Friday, December 5, 2014

Nationalism is the Opposite of Racism

It is commonly asserted that nationalism is the same thing as racism.  This is incorrect.  Nationalism is the opposite of racism.  Destroying nationalism will not usher in a new era of open minds where everyone loves one another.  Rather it will turn people back to identifying with their race, their tribe, and their family.  And most of us won’t enjoy that.

The rich of the United States want to import massive numbers of foreign nationals in order to drive wages down to third-world levels, and drive up profits for the mega-rich.  Period.

But that doesn’t sound very good.

So the rich have used their power to hammer home the idea that opposition to importing large numbers of foreign nationals is equivalent to being opposed to immigrants in general.  Of course this is a lie – many US citizens and permanent residents are immigrants.  But it sounds good, so they bleat their slander over and over again, 24/7 from every media outlet.  ‘Opposing a high rate of immigration is the same as hating immigrants.’  Even though this is clearly false, the oligarchy has no shame and this propaganda helps to stifle the opposition.

The next time you read a mainstream article talking about ‘immigrants’, replace the word with ‘foreign nationals’.  Doesn’t read the same, does it?  Imagine headlines like these: ‘Hispanic racist lobby demands that Mexican nationals have the right to send their children to U.S. Schools’, ‘Children of foreign nationals overburden local school’, ‘Protestors demand welfare benefits for foreign nationals’, etc. 

Now for Americans to want to restrict the ability of foreign nationals to move to the United States is certainly nationalistic – and by a dictionary definition, one could argue that it is even patriotic.  Possibly xenophobic. But it is not a priori racist. 

Suppose that the government of a nation is unable or unwilling to protect the interests of its people.  The result is not utopia.  The result is that people rely on connections to others of their race, or tribe, or extended family connections.  This always happens.  And in that case you have people living in the same nation, working side by side, who feel themselves as rivals and consider life to be a zero-sum game, where race A can only get ahead by taking from race B.  And that’s not a pretty picture.

As with anything good, nationalism can become pathological.  I would argue that the family is a good thing, but there are criminal gangs based on families that steal from others and only have loyalty to themselves, and few would argue that that’s a good thing.  So too nationalism can become toxic, where people don’t just favor their own nationals, but go to the extreme where they consider that only their own nationals deserve any consideration and they can invade and plunder other lands at will.

Nevertheless, although it can be taken too far, nationalism is the only structure that can take all of the people living in one place and make them feel like they are part of the same team.  It is the only structure than can make people be willing to sacrifice for the greater good of all.  It is the only structure that can avoid the tragedy of the commons, and allow people to focus their efforts productively and make long-term investments for the general prosperity.

Consider this: under nationalism, people feel that all the other people that they actually live with and work with are their brothers, and they feel less connection with people living on the other side of the ocean.  Under racism, people feel that all the people of their race are their brothers, even if they live on the other side of the world, and they care nothing for people of other races even if they work side-by-side or live in the same communities.   Now what system is most likely to result in social harmony?  And no, you don’t get to pick ‘everyone loves everyone else’, because that’s impossible.

Imagine a man who is married to a woman and has two children.  He routinely sees other women, because why shouldn’t he if he can find others that are temporarily prettier than his current wife?    He helps fix someone else’s house even though his own roof leaks, because why should he favor his own family when others are in need? - and these other people gave him money, which he does not share with his own family.  He refuses to pay for the education or health care of his own children, because why should an accident of birth cause them to be favored? - but of course, he doesn't pay to help other people's children either, he keeps it all for himself.  In short, he shows no loyalty whatsoever to his own family – the family exists in name only.  He shows no loyalty to anyone or anything other than his own selfish short-term interests.  And then why should his wife take care of him if he gets sick and disabled?  Why should any member of this family sacrifice anything for any other member?  

When people say that they refuse to favor their own family members or fellow citizens because they ‘love everyone’, what they are really saying is that they love no-one.  And such people typically don’t help everyone – they use their claim of loving everyone, to help no-one, and keep everything for themselves.

