The New Nationalism: Why?

(Disclaimer: Since writing this blog a few days ago, I have heard the theory I am about to express just mentioned on the latest Sam Harris podcast with guest Yuval Noah Harari, just as I am now sure it have been espoused through other sources as well. Not sure this adds credibility to it or not…though it was original when I though of it!)

Curiousity. I love it. I am all about it. In particular when it comes to human behavior and the choices we make and why.

More specifically, I am very curious in regards to cause and effect relationships. Like one of my favorite podcasts, Freakonomics, does on a weekly basis, I like to posit theories on why something is the case. For example, since 1990 violent crime rates have dropped significantly and, outside of certain particularly violent pockets, continue to do so.


What correlating factors have transpired in society that explain, at least in part, why this phenomena is occurring? The above Freakonomics podcasters have drawn a correlation between the legalization of abortion in 1973 with the drop in violent crime rates. The logic behind this thinking is that those who are more likely to perform violent crimes -unwanted children- would be entering prime violent crime age in 1990 and, well, simply did not exist to do the evil deed.

Agree or not, it is reasonable theory. At least someone is attempting to make sense of social events.

Regardless of your personal thoughts on this rather controversial cause and effect argument between abortion and crime rates, it is imperative for a culture to be asking such critical questions and attempt to find hidden and unintended correlations between various social manifestations.

If we are not continually asking the question “why?” a trend is taking place, we will forever be enslaved to the consequences of that which goes unexamined.

So today I look at our world and see a wave of nationalism sweeping over the majority of countries.

What is nationalism? I understand the word to mean a type of patriotism run wild and amok. It is the presence of strong ethnocentrism that is much more than having a sense of pride in one’s nation – it such pride accompanied with xenophobia, hatred expressed toward particular outgroups, and the suppression of such groups. It is the protection of national identity at nearly all costs…blood and war included.

The point of this blog entry is not to inform on where, or if,  this is taking place (for a good read on this check this Economist article…after which you will no longer have any doubt of its global existence) rather it is to ask the question as to why it is taking place.

Why, in 2017, are countries resorting back to isolationist type policies, fearing immigration and feeling compelled, perhaps more than ever, to protect itself at all costs including the coveting of its own sense of ethnic and racial identities? Why is pure patriotism morphing into dangerous nationalism? It is so much more than Trump’s victory, a victory that promised walls and protection, or even Brexit, which was fueled over the issue of immigration. We see this happening everywhere, including France, Austria, Hungary, India and, of course, totalitarian nationalism in North Korea, just to name a few.

I am far from an expert on global politics though I am a person who is very curious. Why this? Why now? Why nearly everywhere?

As is the answer for most social phenomena, it is hardly as clear cut as a single determining source. Such complex activity is typically the result of a confluence of complicated factors, probably best answered by political scientists. Yet, hell, someone very close to me even suggested it may be the alignment of the planets -as the last time we saw such a wave, in the 1930’s, the planets were aligned in a similar fashion.

I must confess that this astrological theory is somewhat outside my intellectual comfort zone. But who knows?

As one who is paid to observe human behavior and the communication process, I would like to throw my (more grounded?) communication-based theory into the ring and propose something a bit more down to earth.

I would begin my inquiry by examining what all of these countries have in common and, as a communication guy and quasi-Neal Postman disciple, I must look to the idea of our technological mediums as the answer to the question of what common denominator might be shared around the globe.

It is indisputable our world is becoming an increasingly global village as a result of our technological advances largely due to social media. As our world continues to move in this direction of global oneness, it does what each of us do when faced with drastic change in our life: We fight back and attempt to preserve what is, or, in some cases, what was…in spite of the oncoming inevitable new technological world and the threat of potential global unification it may usher in.

Where there is a big push there is a pull; an action, a reaction; a thesis, an antithesis.

Could the macro movement towards isolationism, protectionism and anti-immigration be the micro equivalent of the resisting child screaming with their hands over their ears when her parents tell her the unwelcomed news that they are perhaps moving, or worse, divorcing?

Perhaps we are experiencing a natural human push back against the effect mediums are having upon the globe –effects that include the breaking down of communication walls, a more global economy and the impending consequence of eroding needs for a strong nationalistic identity, including less need for demarcating lines in the sand distinguishing “us” from “them.”

And those who push back to this new world reply with, “Not on my watch.”

