“Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” — Albert Einstein
“Flags are bits of colored cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people’s brains and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead.” — Arundhati Roy
It should come as no surprise that I don’t celebrate patriotic holidays. I won’t condemn you if you do, it is just not something I can relate to. But this year’s Canada Day, which coincidentally falls on my birthday, was certainly no day to celebrate. After all, the country is reeling from the revelation of two unmarked, mass graves containing nearly a thousand Indigenous people, most of them small children. For any person of conscience, it is difficult to understand how one can feel any national pride in this moment knowing that there are still more unmarked graves heaped with Indigenous children still hidden around the country.
Thankfully, at the very least, most Canadian municipalities along with most of the citizenry, recognized this somber reality and decided to use the occasion as a day of reflection and remembrance. Few fireworks were set off, which was a blessing for wildlife as well as for countless veterans who suffer the affects of PTSD thanks to endless imperialistic wars abroad.
After living most of my life in the States I can say, with total confidence, that the same would never occur on the fourth of July in the US. After all, the “Fourth,” much like Memorial Day, is an annual day of collective amnesia. Forget the forever wars. Forget the war crimes and atrocities. Forget the occupations, drone strikes, extra-judicial assassinations, covert actions by the CIA. Forget Julian Assange. Forget the veterans who have come back from those wars deeply damaged and lacking support and care. Forget US arms deals and support of nations actively practicing apartheid and ethnic cleansing, or who rule by military juntas, or by theocratic terror. Forget the crushing, imposed poverty in so many Indigenous communities. Forget the sprawling shantytowns outside of major US cities. Forget that most Americans are drowning in some sort of debt. Forget there is no universal healthcare, even during a pandemic. Forget that the police have killed over 32,000 civilians, most of them Black, since the year 2000. Red, white and blue everything festoons stores, schools, homes, athletic fields, food, mundane objects, people’s bodies, even the mind itself.
Nationalism, as Einstein once opined, is a disease. It separates the human family into controlled, exploitable camps. It weaponizes culture in order to otherize and dominate. It cynically manipulates our collective crises in order to scapegoat or demonize the “foreigner,” the “infiltrator,” the other. It uses sentimental imagery, tear-jerking anthems, and familiar symbols to ensnare and stultify our moral imagination. In a flash of light, a bit of coloured cloth becomes more powerful than the pulsing blood of the living beings with whom we share this world.
But the illusion can only go on for so long on a planet with a rapidly unraveling biosphere. Record heat and drought in the West, fires devouring vast swaths of earth, birds dropping dead from the skies, rising seas contributing to the collapse of skyscrapers. It can only go on so long in a nation bent on ramping up militarism even as it encircles the world with over 800 military bases. Mass graves, ongoing atrocities, dying ecosystems. It can only go on so long as we allow it to. Today’s nation-states are not oases of civilization. They are not bastions of democracy. They divide us from each other. And they are an albatross around our collective necks.
Nationalism diverts our gaze from the eternal unto to the temporary. It loathes culture, while it glories in the banality of pomp and circumstance. It cannot fathom the idea of an intricate human tapestry because it can only see national identity as the pinnacle of human expression. History is littered with dead nation-states, their corpses shrouded in what is left of their flags, ceremonial robes, and emblems of supposed greatness. And each of them took untold souls with them on their descent into nothingness. Today is no different.
So, the question is not how long will we allow a bit of coloured cloth to obscure our view, it is how long will we allow it to be our blindfold of choice as our backs are pressed against the wall awaiting the firing squad to commence with its execution? Despite what many might think, the blindfold is removable.
Kenn Orphan is a writer, artist, antiwar and anti-capitalist activist, hospice social worker and radical nature lover living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and his blog you can do so via PayPal. He may be contacted at KennOrphan.com.
Previously published on Kenn Orphan, July 3, 2021
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