Saturday, December 6, 2008

Nationalism is Dead

Okay, the proposition is arguable (and oft argued), but no one can deny it's lost its appeal in the west. This cynical generation will not be found on a couch chanting "USA! USA!" as Michael Phelps demonstrates how democratic virtues facilitate improved hydrodynamics. And perhaps more interestingly, the same generation being less familiar with the term and its past is notably less cynical about being "citizens of the world."

At the same time, the word "Europe" has slowly shifted meaning over the last decade from a geographical fact to a political aspiration, as it appears the challenges of global competition have awoken the European everyman (say, Jacques the plumber) to the civic virtues of not hating the person on the other side of the river (say, Johannes the plumber--unless they happen to be named Ferka the plumber).

In this incredibly peaceful, self-aware, and shockingly generally reasonable world order, I am always struck, and sometimes profoundly confused by the pockmarks of a more turbulent past. I wasn't around for the great war, or its global sequel (World War II: Deutschland with a Vengance). I have fuzzy pictures of the Vietnam conflict buzzing around in my head, but they're all set to Creedence Clearwater Revival tunes, and it's clear that whoever edited this montage did so without me in mind. I learned the word colonialism in middle school because it was set in bold on page 327, and that meant it could be on the quiz on Monday. And in 1992, I was familiar with the names Lenin and Lennon, but had never read either, and was perfectly unaware that there was any difference.

Instead, the world I have grown up in has been marked by less war than at any point in history, a greater degree of affluence (or what an historian might call subsistence-plus) than ever before, and a world which is now more democratic than not (ish, but trending. depends where you get your facts from). I have grown accustomed to this world, and to this way of thinking.

So now, on the other side of the world, I find myself confronting quaint but troublesome problems like the inability to acquire a visa. As you may or may not know, I have developed some vested interests in Eastern Europe. It is incredibly cheap to get across the Asian continent by train, but the real problem is visas.

It seems that a few years back the United States of America, in its infinite unilateral wisdom, decided that people on this continent that look and talk just like people on canal street, aught to be double checked before they could come on over (a decision that can be made rather lightly given that it only affects one out of every five people in the world). In a pissy kind of tit-for-tat way, China said the same thing. The situation is similar with Russia, and the Ukraine, and Kazakhstan...

So what does this mean? It means a potentially wonderfully cheap and energy efficient way to travel may have to be supplanted by more planes just because of some out dated notions of nation-state. It means the lingering bad vibes of generations past are totally about to harsh my mellow. And my generation doesn't like that sort of thing.

This rant is not a well-thought-through appeal for a new approach to international relations (say one based a little less on reciprocal antagonisms?), or even a scheme to tangibly streamline the logistics of personal mobility. No, this is just a slightly drunk complaint from someone who is getting their first view of a world based on all the wrong ideas and all the pig-headed, discourteous, and bad behaviours of generations past.

For someone who can,more often than not, identify with the ambitions and attitudes of his peers around the world, regardless of national identity, the current regime which prevents me from actually every sharing a beer with those people for a good-natured chat is a little jarring.

Accuse me of idealism and call me naive. Accuse me of impracticality and raise myriad counterexamples. But none of that makes this any less retarded.

The world has accomplished the deceptively great feat of general peace. It would be nice to be able to exploit it.

1 comment:

  1. sorry for the late comment on this one. but i have one huge problem with all this. You didn't hit colonialism until page 327?! What in the name of all that is holy was in those 326 other pages?