Tuesday, March 4, 2014

We’re Number One

I understand the concept of racial, ethnic or nationalist pride, but I have to admit that the reality of it doesn’t really compute for me.

One of the things that my parents taught me growing up is that pride should be a function of individual achievement. I don’t, however, think that they quite meant it in the way that I internalized it, which is that the only legitimate source of pride is one’s own accomplishments. This viewpoint caused friction between my father and I; he was somewhat put out that I refused to express pride in being Black. But, as I pointed out to him:

I am not Black because of any action on my part - I am Black because you and Mom are Black. It’s not like the doctor could have come into the maternity ward and said: “Hello, Mister and Missus McLin. We’ve looked over your son’s prenatal test scores and congratulations, you're having a Latino.”
My father was unamused. (My mother, on the other hand, thought this was the funniest thing she'd heard that year.)

Affinity sentiments have always struck me as dangerous and more trouble than they are worth. So have to admit that I am dubious about an article in The Atlantic that describes South Koreans being upset by Kim Yuna not winning the gold medal as “perfectly healthy.” While I understand the point that the piece is making, that nationalism can provide “a sense of security, a feeling of belonging, and prestige,” but don’t racism, sexism, ethnocentrism et cetera also provide those things? We don’t see those as particularly healthy.

Perhaps there's something different about nationalism that makes “in-group favoritism” and “out-group devaluation” (mainly by putting down people we define as “others”) worth it. I don’t see it, myself. It’s always struck me as simply a cheater's shortcut, a way to claim accomplishment by piggybacking on the work of someone else, and the claims that it can help foster things like “selflessness, courage, and idealism,” never resonated with me, mainly because they never seemed to be in particularly short supply in people who weren't nationalists, or noticeably more common in say, sexists, and others who set themselves apart.

According to Joshua Searle-White, author of The Psychology of Nationalism: “Nationalism can be remarkably unifying, and unlike class or some versions of religious identity, it can do it across gender, class, and political lines.” But it can also come with “great cruelty against [...] enemies,” that a commitment to shared humanity would necessarily preclude.

Attachment and identity, or “us versus them” thinking, seem to me to be a reasonable response to multiple groups of people competing for scarce resources. But now, I think, it’s preventing us from moving past the idea of perpetual scarcity. I don’t see how that’s healthy for us.

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