Lenin, Fatherland, and the Makeup of a Nation
“Men are equal; it is not birth but virtue that makes the difference.”
What’s in a nation?
There are 55 countries between our sunny little office and the Arctic Ocean over Canada. Almost a billion people call the land between home.
What separates them, beyond imaginary lines on a map? And what holds them together?
Every place has its myths. Its collective narratives. Its imagined realities.
Usually, they are programmed into the population at a young age. “Give me four years to teach the children,” declared Vladimir Lenin, “and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.”
Let’s give credit where credit’s due…the man knew a thing or two about indoctrination!
But just as Muscovite youths are drilled in the ways of Rossiya-Matushka (Mother Russia)…
So too the kinder at school desks in Berlin are brought up with heroic tales involving the glory of the Vaterland (Fatherland)…
And across the Atlantic, American children discover pretty early on they are blessed with a certain “exceptionalism”…
Of course, there’s nothing particularly unique about these stories. Similar sentiments are echoed in most places and at most times. Only the degree of “programming” varies.
Growing up in Australia, for example, your editor was reminded often enough that he was born in “The Lucky Country.”
“Lucky for who?” we remember wondering…
For the poor British convicts who were banished to the barren colony to serve sentences of back-breaking hard labor?
For the indigenous people who were slaughtered en masse for decades thereafter?
Don’t think so.
How about blacks, Asians, and other islander minorities during the “White Australia” policy…the one that lasted until 1973?
Or the destitute asylum seekers who are, to this very day, caged indefinitely in offshore “processing centers” as part of the country’s “Pacific Solution.” (We’re not making this up!)
For these folks, and others, Terra Australus probably brings to mind a volley of colorful adjectives…but “lucky” is not likely among them.
To be sure, your editor is no ingrate. We always considered our own upbringing comparatively fortunate…but that had more to do with a loving family and good mates than with the dirt beneath our feet or some vague notion of “shared national experience.”
Besides, we knew plenty of kids who were born into circumstances very different from our own. Richer…or poorer. Absent parents…or overbearing ones. Bright mentors…or negligent teachers.
It goes without saying that not every Australian considers himself lucky. Just as probably not every American feels exceptional…nor does every German or Russian or Argentine necessarily consider himself a child of his nation’s history.
And yet, the underlying mythology, the “collective narrative,” persists just the same.
It’s not hard to imagine why these ideas might take root. People are taught to believe that where they were born is the best place in the world. And they want to believe it, too. After all, they were born there!
As far as your editor knows, no man or woman has ever, in the history of the species, had any say whatsoever over where they were born. But according to the common mythology, for this pure accident of birth, they are to be grateful…indebted, even.
Such myths are plainly not without utility. They come in handy, for instance, when taxes are levied for the “common good”…when rights are infringed upon for “the greater good”…and, in the extreme, when warm bodies are needed for the front lines.
We’re all led to believe that “our” country’s flag, “our” national anthem, “our” elected leaders are the most sacred, the most moving and the most legitimate and deserving in the known world.
But that can’t be true everywhere and at the same time, can it?
And then there are shifting borders to contend with…frontiers in flux…whole countries that disappear from the map…only to reappear under some other jurisdiction, some other flag.
What are we to make of all this?
Remember, we’re just asking questions here. Not suggesting answers. (Your editor only ever claimed to know nothing…and never once did he fail to meet that measure.)
It’s perhaps easy to see how, at an earlier stage of our development, some form of social uniformity would have made a certain amount of sense. A tribe that could rally behind a “common cause” might be better able to organize itself should the need arise for defense.
But that was back when we knew each and every member of our tribe. Until about 12,000 years ago, around the time of the Agricultural Revolution, humans moved in bands of no more than a few hundred “hunter gatherers.” You could be fairly certain, therefore, that you at least had something “in common” with the “common good.”
Today, somewhat bizarrely, we group ourselves together by the hundreds of millions…all rallying collectively behind a mythology that cannot, by definition, represent all our disparate goals and unique, individual values.
In an increasingly connected world, a politically liberal doctor born to a wealthy family in New Delhi is likely to have much more in common with a Democrat leaning ophthalmologist from New York than he does with the maid from the neighboring slum who cleans his room.
Similarly, a Trumpling and a Clintonian might be at each other’s throats during election season…but just watch them march off to war together…cheer on the home team at the Olympics…or shed a tear as the band belts out the opening bars to Katherine Lee Bates’ epic America the Beautiful…
Being an “Australian” or “American”…or “Englishman”…et al. in 2016 means being any combination of white, black, Asian, straight, gay, transgender, man, woman, young, old, Muslim, atheist, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, drunk, sober, smart, stupid, English-speaking, other-speaking, non-speaking, sports loving, sports hating, militant, pacifist, Australian born, foreign born, well-traveled, homebody, saint, sinner, organ donor, tax-collector, fireman, arsonist, logician, magician, statistician, politician, chai-tea lover, tai-chi practicer…
…and about a million and one other variables that go into making seven billion unique human beings.
And so back to our question: What’s in a nation?
We have no idea…but when a definition can be taken to mean just about anything, it usually ends up meaning just about nothing.
Become a Citizen of the World
By Shane Ormond
The U.S., much like my mother-in-law at thanksgiving, is one of the few nations that operates an open-door, “if-you-don’t-like-it-you-can-get-out” policy.
That’s right. The Land of the Free actually allows citizens to renounce their nationality, even if they don’t have a backup nationality waiting in the wings. In this situation a person becomes “stateless”—a status most commonly sought as a political statement. We don’t recommend trying this as it can make things like travel and getting a library card rather difficult.
Stateless citizens will often apply for a World Passport, a “travel document” issued by the World Service Authority. While the World Passport is not officially recognized as a passport (although travelers have found success in ignorant customs officers) it does serve as a “neutral, apolitical document of identity.” Investor Doug Casey recommends the World Passport for hotels and other non-governmental institutions where security is uncertain and you’re asked to fork over a passport.
A World Passport, valid for three years, costs $55 plus shipping from WorldService.org.