The first time I heard of “the international” as in the communist song, it was in a Giovanni Guareschi book. Since this was the seventies in Portugal, it tells you that at least the Portuguese socialists and communists had learned not to press that facet of their beliefs too loudly. Certainly not to celebrate it.
I’m not sure why. The socialism that we were taught as – as someone on this blog put it – people in the US in a certain time had civic education was very short on the HISTORY of socialism. Possibly because well, after a while, when you study the thing, you get a feeling that there is a lot of failure of wonderful predictions. Oh, and a lot of blood.
Instead Marxism and Marx-inspired regimes were presented as a sort of eternal ideal. Socialist and communist revolutions were the end of history, and the countries need not be studied after that. No, I won’t tell you how Stalin was pictured. No, trust me, truly you don’t want to know.
But the international nature of the beliefs was still there. After all “capitalism” and “imperialism” caused war, while socialism was for all the peoples of the world, and when it succeeded, war would be gone. (True as it goes. Graveyards are remarkably peaceful.)
This played against the background of communist and socialist leaders constantly attacking and constantly accusing this and that and the other of being enemies. Perhaps it is because I was born jaded, but their constant excuse that these people were brutalizing them by existing didn’t fill me with confidence.
And then there were the communists and socialists I knew personally. Depending on their… uh… mental orientation, they viewed Russia or China as the spiritual center of humanity, and their own country as negligible. They weren’t internationalist so much as “we want the whole world united under the Soviet/Chinese boot.” In a way they were patriots, just not for their own country.
As one read more about what went on in the USSR’s buffer zone, and managed to listen to/read an expatriate or two, one started – well, this one started – getting the feeling that this “international” and “the world is one” thing was sort of the advance ideological wedge of truly imperialistic and expansionistic regimes, seeking to get Western democracies to surrender before a shot was fired. The horrifying thing is how often it worked.
It has worked particularly well in the US. This is partly because most young people in the US live in a Star Trek world.
This is not a real world, mind you, but the world peopled in their minds by their teachers’ rather odd attempts to make them culturally “tolerant.”
First of all there is much to be said against the concept of “cultural tolerance.” Oh, sure, there is no earthly reason to despise someone for the food they eat or the clothes they wear (unless they eat live children or wear clothes made of ditto.) There is no reason to consider some language backward (well, there are languages without verb tenses for past and future, which must be pure h*ll to manage modern life in, but that’s something else. Normal human habit in these situations is to borrow like mad.)
In fact, most of the type of thing you learn about other cultures in school aren’t something you should well… have an opinion of any sort about, unless it’s aesthetic. I hate south American decoration on fabrics. This doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s an aesthetic opinion. I’m also not particularly fond of the things Scandinavians do with furniture. Aesthetic opinion. My kid likes it. It’s… what you like. I can say “Bah, no Swedish straight lines, thanks” when shopping for a table. That doesn’t mean I despise the culture. Oh, and some African carved masks give me the holly gibbies. (Though I rather like animal carvings. Go figure.)
None of this is lack of tolerance. I like what I like. You couldn’t pay me to wear a ball cap, for instance, and that’s the culture of my adopted people.
But this is all the level they can teach in school. First of all because the units for world culture or geography or whatever start in elementary and rarely go beyond middle school. Do you really want to discuss genital mutilation with your elementary school daughter? I wouldn’t. Do you want to explain how the concepts of personhood and individual value vary across the world? Or course not.
Worse, the teachers are often fluffy internationalists, having been taught what I call “tourist multiculturalism.” They believe that “culture” is clothes and crafts and food. Or, as I kept running into when they told me to teach the kids their “culture” and I replied I was, that they were perfect “US Geek.” They got upset, and wanted me to teach them Portuguese culture. (Why this would trump the culture of their father whose family has been here since the 1600s is a mystery.) They have some vague idea culture is genetic. And they lack the historical knowledge to realize that is one of the most racist ideas ever.
