Monday, September 26, 2016

Nationalism v Globalism (Group Discussion)

Other Guest Posts by the Cast of Characters
Shivani - Connecting Deep and Wide
Stu - My Fellow Americans, The Revolution, Admiration and Reward, To Ooze
Phil - To Ooze
Nick - On debut - a friend from Smuts Hall at the University of Cape Town. Now lectures at Wits University.
Brett - NotOnOurWatch, Listening Better, Hearing the Listeners, Finding the Words, Words to Life, Breaking Bread

I am very much someone who values cosmopolitanism. I don't much care for trying to protect my identity. I like the idea of breaking it down by adding the best bits of ideas I come across. Jon Haidt, one of my favourite authors, recently wrote an essay looking at some of the recent divisions in politics from the perspective of 'globalism v nationalism'. The idea of protecting identity vs simply being racist/anti-immigrant. It does provide a more empathetic way of looking at some of the views that seem so contrary to the world I would like to work towards.

I feel as if I carry both a globalist and a nationalist inside of me. I'm wildly appreciative of travel, I believe in being open and welcoming and love the rich diversity of being human. But I also value mythology, language, history, community. The idea of the world being one doesn't make sense to me if it means losing the variation in culture. 

Who assimilates and who is assimilated? Do these ideas even make sense if we acknowledge that culture is a living, evolving thing that cannot be controlled? It seems equally problematic to expect those migrating to your country to assimilate as it does to refuse to give up any aspect of the culture you come from. As with most things, the middle way makes more sense. A little give, a little take. 

I am a fourth generation South African, of Indian descent. Indian culture still reverberates through me. A love of the food, the music, the mythology, the clothing, yoga. But there are aspects I've chosen to leave behind: language, religious practice, norms about who I marry. I don't think I could describe myself as a global citizen. I have sunk deep roots in South Africa. Does that make me a nationalist?

I think the Nationalists are more those who feel intense discomfort with the pace of change, and don't have a foot in both camps. The issue with open borders is it does shine a big light on just how different some of our cultural and moral responses are to certain issues. Not necessarily in big ideological ways, but ways that make us feel less at home. Language, food, music, and other comfort factors get thrown on their head. 

I remember the clashes at school as we were coming out of Apartheid on issues as simple as noise levels. Natal was quite British. Think someone shouting across the tube in London, and you can see the response to shouting across the playground. Is this potentially just a teething issue that older generations struggle with? Will younger people be more used to variety? Or do we need to start making allowance somehow for more aggressive assimilation in *some* places to allow bubbles of comfort for those who are struggling with the change.

The Economist

This is such a big topic there are lots of possible directions to go in. In one sense, my response to tensions between nationalist v globalisation groups is the opposite of a typical left wing response, which I see as being to limit the number of immigrants but then be very supportive to those who do come. I’d like lots of immigration but more assertive about enforcing local norms/laws (until these norms change naturally or via immigrants voting and normal democratic evolution). This doesn’t properly address those who feel threatened by the change, but I think nationalists feel defensive over their own norms and laws and don’t want to apologise for them.

In the UK there is a concept of 'Silent Tories'. People who don't say much and then vote Conservative in the poll booth. Quite often the Globalist approach can take the moral high ground and be very loud. To show any form of dissent in public, or to say you feel uncomfortable is seeing as against any number of righteous values. This makes working these things out and gaining comfort with change hard. I regard myself as very liberal, but I come from a socially conservative background. 

One example is homophobia. I 'didn't know' a single homosexual growing up. This is not true, but the environment was so negative that there was no way anyone could come 'out of the closet'. Despite the world moving on dramatically, and a number of people from my neighbourhood now feeling free to be themselves, gender roles are still very clearly defined. Men still don't show affection as naturally and being effeminate is still a problem. People aren't vocal about their discomfort, but still wince at public displays of affection etc. 

It is easier for people to be loud about 'progressive issues'. If there isn't space for people to be vocal about their conservative issues, I am not sure we will work our way out of them.

To show any form of dissent in public, or to say you feel uncomfortable is seeing as against any number of righteous values.” I feel like this is quite a detour off Nationalism and Globalism, but perhaps one worth having. I call it “The Great Pscyhological Dilemma” and, at its heart is the question: “What Sort of a World do We Want to Live In?” Take Trev’s example of homophobia. We want to live in a world in which people who identify as homosexual are free to live without fear of discrimination. How do we realise this goal? Do we 

(1) police the uttering of gay-slander? or 
(2) educate and wait for people to realise that sexuality lies on a spectrum, and that homosexuality (like transgender) is completely “normal” in the sense that a bell curve has tails. 

