About nationalism and patriotism

About nationalism and patriotism

Making America great again, Brexit and all that…

Is it just me, or do you find it baffling too that, while more than ever aware of the planet-wide climate emergency and the impact it will have on their own lives, and certainly on their children’s lives, people still vote for Trumps, Johnsons and Bolsonaros. The Thunbergs of this world don’t get elected. People go for promises of fatter wallets and increased spending power, but only for themselves to the exclusion of “others”, ones who don’t belong to their own group. They mistakenly believe that less for others means more for themselves. Increasingly, the more we take, collectively or individually, the worse off we all are.

In a world where the severity of the effects of climate change is directly related to our level of consumption, grabbing as much as possible for our own little gang is entirely counter-productive. Even though it is considered as patriotic – after all, we are doing everything we can to help our compatriots achieving a “better life”, including ourselves, obviously – it is extremely short-sighted. But that is precisely the aim of all movements trending right now, whether it’s Making American Great Again, Brexit or any other populist movement worldwide. The idea is that we have been ruled for too long by “others” and we want to take control again, with the deluded aim of becoming more prosperous, better off, richer, you name it. It is never with the intent of sharing our own wealth with more people.

The effect of this is a race towards ever increased consumption between competing groups (nations) worldwide. If I can grab it before you do, I will be better off, right? This is totally incompatible with the capacity of our planet to sustain life. Even most politicians, with the exception of a few more mentally challenged ones, do understand and concede that. Nowadays, they will even admit it publicly and pretend to try and do something about the challenges we face, if only about climate change. One thing at a time, thinking of overpopulation and resource depletion are way too much to tackle at once for them, and certainly for their electorate.

So let’s stick to climate change for now. It is known that climate change is due to an increase of “carbon” emissions. This can be CO2, methane or other greenhouse gases. Emissions caused by human activity are now also causing positive feedbacks, amplifying the effects of human emissions. Think of melting permafrost releasing more greenhouse gases, the reduced capacity of oceans to store carbon dioxide or the increased release of carbon dioxide by spreading bush and forest fires worldwide. What nobody is acknowledging, is that this race towards perpetual economic growth (i.e. ever increasing consumption) is totally incompatible with fighting climate change. Our quest for so-called wealth and a better life for “our own” is the main cause of the current climate emergency. No wind farm or electric car is ever going to change that. As long as nations (groups, communities, individuals) compete with each other to grab the biggest share of the pie, all efforts are doomed to fail, unfortunately. However laudable the aim of “improving lives in our communities” may be, the result will always be catastrophic, if not for our generation, definitely for our children’s.

Let’s take the example of Brexit. Leaving aside the issue of the (un)democratic nature of the referendum and the fact that 62 percent of registered voters in Britain did NOT vote for leaving the EU, in my opinion, all the wrong arguments were bandied about during the referendum campaign. Arguments in favour of leaving the EU are exactly the opposite of what was presented to the public. Outside the EU, Britain’s economy will very probably shrink, which is a huge argument in favour in the fight against climate change, admittedly the biggest threat to all on the planet. It certainly is not limiting immigration or avoiding the so-called extortionate “membership fees” paid to Brussels every year, both total fallacies that are easily debunked. On the other side of the debate, the argument in favour of Britain remaining in the EU is that it would ensure enduring prosperity as part of the largest economic block on earth. This too is the wrong argument if we want to counter the “biggest threat to our survival”. The argument should have been that cooperation between the largest number of nations is essential at this time, again for the same reason. And what better way is there than being part of a Union of nations?

So, on the one hand, it is essential that economies fold back on themselves and get more autonomous (de-globalisation). This is all in favour of patriotism and even nationalism. Indeed, people should take back control of their own economies, but only by becoming less reliant on others. On the other, it is also crucial that cooperation gets established on a trans-national level to combat global emergencies like climate change. In this respect, I am all for the smallest possible autonomous economic units, down to the level of communities. But I am also for the most extensive cooperation possible between those units, up to the highest level.

Sadly, that is not what voters voted for.