The end of nationalism could’ve been in sight. We could’ve been looking at it right now; not quite there yet, but able to see it on the horizon.
Look at the world I was born into. A world becoming increasingly open to travel and migration. More and more children being born, like myself, to people from different countries. Children growing up speaking multiple languages at home and learning additional languages in school. Of course, the world has always been profoundly transcultural in every way, and globalization is hardly a new phenomenon, but at the same time the degree to which we were exposed to international influences (music, cinema, books, TV, videogames) was extraordinary.
Here we were, constantly in touch with the rest of the world, and I don’t think any of us had any great concerns about where we belonged. Unless you force them, children rarely do. I don’t have any particularly idealistic ideas about children – in fact I generally find them annoying and am glad not to be one anymore – but while they’re certainly susceptible to tribalism, the idea of some kind of external identity doesn’t actually come naturally to them. Children just want to be themselves, and they are perfectly capable of seeing through the absurd constructs of identity, especially when they’re exposed to more than one variety.
“Are you Greek or are you German?” people would frequently ask us, and we always knew it was a stupid question. We were ourselves.
And then came the explosion of the internet. Suddenly an entire generation could comfortably chat to people from the other end of the world. And as it turns out – surprise! – the internationalists were right all along, and we mostly care about the same things: food, relationships, sex, music, games, cat videos. There isn’t some magical barrier of cultural essence keeping us apart; in fact, on the internet, you frequently can’t even tell where the person you’re talking to is from, let alone what their gender or sexual orientation might be.
We’ve built a world in which everything that surrounds us, from our pop culture to our communication media to the people we meet in the street, can irrefutably demonstrate our common humanity. It has never in human history been more obvious that constructs like straight/gay, black/white, local/foreign, are fundamentally ridiculous. We are human.
It should be the era of a new and powerful internationalism, ready to finally break down all these barriers. And in this time of financial crisis, it should be the Left, which has fought for internationalism for over a century now, which has always been founded on a belief in humanity and solidarity, that would be fighting to unite people.
And yet the majority of the Left – or what passes for it these days – has embraced the very reactionary ideology it was created to oppose. It promotes the separation of people into increasingly tiny categories, and defends these categories as if they carried all the moral weight in the world. It embraces the essentialist notion of East and West and the Clash of Civilizations. It treats the pseudoscience of race as inalterable reality to be highlighted, almost worshipped, not obviously absurd superstition to be destroyed. It treats critical analysis of those designated The Oppressed Foreigners, an essentialized monolithic Other with no class structure, as blasphemy – the latter a concept it has successfully reintroduced along with shunnings and various forms of symbolic self-flagellation.
The Left as it stands today can’t even imagine uniting people. It can’t even imagine that people are capable of communicating with each other, apart from issuing apologies. Workers of the world, please do not offend each other as you sort yourselves into the correct cells. And make sure to defend your personal brand!
I cannot think of a greater triumph of capitalism than convincing its opponents to embrace every single ideology that perpetuates it.
And it hurts, it really hurts, because we’re so close. We could be winning. We have a thousand times the tools that the revolutionaries of the early 20th century had, but not a thousandth of the vision or ambition. Our generation could’ve been a vanguard in the fight against all forms of nationalism. We could’ve made the very notion of prejudice laughable, something to be associated with silly old people who don’t know any better. We could be fighting against global systems of exploitation together, right now, not as “allies” worried about our place in the moral hierarchy but as comrades, as fellow human beings.
We could be.
We were ready.
All the tools were there.
Instead the bombs continue to fall while the Left debates belly dancing, yoga, and the best secular prayers for warding off sin.