The Rise of Nationalism: We Never Seem To Learn

World War I was supposed to end all wars. Shortly after it was over, the League of Nations was formed. Within 20 years, the worst conflagration, ever, World War II (WWII), broke out. After it was over, the United Nations was organized. Each of those two bodies of nations was founded to put aside our nationalistic tendencies and to start acting like a world of people. Those goals have never fully materialized but now, some 75 years after the end of WWII, the flames of nationalism are being stoked again by cheap politicians and we, the people, are buying into it.

Brexit. Hairball Trump and his psudo-Americanism (i.e. United States-ism because there are plenty of “Americans” besides us). Marine Le Pen, that misguided French woman, who is stirring up trouble in her country. Belgium. The Netherlands. Andres Behring Breivik, the Norwegian Fascist  mass murderer who killed 77 people a few years ago. My own native country, Hungary, who are “guardians of  Christianity” (but wait: weren’t we so anti-religious Hungarian Communists not such a long time ago? And now, all of the sudden, religion is more important than accepting frightened and hungry refugees? — but I digress).

Maybe, a world of peaceful coexistence and cooperation is a pipe dream. Maybe, we are too tribal. Maybe, it’s hard-wired in our DNA to be clannish. Maybe, it was a survival strategy in our early Hominid existence and the genes are still there, as it is in our other animal relatives, like ants, wolves, baboons, and others. You can clearly see evidence of that in everyday life: we are proud to be from a Polish neighborhood from Cleveland, or identify ourselves as Lutherans, or passionate about the soccer club, RealMadrid. And those things are fine, but there are more thing at stake when we start this nationalistic nonsense again.

There have been three/four generations of people born since the end of WWII. We read books, look at grainy footage of battles on the History Channel, but we don’t appreciate the pain, the carnage, the utter madness of war. Because all of this nationalistic sabre-rattling is really only a prelude to the next conflict — five, 10, 20 years from now? Who knows. And even when we see evidence of the destruction and killing and suffering in places like Syria, we turn our faces away from it.

Psychologists have clearly shown over and over that people make many choices not from their own best self-interest, but form a much more visceral and primitive decision-making process, which includes this propensity for tribalism. This is the only logical explanation for the otherwise totally illogical rise to prominence of  the Trumps, Le Pens, Putyins, or Assads of this world.




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