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I’ve been working on a piece that explores the idea of positive nationalism as opposed to the more common negative form and I aspire to illustrate how the culinary arts plus hospitality industry are the places to find it. A problem is the topic is a little too big for me and probably needs to be broken up (so here we go!). As usual this is a continuation of my study of the Canadian philosopher economist, John Ralston Saul. All quotations are from the last chapters of JRS’ The Collapse of Globalism.
The roots we need to grow for values the majority of Americans hold, such as inclusion, are found in positive nationalism, a new form of nationalism unlike the old Westphalian model. This also segways right into a strategy of displacing the toxic white supremacist narrative creeping up.
It is hard for any society that slips into a vacuum to admit that it is no longer advancing in any particular direction. This is particularly difficult for those individuals who hold power. Their vocabulary, their image of themselves, even their skills have all been honed to fit the certainty of a direction that no longer prevails.
It is not apparent to everyone, but we are fumbling through a vacuum that is bringing us back to nationalism and we have the choice of embracing intentional complexity and doing something positive or gravitating towards ideology, dangerous oversimplification, relentless scapegoating, and negativity.
We are here because globalism (not internationalism) has collapsed and the promises of completely free markets leading to prosperity never panned out. What we got was a lot of averaging down, a lot of wealth evaporation, and a dissolving of the public good. Corporatism and all those capitalist ills went global.
Multinationals have become so large they can damage whole large nations. The tax base that supports the public good has eroded detrimentally. Citizens have not been able to come together to solve our collective problems like climate change, the housing crisis, or our massive education gaps/debts, etc.
What only states and state alone are able to do is aggregate and purposefully deploy legitimate power.
Taxes cannot be raised on a multinational unless citizens come together as a nation to assert their legitimacy and even then it is tricky. With simple corporatism, a state cannot raises taxes because the auto industry will jump states, leave Detroit and end up in the America south (less China than you’d think). Amazon is currently playing every state against each other in a race to the bottom for its new headquarters.
This escalates and the federal government cannot even raise taxes because corporations just go multi national and jump the border for Ireland. It is not the easiest thing to see, but this cheapens your citizenship and your ability to solve problems alongside your fellow citizens. We are constantly divided and tricked into succumbing to inevitability instead of collectively forming as a nation to solve our common problems.
The economics of globalism get weird and we see multinationals doing things like trading with themselves to shift profits away from tax burden. This clear path of least resistance gets covered up with relentless negative nationalist scapegoating. Globalist trade is not the trade we learn in undergrad econ and is the reason increasing trade has not increased prosperity. Again, only the nation, respecting and colluding with other firm nations can deploy the legitimate power to reign in this colossal tax flight and theft of the public good.
The question is not what to do about global economic integration. It is how to ensure that this new nationalist era is citizen based, focused on the national common good and on developing binding treaties in a range of areas at the international level.
Reasserting the nation with a positive framework is tricky. Many people with wonderful common American values and common decency don’t have a matching economic understanding. They think the nationalism option is abandoning international trade and agreements in knee jerk reaction, but that isn’t the only option. It will be complex and gradual, but regulations can be adopted to rebuild the tax base and our commitment to the public good. A lot of this will be done through anti-trust and the need for it is starting to become more popular to Americans across the board.
When so much inarticulate concentrated economic anxiety makes its way through the American prism with all its baggage, much scatters as hate and we can only scapegoat in response. I optimistically believe a lot of that can change if we give people another option and displace the negative voices. This won’t be easy.
When young Americans are trying to figure out how they lost so much ground and why they will not have what their parents have, their options are complexity or scapegoating. It becomes no wonder why we have an uphill battle. Economic narratives like above can cut through the conspiracies, but we must admit that some of our recent leaders (BO,HC) were/are not suited for this vacuum (others are very clearly not).
A challenge to creating a new positive nationalism is that while many people weren’t looking, the American flag (usually twin flags), on the back of a pickup truck has been claimed by the negative nationalists and turned into a hate symbol. This is where the displacement comes in. Those who value inclusion and multi culturalism need to start waving the flag, en masse, to smother or displace the hate and give those simply gravitating towards nationalism a visible positive option. The American flag will always be a symbol of nationalism, we must fill it with inclusion and optimism.
The recent Boston free speech protest/counter protest featured possibly 50 white supremacists to 30,000 peace loving, liberal, inclusive counter protesters. Believe it or not, the white supremacists had more American flags than the counter protesters. I spoke to quite a few educated looking people who seemed as oblivious to economics as we assume white supremacists are. Even though their numbers were awe inspiring, the counter protesters were content to merely play word games with the other side and not grow deeper roots that can explain the economic anxiety leading to the new hate. (This is not completely true because the Democratic Socialists were there and the only people organized enough to have a PA system and give speeches. I do not completely fit in with them, but their message is ready to get updated and rapidly evolve to society’s needs/challenges).
