Sunday, November 26, 2006

Hypocrisy, identity, nation state, nomadism and life

In my thirties I have discovered my inner hypocrite. (What is a polite and politically correct term for a hypocrite nowadays? "A person of inner contradictions"? "Complicated-American"? Whatever...) I discovered that I am ready to believe in one thing and want another, to preach something and do something completely different, etc. I wonder if that is why young people in the Sixties used to say "never trust anyone over thirty"? I wholeheartedly agree.

It started on 9/11, when I realized that I would glady have a billion or so people die just so that my plans of going back to Finland would not be disrupted. Not, mind you, "have a billion or so people die" in the sense of ordering anyone to kill them, or voting for them to be killed. Just, you know, wishing for them to be dead, without any actual action to bring that about. There was some soul-searching, both about why I might have such evil desires, and why I wouldn't act on them if I happen to have them. I settled on the comforting thought that my feelings are one thing, my decisions are another, and I have so far usually been able to keep them apart fairly well.

Except that it does not quite work that way, now does it? It works well enough for me when I feel like breaking a bottle on somebody's face but settle for saying "bugger off". But in politics feelings matter, even the feelings of the folks with reasonably good impulse control. I am not in a "kill a billion people now" kind of mood nowadays, but sometimes I want fairly radical things to be done. For the most part I want them deep in my heart, I don't demand them, wouldn't vote for them, and would not give our leaders permission to do them - but I would probably forgive them afterwards, and they probably know it. And this by itself changes the political landscape quite a bit, especially when there are a lot of people wanting the same thing.

Lately I also realized that I would like the people of the civilized world to have a little more children. This makes me feel vaguely hypocritical too, considering that I am certainly not having any myself.

The third thing that I have been thinking about lately: a number of people have been saying that the erosion of the nation state and the emergence of supranational identities are a bad thing, leading to citizens who have no loyalty to the state they live in and instead are loyal to some global entity - say, Ummah - and that the current problems with Muslims are just a first big one in a series of coming problems with supranational identities, and that it would be good to streengthen the nation state and to weaken the supranational identities. I sort of agree with them for the most part, in that I much prefer my neighbors to be loyal to Finland than to the Ummah, but damn, should I even have the nerve to say so out loud? I think I should be at least blushing saying this, considering that I am a descendant and a part of a culture that has been a rather strong supranational identity for at least the last couple of thousands of years.

Obviously Jews are usually much better integrated into non-Jewish societies than Muslims in non-Muslim societies, but it still feels weird and sad to say about Muslims exactly the same things as many people in Russia were saying about Jews (they have no loyalty to our nation and are more loyal to Jews/Muslims everywhere, etc.,etc.). When I was 14 and the newspapers started writing things like that my parents showed them to me and said that all this talk about the loyalty to the nation means that we gotta go sometime soon. Truly I have become one of those people that my parents have warned me about. (I am still mostly right, and the polls of Muslims at least in the UK confirm it. Incidentally those people who were saying those things about us were also right, at least as far as I was concerned.I have no loyalty to Russia whatsoever, nor ever had. I tend to think of it as a lesser problem, though, because first of all we are talking about me, and second, when we are feeling disloyal to a nation state we have a tradition of packing up and moving to the next country rather than trying to fix the old country one bomb at a time. I can recommend it.)

I am very much a descendant of a nomadic tradition. There are few countries in Europe where my ancestors have not lived, and few moments in my family history when three generations of the same family were born in the same country. We come, we learn the local language, we find jobs, we live there, then at some point the going gets tough, we pack up and we go.

Naturally not all of us like it, as is evidenced by the creation of the state of Israel - although even there Jews come and go. I am very glad that the Jews who want a nation state of their very own have it, but it's not my thing, and not just because Israel has hot weather and bad neighbors. I am kind of accustommed to living among infidels - having a large Jewish community around would be a nice bonus but I would not know what to do with a nation state of our own.

The degree of individual adjustment varies, but in general we know the drill. Learn the language, don't piss off the locals, try to meet new people, get an education, get a job, watch out for trouble, pack fast if you need to, know when it's time to move, although on the last one a lot of us did not perform too well in the last century.

Personally, the nation-statey thing has never caused me much of a headache. I say that I am an American when somebody asks who I am, because I am an American and have a passport that says so. I am not particularly bothered about whether or not I am worse American than somebody who speaks English with one of the American accents and likes baseball and apple pie. At some point I hope to become a Finn too, and am not going to agonize over whether I have become too Finnish, or not enough. I have never gotten around to agonizing on whether or not I am a good Jew, either. I am fairly loyal to the US, Finland and the Jewish people as a whole, and to a certain degree to the Western civilization as a whole, too. Any serious conflicts of loyalty are not very likely to arise and will be decided of a case to case basis. I have no loyalty to Russia, where I was born, and see no reason why I should. (Uhm, is somebody seeing a parallel between me and the young angry Muslims born in UK who say they have no loyalty to it? Shhh! Seriously, though, when Jews started feeling disloyal to Russia more than a million of them packed up and left without planting a single explosive device on a single subway train, whereas some Muslims in UK did just that, and I can't fail to notice that Muslims are mostly moving into the UK and not out of it.)

A friend to her (American Jewish) son who went to work in Kiev: "Sweetie, Ukraine is one of those places where Jews come from. It's not one of the places they should go to!" But I digress.

Anyway: nowadays I sometimes think that a lot of problems in the world comes from the fact that a lot of people are moving from country to country without any idea how to do it right. Muslims are the most visible case, but they are by no means the only one. Nowadays it's easy to move, easy to maintain contact with the old country, easy to live without ever having to meet people and easy to get hung up on the identity issues. Maybe I should give prospective neonomads some of my learned advice:

- Learn the damn language. Now. Today.

- The locals have the numerical advantage, and don't you ever forget it.

- The locals will probably want to maintain their numerical advantage.

- The locals really can exterminate you, even if both you and them imagine otherwise. Don't give them any reason to do so. If they start doing so anyway moving away from them might be a good idea.

- If the locals and their country truly suck, move elsewhere.

- Changing the place one bomb at a time is not likely to make you popular.

- Demanding that your religious laws be adopted in your new country is not likely to make you popular either.

- Get an education, and a job. This is probably a good advice for anyone.

- Meet the locals. It's good for you. Try to make it good for them, too.

- No matter what you do the older generation will tell you that you are doing it wrong. They should be packed safely for the trip and preferably appeased with nice food.

- If you are wondering whether it is a good idea to exchange all your property for a ticket out, it probably is.

- Don't agonize over identity. If you are wondering whether you are A or B, you are obviously both.

- Don't agonize over finding balance between your identities. It will eventually be found. Your children, if any, will find it too. Mind you, it probably won't be the same as yours.

- Do all your paperwork properly and don't expect immigration officials to be nice to you.

- Don't get too hung up on nature. You might miss Finns or Germans or Eiffel tower, but they probably have forests and rivers and what-not in the new country.

- If you've been at it for a couple of thousand of years, be extra respectful in your people's cemeteries. Some relative of yours is buried there anyway.

- Again: if the locals and their country truly suck, move elsewhere. I can't understate the importance of this, and I don't only mean it in a "put up or shut up" way but also in a "don't be unduly optimistic" way. Some places are just bad.

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