Nationalism is as useful to humans as their tail.
Nationalism is an unaccommodating relic and in today’s globalised world it represents a dangerous anachronism.
There is nothing constructive that Nationalism can achieve in peacetime that Patriotism can’t.
Nationalism is as useful to humans as their tail. Problem comes when the tail wags. As it did when Prime Minister Narendra Modi told a journalist in the run-up to the 2014 general elections that he is a Hindu Nationalist. He could so easily have said that he is a Hindu patriot (whatever that means). Had he done so, millions of his supporters would have been calling themselves Patriots instead of Nationalists and one wouldn’t have had to endure the wearisome “What is Nationalism, who is a Nationalist” debate these past four years. For the fact is, Narendra Modi is not a Nationalist; he is a Patriot – if at all there is a need to judge him or any Indian citizen thus. His belief system, as acknowledged by him, stems from Hindu Philosophy, and at the very core of Hindu Philosophy lies the magical phrase: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. The world is one family.
“Ayam bandhurayam neti ganana laghuchetasam udaracharitanam tu vasudhaiva kutumbakam”
“Only small men discriminate saying: One is a relative; the other is a stranger. For those who live magnanimously the entire world constitutes but a family.”
This maxim (from the Maha Upanishad; Chapter 6, verse 72) is also inscribed at the entrance to the central hall of our Parliament House, presumably to make every Indian leader who passes through this threshold of power realise that his or her actions must result in the happiness and well-being of not just India but the entire world. President Obama mentioned this in his address to the Indian Parliament back in 2010. It appears our own Prime Minister has forgotten it.
The concept, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, may have emanated from the churnings of non-scientific philosophies but modern genetics has shown how exceptionally liberal, progressive, and scientific it is. Nationalism, on the other hand, is illiberal, regressive, and anti-science, for at the heart of evolution lies the axiom: the survival of any species is dependent on enabling genetic diversity within it. The more mutations our genes accumulate during the passage of evolutionary time, the more chance we have of combating a stress that may come along, in the form of a disease or as a threat to our survival itself.
Survival of the fittest is impossible without survival of the fraternity. Mix, mate, make the cut.
The scientist Willem Stemmer demonstrated this brilliantly, in perhaps the single most important – both scientifically and philosophically – biology experiment since the Miller and the Watson-Crick DNA double helix milestones. His so-called Sexual-PCR method rapidly introduced mutations within a gene following each cycle of mother-to-daughter copying, with the result that the cell containing the “present-generation” progeny was able to withstand the kind of stress hitherto considered insurmountable. Here, at long last, was an irrefutable demonstration of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution that whole-genome sequencing, the discovery of the ribozyme, and the proto-cell model had only but endorsed. In a matter of hours a mother gene, that had taken millions of years of slow and steady evolution to become worthy of combating stress, was shuffled and mutated into a daughter gene that could now survive tens of thousands of times that very stress. What enabled this Directed Evolution? The brute force of simple logic. Mix, mate, make the cut.
In essence, this is what Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is. A globalised world, where people mix freely; they mate – exchange not only goods and ideas but also genes; and they make the cut – prosper, are happy, healthy.
Yes, we are all Parsis in a way – some more, some less, and some actually. But the Parsis cannot survive for long. They will go extinct if they do not allow mixing of their genes with non-Parsis. Ask the Habsburgs.
Endogamy is the antithesis of Evolution. Remarkably, our ancestors knew this as far back as 34,000 years ago. The passage of evolutionary time cannot be paused or reversed. It is a case of the wall sliding up to find the back. Why, then, do we insist we know better?
Nationalism is ideology-agnostic and if there is one thing we do know about ideologies, it is that they might survive – because ideas good or bad do, but not before they end up destroying nations that follow them. We have seen this time and time again, in Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Stalin’s Russia, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and countless more.
Look at India or America on the other hand. Nations brimming with diversity. In the case of India, this robust mixing – of Ancestral North Indian (ANI) and Ancestral South Indian (ASI) populations was brought to a cruel halt two thousand years ago, coinciding with the publication of the Manusmriti. The land that gave the world the phrase Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam turned inwards and decided to fragment into smaller kutumbs. What followed was sanctioned schism, and untold barbarity towards fellow human beings. It took us two millennia and the triumvirate of Darwin, Phule, and Ambedkar to comprehend the perils of going against Evolutionary dictat, and truth be told, we are yet to fully understand it. Inter-caste and inter-faith unions are few and far between.
