Lately we’ve heard more and more about nationalism. In fact, the idea of “America First” was the central theme that boosted the current American president into the White House. His populist message struck a chord among the disenfranchised, particularly the rural disenfranchised seeking meaning in a changing world.
This has not happened in a vacuum. Not that long ago, the idea of “Brexit” seemed preposterous. Now right-wing populism, protectionism, and economic nationalism have not only infected the United States, but can be seen in many elections throughout Europe. It is perhaps a natural swing of a frightened electorate to turn to protectionist policies when their “way of life” is threatened. It is an understandable but disturbing trend.
The world grows smaller. Every day the world grows smaller. Technological gains, many also unthinkable not that many years ago, give us up-to-the-minute real-time views around the globe. We are connected at the speed of light. As unindustrialized countries advance, we see low-wage alternatives to our country’s workers, and we seek protection for our own. As other nations experience growing pains, or resist growth altogether, their people understandably flee to greater pastures, to lands filled with opportunity. Lands like ours. But they are welcomed with sneers and revulsion, again with the idea that these “others” threaten a longstanding way of life.
And they do. There is no way to integrate sudden cultures without somehow bringing elements of each culture together. The very history of the United States of America is a mixing of cultures. This is why we call it the “melting pot” of the world. Those who resist the restraints on immigration brought on by populism use that very metaphor as a defense for immigrants entering this country. As the world grows smaller, though, the melting pot gets larger. Cultures, in every advanced human society, clash and merge ever more.
And the history of the clashing and merging of societies hasn’t always been a good one, though there are exceptions. Certainly, in the past, when cultures have collided there have been great casualties. The Neanderthal did not fair well for long after meeting the Sapiens. The European colonists crushed the Native Americans. A similar fate befell the aborigine in Australia.
We can learn much from these histories.
What we should not learn from these histories is fear. We should learn, instead, the prospect of successful cultural merging. With the information of thousands of years of progress at our disposal we should be able, now, to forge a path forward. Our natural inclination to resist change should begin to evolve into a natural understanding of it. We should open our arms, not build more walls.
Populism and nationalism naturally build more walls. Literally and figuratively. They are a natural outcropping or our inherent fears, our innate prejudices. They are the worst part of our history.
To succeed in the world to come, we have to overcome those fears and prejudices. We, and they, must get beyond the “us” vs “them.” Although cultural distinctions can vary, we are still all the same. We are still all humankind. The world we can create together can change all the rules of history. The world we create apart follows them. Populism is isolationist. Nationalism is divisiveness. We should have overcome this by now.
Nearly 70 years ago, after the last world war, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was produced by the United Nations. This document dreams of a world yet to come. A world where all people, around the globe, share the same unalienable rights. Big dreamers, in the wake of defeating a terrible evil, came together to hope for a better world. Their dream remains unfulfilled. In fact, it is challenged today by the fear and prejudice I have mentioned.
We are still in the middle of an awakening, worldwide. A new renaissance. A period of enlightenment. This time will be wrought with peril, setback, darkness, and ignorance. But to succeed where the dreamers have thus far failed, we must continue to dream. We must continue to fight back against fear and prejudice. We must renew our promise to people everywhere.
Please read the document linked above, written on December 10, 1948. The promise of a world coming together. The dream of a united human race. As hard as it will be, let’s renew this promise.
For all humankind.