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Archive for February 2009

New age patriotism?

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During one of my lunchtime internet trawls, I came across a blog spot which spoke about how NRI’s do a lot of good to India’s development and how being NRI and patriotic is not hypocritical. The post was followed with the customary “Yes, being away from the motherland increases love for it” and “If you are so patriotic, why don’t you come home?” comments. The arguments weren’t too interesting, but it did get me thinking about patriotism.

Patriotism is an effect of boundaries, either physical(lines on a map) or less tangible, such as language, customs, religion etc. The presence of such boundaries causes the groups involved to think in a “us-against-them” way, wherein each person is supposed to show undying loyalty to the group in which he is born, even if one does not agree with the group’s principles or does not like all of it’s facets. It is probably a remnant of our primitive past where we had to stick with our “herd” to survive, irrespective or opinions and faults, or else we would perish.

Sometimes these groups merged and the divisions between them disappeared over time. For each person in the supergroup, irrespective of whether he had personally witnessed the merger or not, it becomes necessary to claim loyalty to the supergroup and not to the individual factions before the merger. A good example would probably be post-independence India. Before the British conquest of India, it must have been quite routine to hear of people willing to lay down their life for the Maratha kingdom or the Mysore or Hyderabad, but once Indians had found a common enemy in the British and then proceeded to emerge from the colonial rule as a single nation, every patriot had to profess his undying love for India as a whole and referring to the bits and pieces that existed earlier was rightly considered regressive.

In the past, the boundaries that gave rise to patriotism were held in place by huge obstacles to transfer of ideas, cultures and languages. If someone wanted to go from south Asia to Europe, they would have had to spend many perilous weeks at sea. Migrant populations were too small for their culture to be visible and ideas probably had to wait till at least two perilous sea journeys were made before they got transferred to a new land. Lower mobility of people meant that they remained within the boundary of their nation, dealt with their own problems and basically lived their own lives happily or unhappily.

While we still maintains the physical boundaries between countries (though it is disappearing in some cases), on most other attributes, today’s world is a world without boundaries. Communicating between countries is as easy as calling next door, travelling across the world is a matter of hours, or a few days at most. A lot more people are immigrating to new countries, causing populations of nations to homogenise. Major cities in the world have started to resemble each other so much, that save for the languages, we may never be able to tell them apart. A huge chunk of the world wears the same sort of clothes, drive the same kind of cars, own the same kind of material possessions and do the same things to keep themselves entertained.

There is also the growing awareness that the major problems of today are global problems. Terrorism, global warming, poverty and disease do not affect just a certain country, they threaten the whole world, or a chunk of it nevertheless. As the problems transcend national boundaries, it is important for any potential solution and the thought that goes into it to do the same. It therefore appears, that the old style boundaries are becoming less relevant by the day.

In this ever shrinking and increasingly boundary-less world, is the old definition of patriotism as love and loyalty towards the country one is born in still applicable? Does one base one’s priorities on his family’s origin, his own place of birth, his place of residence or the place of work, as it may not be too difficult for each of these to be different countries. Each of the countries have a very strong claim to the person’s loyalties. Having divided loyalties does not fit very well with the old ideas of patriotism and therefore in all fairness, it is important to change the old definitions. In my opinion, patriotism today should mean a love and loyalty towards the whole world and not just one country. It is true that we do not have any choice in terms of the planets on which we can live, but it is possible to think and act in a way that causes global good. The increasingly close knit world is bound to one day get rid of a majority(if not all) boundaries, so the quicker we start thinking about it in this light the better.

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Written by clueso

February 21, 2009 at 4:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized