source: Pixabay

source: Pixabay

Are We The World?

 

Millennials are the most educated generation in the history of humankind. Most of us tend to think highly of ourselves. Maybe we are right to; but now the time has come to prove it. While Europe continues (or not) to drool over bloodthirsty politicians, why don’t we, the fortunate ones, put our minds to assembling a brand-new humane order?

by Anna Jelezovskaia

People in the EU are growing more nationalistic. We may still be in denial, but it must be true, for without nationalism the right-wing populist rhetoric would not appeal as effectively to all those who give the movement its teeth. The trend, as we all know, is at odds with the supranational unity the EU has been working towards in the last decades. With the pivotal Dutch, German and French elections just around the corner, my search for consolation has pushed me to understand the core of the sentiment that threatens the grandiose European project: nationalism.

For a long time I attributed my inability to grasp nationalism, as well as its non-militant alter ego ‘patriotism’, to my international background. Having left Belarus fourteen years ago, I do not identify with my homeland at all, so criticising the sentiment I could not comprehend seemed wrong. Eventually, I understood that the reason behind my scepticism lies elsewhere. In fact, as an “adopted” European I enjoy  the  refreshing perspective of an outside observer. My conclusion is: in addition to all the bigotry involved, a huge flaw of nationalism lies in the blindness of those who ‘worship’ it. And that, we ought not to accept.

At the heart of any coherent nationalist discourse, we find divisive thinking, manifested in a focus on emphasizing the differences between ‘us’ and ‘them’. That’s why there are people who openly claim they are worthy of preferential treatment by virtue of being British, French, Dutch, Hungarian and so on. In this group, there will be those who believe that ‘nationalism’ is an inevitable product of our natural predilection to organise our societies - which can be better achieved when we are surrounded by those who share the same roots.

Can we honestly suggest that what makes us thrive in the company of our friends and colleagues is common ancestry? I don’t think so. It’s almost more plausible to imagine how two people can immediately ‘bond’ over a new Netflix series.

Of course, we might feel more comfortable in the company of those who grew up and were shaped by the same cultural environment. Our overlapping backgrounds create easy topics for conversations. Common language enhances this illusion of an almost intuitive understanding we have with many compatriots. Yet, as a longtime ‘citizen of the world’, there is something I have learned with regard to the nature of social unity of my generation (also referred to as Generation Y).

As of 2017, it sounds rather odd to say that what brings us closer is the illusion of a past we share. Can we honestly suggest that what makes us thrive in the company of our friends and colleagues is common ancestry? I don’t think so. It’s almost more plausible to imagine how two people can immediately ‘bond’ over a new Netflix series.

In shaping our social circles, we are drawn to individuals who share our interests and have a similar vision of the world, and fall in love with those who makes us shiver with their smiles.

What I see – and allow me to be entirely unscientific here - is that people of the ‘Information Age’ connect on levels that go way beyond their national IDs. In times of political uncertainty, we need to finally embrace one simple truth, so straightforward and old that it’s regretful that we still have not learned to live by it: the only thing that truly unites us is our humanity.

If we really dig into the nature of human interactions, we find that everyone needs affection and care. In shaping our social circles, we are drawn to individuals who share our interests and have a similar vision of the world, and fall in love with those who makes us shiver with their smiles.

Those people who stand firm on preferring the exclusive company of ‘their people’ simply have not met enough foreigners. When I moved to Spain nine years ago, I was afraid that my ‘Eastern European’ mentality would get in the way of forming friendships with international peers. As time allowed me to integrate, I was surprised to find that what prevented me from feeling at home in Spain was a faulty state of mind – I had put up my own barriers.

source: Pixabay

source: Pixabay

More often than not, only a small realization like that is needed is to change one’s perspective. Once you do, you discover that you have always had what it takes, but you just turned a blind eye to it, often unconsciously. Because even people who describe themselves as ‘ethnocentric’ cherish their loved ones for their kindness, sense of humour, generosity, intelligence - not their nationality. These are  personality traits that are universal.

In the English language, the word ‘home’ is intentionally abstract: it  reflects this idea that we find belonging not only in geographic locations but also in those places where we feel unity in the presence of others. Globalisation has illustrated that young people like me can, and do, feel absolutely fulfilled in the company of like-minded individuals with whom they share no nation-specific traits (if those even exist beyond clichés). Hence, 21st century nationalism cannot serve as a true civil religion, because people are not hardwired to hate others simply because of their manmade label.

With the liberties you have, it’s almost a moral duty to devise a system that takes into account the equal dignity of all human beings.