In contrast, America has displayed more eagerness to learn from its past mistakes. Ironically, it was in ruthless pursuance of religion-sanctioned exclusivity of a particular race, the white race, that brought slaves and later non-white immigrants to America. And when, centuries of struggle later, they were provided equal rights, mixing commenced in earnest. This is because mixing of genes, i.e. diversity, is dependent upon Human empathy and a rejection of Social Darwinism.
By 2045, half the US population would be non-white, up from 15 per cent in 1965. What’s more, 14.3 per cent of the US population would be made up of immigrants by 2020. The US has never been more diverse any time in its history than it is now. The results are there for all to see. In the 1950s, less than 0.5 per cent of all American scientists and engineers were immigrants. Sixty years later, that figure stands at 18 per cent. Fifty-seven per cent of these immigrants were born in Asia; six per cent in Africa.
America realises the virtue of Diversity. Do we?
Science and Nationalism are like oil and water. Scientists do not, and must not recognise national boundaries. We must be proud not only of our own nation’s scientists, but also of all other nations’ scientists, for we are using their inventions and discoveries to make our lives more comfortable, healthier, liveable. Appreciating the phenomenal advances made in ancient India in the fields of science, engineering, mathematics, and literature must not come in the way of appreciating the phenomenal advances made in today’s world outside of India in the same fields. A club, or a tribe, restricts mixing, impedes generation of diversity. Yes, we are in a race, but not among ourselves; we are in a race to survive as a species in a world that we ourselves are turning more and more inhospitable.
Nationalism and its derivatives have a habit of turning up unannounced at all the unsuspecting places. It was not a small step for man, let alone a giant leap for mankind, when Armstrong planted the American flag on the surface of the harmless and welcoming moon. It was a crime and a sin and it displayed mankind’s pettiness and confused beliefs of superiority. What did it mean – that act, of jabbing a nation’s flagpole on the lunar surface? Was that rock now enslaved? Was it America’s? The planting of a flag is not as simple an act as it sounds. It signifies the taking over of a place; victory; and it matters little whether it is a nation or a football stadium or the moon. It is psychologically overwhelming for the opponent while it comforts your fellow national. And it has its roots in the ideology of Nationalism.
Does India, whose Prime Minister calls himself a Nationalist, behave as though it is forged from the melted iron of Nationalism? Far from it.
India is a vital cog in the global trade. We are a vibrant democracy and have friendly relations with most countries of the world. We trade goods worth $620 billion with 194 nations and rank impressively on the Overall Trade Restrictiveness Index. We welcome all with open arms, are ranked 34th most friendly country. Our refugee policy, says the UNHCR chief, is an example for the world to follow. We have committed ourselves to the Paris Climate Deal even though it would mean sacrificing on the speed of growth that all rich countries before us shied away from. We gave asylum to the Dalai Lama when most other countries would have been reluctant to for fear of antagonising China, because it was the right thing to do. We cut off all relations with apartheid South Africa to our enormous economic detriment even as the Britons and the Americans, the guardians of human rights, never did – because it was the right thing to do. All these are not traits displayed by a nation full of Nationalists.
Why, then, have Indians, from the Prime Minister down, begun calling themselves as Nationalists, and proudly so? To give them the benefit of doubt, possibly because it acts as a defensive rhetoric against those who are keepers of competing ideologies – religious, secessionist, communist – that themselves are Nationalist in nature.
In combating those who peddle an obtuse and bizarre Idea of India, the self-declared nationalists are prepared to forget the Idea from India – Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. They do not, or cannot, grasp the obvious damage this duel can entail. Those who love India never need to be forced to love her. And those who don’t, no amount of force will make them love her.
Doubtless, India is home to Nationalism but one that is based on pan-Casteist, pan-Islamic, and pan-Communist ideologies. These, and not Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, are the real exclusivities, are dreams of a collective; a tribe. They are a means to decrease diversity, to be satisfied with looking inwards.
Search the annals of Indian history and you will find only one man who stood alone above beyond and fearlessly, and condemned clearly boldly definitively and unequivocally, every single ideology that ever tried to furnish exclusivity and tribalism.
This is what he said on Hinduism and pan-Casteism:
The Caste System is in itself a degenerate form of the Chaturvarna, which is the ideal of the Hindu. How can anybody who is not a congenital idiot accept Chaturvarna as the ideal form of society? Hindu philosophy, whether it is Vedanta, Sankhya, Nyaya, or Vaishashika, has moved in its own circle without in any way affecting the Hindu religion. It has never had the courage to challenge this gospel. The Hindu philosophy that everything is Brahma remained only a matter of intellect. It never became a social philosophy. The Hindu philosophers had both their philosophy and their Manu held apart in two hands, the right not knowing what the left had.
