Nationalism is repression of human progress. Humans seek community and identity and humans will always continue this search. Nationalism is the modern answer to these human desires. Rather than to seek real connection with other human beings, nationalism invites us to place our trust in the imaginary.
The human instincts that create nationalism are natural, yet entirely counterproductive. A young human specimen might try hard to fit in on the playground or try to feel connected to a certain social group at school. It is this same desire that engenders nationalism. As religion historically faded as the organizing principle of society, the nation became the primary entity of belonging. While feeling connected to a group may seem like a productive thing for a human to do, feelings of connection to a nation also inhibits empathy with those outside the nation, and can create conditions that foment conflict and violence. By connecting oneself to a perceived community, “feelings of distinctiveness and exclusivity” will evolve. What seems like unity to the national participant turns into narrow-mindedness. Serbs may feel connected to other Serbs and Croats might feel connected to other Croats; however, when these two groups compare themselves to each other they find no similarities.
Nations promote ideas of distinct human difference. With the emergence of perceived human distinction, each nation will naturally tend to think of itself as superior. The individual will see a smattering of nations and wonder why others do not follow the seemingly correct version of society the individual has come to know so well. A superiority complex arises within every nation, and suddenly each nation feels as if it is the ideal version of human existence. If Croats, Serbs, Wookies, and Slovaks all perceived themselves as the best version of humanity, then the long-term existence of Yugoslavia was doomed from the start.
If transgenerational, genealogical continuity is what people crave, it becomes clear how tiny our human perspective is, especially when we divide ourselves in to tribes or sects or nations. As individuals we seek some sort of link to the past through our families, our culture, or our nation. The existential truth is that no individual has a link to the past. We can grasp at these idealized links to the past, but all we know or experience is our present. It is true that culture passes through generations, yet our perspective of the past is still created in our own mind. Things that we create in our own mind tend to serve our own purposes; therefore, humans can create a sense of genealogical continuity without it actually existing.
A nation is the image of community individuals see in their own mind. This image is artificial. Nationalism demonstrates how humans are capable of creating passionate connections with large imaginary groups. Consequently, humans should have every capacity to connect with an even larger, more authentic community. As humans, we are inclined to notice the differences between us before we notice the similarities. Despite our tendencies, our human similarities have the potential to hold the most influence. By noticing the disparities in human culture, all prospects of tolerance and open-mindedness are flung out the tenth story window. Suddenly our differences become our defining features of pride. This pride brings unity within a single nation but pits human groups against other human groups. This is where a larger perspective becomes imperative. With such a large planet, cultural and social differences are to be expected. However, it is time for us to bring our similarities to the fore.
For example, rather than to see Islam and Christianity as inherently incompatible, we should see them as miraculously parallel. A great book tells of a prophet carrying the light of God. From this history, people have unified, people have worshipped, people have believed, people have killed, people have served. The differences lie in the details, but the divine connection felt by both religious groups arises from identical human emotions. Yet instead of realizing these matching components, we only see people from a strange land worshipping the wrong deity. American presidential candidates wrap the flag around Christianity, and both Sunni and Shia muslims trade insults between the names of Saudi Arabia and Iran. A larger perspective on the origin of religion would force the realization that Christianity and Islam (to say nothing of the two main branches of Islam) are two children of Abraham. This notion of global similarity should be the future. Rational humans could relate to one another as equals, rather than attempting to dismantle the rational thoughts of others as somehow irrational. The same human thought progression brought some people to follow Islam and some people to follow Christianity. But essentially Muslims and are no better or worse than Christians, and vice versa.
Nationalism casts aside critical thinking and reflection—indeed, all rationality. Nationalism serves to unify large groups of people who don’t know each other against other large groups of people who don’t know each other. This really doesn’t make any rational sense. How can a group collectively dislike another group? With a total disregard for individuality and common humanity the nation becomes the singular factor by which to judge others. As Yael Tamir conveys, there are so many other forms of identity that promote critical thinking. Identifying with social classes, as Marx encourages, promotes consideration of equality and inequality within real local communities. Liberalism and Socialism promote consideration of humanity at large and the human role in the continued development of civilization. On the other side of the Ism River, nationalism promotes zero questioning. Rather than thinking about our own roles in our own communities, we link our behavior with that of our imagination. Cultural differences become the only consideration when analyzing human existence. Those people with similar cultural history are the right people and those who are dissimilar are the wrong people. There is no rational thinking involved in the process. Nationalism emphasizes strict right and wrong without any room for consideration. Nations are not people. Nations are imagined characters. Nevertheless, we continue to generalize nations as anthropomorphic entities. Instead we should see the human world for what it is: 7 billion individual Homo Sapiens. We are all members of the same species, and our imagined differences can only continue to the pattern of conflict and violence.