Monday, July 23, 2012

Patriotism is for scoundrels

Aggressive nationalist demagoguery has found a new outlet in America -- in a vapid "debate" over the Olympic Committee's purchase of ceremonial uniforms that were made in China. Of course, there was no debate because the only people with real skin in this issue (USOC and Ralph Lauren) rationally rolled over before the rabble-rousing display of pride and protectionism from Congress. Among high-profile politicians, Mitt Romney had the most reasonable response to all this, dismissing it as a non-issue and a distraction. It seems that the athletes, being close to all this on a day-to-day level, were likely to see it as no big deal... no different than buying any other imported good or training alongside a foreign athlete or under a foreign coach.

Which really shows what this is about. It is pure symbolism with no practical impact. It is about feeding the flames of competitive nationalism. It is about drawing a line at the border, and saying that the people on the other side are "outside" and that the people inside have special moral claims on the wealth created by others inside the borders -- mediated by the state, of course. This is about the nation-state desparately reasserting its relevance in our post-national world.

Nationality is not quite obsolete; tt would be foolish to ignore that there are differences among communities around the world, and a relatively small set of those communities would make appropriate homes for each of us. But it is likewise foolish to pretend that these communities are intrinsically in competition with each other and that the borders are not permeable and in flux. History has shown us that the later is not only foolish, but dangerous.

Yet this is the attitude that Harry Reid, John Boehner and their type are encouraging.

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