Hinduism believes in social separation, which is another name for social disunity and even creates social separation. If Hindus wish to be one they will have to discard Hinduism. They cannot be one without violating Hinduism. Hinduism is the greatest obstacle to Hindu Unity. Hinduism cannot create that longing to belong which is the basis of all social unity. On the contrary Hinduism creates an eagerness to separate.
Hindu Society as such does not exist. It is only a collection of castes. Each caste is conscious of its existence. Its survival is the be-all and end-all of its existence. Castes do not even form a federation. A caste has no feeling that it is affiliated to other castes, except when there is a Hindu-Muslim riot. On all other occasions each caste endeavours to segregate itself and to distinguish itself from other castes.
It is quite true that Hinduism can adjust itself…It is true that Hinduism can absorb many things…But there is one thing which Hinduism has never been able to do — namely to adjust itself to absorb the Untouchables or to remove the bar of Untouchability.
This is what he said on pan-Communism:
Why do the Communists condemn the Constitution? Is it because it is really a bad Constitution? I venture to say no. The Communist Party wants a Constitution based upon the principle of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. They condemn the Constitution because it is based upon parliamentary democracy.
My party will not align with the Communist party for the plain reason that I do not believe in Communism…The Communist Party is mostly a bunch of Brahmin boys.
The theory that Communism and free democracy can work together seems to me to be utterly absurd, for Communism is like a forest fire; it goes on burning and consuming like a forest fire; it goes on consuming anything and everything that comes in its way.
The Communists say there are only two means of establishing communism. The first is violence. Nothing short of it will suffice to break up the existing system. The other is dictatorship of the proletariat. Nothing short of it will suffice to continue the new system.
And this is what he said about pan-Islamism:
A country which is ruled by a Kaffir is Dar-ul-Harb to a Musalman…The basic feelings of deference and sympathy, which predispose persons to obey the authority of government, do not simply exist. But if proof is wanted, there is no dearth of it. It is so abundant that the problem is what to tender and what to omit.
Islam divides as inexorably as it binds. Islam is a close corporation and the distinction that it makes between Muslims and non-Muslims is a very real, very positive and a very alienating distinction. The brotherhood of Islam is not the universal brotherhood of man. It is brotherhood of Muslims for Muslims only. There is a fraternity, but its benefit is confined to those within that corporation. For those who are outside the corporation, there is nothing but contempt and enmity. The second defect of Islam is that it is a system of social self-government and is incompatible with local self-government, because the allegiance of a Muslim does not rest on his domicile in the country which is his but on the faith to which he belongs. To the Muslim ibi bene ibi patria [Where it is well with me, there is my country] is unthinkable. Wherever there is the rule of Islam, there is his own country. In other words, Islam can never allow a true Muslim to adopt India as his motherland and regard a Hindu as his kith and kin.
Who was this man?
Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. The man who we worship but not follow because we fear him.
Ambedkar understood that a Nationalist is nothing but a supremacist and that Nationalism is a violation not only of the Darwinian axiom of generating diversity; it is also a tool for propagation of Social Darwinism. Because inherent in the idea of supremacy is a lack of empathy, and empathy is one of the most crucial endowments of human evolution.
George Orwell, too, saw Communism and political Catholicism as an embodiment of Nationalism. Akin to political Islam, Political Catholicism, a movement that began in Europe in the nineteenth century, required religion to be preached and protected through political force and state machinery. One can see why Nationalism is a force to reckon with. Because it has as its bulwark not science but cult.
It is not too difficult to gauge reasons why people and organisations turn Nationalist in peacetime. There is, to begin with, a persecution complex – the primary reason why cults appear in the first place, that soon turns to anxiety when the ideas of the cult are rejected. A collective weight is but the natural means to force it through. Once the difficult and all-consuming objective – of transforming the state into one run by the ideology of a cult – is achieved, it is too late to return to the lofty and utopian principles that formed the preamble of the cult in the first place. What inevitably follows is authoritarianism.
No one can deny the lure of nationalism. Man can escape the violent potency of tribalism only through an understanding (by trial and error or through scientific revelation) of what is required for his species to survive in the long term – empathy and diversity. Such epiphany was wholly absent in all of recorded human history. Millions were killed, entire populations enslaved and annihilated, kings and queens heralded, continents plundered. Tribalism, like religion, is here to stay – anyone who thinks otherwise knows little about the way humans work and think. But a lesson not given is a lesson not learnt. And the lesson given by Darwin, reinforced time and time again through the advances in molecular biology, is only just reaching the ears of the tribesmen and women. It is for them to listen and pay heed. The other road leads to extinction.
This article first appeared in newslaundry on Feb. 26, 2018.