Same as it Never Was: The Effects of Nationalism on Cultural Growth

Bianca Acosta

Arizona Western College

Undergraduate Student

Same as it Never was

Nationalism, much like the United States of America, seems to have a hard time existing within a state of moderation. They both seem to come with fine print inscribing, “all or nothing”. Nationalism seems to have been custom made for the “red, white, and blue”, and truly, it has come to be included in many areas of life, ranging from the macro level of global impact in reference to economic nationalism, all the way down to the micro level, nationalistic pride of a single individual. Though it affects various aspects of life, at its core nationalism is about identity. It is a collective distinctness; pride and sense of belonging to one’s community. This “we” mentality can be a powerful tool for community building. It instills a sense of trust and camaraderie within its members that allows for flourishing in all facets of society. This same solidarity can be a vital asset during times of catastrophe such as war or natural disasters. Though nationalism can be an instrument for good, it is a double-edged blade, with the potential of causing just as much harm. The grievous qualities of nationalism are highlighted when observed in a stringent typeset in which any deviation is a punishable social offense. It also runs the hazard of producing individuals so star struck with their own native pride, that any suggestions of foreign entities doing something better ( or the native land doing something worse) is immediately shut down and discarded without considering how improvements could be made to the native system. This rigidity is particularly damaging to cultural growth. An inflexibility of self-identification can both inhibit native individuals from exploring how outside factors could produce benefits, and stall or even null possible assimilation's from foreign entities. The relevance of these issues is particularly striking in today’s increasingly global world.

It is no secret than most countries harbor deep-seated rivalries against each other. The United States of America has, itself, made fine use of its boisterous presence to rile up nation upon nation. Whether it was the cold war with Russia, Olympic scandals, or technological advance races with Japan, the U.S.A. is well-versed in the art of competition. Amidst the countless clashes in various fields, testing for superiority, the U.S.A. held its steadfast confidence that would eventually turn into conceit. One genuinely disturbing lead we have lost is in the area of income inequality, according to the journal of economic perspective, inequality in the USA is the worst in the industrialized world. (The land of opportunity has some explaining to do.) Though the USA has factual information to illuminate the disparity of income inequality, any attempt to discuss how the economic structure of our country differs from others, and the possible implications of this is automatically shut down, citing class warfare. The glowing embers that would ignite the switch from benevolent philosophy to perilous dogma become glaringly apparent. The nationalistic pride that once united the country towards a path of progress now stalls it as a refusal to concede that any country could possibly have a better system permeates the undertones of conversation. A not quite subtle declaration that the system is not what is wrong, rather the way it is framed is wrong. In the words of Fox business commentator Ted Wilemon, “if you’re poor, stop being poor”. This comment shows a complete disregard for the faults in the economic system and the extreme duress many individuals go through just to pay for basic necessities, let alone “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”. Underestimating other nations and over-exalting one’s own is dangerous because it paves the way for an unquestioning citizenry base that obeys their country instead of creating their country.

In most developed countries, reaching the global community is as effortless as typing a preferred web address. With only a few simple keystrokes one can go from a coffee shop in Salt Lake City, Utah to Kyoto, Japan without ever leaving the comfort of the local downtown coffee shop. Though the internet is the most accessible place for individuals to exchange ideas, information, and even goods and services, there is much more than just a flow of abstract concepts and material commodities being imported and exported around the world. With the advent of technological advances in transport and vehicles, notably aircraft's, the world has gotten much easier to travel in. The resulting influx of live human beings into foreign countries has done much to educate and intrigue native populations. This outpouring of cultural exchanges has also brought with it a renewed sense of intense, sometimes extreme nationalism. It seems that having a strong inflow of new visitors, immigrants, and particularly refugee’s, serves as active kindling for the ignition of a fear of change. The formerly valuable “we” mentality that served as a conduit for growth now stagnates into an “us vs. them” state of mind. The struggle of field workers, often from Latin-American countries, serves to showcase this issue.  Progress ceases while the main concern becomes how to alleviate the native community from this “alien” burden. In this brand of nationalism, there is a failure to appreciate the possible benefits from integrating new individuals and possibly their culture into existing native systems.

  A striking and immediately relevant illustration of nationalism taken to an acute extreme is discernible in the backlash of anger experienced by the Muslim community in the USA directly following the events of 9/11. The effects of that tragic day are still felt as the phrase “Never Forget” remind both citizens of the country as well as anyone else happening to be tuning in to the American frequency around that time of memoriam. That tragedy followed many Muslim Americans, making them a target for hate both in physical and verbal assaults. The irony that they were just as angry and ashamed by the tragic loss of life and injury to the place they call home is still ignored by many. This lack of perception is a very real danger of a nationalistic pride that follows a rigid set of confining characteristics. Not allowing for continued development of a national identity curtails growth and progress. The fear of change seems to stem from a brand of nationalism attempting to “protect” culture native to its specific region, but in many ways, it takes the form of racism and bigotry. The world is ever changing, if time stands still for none of us, it only seems logical that we should move along beside it, lest we get left behind as well.

In a world that is progressively blurring the boundaries in everything from gender to language, it seems counter-intuitive to keep a death grip on the nationalistic archetype of a single identity. The difference between the fluidity of people and information of Europe is a far cry from the constricted pipeline of the U.S.A. from either of its neighboring countries. This fluidity of movement is the direction we have always been heading, because like it or not, humanity is a curious entity. Imagine a world in which everything from science to medicine is not halted by language or geographical barriers. It makes little sense to cling to the relics of the past and stubbornly root ourselves in a limited definition of what or who is allowed in our small corner of the world. Any tapered off version of what the global community has to offer will never quite catch up to rest of the queue. And possibly worse, it will never even be able to fathom what it is they are missing.




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