Nationalism and Other Ways to Rot Your Brain

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Yeah, I still have last night’s “Red Scare in Southern California” post in my mind. Crazy bastards. Hint: the following post does not contain a single original thought or concept but is a rant. If you are looking for something meatier and more thought-provoking, try this out instead (it’s about pornography, so you’ll have that going for you).

Today’s news didn’t help. Millions of people are apparently freaking out over the possibility that Yao Ming’s child might be an American citizen. If you can explain to me why anyone should really give a shit about this, please let me know.

I intensely dislike nationalism. It’s fundamentally irrational, based on the accident of who your parents are and where you were born, things that we don’t have any control over at all. It’s also one of the most significant contributors to friction between nations, specifically China and Western nations.

I don’t mean to get all Spock on you (Mr., not Dr.), but this is all about pride, and we all remember what Marcellus Wallace said about pride. Nationalism only ever makes sense, I suppose, if some other country has invaded and you have to pull a Red Dawn on them. In that case, a bit of national pride is probably a good thing.

In most other cases, nationalism leads to absurdity. Case in point, a very reasonable comment made by President Obama recently:

Asked whether he believed in American exceptionalism during a European trip last spring, Obama said, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exception­alism.” (National Review)

Of course he was pilloried for this by Republicans and self-styled patriots. In their mind, one must not only love your country but also take every opportunity to explain to others why their country sucks. This is akin to the hardcore Christian who not only tells you that he believes in Jesus as his personal savior but makes it a point to let everyone else know that if they don’t share his views, they will burn in hell for all eternity.

But wait, the fun never ends. Also in the news this week was the decision by the International Gymnastic Federation to cancel Dong Fangxiao’s bronze medal from the Sydney Olympic games because she was underage.

Because it was the Olympics, and the athlete was competing on behalf of China, it has become an issue full of nationalistic overtones, with the Chinese screaming persecution and many foreigners seeing a sneaky conspiracy that tarnishes the entire China Olympic team (or country, for that matter).

Nationalism is bad enough when it adds to existing bilateral tension. It certainly fuels a lot of the bilateral trade disputes between China and the U.S., for example. But when nationalistic pride, a worthless proposition in general, enters even more meaningless conversations regarding sports, entertainment, or whether a world leader wears a “flag pin” on his lapel — that tells me that nationalists’ fundamental concern is not really about their country at all but about personal amusement.

Aren’t there better ways we can entertain ourselves than pissing in the pool of international relations?