What is the equation between individualism and nationalism in the neocolonial period?
With most nations breaking free from foreign dominations (although quite many still remain occupied, viz., Sikkim in India or Hawaii in US—and their status are not likely to be challenged anytime soon), have preached individual progress, what effectively has taken place is an enforced allegiance of the subjects towards the State.
In fulfilling the individual dreams, the State persistently demanded individuals to give for the country, not to assume what the country can do for them. Most of us must have grown up with quoting the Kennedy lines and reciting the national anthems of our respective countries with pride.
This ideology of isolated patriotism has left us a growing distrust for those who differed from us: Isolated patriotisms have few features— national ideologies, national interests, national flags, which have unequivocally been uniquely crafted. This is ironical, since the interests of people of the world are hardly any different (food, clothes, shelter, education and empowerment). Yet political leaderships in each country draft their interests differently!
This love for one’s land as inscribed in national anthems and portrayed in national flags have one major purpose: to leave people feeling that they exist, because they are different from the “others”. The Others in this case have been defined by the degree to which “they” have disagreed with “us”, and by the type of nationalities they have had (completely obliterating the historical similarities in peoples’ struggles to gain independence). This has led to an assumes sense of right vs wrong war where we are always right and they are always wrong, and as united we stand, “we” are defined by our nationalities rather than our intrinsic similarities (for example, the people of Latin America in their struggles, the African Americans in theirs, the colonial peoples of Asia in theirs—were all similar in their approach towards their oppressors, yet they never joined hands together, since they were made to believe that they were of different countries having different “interests”! So when Paul Robeson wrote to Indonesian people, he was actually criticized back home by the Black leaderships. And when Indo-China war was on, civil rights leaders largely turned away from protesting. Interests in home became more crucial than interests outside. After all, that’s what the primary lessons of good socialization process-how to safeguard one’s own interests.
Hence when it’s family members preaching inhuman sermons, our neighbors harassing their children, or even our local politicians ransacking public wealth, we are used not to take much notice. If the government prescribes conscriptions or curfews, we are the gullible law-abiders giving in to the neofascists with glee.
To recognize these efforts, any expressions of intolerance within one’s country are always met with dire consequences by the respective police states. But try enacting the same drama against, let’s say other countries (the famous “enemy” countries–burning effigies of Bush, Musharraf or Saddam) and suddenly that becomes the hallmark of free expressions. One quick mental exercise to assess the “national” leaders (since there are not many “world” leaders—except Mandela and Castro), and we are well aware of the fear psychoses techniques they employ against their people to keep them united. Yet there are vehement expressions of oppositions against some among them, depending on which side folks are on. To be a “true” Indian, one needs to hate Pakistan, to be a “true” Chinese one needs to hate Japanese, to be a “true” American, one needs to show disdain towards Iraq or towards anyone who is not with the Bush administration, notwithstanding that the vice versa are true in all cases too.
In quest to affirm one’s true identity of nationalistic allegiance, one unfortunately has been relegated to hate something. Reverse the question: Who does one need to love, in order to be a true anything? Such questions are not much asked. But of course, the propaganda mill teaches that for unity to prevail, people need to love each other. Then again, the mill teaches that the “each other” need to be part of the same territory.
For its not forming human communities which is the priority here, it’s ruling a country, which is.
And to rule subjects as a unitary, homogenous, one culture whole, a sense of acute distrust towards potential threats (in case of none, threats need to be manufactured) becomes necessary. National flags are symbolic not just of a country’s unique colors of identity from another, but they have historically always been a means of asserting one’s standing on one’s land (remember that all the colonial struggles were led by flag-marching freedom fighters). But the irony is that the flags during colonial times by struggling people were in retaliation to the imposition of a foreign flag, not a novelty by any standard. In the hands of fighters, flags call war. They shout protests. They cry freedom. In the hands of the oppressors, flags become a shame. They become systematic means to declare that no one is above the state, no one is above the rulers, howsoever right the individual might be, howsoever wrong the state machinery might be.
As we grow more individualistic, our social commitments also become an extension of the same trait. Isolationistic patriotism that proves reactionary becomes the end-result. When as freedom fighters, patriotism is displayed, it is epitome of mass consciousness to build a new society of cooperation. When as rulers, they display patriotism, it easily gets converted into the weapon to subjugate the vast majority of people under constant fear of the “others”, those others who do not bow to the same flag. And we too often sadly forget that it was Hitler who as the ruler led the most patriotic bunch of people ever in the world.