Nationalism after 11/9

An egregious fallacy of Nationalism is that it assumes a reductive sense of identity.

As an approach to organizing large, pluralistic populations within democratic structures of governance, nationalism’s historic advantage is that it purports a credo of “solidarity” or “unity” across socioeconomic classes. However, by lumping together people of varying ethnicities, locales, faiths, genders, generations, markets, industries, and interests into terms such as “Chilean,” “Chinese,” or “American,” the nationalistic impulse plays out in a never-ending box-checking game of demographics, that fails to account for the simple yet profound truth about identity.

Like the invisibility of dark matter, which composes around 95% of our universe’s composition, I would estimate that 95% of our identity as people is also unseen. As opposed to the material, mechanistic, observable parts of ourselves, our true foundation for forming identity emerges from the simple fact that we are alive, and that we share our lives with other living beings.

This “Aliveness” is the basic fact that we interpret through our relationships to our subjective experiences, which informs our psychological and social narratives, and finds limited expression through the corporal realm. As we refine our perceptions into semiotic systems of meaning (i.e., cultural symbols, ex: flags, politics, entertainment, fashion, advertising), we learn to adapt our personal modes of presentation into society’s mores. Perhaps the hallmark of artistry is its ability to imprint the physical realm, even if only ephemerally, with an expanded vista of this basic sense of being alive.

Xenophobia on the other hand thrives off of nationalistic tendencies to value its own citizens lives over the lives of others. Indeed the entire debate around #BlackLivesMatter vs. #AllLivesMatter hinges on the understanding that unlike their fellow White citizens, Black Americans’ identities have been so heinously reduced by racist media and social institutions that their liberties are perceived as less valuable. The have been reduced by the politics of identity. Therefore the injustices of police brutality, wholesale imprisonment, and racial profiling that occur on a daily basis not only grant less visibility to Black Americans, but in fact gains empowerment by enforcing a regime where being Black in America is very nearly a crime in itself.

The fallacy in detractors who claim “All Lives Matter” isn’t that there should be equally perceived value in humanity, but rather a lack of understanding that we live within a system designed to actively propagate reductive racial stereotypes to deny equity from being realized in Black communities, even though they too are “American.”

The expanded reality of identity is so nuanced that it understandably defies all categorizations other than universal wonder. Before we are our ethnicities, our faiths, our nationalities, or even our birth names, we are all living here together in this moment. Take a moment to let that sink in. The rest of it is just the 5% tip of the iceberg. That’s the big, messy, inalienable truth that no pundit, politician, or hate-monger can argue against, and that no nation has the right to impinge.

With the rise of the “Alt-Right” movement in the U.S., being able to recognize reductive language around the politics of identity is more urgent than ever. Where there are celebrations of Nationalism, or calls for “Eurocentrism” surely motives of divisiveness lurk beneath any veneer of reasoning; and divisiveness is perhaps the most venomous strategy to argue that certain lives are less valuable than others. We must therefore now be vigilant in repudiating these reductive labels in our own communities and spheres of influence in favor of promoting a fundamentally more profound, inclusive, equitable, and expansive worldview.