Family ties should not be absolute - people should be mindful of the well-being of the community and nation beyond.  But neither should the family be dissolved.  The family is a useful and natural means of focusing effort and compassion.  There is a reason that foster children and children raised in state wards don't do as well as those raised in families - no mere employee would work or sacrifice for a child as a father and mother will for their children.  This fact of human nature is not changed by mindlessly chanting that we should love all children equally.

Now imagine a nation that does not discriminate between its own citizens and foreign nationals.  ‘Why shouldn’t we import foreign workers if the rich can make more money now?’, ‘Why should we train our own citizens and favor them for jobs when we can get smarter people who will work for less from overseas?’  ‘Why should we show any preference in any way to our own citizens, or restrict the ability of the citizens of other countries to come here and compete for jobs and benefits and resources in any way?’

That would not be a nation.  That would be a piece of dirt that people might come to in order to make some money or grab some resources, but nobody would show it any loyalty.  Nobody would sacrifice for it.  Nobody would die for it.  Nobody would give up a short-term profit to make long-term investments.  This would simply be a global commons, and people would grab everything of value from it while it lasts, and then abandon it when it is sucked dry.

“The tragedy of the commons” has sometimes been misused by Neoliberal economists in order to justify the acquisition of vast fortunes by corrupt rentiers (but then what hasn’t been misused by Neoliberal economists to this end?), but it is still true.  If there is common grazing land in a village, the incentive is to graze as many of your cattle on it as possible before it is turned into dirt.  If someone limits their grazing, they will lose out to others that do not.  If someone invests in improving the land, the fruits of this investment will go to others.  A commons inevitably is destroyed from overuse and underinvestment.

And so with a nation.  Imagine that a people invest in building new schools, and foreigners come in such numbers that school crowding is not reduced.  Why did the people invest all that money, when they acquired no benefit?  It’s pointless.  Suppose that people try to fight poverty amongst their fellows, but it is all swallowed up by people coming over from other countries, so poverty is in no ways reduced.  Suppose that people limit their numbers, and conserve resources, in order to improve their quality of life and their environment – and it is all wiped out by other people moving in.  Without borders there is no point to sacrificing for the greater good.  Without borders any effort at improving life will be so diluted by the size of the entire world that nobody will see any positive effect – and even the generous of spirit may balk at paying for programs that have no visible positive effect. 

After Mao’s disastrous program of maximizing population growth, the Chinese embarked on a program of limiting population growth.  It hasn’t always been pretty, and China is far from a utopia, but the average Chinese has made significant progress.  Not so in India, where continued rapid population growth has produced a mass of poverty of almost unimaginable scale.  A Chinese economist recently said words to the effect that, we decided to eat, and the Indians decided to have children.

Suppose that we allowed Indian nationals to move to China in search of jobs without limit.  The progress that the Chinese people have with made with such difficulty would be wiped out (and the standard of living in India would not improve, because the Indians leaving would simply free up room for more Indians to be born and survive to adulthood).  Why is that moral?  Surely if the Chinese people have managed to eke out some gains, they are entitled to keep them?  Instead of demanding that India be allowed to drag China down, should we not be asking why India cannot raise itself up?  And if a people sacrifice and work to raise their standard of living, and it is all wiped out by other people, then why bother?  Why limit your numbers, when all that will happen is that other people will move in and leave you no better off?  Why invest in more infrastructure, when others will take it leaving you with no benefit? 

A world without borders will be a global commons.  It will suffer form overuse and underinvestment as all such commons do.  A world without borders will not equilibrate to the mean GDP of the world, it will be driven down to the level of poverty of Pakistan and Bangladesh, because societies with sustained high fertility rates can and do consume all resources available to them.  A world without borders would be like an electrical system with no fuses or circuit breakers, where a problem in one place can take the entire system down.

A final note to those that claim that a nation is just an arbitrary line on a map, and that because one's membership in a nation is an accident of birth it is meaningless. People can be asked - no, they can be REQUIRED - to DIE for their nation.  Nothing that people can be required to die for should be considered trivial.  A nation is a family writ large, and of nearly as much importance to a person.

Good fences make good neighbors, and moderate nationalism makes good societies.  A global commons, does not.

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