Sunday, October 4, 2009

Divided and Ruled by Nationalism

Note from the author: I've struggled with concepts such as patriotism, nationalism, and even nationality itself ever since I became - what 10 years later seems to be - a perpetual immigrant ... Here's a little sample of my rather disorganized cranial diarrhea on the matters.

Generalizations ...
...are pervading our entire way of understanding the world around us. On one hand, they are indispensable and can be very useful, on another - and especially in wrong hands - they can be extremely dangerous to ourselves and others.

I consider nationalism as well as its fraternal twin sister patriotism to be one of such dangerous generalizations. For the purposes of this article, I will not spend any time on differentiating between the two, I will simply focus on its core purpose and belief. So, what is nationalism? The love of one's country? The irrational belief that the place where you were born and grew up is better than any other place anyone else was born and grew up in? Why are we proud of our language, of our nation's history, of our scientists and sports teams? Is any of it any of our own personal doing? Are those scientists and members of those sports teams our relatives or friends? Why are we even compelled to call all these things 'our'? What of all of that really is 'ours'? Are Germans proud even of Nazism and Russians of their bastard version of communism? What does WWII have to do with me since I was born fourty years after it was all over? Why should we care more for what our country-men did than what members of other nationalities did? Why should we feel in any way complicent or responsible for anything that any of our predecessors did? Logic, anyone?

1. My Country > Your Country

In my not so humble opinion, the tired old concepts of nationalism and patriotism suffer great loss of worth just on the basis of its core philosophy: my country is better than yours. It is almost caveman-like in its simplicity. To me, it is as useless as any burning-bush mythology that has outlived its usefulness (if there was any at the first place that is). It is the innate backwardness of fear of change that seems to be somewhat ingrained in our DNA - or just simply taught to us by our elders - that allowed such dangerous parts of our human repertoire to linger for so long. Some are more bold than others. However, majority clings to the 'old and tried even if failed a thousand times over' like a drowning man to anything that gives him/her the illusion of redemption.

2. Where Did Logic Go?

Besides ethno-centrism being its core purpose both nationalism and patriotism suffer another grave blow when faced with its sworn enemy - logic. While many claim that patriotism and/or nationalism is needed for survival of a nation, I will posit that patriotism/nationalism is any nation's gravest enemy.

A quick run-down of our global history can prove to you many times over that nationalism does not pay, as a matter of fact, nations pay for their nationalism. Quick overview of its victims: Germany, Jewish people, Poland, Russia (USSR), Japan, etcetera and so on.

3. The Real Problem

What one should really ask himself is:

Why do we still feel the need to separate people around the world into neat little packages with countries' names for labels slapped on them? Why can't we all strive for the betterment of ourselves and our fellow man despite his/her/our nation of origin? I am not arguing one should give up something for the betterment of others, I am arguing that imposing the hierarchy of nations and countries on the whole of humanity is dangerous and counterproductive to ourselves.

4. Countries/Nations Vs. Individuals

What more, I see it as an offense to any and all individuals around the world. Why should it matter whether one is from Afghanistan or Israel? Does it in any way add or subtract from who Joel is depending on where he's from? No. And since it does not, why should such distinctions even exist in a first place?

5. Somewhat of a Conclusion

Besides the existence of organized religion, the existence of nations (and hence nationalism) is humanity's gravest enemy. The less we distinguish among individuals or groups of individuals based on such superfluous grounds as religion or nationality, the less reasons we have for conflict and misery. And one can pretty safely say about 85% of all world's problems is thanks to these two. Just to give a quick example or two: what is behind the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What was behind the mass-murder of tens of millions of innocents around the world? Nationalism, religion, the irrational and dangerous belief that one group is somehow superior to another.

My Testament: I want us to love our collective human legacy and work together to repair our all of our human mistakes. USA did not land on the moon, the humanity did. Nobel was not a Swede, he was human. Einstein was not Jewish, he was a genius with a weird haircut. Hunger is not Africa's problem - it is OUR problem, the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not rest on the shoulders of Israelis and Palestinians only, but on shoulders of everyone around the world. If a child is abused on the other side of the Earth, it is as much of a problem as when it happens in your own backyard.

Isn't it about time to finally commit to nothing else but living in peace with each other as individuals rather than members of any groups, religions, genders, sexualities, races, or countries? Isn't it so simple to see that the old saying: "Divide and rule" applies to everything that keeps people from working together and instead compels them to work against each other to the betterment of very few (that later on excuse their actions by seeing themselves as 'fitter', etc.) and detriment of the vast majority? Especially now while faced with such all-pervasive problems such as destruction of the environment, global economic hardship, world-hunger, impending pandemics, global terrorism etc.

These are not rhetorical questions. Our survival depends on how we answer them.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cheerleaders and Groupies: Political Debate in the USA

Note from the author: Attention! This article contains a considerable amount of generalization.

I've lived in the USA - specifically Georgia - for nine years before I moved back to Europe. I got my bachelor's degree in International Affairs (read - political science) from an American college and had many a chance to experience the political culture and especially culture of political debate in the US. One thing that vexes me and saddens me the most is what seems to be the lack of unbiased opinion focusing on overall well-being of the country in the public discourse.