Many people may want to have an international side to their lives, but they want to live in their communities. Or rather they do live in their communities. They want their civilization to reflect and build upon this reality. They don’t want this reality to be treated as recalcitrance or an accident. They have just lived through a period in which their elites have been obsessed with abstract theories of how economics must work at the global level. As a result it was deduced that citizens were first subjects of these theories and must do their best to fit in. There was an incapacity among our policy-creating leadership to begin their thinking with the real lives of their real citizens. When they’ve been faced by popular resistance, their tendency has been to wait it out or offer bagatelles, distractions.
I’ve been sporting an American flag on my motorcycle recently and I get some confusion from friends. They don’t know what it means any more. Is it hate of non citizens and the last refuge of a scoundrel? Or is symbolic of my understanding of how we are going to recover from globalism and rebuild the public good? If we had 30,000 American flags at the Boston rally more people would be curious about the latter.
The positive form of nationalism is tied to self-confidence and openness and to a concept of the public good. Negative nationalism is dependent on fear and anger and a desperate conviction that one nation’s rights exist by comparison with those of another nation, as if in a competition that process winners and losers.
If we harness the flag and a new human centered understanding of economics we can recruit Americans to inclusion and positive nationalism using a lot of the same techniques as altright=Nazis. We can displace their scapegoating with intentional complexity.
They have white bread, light beer, paralyzing cultural consolidation, and oppressive monopoly. We use inclusion to unleash the massive creative energy of multiculturalism and reap its prosperity. America’s vibrant culinary scene, our national treasure, is our clearest proof of what positive nationalism can do (and I will dive into it).
They write propaganda to reinforce their sham position and we need to rewrite our positions to include the nation, wave the flag, and dig our economic and policy roots. If you want to participate, and this will take an army of writers, the two forms of nationalism have characteristics to keep on the tip of your tongue.
Now the idea of choice is back. Much of it is tied to the return of the idea of national power. With that comes the democratic reality of choice. Choices for citizens. Choices for countries. Choices for coalitions of countries. And with choice come all the uncertainty that provokes fear in some and releases the energies and imagination of others.
Negative nationalism is brash, self interested, indifferent to or ignorant of the interests of others. It is often an expression of fear, insecurity, poverty, ambition, ethnic loyalty, appropriation of God to one’s side. Pride in ignorance is a trait or encouraged. There is often conviction that they’ve been permanently wounded. An obsession develops with the idea that human difference is negative.
Positive nationalism starts with an embrace of intentional complexity, self confidence and openness. It is also an expression of the public good. Human difference is celebrated (in restaurants!). It is about empathy, responsibility, and grappling with the other. Freedom is associated with the ability to be different. The disinterest of the citizen is emphasized as the path to freedom over the potentially damaging corporate interest. All religions are seen as equally true. Competition is valued over consolidation. Inequality is recognized as damaging to liberty. The public good is recognized as equalizing. Involvement and civic commitment are recognized as necessary for maintaining freedom. Inclusion is a creative, prosperity generating human force.
You could say that all nationalism is about belonging, about place and about imagining the other. It can take a positive, civic form, one in which belonging brings the obligation to reach out and to imagine the other in an inclusive, multiple way. It can also take a negative form, above all ethnic, dedicated to belonging as an expression of privilege and exclusion.
Before I end this, it is important to note that positive nationalism began with indigenous movements and the U.S. is a late comer to this party. New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and I’m sure other nations I’m slowly learning about have growing Indigenous movements at the center of their recovery from globalism and their reigning in of capitalism.
The average intellectual in the U.S. did not know what it could truly gain if support was added to native Americans fighting to assert their sovereignty against the Dakota Access pipeline. Many intuitively felt the tribes were right, but they could not articulately tie our various struggles together.
There is this myth you hear in grade school that ownership of Manhattan was bought for a handful of beads from native Americans. But ownership is the wrong metaphor and we let it inject itself too deeply into our concept of capitalism. What was really intended to happen is that responsibility was transferred. And this wisdom of indigenous peoples, this emphasis of responsibility over mere ownership is at the heart of positive nationalism and how we will re-concept capitalism into a more sustainable form.
Originating in American universities, abstract ideas about economics and capitalism forced out any notions of responsibility because it could not be easily tidied up, measured and modeled. Western notions of capitalism were prone to skewed distributions relative to other nations that we’d categorize as collectivist and on the socialist spectrum. Anyone that overly embraced the new globalist notion lost while resistant countries, maintaining their own identity, like India and China, actually prospered.
North Korea wants to integrate into the international economy on its own terms (and sadly retaining its human rights violations) so that it keeps its footing like China. The West wants NK to integrate only on the West’s terms. The North Korea situation is very complex, but the character and qualities of capitalism is at the heart of it all. A lot of questions should be asked and answered any rash decisions are made.
We … made you into
Nations and tribes, that
Ye may know each other
(Not that ye may despise
-The Quran, possibly analyzing the regional cooking of Italy.
So you see where this is going next?