An interesting issue for Marxist social anthropologists is the way nationalism seems to survive as an ideology – despite quite a lot of factors that one might think would go against it. Most of all I’m thinking about the increased amount of communication across country boundaries which has been made possible through the internet. Another factor is probably the cutbacks in social services and the universal upgrading of the military and police power of the states, which both should make it hard for a large part of the population to identify with “their country.”
However, somehow nationalism (in the broad sense meaning simply that people identify as being part of a “nation” that usually has a state of its own) seems to survive, although in new forms. Now it is of course questionable how strong it actually is at any given time and whether the national identity people carry is their one and only or primary identity, or whether it is just one out of many identities — much in line with what many current Marxists like Eric Hobsbawm have been saying for quite a while.
Nevertheless, the cases one can observe can be quite funny — I have just seen a Norwegian and a German of it. I’m not going to analyze them very much. Just read and be amused! 🙂
The Norwegian one is one is one that happened to me last weekend. I went out to a conference of that Pedagogy Student’s Union again – this time in the city of Halden, about 100 min. train ride outside of Oslo. I arrived there on Saturday morning and walked through the rain for about two hours hiking out to the local college outside of town and back again (nope, conference sure wasn’t there) and arrived at the place just about back at the train station. It all meant that I was way late and so I burst in right in the middle of a talk. They had this white guy from South Africa, who was giving something that was quite close to one of those “you can do everything if only you believe in yourself!”-speeches, however it was really about “You have to talk like a giraffe, and not like a [some low life animal which I don’t quite remember]!” — in order to prevent conflicts with the people around you. The speech could be the subject of an analysis in itself, but that’s not what this is about.
The interesting part is what happened just a few minutes after I entered: the speaker asked the audience: “…and we humans have been given a system which tells us whether all our needs have been satisfied. Now what do we call that system?” The first answer he got was: “The welfare state” (for those wondering, the correct answer is: “feelings”). Now you might see this as simply a slip, but when I told the guy who said that, that I might put his answer on my blog, he just said: “well, I was speaking about the macro level”.
I guess we should a line to the bible: “…after resting on the seventh day, he used the eight day to create the welfare state.” 😉
I think that the complete identification that still many Norwegians have with what they see as being a true “welfare state.” Given the rhethorics of the new government, this view will probably live on for quite a while.
The other example is from Germany, where there certainly is no welfare state left, and now one even has a coalition of the two big bloc parties. Now here you suddenly have this huge campaign made by all the big media houses labeled “Du bist Deutschland” (Eng: “You are Germany!”). Now if this sounds bizare to you, you absolutely right, it’s the weirdest thing I have seen for a long time. The message of the campaign is basically: “please stop thinking negative thoughts, lets all just be happy and proud of being Germans and then Germany we will all get Germany back on track.” This whole thing is being broadcast through all the main media channels – newspapers, TV, cinema, etc., and apparently (I haven’t been in Germany for a long time) and they make sure to include people from all class backgrounds in the main spot. I addition you can upload your own picture to their website and add a little statement like “I am… Germany and Germany is me.” You show up in their gallery – together with about 80% “normal people” and 20% popstars and other German celebrities. Of course they need to show those celebrity pictures again and again so that they can match the number of people that have uploaded their picture. All across you have posters and newspaper adds telling people “You are Albert Einstein” or “You are Ludwig Erhardt” (a conservative Westgerman politician from the time of the two Germanies). However, it took an anti-campaign to point out that according to the same logic, “you” as a German could also be Adolf Hitler, etc.
And luckily there are those anti-campaigns! 🙂