My Team Vs. Your Team

I know that it is not only me who noticed that a lot of people, if not the majority, seem to consider politics as a sports game with everyone cheering for their favorite team no matter how badly their beloved team performs or what grave mistakes the team-members make. Once a self-proclaimed Republican, a person seems to always be arguing along the party-line, always trying to make their 'team' look better, always pushing the political agenda. Under such circumstances, almost every debate breaks down to: my team versus yours. Such individuals do not seem to be capable of stopping for a minute and thinking of 'does anyone profit from such attitude towards politics and political parties especially?' The same, of course, goes to Democrats. It doesn't matter how big of a faux pas does the Democratic Party make, the team cheerleaders will always make sure to put the right spin on it, to color it with 'republicans would make even bigger mess of it', or 'look what republicans did three years ago', trying to change the subject, etcetera and so on.

The Fallout

Some debates gain comical proportions because many times they get diverted from the topic at hand (ex. health care) to 'Republicans don't care about well-being of others', 'Republicans are all people with lower intelligence quotient,' or to 'Republicans supported slavery X years ago' ending at 'what does r(R)epublican mean anyway'. By the end of the discussion, the topic (ex. health care) has been forgotten and all that remains is the good ol' confusion about what does it even mean to be a r(R)epublican and what is it to be a d(D)emocrat and the two camps just keep on going at it throwing back and forth personal insults and such. It is usually obvious that each group - whether the headstrong republicans or steadfast democrats - does not have a clue, they just have an idea and they cling to it like a drowning man to a straw. The charade gains astronomical proportions when each team starts making fun of the other calling each other already pre-existing set of names and derogative terms such as 'Republicans are under-educated, gun-toting knuckle-heads' or 'Democrats are latte-drinking hippie snobs'. The name-calling usually converges on: 'Republicans/Democrats are all idiots'. It really reaches its zenith when a person enters a discussion that does not consider themselves either a Republican or a Democrat and all of a sudden gets labeled by one or two of the zealots as one or the other based on the person's opinions and/or expressions.

Why the need for such labels? The quick and easy answer is that there is no need for them and that in fact they can be rather dangerous and definitely counter-productive to any consensus-building and problem-solving.

I personally find it impossible to attach myself to one or the other party. Even if I mostly agree with one as opposed to the other, I still cannot stand up and proudly pronounce myself as either a 'Republican' or a 'Democrat'. I wonder how may people - in reality - can go down the agenda checklist of their adoptive party and say: I agree with everything that the Republican/Democratic party stands for; therefore, I am a Republican/Democrat and everything that the Republican/Democratic party stands for is hence against everything I believe and should be opposed everywhere I go and every chance I get.

Conclusion: Beware of Generalizations and Decide Who/What You're Fighting For

While I know that not every single American is like that - possibly not even the majority - the loudest and most opinionated segment of the American society definitely seems to be. I have to apologize for making this sound like a harsh generalization. I usually dislike generalizations, but they are useful for understanding certain concepts and solving certain problems, even commenting on some. However, as can be learned from the example of the disastrous state of American public political discourse, generalizations are to be used with care and intelligence as they can turn into rather dangerous weapons in hands of the unskilled and the zealous.

Everyone should stop for a minute, look at themselves in the mirror, go over what they've said in the past (regarding politics) and see how much of it was influenced by their political party's of choice agenda instead of their own opinion and their own feelings on a matter. I know, if one's been a 'groupie' for too long, it will be quite hard to make that distinction, but everyone needs to make it eventually. I believe, that if people everywhere, not only in the U.S.A., started caring more about general well-being of humanity instead of well-being of their political party, religious group, or sports team, this world would be a much nicer place to live.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Domestic Violence: A Pre-existing Condition

Last fall, National Women's Law Center in Washington D.C. stated in its report named "Nowhere to Turn: How the Individual Health Insurance Market Fails Women", that in total of nine US states, it is perfectly legal for insurance companies to deny insurance to survivors of domestic violence.

The nine US states are:  Arkansas, District of Columbia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Idaho, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wyoming.

The aforementioned report studied the differences in premiums charged to male versus female applicants, among other gender-related insurer policies.

The Service Employees International Union, stated on its blog:

"Words cannot describe the sheer inhumanity of this claim. It serves as yet further proof that our insurance system is broken, destroyed by the profit-mongering of the very companies [whose] sole purpose should be to provide Americans with access to care when they need it most. In 1994, an informal survey conducted by the Subcommittee on Crime and Criminal Justice of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee revealed that 8 of the 16 largest insurers in the country used domestic violence as a factor when deciding whether to extend coverage and how much to charge if coverage was extended."

Source: Institute of Southern Studies article


In my (admittedly liberal) mind, the above is tantamount to crimes against humanity.

Indeed, it is unfathomable why would such a proud nation allow for something like this to take place. Have the free market principles robbed us of humanity?

I hope that the U.S. health care reform will take place as soon as possible - it is more than overdue.  I also hope that even those that are against President Obama's Health Care Proposal will continue the quest for health care reform.  Something needs to be done. It seems to be the case that the health and well-being of American citizens cannot be in hands of totally unregulated for-profit private insurance companies.  I hope that much most of us can all agree on.