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Nationalism as a construct

Sociologists and psychologists alike seem to enjoy studying the social construct – a communally developed phenomenon that “constructs” itself through social intercourse within a culture over a long period of time.  Besides being a nifty term used to make us all sound intellectual and elegant, social construction makes up our daily lives.  It takes shape with everything from money to mental disorder, and we all, in a sense, “create” and nurture these social constructs every day with our words and actions. 

Nationalism, then, is an invention.  A damn useful invention.  Picture this: a force that can control the mind, body, and soul of a huge mass of people and unite them under a common understanding of human cooperation and governance.  That’s nationalism, and it’s a powerful tool.  If you don’t think nationalism can be “used,” you’re wrong.  Patriotic appeals, often wrapped up in emotion, are all over the place: buy this type of car if you’re a true American.  Buy these bonds if you believe in America’s cause.   The messages are ubiquitous, and they’re targeting your attachments to this country.

Many of us know this.  The most educated people, it seems, understand that the “nation” is no more than a group of people, and it is not necessarily – or, at least, inherently – a better group than those across cultural borders.  So, our direct emotional relationship with our country suffers accordingly.  People are apathetic towards die-hard Americanism because they realize that other nations support free will and resourcefulness just as ours does, and these citizens push more for the intangible qualities of “liberty” and “freedom” over the personification of the “United States” because of all of the negativity that comes with saying that you stand with the U.S.  They also realize that being born in a specific place doesn’t automatically qualify that place as being the best there ever was.

To be sure, I am describing a specific set of people.  There are still extremely devoted nationalists in America, and they have a strong voice.  But my concern is with the unsure, including myself, who understand that the concept of “nation” really does matter less than the qualities necessary to a state that will allow for better livelihood amongst its people. 

But then, the question must be raised: is it this nation itself that allows for such thought to blossom?  I contend that American citizens have a quality of intellectual autonomy not often seen in other cultures, and American values clearly encourage this.  But ironically, these values encourage the most educated members of American society to become detached from the U.S. in an emotional sense.  This relative lack of devotion decreases American faculties – if people are less loyal, they will be more spiteful towards the government in bad times, will not support efforts abroad, will evade taxation, and so on.  It forms a counterculture, as was manifested in the 1960s.  The ‘60s may have been the peak of the counterculture movement in its most obvious form, but counterculture as an ideology is still here and permeates everyday life for the best of us.

What does this mean?  What can we do about the fact that many of us intellectualize the concept of the country too much to be attached to one?  Should we be more loyal to America as a vehicle for good qualities like peace and equality?

I really do want to know what you think.  Am I wrong?  What points have I missed?  Write me a response, flag me down in a hallway – I want your opinion, because that’s the only thing that will help us find answers to questions like these and tend us towards the road to a solution.

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