I believe that the world is standing at the crossroads. Are we moving to a more united world where the problems of war, extreme poverty and disease are reduced or even eliminated? Or are we are moving towards a world divided by nationalism and racism resulting in war, economic disaster, deprivation and misery?
The case for optimism
The statistics are clear:
- Extreme poverty has been drastically reduced in my lifetime.
- Some diseases have been eliminated (e.g. Smallpox).
- Other diseases have been virtually wiped out (e.g. T.B. and leprosy).
- There is hope on the horizon for the prevention of Malaria and Aids.
- We have not had a world war for 70 years (though there have been plenty of lesser conflicts).
- Although the threat has been ever present, nuclear weapons have not been used since the second world war.
I have written in the past how there is hope for a better world:
- A world made up of communities which care for the disadvantaged.
- A world of cooperation and fair trading between countries.
- A world which looks after the interests of minorities.
- A world which rejects racism not just by careful, politically correct, thinking; not just by tolerance; but by communities including and embracing other cultures.
- A world which rejects the use of force to resolve disputes through political bullying and conflict.
Although this may be idealistic, and may not appear to be practical, the world has been very slowly moving in this direction. That is until recent events have cast a shadow on what could be a beautiful picture.
The case for pessimism
Two things particularly stand in the way of progress towards a better world:
Nationalism and Racism
By nationalism I mean the belief that we should care more about the citizens of one’s home country to the detriment of human beings living elsewhere.
By racism I mean the belief that my skin colour, language, religion or culture somehow make me a superior human being.
There is nothing new about these things. Empires from the Roman to the British have been built on nationalism and racism. Nazi Germany and fascism depend upon them and so in practise does communism.
Individuals stand out:
- Adolf Hitler of Germany
- Joseph Stalin of Russia
- Pol Pot of Cambodia
- Idi Amin of Uganda
- Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
All of these have exploited nationalism and racism to achieve and maintain power. More recently we have:
- Donald Trump of the USA
- Vladimir Putin of Russia
- Nigel Farage of the United Kingdom
- Marine Le Pen of the French National Front.
The world is broken down into nation states each having its own independence and living with its neighbours in competition for wealth and security. This competition can be expressed relatively harmlessly in international sport. It can produce poverty through unfair trading. At worst it becomes most harmful when competition spills over into conflict and warfare.
Boundaries between nation states can depend upon ethnic or tribal groups, language or culture. Sometimes boundaries may be lines drawn on a map between former colonial powers resulting all sorts of problems down the line. Many countries (for example Nigeria and Indonesia) strive to produce a national identity with populations of many differing ethnic groups and languages. Other countries are by nature multicultural and this works well until majority groups are stirred up by nationalism and racism.
Do we need nation states and nationalism and what are the alternatives?
- A World Government!
- Empires, ruled from a central location, such as the former British and French empires, the U.S.S.R. and China
- Super states like the former U.S.S.R., the European Union, U.S.A. and China.
- Many smaller autominous local regions more like English counties, French provinces, or Swiss Cantons.
- No nations at all.
“Imagine there’s no countries,
It isn’t hard to do.
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too.
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace” (John Lennon)
It is hard to see how John Lennon’s ideal could be worked out in practise. Maybe we just need more tolerance of other people and better structures and constitutions in place to control the excesses of nationalism and racism.
- There is another alternative – what Jesus calls the “Kingdom of God”, and I intend to write on this in a separate blog.
We need to be clear about what attitudes, speeches and actions are racist, but careful about calling people racist. Racism is the belief that my skin colour, language, religion or culture somehow makes me a superior human being. Racism is not just hating others, or fearing them, it is not treating them as a human being with the same values that we apply to people of our own group.
There are many degrees of racism. There is no doubt that Hitler was a racist. But what about these:-
- The little old lady who complains about the smell of curry coming from next door?
- Saying “We must control immigration” when we really mean “Don’t let people settle here from abroad”.
- Saying “Support British jobs” when this implies that other people do not need jobs.
- Declaring, “Make [our country] great again” and feeling superior.
Is nationalism racist? Not necessarily – but it can be so easily. Attitudes which are racist in nature can be expressed in terms of patriotism or nationalism. Nation states only make it easier for racism to flourish. Inferior people live “over there” in another country.
In the United Kingdom we have just had a referendum of whether we should stay in or leave the European Union. Both sides told lies, bent statistics and tried to scare us. In the end the result was for us to leave. (British Exit – Brexit.)
Much of the leave side arguments were based upon dissatisfaction with immigration and were racist and nationalistic. Personally I voted to leave but only because the E.U. is a ‘rich man’s club’ and only looks after the interests of European countries. Just as in the U.S.A. presidential elections many people used their vote as a protest vote against the establishment.
But I must say that although 52% of the electorate were not all racially motivated, the end result was that Britain took a step towards nationalism and racism. For many, like me, this might turn out to be an unintended consequence.
As I am not an American, I will limit what I say about this man. People voted for him for all sorts of reasons. Not all votes were racially motivated. Some voted ‘Trump’ as a protest vote against the establishment. Some voted for ‘pro-life’ reasons or because they had always voted Republican.
But Donald Trump’s declared agenda is racist, xenophobic and nationalistic and sadly the United States has taken a big step in this direction. I am reminded of the German electorate voting Hitler and the Nazis into power, many voting as a vote against communism.
The world seems to have lurched towards its many nation states becoming more nationalistic and less tolerant of minorities. This is a recipe for civil unrest and will be the cause of conflict between countries. Is this the start of a new trend, or is it a temporary blip on the path to an improved future for the human race? Will we learn from history are we doomed to history repeating itself?
Overall, I am optimistic about the future, but recent events have produced a chill and I feel that we are at the crossroads. We cannot look to politicians to sort it all out. The future depends on the thoughts. attitudes, motivation and actions of ordinary people like you and me.
- Am I prepared to accept that no human being on this planet is superior or inferior to me?
- Will I not just tolerate people of different ethic groups, but embrace their differing cultures?
- Will I reject all forms of racism and expressions of nationalism?
- Will I stand up for the rights of minority groups?
- Will I consider myself a citizen of the world – putting the whole human race before the interests of my own country?