Culture is not genetic. It’s also not as plastic as people here tend to believe. Not if you stay in your homeland, in a group. This is because it goes a good while deeper than clothes and food. Clothes and food change. By the time I was a teen, Portuguese wore clothes that had more in common with Paris fashion than with the clothes of grandma’s time. And since I’ve moved here, 30 years ago, Portuguese have started eating pizza and hamburgers. (American pizza, not the first Portuguese approximation to the dish. Dan and I went back two years after marriage, and there was a pizzeria, and out of curiosity we went in… only there was something odd about the pizza and we couldn’t put our finger on it until it hit us: no tomatoes. When we mentioned this to the waiter he brought us a ketchup bottle. No. I am not joking.)
But the hardware in the head, even though these days they’re trying very hard to be European, is still closer to my grandmother’s than to that of American people the same age. They might make the right sounds – they have US movies after all, and US books – but you scratch that, and you’ll find some curious beliefs about women and men, about female demeanor, about work and oh, tons of other things.
Because culture passes through not by explicit dictate, but by what we do and fail to do and what our kids see us do and fail to do.
Okay, so odds are a little different about it, but even we absorb a lot we don’t realize we’ve absorbed.
But America is exceptional in this too. Of the “nations of ideas” (Dave Freer’s term) we had “earliest diversity of input”. And because until very recently if you came here you severed linguistic ties with the mother country (okay, unless your mother country spoke English) a lot of the implied things that are passed in a language disappeared, which resulted in new legends and new stories dating back about a hundred years and sometimes less. But more importantly, it resulted in new mannerisms, new ways of viewing the world, until the only way to make sense of “culture” was rationally or at least by rationalizing. Which makes us, as I’ve pointed out, the autistic kid of the international community. We take “rules” and “How things are supposed to be” really really seriously. And we act like words are the things.
This results in other people not getting us, like the fact that even my brother who is educated and has read a lot of American books doesn’t get how FREE we are, or that our press is more likely to run America down than prop her up. He goes on the assumption of the Portuguese press, which will always chauvinistically favor/soft pedal things for Portugal. Part of the hatred for America in the world is that they listen to the anti-American things people here say and they think “It must be much, much worse since clearly they wouldn’t report things that hurt their face.” Or that Russian guy who predicted how America would break apart – because they take what Americans say about each other and amplify it, multiplying it by “they wouldn’t say that if they weren’t a lot worse.” Yes, sure, Portugal is (mostly) a free country, but the culture wouldn’t let them run down their country in the world stage, in public. In private and to each other, sure, but not to foreigners. And they don’t get we don’t have that internal stop, which almost every other country does.
Of course, this works the other way too.
We don’t get what we’re talking about when we talk about “the international community.” And Americans born and bred, particularly those who’ve never lived abroad, isolated from their kind, and not with special status, often fail to get that the rest of the world aren’t just Americans who talk funny and have exciting new recipes and cool clothes.
Look, the precious feminist flower who came up with the idea that we should hold male population down to 10% of the births? How does she plan to sell that idea to Arabs? Chinese? Indians? Does she think there’s a chance in h*ll of success? (And we’ll leave alone the dystopia that would result.)
In the same way, I’ve quoted this before, but there were all the people talking about how Saddam couldn’t have a weapons program because, well, his people didn’t even have clean water. It never seemed to occur to them that a country might prioritize weapons over clean water. The fact that this didn’t occur to them about a country that had been attacking its neighbors for years was… breathtaking.
I’m not saying that American internationalists are the only internationalists. There are internationalists in other countries. But the internationalism is often a veneer. In certain cultures – Russia, China – it’s often a cover for rampant nationalism. It usually means “The world will be united and we’ll rule it.” Might never be SAID, but it’s firmly there at the back of their minds, the same way a Frenchman never doubts his land is the cultural center of the world though – ooh lala – it hasn’t been for 200 years at least (and though he might make noises like he’s not nationalistic AT ALL).
But American – and some British and for the purposes of this most Canadians – are a particularly dopey form of internationalist.