An overreaction is typically driven by the feel of a threat with fear at its core, while typically operating at a subconscious level. As technological media imperialism makes its way through the globe and brings all humanity in contact with each other, such an overreaction to build walls and preserve strong nationalistic identities seems a natural reaction to the “threat” of globalism, fueled by technology.

Could it be that the current wave of nationalism is an unintended consequence of Google, Facebook, Couchsurfing, Twitter or, hell, even Craigslist among nearly countless other social media sites? Individuals can now connect with each other, bypassing mainstream media (some might contend the indoctrination of mainstream media) to form their own identities, free from ethnic or nationalistic overtones.

We can now, more than ever, associate with our own personal identity group first and foremost, perhaps LGBT or Buddhist, for example, while the need for a strong national identity wanes as a thing of the past.

What we see today is a major push back against this new world of potential new identities.

I am not naïve enough to believe that far more complicated and compelling political theories that may have far greater explanatory power do not exist; I am certain they do. However, perhaps this unintended consequence of internet access plays some role, however minor or major, and should not be ignored in the discussion. I hardly doubt I am the only one who has made this connection.

Perhaps it is an inevitable -and temporary- consequence on the road towards a global village, or, at the very least, a more global village.

So I am a curious guy who likes to find correlations between seemingly unrelated phenomena.

Hell, it might even be the alignment of the planets.

And if you have a better theory, or would like to add to it, I look forward to your response.



  1. I think in a way, you’re half right. Social media and advances in communication have made the downsides of globalism much more visible, and more and more people are deciding that it’s not a path worth going down. But I disagree with your definition of nationalism. It seems as though you’re intentionally trying to interpret it in the worst way possible. Also, really classy of you to depict those opposed to globalism as screaming children. Be better, dude.

  2. I find the cause and effect relationship fascinating as well, Jimmy, because of the potential that was. While I certainly conclude that any human purposefully ending the life of another human to be murder (and therein lies a debatable ethical conundrum of “which murders are tragic but necessary?”) I would love to know which unwanted child would have done the opposite of perpetuate violent crime or largely-undesired behavior!

    Perhaps the people to cure some impending plague or financial crisis were aborted? Or the one’s whom would pave way for geopolitical peace had their life ended before birth, and we live on without them to suffer the consequences.

    Or maybe it would have been the next horrendous genocidal dictator?

    We can’t know, but we have the power to choose anyway; to reach our hand blindly into the dark and flip the switch, come what may.

    To relinquish that control is probably inhuman, but to exercise it is probably inhumane.

    What do you think?

    I agree your commentary about our drive for personal, individual identity at the cost of our group-think, communal identities — well stated.

    Consider only a few centuries ago the social setups with class and race and gender determining a person’s life before they even have the choice to decide for themselves.

    But then, as the populace grew, the voices of many outweighed the voice of those in charge, and lots of people died in the struggle for power and change.

    It takes lives to make these changes a reality, sadly, but they do happen, and we reap the benefits of those who suffered slavery, pre-union labor, civil liberties, personal freedom, etc.

    Perhaps we should have a holiday honoring all those civilians who died for social change — not just labor day?

    But as we fragment society for individuality, what do we lose by surrendering our civilization to self?

    Can we tell someone it is more important that they give up who they are so that everyone else can benefit? The price of status quo?

    Rock on, Jimmy.


  3. Hmmmmmmmmmm. Maybe, or maybe not. Makes some sense to me though.
    My theory would be however that nationalism increases when the perceived threat to the nation state increases. This where the social media and actual “news” media would enter into the equation, fanning the flames of said nationalism. Social media takes local incidents and makes them national. Even news coverage today does the same. I believe this theory might somehow dove-tail with your’s. Maybe or maybe not.

  4. All nationalism is being proud of your country, with a small belief that your country is better and more important than other countries. When has being proud of your country been a bad thing? As to social media being the main reason for driving this nationalism I would have to agree. People get information rom the internet as soon as someone posts it. I believe the current refugee crisis that has ravaged much of Europe is to blame for Nationalism throughout that continent and to an extent the United States. People feel threatened by anything new, however these refugees, while some of them can integrate into a completely different culture, it seems a majority of them cannot. I believe this lack of integration into the new culture these refugees face is a problem for citizens of the host country. This lack of integration is the driving force of the nationalism that we see in many countries. And the fact that this information is available with the click of a button, is what is driving nationalism globally.

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