I'd like to put down my thoughts on nationalism and its relationship with Humanism.
It's something I've felt strongly about for a while, but was rekindled by Phaedo's post in which he mentioned Paul Kurtz's article The Limits of Tolerance and something in an article in The Herald a few days ago.
In it, Kurtz describes a tolerant society and its limits. About ethnicity, he says:
Geographic boundaries are arbitrary; accidents of recent history.At this point we ought to recognize that there is a humanist outlook now emerging, which is transcultural. It cuts across frontiers and the cultural divide. If you tolerate all ethnic differences equally you are going to conflict. We have to move beyond that. Ethnic groupings are accidental, based on geographical isolation, with cultures and languages developing over a relatively short period of time in human history. We are reaching a stage where ethnicity can be reactionary, regressive, and divisive. Let me qualify that: we are opposed to the oppression by the majority of a minority. In the Soviet Union, for instance, the Russians had repressed the Estonians, Lithuanians, and Latvians, and in the United States there is a long-standing repression of black culture by the dominant white majority. We obviously are opposed to this.
We favor liberation and tolerance, but a new planetary society is emerging. This global culture is authentically humanistic; it goes beyond chauvinistic ethnicity; it opens the door to a new, more inclusive ethnicity where we are all members of the world community.
However, I'm not as optimistic as Kurtz. "We are reaching a stage where ethnicity can be reactionary, regressive, and divisive," but I'm not sure I see that this has changed much in recent history, so I think it would be fairer to say that ethnicity is still reactionary, regressive and divisive. Humanists favour liberation and tolerance and Humanism goes beyond 'chauvinistic ethnicity'. The global culture he sees - to be tolerant and inclusive - must transcend national boundaries. I don't think that he means that cultural differences should be suppressed or restrained in any way, but that we must go beyond the boundaries created more by historical and geographic accidents than by wilful human action. We are all African, after all!
Of course, we currently do have nations and in Europe at least, we do see far more cooperation between these nations that there has ever been. For eastern Europe, this has been very recent - only after previous national or ethnic boundaries had broken down. I see this as welcome sign for exactly the same reasons that the UN was set up just after one of the bloodiest periods in human history. History shows that humanity benefits when countries talk to each other and cooperate and what happens when barriers are put up!
Although it is sometimes expedient to say I'm a Scot, I think of myself as a member of the human race first, and, if pushed, a Brit and then a Scot at the bottom of the list. I don't see that where my mother happened to be at the time of my birth has much bearing on anything and certainly not on how I should be treated by others nor how I treat them. Certainly, I have some Scots heritage (and some English - my paternal grandfather was from Birmingham), but, as a Humanist, I don't see that as defining me or my tolerance or respect for others - I don't tolerate the French because of the Auld Alliance, but because they are fellow humans. My tolerance stems from this shared humanity and it seems obtuse to base it in any way on where I was born. To place nationalism first is not to be Humanist. To place nationalism first is to place others beneath or at least at a distance. It spawns superiority and intolerance of others and other ideas.
In today's Herald:
Is there a correlation between this negativity and the 'rise' of nationalism in Scotland?However, academics found that, in some areas, those views are becoming more negative and there is still a "worrying hostility" towards English people, which actually increased over time among the sample of some 300 pupils. Attitudes towards Muslims had also deteriorated.
These statistics are worrying and presupposes a superiority of Scots over English, perhaps akin to racism: the perceived superiority of one grouping over another. This also reminds me of the complaints of too many Scots running the Westminster government.When S4 pupils who had taken part in the original survey were asked whether they would be just as likely to vote for an English person as a Scot for the Holyrood Parliament, only 30% agreed, compared to 62% of the same sample in 2004. However, in other areas attitudes have become more positive. When pupils were asked if they would be just as likely to vote for a woman as a man, 86% agreed, compared to 80.5% of the original group.
If Humanists were polled with the same questions, would we get 100% for both? I hope we would.
Of course, there are boundaries; there are countries. The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) goes some way to pulling the various disparate national Humanist organisations together with a common purpose and a common awareness of each other. Also, there is a need for national organisations to deal with national problems and to campaign nationally. A few years ago the British Humanist Association (BHA) thought about changing its name the Humanist Society of England and Wales. Part of the reasoning was that Scotland had its own, blossoming organisation, the HSS, to take care of local issues (education, government, etc). Thankfully, it was defeated at the AGM. I am a member of both the BHA and the HSS (at least I don't think I've been thrown out yet!) and the BHA has much to contribute to the whole country because they deal with many aspects that are still reserved issues (social security, defence, etc). In fact the HSS was formed when the BHA was far less active than it is now because it was unrealistic to expect the BHA, based in London, to deal with the expected Scottish Parliament after the referendum in 1979. So, the HSS grew to influence Scottish education and politics.
There are HSS members who are members or supporters of the Scottish Nationalist Party. So what?. There are also Labour Party and Conservative Party members or supporters and perhaps even some who couldn't care less! But I have come across some ardent Nationalist Humanists; they seem to be vehement in their support of an independent Scotland. I think the arguments about 'Scottish' oil and what would happen to our fellow human beings (relatives?) south of a Solway-Berwick line on the map if Alex Salmond got his hands on the revenues is a separate discussion. But the SNP will think itself as having won, when much of the money currently spent throughout the UK by Westminster was available to the people of Scotland alone. I fail to see how this in any way fits in with a Humanist outlook. In fact, I see nationalism as anathema to Humanism. A Humanist organisation should not be seen to serve nationalist purposes if it is to retain the respect of its members.
This does not mean that it couldn't celebrate the culture and heritage of its home, but the basic tenet of Humanism that Kurtz portrays must always be to the fore. Humanism is not a national culture and Humanist organisations must not try to represent the culture of its members or of that country. They must transcend national boundaries and be seen to do so. If they fail in this, they will not be seen as tolerant; not Humanist.