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Sunday, January 15, 2006

The need for patriotism and nation-states

After God, the word that we hear most is probably the name of our country. Simultaneously, after religion, the concept of a nation state is the most significant cause of unnatural deaths for human beings. The idea of a nation state is rather new- even around the 18th century, kings and emperors ruled the world; boundaries changed frequently, the ruling elite had little connection with the common man, and I would be surprised if the common man on an average had any special feelings for the total area of land controlled by his king. The 19th century saw the rise of anarchism, and since 1920, international communism was a serious proposition against the idea of a nation state.

However, over the last 20 years, the idea of nation state and the associated feeling of patriotism have made a home run. Especially for India, the boom of cricket, media and commerce over the last ten years has hammered down the idea of patriotism and nation-state down every throat. Companies of non-Indian origin like Nokia, Samsung etc. have consistently tried to titillate our patriotic senses through ad jingles like: Jaago India Jaago, Come on India, Deekha do, etc. News and sports channels have branded cricket series between India and other countries as “Intekaam”, “Sabse bada Jung” to raise battle spirits within the normally meek citizens. Movies like Gadar tried to prove that one Indian can handle million Pakistanis. Together with these, have come legislations that enforce you to be patriotic just before a movie starts. Members of political parties have blackened the faces of people who had even distant connection with books about national heroes where every sentence of the book was not an eulogy to the hero. Such trends have also become common in US in this age of FOX TV, where people feel obliged to hoist large American flags outside their plush houses to prove to the world that they are as patriotic as their neighbor.

Nation states serve a very important function – that of ensuring administration and order. And with democracy, some limited checks and balances can be brought onto the system. However, Patriotism and the idea of nation-state often serve other queer purposes. It can be used a justification to send your own people (army) to death row (battle lines), and also to absolve the guilt of your armies when they have killed human beings from the enemy lines. So, a person responsible for the Mai Lai massacre merely serve a few months of detention, as such brutalities are acceptable when countries are at war. It can be used to justify tapping of phone calls, and often, torture. It can be used a justification for allowing terrorists to kill their hostages so that the country of origin of the hostage escapes being humiliated by terrorists. It is also a justification for high tariffs and agricultural subsidies that rob the poorest a decent living in third world countries. And of course, it can be used as a justification for pre-emptive attacks on common citizens of the enemy state.

Do we need a nation-state? Is patriotism a natural feeling? Is humanity less important than your country? Are people from other countries less human or less glorified than people from your own country?

Is it possible to have a single administrative unit for the entire world? The performance of the UNO and the League of Nations warns us even before we start thinking on those lines, while the EU is still evolving. The other extreme could be very small administrative units – free city-states, sovereign gram panchayats. But this may result in much widespread corruption due to lack of oversight, as well as huge inefficiencies and unfair dependencies. Or is it possible to have nation states that don’t permeate our consciousness as much as they do now- states with much reduced role; where patriotic instincts don’t blow up minor incidents beyond proportion, where countries don’t take themselves too seriously and thereby don’t get into disputes or wars, where the life of any individual is as important as the life of a billion added together?


Venkat C said...

Yes, I agree with you. More times than not, I have been snubbed by friends for saying that I prefer conceding a bit of land than letting thousands of our men dying gaurding it. But I stand-by it. Nation hood has outlived its purpose and no nation is self-sufficient in everything in the present day world and its very much needed to move towards a global state soon.

Amit Kulkarni said...

A comment: sport is being used to channel our animal instincts into a socially acceptable behaviour.

And you won't ever have a single global entity state by choice or agreement because a tiny minority of people will never be satisfied with living peacefully with the silent (dumb/brainwashed/insert your choice word here) majority.

But IMHO, the nation state would probably die out as a concept, if people all over the world are faced with the exact same sort of problems.