Tag Archives: Worldview

Shame Day: Nationalism

Imagine for a moment, the existence of two mythical lands: Acirema and Adanac. Imagine that you are a citizen of Acirema, living in a little town bordering Adanac. Despite your isolation, you’re just as patriotic as any another Acireman. You wave the Acireman flag, salute it, pledge your undying allegiance to the homeland, and swear to defend her against all attacks. You cheer on your Acireman compatriots competing in the Olympics. You stand up and applaud when they win, and howl with despair when they lose. As far as you are concerned, you are a proud Acireman, a citizen of the greatest nation on earth; you love your country just as every red-blooded Acireman is expected to.

And then it is discovered in an old, forgotten document that a century earlier your far-off neck of the woods was actually purchased by Adanac from some forgettable Acireman president. All this time the Acireman-Adanacian border was actually twenty miles further south, making your town and everyone in it Adanacian. What do you do? You were born in another country, making you a citizen from a country that has until now been foreign to you. Do you still salute the Acireman flag? Do you still cheer for the Acireman athletes? Do you still decry the metric system as a tool of the devil?

You probably get the point by now.

Nationalism, boiled down to its most basic components, is the idea that borders matter. That being born on one side of an imaginary line fabricated by affluent racists a few centuries ago should make you a different person than if you were born a few miles north/south/east/west of it.

Now we’re not exactly caught up in some series of Napoleonic conflicts, so why bring up nationalism as the topic for this week’s shame day?

It’s because of this quote by President Obama:

“America remains the one indispensable nation, and the world needs a strong America, and it is stronger now than when I came into office…”

Now let’s take a few minutes to reflect on the sheer arrogance of that statement.

Done?

Good, now let’s break it down.

According to the president, America, and only America, is the one necessity in the world. Brazil, we’re ok if that goes away. The UK can sink into the ocean. China, Russia, Nigeria, Japan,  Italy, Laos- these places are “dispensable.” They don’t serve an important function like America does. America is “indispensable”- the one indispensable nation.

Now if this quote came from some goose-stepping splinter cell in Nowhere, Arkansas, we could probably ignore this. However, as it came from the single most powerful man on the planet, we’re probably not crazy for raising some concerns.

I mean, let’s assume the guy is right- America’s existence is the cornerstone of all stability and decency in the universe, and it is simply more important and valuable than all the other nations of the earth. Shouldn’t we then be concerned about damaging this sole stitch in the fabric of civilization? Puerto Rico, a US territory, is currently petitioning to become a state. If it does, will the America that Obama calls indispensable change in such a way as to unravel all of that? What about selling an acre of land in the south to Mexico, would that shift in the border constitute a change to this indispensable nation?

Or maybe it has nothing to do with borders- maybe America’s indispensable nature has to do with its people. Obviously to protect this, we must maintain things the way they are, and keep any immigrants from entering into the nation, or any Americans from immigrating out, lest we screw up the quota that makes us us. Or maybe it’s not about borders or people- maybe America’s unique nature as “indispensable” comes from its values- that’s why we need to never add or abolish any laws or rules or alter our culture or worldview in any way.

Let’s be realistic here. I’m an American, and I am not exceptional. God Almighty does not smile more upon me for have been born in square A than in square B. My blood is not somehow more precious than that of someone who lives a few feet across an imaginary line in the dirt. If a Mexican, a Canadian, and I were drowning in the ocean, you would not be more obligated to rescue me for either of them. I am not any less dispensable than any other human being on the planet by virtue of my passport or my heritage. This idea that we are somehow inherently divided as human beings on the basis of where we were born is unspeakably stupid. There’s nothing wrong with liking the unique things about the place where you live, or the good and courageous things that are being done, or have been done, or the noble values that your countrymen hold. But ranking these things- the unique things, the good and courageous actions, the noble values- as being less or more important on the basis of their proximity to you is just a flipping shame.

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Old James Bond Vs New James Bond

I have not seen Skyfall– I’m gonna kick things off by stating that right here and now. Nevertheless, I have been following the movie’s development for a while, and the apparent consensus from both the critics and the fans is that “at long last” Daniel Craig’s Bond actually gets back to the spirit of the rest of the series.

Let me break that down a bit.

See, the issue voiced by many Bond fans regarding Craig’s version is that the gritty realism often feels too much like something from the Jason Bourne universe. Many argue that Craig’s Bond lacks the feeling of the older movies, which were (comparatively) more lighthearted and glamorous than the darker and harsher installments we’ve seen over the past few years. This complaint, I’ve noticed, seems to come a lot more from older generations, usually from the 80s backwards, while my own generation seems much more comfortable with Craig’s version. It’s not that it’s about familiarity- after all, there were Bond films while we were growing up, however, I think the whole “New JB VS Old JB” contention really comes down to a shift in values.

I mean, let’s take a look at some of the old James Bonds.

They were off sipping Martinis, flirting with enemy spies, and driving classic cars that turned into planes or submarines or shot lasers and rockets. And all of that was a reflection of the time. The Space Age, where new and innovative technology was bringing us ever closer to a Jetson family standard of living. Those Bond movies were simply a reflection of that era. The same goes for the hedonistic Brosnan Bond of the 90s. The crazy (nearly to the level of cartoonish) villains and schemes, the deus-ex-machina technology (I’m looking at you remote-controlled muscle car) all reflected the materialistic culture that dominated the time.

In the same way, the new James Bond films are a reflection of our own age. The glamorization that marked earlier films would, if applied now, just look condescending. As the economic crisis drags on and as we become more and more acclimated to the issues of unemployment, poverty, and constant warfare, sympathizing with slick government agents in tuxedos driving luxury cars and infiltrating Mediterranean cruises gets pretty dang tough. The bloodied and battered, and ultimately more realistic, Bond that Craig gives us simply appeals more to us. He’s not so much a tour guide for us into the wild and fascinating world of espionage as he a full, tragic character struggling in a lousy situation. The whole divide is demonstrated beautiful in this clip from Casino Royale.

Even the Bond villains are demonstrative in a shift in values. Back in the 70s and 80s, the audience lived with the idea that all life on earth could be ended by a nuclear war. Madmen with doomsday devices simply made sense as the natural Bond enemy. Despite the hype over Iran and, a while back, North Korea, today the idea of a nuclear holocaust is relegated more to survivalist compounds. What are we worried about today? Shadowy cabals of wealthy warmongers manipulating our lives from inside our own governments. Even though Quantum of Solace was less popular as a Bond movie, it’s a perfect example of this similar shift in worldview. What were they bad guys after? A military coup in Bolivia in order to secure the rights to 90% of the country’s water. Even if it’s not too exciting, it’s still believable.

Now none of this is to knock any of the movies (barring A View to Kill, which was freaking awful), it’s simply to explain why there’s been a bit of contention over Craig’s incarnation. The simple fact of the matter is, Bond is going to evolve with time. Surely that’s something to be admired, not complained about…