The curse of nation-states

Cultures are like gardens: and not greenhouse hothouses. Nutrients, tangible and not so, flow into and out of them: they are porous and their loose boundaries are highly permeable. Over the course of our time on this earth, in response to several factors, a few of which can be pinpointed and a majority cannot be, different cultures have sprung up in different parts of the world: they are not to be dismissed merely as different “ways of life”, a heavily used and loaded term, especially by religionists (or their counterpart atheists). Different philosophy systems, some of which are embedded in each and every aspect of a culture, resulting in different thought processes, different techniques and tools, and different levels of optimism or love with oneself and/or the world: all of this, and more, is a consequence. It is better here to maybe now compare cultures with biomes, but as biome seems more exotic a term than a garden, let’s keep to the garden. A big garden in which many and many species live, out of which some flourish, some don’t do so well, and some come but go, some come and stay and even push out others: their pollinators are of course human agents (not just with actions, both biological and otherwise, but also ideas, imagination, and intuition), technology (books, Internet), and even other living beings. It is also better to keep to our garden analogy than a biome, because a biome is quite self-regulating: a garden is not, in that if one species overgrows, then just like many of us like our garden not to become a wild forest, we do some pruning, some weeding out, some landscaping: thus, we judge the noxious ones or the ones to be disciplined and control or eliminate them, or at least try to. However, we do not know everything (maybe the noxious-seeming one was also performing some useful function), we cannot see all the consequences of our action, and while we may very well establish ourselves as gods to the plants of a garden, whom most do not regard as peers, the act of doing so in a culture means also that we do the same disciplining with respect to our fellow human beings, who, at least theoretically, have often been recognised to be peers by many. However, being products ourselves of a culture, raised with prejudices, insights, and beliefs, we can still consider it to be a biome: after all, every powerful species tries to dominate other species, but the biome self-adjusts. Sometimes, this happens though in such a way that finally it is the powerful species that is hurt, which probably acted blindly (or maybe not: sometimes, circumstances just change more than one could have foreseen, and the greedy ones anyway foresee lesser). However, for adjustments to happen, especially if most species, including a dominant one, need to survive and flourish, it is equally important that the biome remains unified: rather than being fragmented into isolated patches by putting molten tar and erecting high fences in between different areas of the biome, often quite arbitrarily. Does one cut off the mango-tree-dominant area and the chikoo-tree-dominant area of the garden into Mangoland and Chikooland in such a way that they can hardly communicate with each other (no birds, for example, to cross)? Nation-states do that. They divide cultural wholes into new entities that pretend to be wholes and try to depict another as a separate whole, a separate ecosystem (often, an inferior ecosystem, for nationalistic reasons overtly and survival reasons essentially): so the Indian subcontinent gets divided into India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal; the Tibetan whole straddles across strangely from Gansu and Qinghai in China to Sikkim and Arunachal in India via Bhutan, and onwards to Yunnan in China again, which though connected seamlessly with Myanmar and Vietnam at its two ends. A confusion in the self arises: an Indian hates a Pakistani, and vice versa, for abstract entities of the nation-state, though they might share the same culture. But one might say that religions do foster significant differences in cultures, and Pakistan is a predominantly Muslim country with Islam as its state religion. But the Indian is still supposed to, and does often, like the Indian Muslim: so is the Pakistani Muslim different? This also leads of course to stronger identification with religions instead: thus, many Indian Muslims may make joy when Pakistan wins a match (even if it is against India), or many Hindus of India might be very concerned with the human rights of Hindus in Pakistan but not with the human rights of Christians in Pakistan or the Zoroastrians in Iran or the Muslims in India itself. Of course, without the nation-state itself, self-identifications exist(ed): especially when erstwhile kings also identified their kingdoms with religions. Thus, if you lay a jizya tax on non-Muslims, you automatically politicise not just Islam, but also every other religion that is being practised but is not Islam. However, kingdoms are bound in decrees, not constitutions, and decrees change more easily, are more pliable, and do not carry the impression of something noble and good. Decrees have a personal face; constitutions do not, or at least seem not to have.

Thus, nation-states damage religions quite much more badly, in particular those which have had a more spiritual bent rather than political tones: they politicise religions, significantly swaying their practising members towards a mind-set of fear (extinction of their beliefs), of aggression (defense of their beliefs, up to converting others to their beliefs: motivations could range from justification of their own beliefs to themselves, to assuring perpetuity of their beliefs, even if those very beliefs are now ironically diluted with this zeal of conversion and non-spirituality), and of exoticism (going back to some real or imaginary source, and fetishising it: it could be the Hadiths, the Old Testament, or a much-less-read Veda). When religions themselves are weak in a country, or when neighbouring nation-states have same or similar religions, self-identifications are more inclined to nationalism and/or patriotism: for example, a highly nationalistic France (for which nationalism existed even when Catholicism was strong, governed especially by France’s constant wars, in particular with England), a highly patriotic Norway, and a very strongly nationalistic China. When it comes to Europe, though, the European Union project makes things more complicated: often called a type of supra-state, I would rather call it an attempt to establish a continent-state. Except that a nation is bound by some predominant elements of culture, which though seem not so well bound in the case of the EU: it is hard to imagine that the EU experiment could ever succeed, as most people in this world cannot enthuse with someone they don’t know at all (unless their sentiments are milked in the name of a cause, or by some images, etc. – and even when they can self-identify in those images, etc., in some fashion). If at all it has to succeed, each nation-state which is part of the EU will have to make its “nation” weak while keeping (or fortifying) the “state” apparatus strong (and amenable to EU requirements): I don’t see that feasible with many countries in the EU, most notably France (which has a strong nation, strong state) or, worse, countries such as Poland (strong-ish nation, weak state). Germany (strong-ish nation, strong state) is EU’s champion, but it itself has to weaken its “nation” component further, which would bring the risk though of reviving lurking Nazi dreams. Now, if Scandinavia, or even the Nordic countries, were to try something similar, it would work much better, for there is a greater acknowledgement of being Scandinavian or Nordic among the countries, united  in a shared harsh climate, though not so united when it comes to a big disparity of economies. And that’s why, maybe even there it would not be wise to do anything of the sort.

While the EU experiment may never succeed, in 150 years of time, we may very well be an interplanetary community, existing very probably on at least 1 other celestial body and maybe even more: that would certainly automatically, and not artificially (as in the case of the EU continent-state), generate planet-states: there will be new haves and have-nots, on a galactic scale, and both sides should identify closely among themselves as a community, though of course, as always, there would be border-crossers (the pollinators). Nation-states may very well be expected to crumble under that weight, though, with the rapid advance of technology and with rapid movement of people (with children having multiple origins and sources of self-identification), that may happen much sooner than that. That is also why, project nation-state, especially if followed now with vigour, is an extremely short-term strategy. One could always say that one answer is to map the nation-state to a cultural whole (though who would agree even to that? and mapping per which parameters of a culture?), but cultures evolve much faster and painlessly than nation-states do: or else we would have solved the Kashmir question. Of course, any natural space self-adjusts to any change: that is the law of nature. But when you put molten tar between Mangoland and Chikooland, when you try to do selective breeding, you eliminate not only those whom you consider(ed) noxious, but also new offshoots and creativities that could have arisen, and thus stunt your own development. Each patch of the original garden will certainly self-adjust, but with a rankling growth of single species, to which, the day you decide it itself is noxious, you will have no answer.