Part of this is the education system which has taught them the same sort of canards I got. “Nationalism is bad and capitalism is bad, and they cause wars.” This is part insanity from around the time of WWI, and part … Soviet Agit prop. “Surrender now, after all, nationalism causes war. You’re not supposed to love your own country!”
But war shall always be there. It’s part of being human. Not of a nationality or a country, but of being a person with a body in a certain place. If we ever actually succeeded in making the world into a single country, we’d just have civil wars.
Look, I’ll be blunt: there will always be something a group of people want that at the very least involves intimidating another group away from it. If the group refuses to be intimidated, there will be war.
Most of the time, in small groups, the war is satirical blog posts, or the occasional mean joke. Move that up in size, and war is village boys who beat up boys from the next village who come to court “their” girls. (This happened, still, in my time.) Up another level, and there will be regional interests, at war with other regional interests. Here in the states, that’s mostly states trying to take each other’s federal money.
BUT put it on the world stage and… well… You have two regions which want — or need — the same thing. Only one can have it.
Until people stop living in a material world, that’s not going to change.
Internationalism wouldn’t cure it. And putting down your own country in favor of every other country won’t bring peace everlasting. It just means you’re one of those people who refuses to accept human flaws and who assumes that EVERY OTHER nation is better because they show you their better faces. (“Distance and death dress people with their most beautiful smile” I don’t remember who said it, but it applies to peoples as groups too, which is why so much nonsense is projected backwards into pre-historic people and a few fragments of bone are transmuted into some sort of matriarchal utopia, even though rational people have to know it never was.)
In the end, at the most basic level, what I’d call “decent” patriotism is the appreciation of the good qualities of your country and your people – which you’re more likely to know than any other countries or people. And the desire to defend your country and your neighbors. Does that lead to war?
How could it? It leads to defense if you’re attacked, but unless your entire philosophy is the alien implant of a would-be subjugating power… how could that be wrong? Why should you and your neighbors be especially evil, if no one else is? Contemplate what might hide behind the artifacts, and the clothes and the neat food. Why would people abroad be any better than your neighbors? Do you think they aren’t fully human and are therefore incapable of human evil? Isn’t that truly racist? To consider your neighbors as the only humans? Think about it.
Or don’t. After all, it’s great fun to protest the great evil of the word “bossy” or attempts to limit abortion on demand after 20 weeks gestation in the US – but I’ve noticed that none of these people see anything wrong with cultures that make women wear burkas. Instead, they buy the pap that it’s good for the women and makes them feel “protected.” Oh, and that the women themselves want it. (Which is why, I suppose, there are religious police armed with whips in markets, ready to punish the woman whose ankle shows.) They will tell you how terrible it is if an underage woman can’t get an abortion without parental consent, but kids under 15 being married to old men in other countries? Oh, perfectly fine. It’s “cultural” see.
The fun thing about our multiculturalists is sort of like the saying that people who don’t know what to do with themselves on a Sunday afternoon think they want to live forever. In this case, naïve internationalists who don’t even understand their own culture or how different it is from the rest of the world imagine they have what it takes to bring the world together in peace and harmony — and it’s all manageable if only they abjure any love or defense of the country they were born in.
Bah. Innocents abroad doesn’t begin to define it.
If they ever got 1/10th of what they think they want, these people would in fact get eaten alive. Probably not literally – but close enough.
It’s late, and I’m dozing off after a day of writing, so to get the full disconnect of our “nationalism is evil” crowd, I’ll leave you with the thought of what EXACTLY the Chinese would say to the eager young woman in charge of world reproductive policies who told them males should be only 10% of all births.
Yeah, brings a smile to my face too.
Unfortunately, though they’re unlikely to get that kind of power, the “internationalist” crowd does what it can to dismantle the very country and protections they do have. We either teach the kids better or we won’t have a country to defend. And no, the result won’t be a wonderful and vibrant one-world community, in which each culture has one different characteristic and every misunderstanding is easily and rationally explained.
No. At the other end of that, lies a world in which all the innocents are dead.
For their sake, we must fight their wooly-headed ideas.