Why, in spite of everything I have just said, do we close our eyes and repeat mistakes of the past?

First, because human beings are intrinsically bipolar – we are born with a lot of light around us, while there is also darkness. Both are equally powerful, like ‘yin’ and ‘yang’. When capitalism hits hard and globalisation, together with new technologies, undermines the way we live our lives, we are particularly susceptible to dark influences lurking in the shadows. In a world of unprecedented value pluralism, we crave authority whenever things get shaky. Sensing this, nationalism – embodied in the likes of Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders - usurps the throne and sways us towards the side of aggression and egotism.

On top of that, we have suffer from a cognitive bias. Various studies carried out in the field have illustrated that the mere fact of belonging to a group – in our case, the nation – results in hostility towards “outsiders”.

According to the so-called ‘social identity theory’, individual self-esteem is enhanced through the positive perception of group membership and a corresponding discriminatory comparison with the “worse” groups. This explains an almost unconditional loyalty expressed by many citizens towards their nation today and their contempt towards the unknown.

This is not necessarily a call for open borders, or turning into ‘hippies’ or anarchists. It is an appeal to revitalise our humanity, hardened by the dog-eat-dog mentality.
Source: Pixabay

Source: Pixabay

To combat this, I suggest we broaden the scope of our group. By using the knowledge gathered by psychologists, let’s try defining ourselves as ‘humans’ first, and only then as ‘citizens’. Only this way of defining humanity would be humane enough to align with our ‘light’ nature and, as a consequence, to save our home - the EU.

Of course, nation-states will remain important, but a positive shift in collective consciousness could occur. Certain electoral decisions will assist us in pursuing this overarching aspiration. For starters, ‘exiting’ the EU is not a good idea. Unlike humanism, nationalism can’t last long. Any system built on hostility is doomed to fail for the mere reason that it will never cease to destroy. First, it would get rid of refugees and immigrants – the external enemy. Then, it would find an internal one, to be eradicated by means not as obvious as ethnic cleansing, but more obscure like intergroup eugenics. Nationalism is a gun directed at those who load it. In a world where terrorism already poses such a huge threat, you don’t want to be the target of a Frankenstein monster. “United we stand, divided we fall,” remember?

There is a great “infrastructure” out there that institutions like the UN and the Council of Europe have worked so hard on, for us. By uniting sovereign members previously engaged in a perpetual state of warfare, the EU has given us the building blocks for long-lasting peace.

Having witnessed the state of political affairs in Belarus and Russia – where dictatorships have corrupted the system like a fatal disease - I find it shocking that many young Europeans are still not aware of this. With the liberties you have, it’s almost a moral duty to devise a system that takes into account the equal dignity of all human beings.

What is clear is that once humanism is woven into our policies and laws, we might finally come close to winding down wars, eradicating economic inequality and combating widespread human rights abuses. Until then, the vicious cycle of misery and disarray will have no end.

We can start by learning how not to hate. We also need to stop thinking in numbers only, and work on cultivating sympathy for those who seek our help. This is not necessarily a call for open borders, or turning into ‘hippies’ or anarchists. It is an appeal to revitalise our humanity, hardened by the dog-eat-dog mentality. We can focus on both existing and new local projects, since altruistic initiatives benefit all parties involved.

Instead of striving for exorbitant personal incomes earned in dubious industries, we can consider pursuing jobs in the education system – future generations need us now more than ever. We can become engaged in sustainable business activities and create passionate art. With the help of technologies, we can improve the democratic dialogue between stakeholders at the local, national and international level; and so on.

What is clear is that once humanism is woven into our policies and laws, we might finally come close to winding down wars, eradicating economic inequality and combating widespread human rights abuses. Until then, the vicious cycle of misery and disarray will have no end.

I know, if we stare at the (stinking) pile of global problems today, these pretty words sound empty. Indeed, there is a long and difficult climb ahead. But if we succeed at remembering the inherent value of all human life whenever we make a decision – be it personal, professional or civic – the status quo that seemed set in stone will finally blossom with new colours. This is a simple truth, hardly a new one, but one that needs to be repeated again and again. By me, by you, by us.

Millennials are the most educated generation in the history of humankind. Most of us tend to think highly of ourselves. Maybe we are right to; but now the time has come to prove it. While Europe continues (or not) to drool over bloodthirsty politicians, why don’t we, the fortunate ones, put our minds to assembling a brand-new humane order?

Is that youthful idealism? For sure; but don’t you think it’s not all too utopian? Besides, as of today, what other lifeboat is there for the EU?

----------

Anna Jelezovskaia is a law student and aspiring writer/journalist, currently based in Paris.