Monday, February 2, 2009

Made in US and O Canada

The new economic stimulus package proposed by the US president has been seen in Canada as promoting a 'buy-in-US' protectionism. Not that Canadians are not exhibiting their own nationalism: only recently, a New Brunswick school was ordered to resume singing O Canada each morning. A Very Public Sociologist blogs about the "British Jobs for British Workers" discourse. It looks like we're back to the old national(ist) protectionism!

Or maybe we're not back - maybe 'nationalistic thinking' was always there, lurking in the background and we chose not to see it anymore because of this ultra-optimistic globalization rhetoric. Nationalistic thinking means we think about the world as divided into nations, each nation with its own state - a state meant to protect not the citizens (regardless of their characteristics), but the citizens-as-nationals, the nation. "National pride is commendable, but we can love our country without all standing to attention beneath a loudspeaker," wrote a Globe and Mail reader in today's newspaper.

Well, I never thought any type of national pride is commendable. But as I grew older, I came to realize that societies need mechanisms of cohesion, and rely on nationalism as one such mechanism. I'm still not sure such mechanisms need to encourage the 'in-group' / 'out-group' (or the Us vs. Them) thinking, but I'm still thinking this through. National pride - exactly why is it commendable? That we are all buying into it - in various degrees - has been quite well researched. We know that our 'buying into it' has more to do with the education system and mass media, then with our 'inner needs'. National belonging is not a metaphysical thing - take a child born in the Czech Republic and raise her in the US, and she'll be an 'American' (Caveat: of course,the child has to look like the mainstream definition of the nation, otherwise she'll be rejected by the group for the visible difference).

We do buy into nationalism, and we do think there are good versions of it (like the reader quoted above). We seem to believe that nationalism is benign if kept within reasonable limits. Exactly what those limits are vary of course with the circumstances: economic crisis in sight? Well, depending on whose 'national' you are, American nationalism is bad and Canadian nationalism is good...

Nationalism is not benign, but always problematic. Nationalism is a discourse: it divides the world into nations. It creates the boundary of 'our-group', links it to a territory and a state, and ascribes it an objective reality. Like any discourse which creates boundaries of difference - racism, ethnocentrism, sexism etc. - it is problematic. And particularly dangerous in the ways in which it creates different ethics for the in-group vs. the out-group. And particularly dangerous in the ways in which it becomes normalized as a method of legitimizing actions and behaviors in our everyday life interpretation of the world.


moromete said...

Well, "nationalism" is only threatening if it becomes the measure against which actions are considered to be egal/ethical/acceptable in a group.

The "Buy American" clause is not actually nationalistic, it's economic protectionism of a certain kind which is in sync with nationalism without stemming from it.

The "O Canada" idea is also harmless as long as there's an opt put and everyone is clear on what it means.

Still nationalism has, as you say, been lurking in the background. It's in a way nice to see that it still exists and that people still need to be remainded that their all human and local before being national...

thinkingdifference said...

thanks for the comment, moromete.

myself, i think nationalism is always threatening, because it rests upon an assumption of 'us', the in-group defined by certain features and different from 'them', the other. now, i can agree that nationalism is only one way of constructing the us/them boundary, but the predominant one in modernity.

the present-day economic system has been nationalistic from the creation of the modern nation-states (the emergence of economics as a discipline is ridden with methodological nationalism, the assumption of the nation-state as a bounded and natural entity).

and this is the problem: nation-states artificially create a national economy - and national economic borders. economies have always been global: economic exchange knows no boundaries (well, maybe except the ocean and the mountains, but even then the traders crossed over to the 'other' side).

protectionism is nationalistic in this context because it erects national borders around economic exchange (and i am not a supporter of the free market! so this is not an endorsement of capitalism!).

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