in the London Review of Books? No theologian has ever made an airtight case for the existence of god, but neither has any atheist been able to prove that the big bang, for instance, happened as a result of purely natural, explainable causes. Aristotle reasoned his way back to a prime mover; are the atheists on this board unwilling to acknowledge the possibility even of that?

I don't defend Eagleton's arguments in toto--he makes too many blithe assumptions and the tone of his invective is far too sharp to be taken without a generous helping of salt--but I don't discount them simply because I don't agree with them. You may have many good reasons to disagree with his review, but any reasons you have to dismiss it without further question are the result of your own ignorance. I should hope that your self-styled commitment to reason would encourage you to remedy that.

At 5:21 a.m., Blogger Johnny Reb said...

Interesting blog. Keep up the good work.


Johnny Reb
Warren Akin

At 11:12 a.m., Anonymous SCV Member said...

Interesting blog. I'm always interested in anything to do with the civil war, especially in the area of Bartow County, Georgia. I'm an active member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV).

SCV member
Cass County

At 8:26 a.m., Blogger Greg Laden said...

This may be off the topic, but I'm reminded of this: The US goal, role, fate, whatever seems to be to spread the "American Way" (which I presume to be embodied in the US Constitution) around the world, but we are also interested (out of national self interest) in limiting our expenditures of various kinds of capital to ourselves. A good example of this is trade sanctions and tariffs etc.

NAFTA and similar efforts of globalization are said to support the first goal and clearly not the second. Yet the way politics sorts out with respect to globalization, there is clearly ambiguity here (if I may use the phrase "Clearly ambiguous...")

My point is simply this: Right now we seem to be at a kind of juncture, faced with working out the logic if freedoms, choice, rights, etc. across the spectrum of individual to nation to international community. And flying somewhat blind.

At 11:45 p.m., Blogger Johnny Reb said...

Interesting blog. Keep up the good work.


Johnny Reb

At 2:31 p.m., Blogger Bri said...

Thanks for the comment about my blog.


At 8:27 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

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