Proud to be X, God Bless X
So. There is this one clip on YouTube where George Carlin talks about pride and nationhood, and it’s one of my all time favourite gems of his. He makes a very telling point about some of the eyebrow-raising aspects of humanity.
I do, however, disagree with him on one particular point. While I think it’s somewhat absurd to be proud of one’s nationality (patriotism and nationalism – what’s the difference really?) I do not think it is a genetic accident. Nationhood, like many other human notions, need to be built and maintained through our communication and behaviour. It’s not something that will pop out by itself – people have fought, believed and argued for nationhood – nor would it continue to exist without the affirmation it needs to survive.
For example, the association of language with a nation-state. There is often the assumption that the two go along together, so much so that the concept of a ‘dialect’ helps to maintain the ideology of a nation-state and innate nationhood. Why does Spain have so numerous official languages, yet the various ways of speaking in Italian were demoted to dialects in favour of a general standardised Italian? Was there perhaps a political need to create a united Italian peninsula, the first of its kind since Justinian dynasty’s brief reconquest of Rome? Not until the 1800’s the German-speaking people were considered peoples.
“It has become customary for cultural analysts to treat objects, such as flags, as if they were texts. The process can be reversed, so that the text appears as a flag.” – A telling point. It may be that Carlin fell victim to his own object of displeasure. It just may be that he was advocating nationhood in the most subtle, banal, of ways.
(Much of my understanding on the social construction of nationhood is based on Billig’s Banal Nationalism, from which the above quote can be found on page 173.)