(1) Is external policing. (2) Is internal change (both rational and emotional). 

Ideally we want (2). BUT… human beings enjoy power (superiority) over others, enjoy creating “out-groups”/enemies, like to hate, and mostly hate to think for themselves. To me, one of the greatest challenges of the coming century is how to deal with HUMAN BEINGS… such that they aren’t policed into a Brave New World (or Equilibria), but aren’t left to become Lords of the Flies. Suggestions welcome...

Library of Economics and Liberty

Perhaps this is a case of us simply not recognising the forward steps we are making, and getting very upset about the steps away from what we want? If we take a broad historical look, we are getting better at cooperating with each other. We are chipping away at prejudice. Something we are doing must be right even if it occasionally feels like we are being punched in the stomach. 

We are treating each other better

The internal change Phil speaks of can only come from intimate friendship. Those conversations outside of the public realm where you feel confident enough to express your prejudice and work on them. People change from where they are, not from where we want them to be. I don't think Globalisation is about assimilation. It should be as simple and as limited as possible. Like agreeing on the number of keys to put on a piano, but then allowing people to play Jazz, Rock, Classical or improvise. I know Stuart is much more positive on the state of the status quo than most. In a world of free speech, we focus on the bad stuff. Animal Farm in reverse.
I myself do not think of myself in terms of a national or global identity, or have any desire to reflect any particular identity to anyone else (although a reflection is unavoidable). I don't get excited about which sport team (/person) wins anything anywhere - but I do like watching skilled sportspeople. I find a lot of cultural identity practices abhorrent. We are collectively very happy to give up personal liberty sometimes in the name of common identity which is regrettable. None of it makes much sense to me; I have no idea why people are attached to these identities although if I gave it some thought I am sure there are plenty of candidate explanations I would accept. 

Ignorance drives our lives and this is just one of those areas which I do not get too worked up about not knowing much. The same as notions of cultural appropriation - just not something I am driven to better understand, although some are very passionate and vocal about it at the moment. It is another issue wrapped up in identity politics and in this regard it is not something I have much interest in. 

In the end the us vs them thinking is probably unavoidably human, its suppression undo-able, its glorification universal, but if left unchecked would probably destroy our species, and if it could be expunged, that would probably be a good thing (and to be clear it is not disagreement that is a problem, it's the division of us against them which is the problem)

This animal is so beautifully complicated that we really could take it to so many deep levels and flesh it out for weeks. I definitely agree with the idea of holding tension lightly and tend to think more and more that we would be a lot more healthy if we leaned towards Both/And belief systems more than Either/Or. Echoing what I’ve heard above, I love some things that are distinctively South African but I love the possibility of eating Indian food at the Eastern Food Bazaar in Cape Town centre. It would be a shame if everyone assimilated and became all the same. So holding on to some things that feel family or culture and embracing some that feel important from the local context. Each person is different and so we would be cultivating a variety of expressions which feel like they would create a richness when experienced alongside each other. The need for community in this scenario becomes so important though, whether at a family or wider level. And the importance of accepting each other and what we bring as well as learning from each other, the things that we don’t understand yet. Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu.

Brett, I love the point about Both/And. Recognising where we come from and where we have ended up. If respect flows both towards migrants, as well as towards those who receive migrants, the issues start to dissipate. We forget that there are no pure identities....everything is mutable. Embracing the fluidity is tough. But building in rigidity cannot be the solution. As with most things, it seems to come down to a willingness to connect as human beings and not entrenching in/out groups (so often underpinned with assumptions of better than/less than).

I get very scared by the idea of laying ownership to cultural ideas. The communities who have been best at avoiding cultural appropriation are the ones who believed their ideas were better than everyone else's. Supremacists. This is normally just a case of historical amnesia. Our language, clothes, songs, food and all we held dear has been built collaboratively. Equally, I understand the desire to build close, exclusive, intimate relationships. A value to uniqueness. The anti-Globalisation forces are not just a basket of deplorables. Some argue that keeping things local and separate is a form of respect. It recognises tacit local knowledge. It prevents sameness. It prevents systemic risk since connections help good ideas and bad ideas spread.

I understand ideas about self-determination, identity building and keeping things holy. Having grown up in Apartheid South Africa, I just get sick at the bottom of my stomach when I see the damage that can be done by living purely in relative terms. Only looking around you and caring solely for those in your immediate community is toxic in its ignorance. We need to find a balance. You can still have a global world full of local flavour.

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