Identity and nationalism
National identity-formation is not a fully conscious, intentional process. International relations are highly fictionalised, causing nations' self-images and their international relationships to grate.
Today, the main action is not really national, but regional, generational, ethnic, cultural and belief-oriented. Yet these dynamics still evolve within static political boundaries. Nationalism often has more to do with other things - power, maleness, inadequacy, insecurity or social stress, projected outwards.
National feeling is natural for peoples who have lived long in a landscape. But antipathy to others is a cover-up - it's a sign that something is wrong on the domestic front and that few are facing it.
A successful culture is vibrant, relevant and open to change. It encourages the young, the creative and the enterprising. It welcomes strangers to its hearth.
Narrow nationalism demonises others. Some is propaganda and some is cultural conditioning. Many myths are believed because few question them. This makes prejudice difficult to root out. Animosity becomes a safe option, a default pattern.
Each nation has a web of relationships largely dominated by political and business establishments. They call their own private interests 'the national interest'. In 2003 the people of Britain said 'Not in my name' to the prospect of going to war in Iraq, but the government did it anyway.
Established interests fix things, pump the economy, demonise subgroups, pick fights, exploit and corrupt. Vested interests seek to keep society atomised, patriotic and compliant. Today this is slowly eroding as the public sees through it, but it's taking a long time, and new online surveillance and control mechanisms have entered the fray.
Patriotism and fear cover over a multitude of sins, eating at a country's culture and self-esteem. Domestic power-battles triangulate onto scapegoats – immigrants, rebels, workers, women, gays... This keeps the powerful in power, skewing the picture, dehumanising decent people and polarising society. It justifies discrimination, atrocity, expulsion, invasion and genocide.
Negative qualities projected onto others describe in detail what the accusing country itself does or has done.
There is always shared responsibility between dominators and victims in geopolitical chess-games. Anti-American feelings after 9/11 demonstrated this.
"America should change". But underneath this was: "The international community will no longer go along with a superpower agenda". Beneath that: "It's time for the international community to shape up and become a true community".
The world has to start making big decisions and carry them out, with or without USA or another superpower such as China. Otherwise, it invites USA or China to be its 'global policeman'. That's not an international community.
The world should have dealt with Saddam Hussein in the 1990s. One reason it didn't was arms sales and proliferation, a subject no one wished to raise. Dealing with Saddam meant a global clean-up process. The international community would have to 'walk its talk'. Nations would have to raise their standards. Instead, they let Saddam and other dictators get away with it. Trouble followed.
Globalisation is obliging an inevitable clean-up. Secrecy and no-go areas are being disentangled.
Here the wider world has a transforming influence within nations. Nations big and small are being obliged to get to grips with many issues because of pressures from outside or simply the mirroring effect of intensifying international relations.
This concerns each country's relationship with itself, the state of its society and the standards by which it lives. It concerns national spirit and aspirations, self-respect and the quality of its culture.
Within the formation of continental and cultural blocs new regional identifications are forming. The small and the local – our homes, families, people and landscape – are highly relevant too.
Resolving the contradiction between global and local issues is a psychological and emotional, irrational process. Yet to move forward, we must be exceptionally rational. Without clear-headed behaviour, it's war and crisis.