In John Lennon’s song “Imagine” he sings, “imagine there were no countries….” What he is perhaps anticipating is the end of the nation-state itself — those 190+ entities on the world’s map to which everyone supposedly belongs, unless they are a refugee. Lennon’s wish is that the category would somehow disappear, and there would be no need to “live or die” for such an entity.
This is an interesting thought. The modern nation-state is only about 200+ years old. The well-known Political Scientist Benedict Anderson points out that the “nation-state”, as an “imagined community”, was invented mainly during the nineteenth century when older feudal monarchies in which the King owned everything collapsed, and the one for which you were asked to “live and die for” was decided by the King, who may not even speak your language.
Replacing this was the political entity in which “We, The People” owned the nation, and the government, and shared a cultural citizenship in which language was important. In this new political arrangement Anderson writes, the King or President was simply the first citizen. Anderson continues by explaining that out of this came a new political feeling in which the nation became the thing to “live and die for”. In the new modern world of the nineteenth and twentieth century, it is the nation which soldiers are willing to sacrifice their lives for.
This new nation-state has had a good run, but there are new “super-national” entities emerging. The European Union is the largest — a vast functional entity which is not a “nation,” but something bigger. Is the European Union, which has no army of its own, a new political entity waiting to overcome the nation-state? Or is the nation-state a final and permanent political development?
The other day, while in a contemplative group, I (dan) was presented with two koan-like-questions:
- What is it not to have a tribe?
- What is my own life?
Unexpectedly, when considering the answer for the second question, I realized the answer to both questions, for me, was the same. Namely, we are unique (as individuals, as tribes) but the same (like clouds) as everyone else. My tribe is unique (my family, hometown, ancestral history) as am I (fingerprint, characteristics), but we are all equally interconnected, and creating one another with our actions. The concept of Ubuntu might be useful to frame this: I am because you are.
Another point I realized was that my sense of ‘self’, as is my sense of ‘tribe’, is utterly-dynamic and ever-changing and that my intention is to expand the invisible boundaries of myself, and my tribe, to be universal and all inclusive.
These reflections come from my experiences travelling and living in different cultures, with different tribes. At the start I was attached to my identity as ‘an American’, but slowly, as I spent more time away, I realized that although I was ‘American’ I was not ‘American’. Rather, I was simply another human, trying to make sense of what it truly means to be human. Perhaps, what made this most apparent to me was the fact that these people, in these very different cultural situations, were dealing with the same issues that I ‘the American’ was, namely: how to find happiness, purpose, connection, love etc. A Buddhist monastery that I spent time in, hung up a picture of the insides (the organs below the skin) of humans to exemplify this fact that we — humans — are all the same.
Regionalization — like the EU, Association of SouthEast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the East African Community (EAC) — is one step towards expanding those invisible boundaries of the nation state. But, from my perspective, they still create barriers of separation, and identity, like the nation-state. What would it look like if these ‘borders’ keep expanding? Can you imagine a world without nation-states? Can you imagine being a ‘Global Citizen’ as opposed to citizen of a specific country? How do you think this might change your actions? Do you think this might enable you to expand your individual borders, and sense of identity?
Until the philosophy which hold one race / Superior and another Inferior / Is finally / And permanently / Discredited / And abandoned / Everywhere is war / Me say war / That until there are no longer / First-class and second-class citizens of any nation / Until the colour of a man’s skin / Is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes / Me say war — (from Bob Marley, War)
Lead Author: Tony Waters (first 4 paragraphs)
Tony Waters is a Professor of Sociology at California State University, Chico, and on the faculty of the Department of Peace Studies in Chiangmai, Thailand. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand in 1980–1982, and worked for five years in refugee relief programs in Tanzania.
Tony is also the chief editor of Ethnography.com, which is “a group blog on a variety of topics related to sociology, anthropology and the human condition.” From their mission statement;
We seek to change the way the world thinks about the Social Sciences in general, and Ethnography in particular.
We believe that telling good stories as social commentary is at the heart of what social science should do. We also think that social sciences don’t always do this, which is why we need this blog.
Good stories mean that what is posted here will be accessible to ordinary people, not just those with a PhD. If you want to see what ordinary people are like, see the Ordinary People Project streamed here at Ethnography.com. These are the kind of people we want reading this blog. Our focus is on ethnographic writing (non-fiction and fiction), narratives, reflections, poetry, photography, and artwork intended to attract such an audience. The main point is that it has to be interesting, make a point, and maybe even be funny.
Anchor Author: Daniel Rudolph
Daniel Rudolph is interested in exploring alternative, experiential learning opportunities for people of all ages. He is passionate about forming community, and building public spaces for meaningful, transformational gathering. Currently he is spending a lot of his time learning juggling and facilitating gatherings. He also enjoys writing and sharing poetry. Daniel is a very curious and playful person and is always open for creative collaborations.