How sure are you about your nationality?

Large sections of books describing human history are essentially lists of wars, conflicts and discussions of one group of people against another. In a number of cases the reason why both groups have some of their members either arguing with one another or end up mass murdering each other is connected to a concept usually referred to as nationality or nationalism (unsatiable hunger for natural resources and religion obviously being the other 2 in the top 3 of reasons).

This seems to be a concept that is widely spread throughout the entire world population.

Examples of behaviour or ideas linked to nationalism can be found everywhere: for decades Palestinians and Israeli are fighting in support of their claim to the same piece of land as both parties consider it to be their land; In the USA patriotism is so deeply rooted in the culture of the majority of the population that one of the most prominent reactions to the 9/11 terrorist attacks was the introduction of something called the Patriot Act; as I am writing these lines, big parts of the people living in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea are trying to convince the other parts (and the rest of the world) that they are either Russian or Ukranian; in a lot of Western European countries the feeling of a national identity causes a considerable segment of the people to have a very negative attitude towards newcomers in society that have relatively recently moved to the region where they are living (as those newcomers ‘don’t fit in with the local culture’ and ‘steal away the jobs from the locals’ – ideas that are readily picked up and thereby also reinforced by populist political parties).

In all those examples a lot of (often fervent) emotion is involved, even to an extent that you might suspect that it is somehow genetic or connected to our reptile brain. But is it? If you take a closer look, there is certainly no logical reason why one should feel emotionally involved with a specific piece of land this is currently being defined as a specific country. Often people will refer to the number of generations that their family has been living in the region. But that is really very shortsighted. The geographic location of the ‘land of your ancestors’ depends entirely on the point in time you travel back to. I witnessed a very nice illustration of this during a visit to the Royal Musuem of Art and History in Brussels. They have an animation on display that shows the movements throughout Europe of the various tribes between the year 200 and 700 or so (I don’t remember the exact years – the visit is a couple of years ago). Some of those tribes have literally been all over the place – no doubt spreading their genes while passing through – so what exactly should their descendants consider to be their homeland? Migration has been around as long as humans have populated the planet. If you go back far enough, we could actually all claim to be Eastern Africans.

Should you like to see a visual representation of the way genes have been spread around the globe in the course of time, check out this very nice so called genetic atlas (just click the red dots to see what I mean).

The undeniable implication is that the concept you consider to be your nationality is in fact nothing more than hot air officialized by convention in a fairly recent part of human history and confirmed by a piece of paper. Can be great for the atmosphere in a soccer match, but is that really something that should be the central point in the way you look at things in life and the way you interact with others? Is the ground where you (and some of your ancestors) happen to be born really worth fighting or even dying for – as some people seem to believe?

My personal request with regard to the topic: Please keep all of this in mind the next time you consider which political party you give your vote to in an election.

2 thoughts on “How sure are you about your nationality?

  1. Pingback: When do you stop being an immigrant? | THE SECOND HALF

  2. Dimitri

    I would like to suggest a nuance on in your argumentation: Culture is part of nature as humans do. Nationalism must then be seen as a fundamental respect to it.
    It would be great to find more complex alternatives, that support your conclusion.
    So instead of a rational explanation of her humanistic values, you should try to unfold the the new cultural formula that could replace it.


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