a nepalese, an irishman and a columbian
December 27, 2009, 10:49 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , ,

Here is another excerpt from Ryszard Kapuscinski’s The Other.  In it he sketches nationalism as a coarse reductive tool we routinely use to categorize and separate people.  Why do we do it?  I don’t know.  I suppose to make ourselves feel better by pointing out how others are different and – by their difference – inferior.

I used to work in an American office in which also worked a Nepalese, a Columbian, an Irishman, a Japanese among the standard Americans.  I know, it sounds like the start of a bad joke.  And ironically, in a way it was a bad joke:  these men from numerous parts of the world would regularly get together in the back of the office to tell racist jokes and banter.  I know I would have joined them if I weren’t cursed by a ‘serious’ gene, and the inability to react wittily in conversations like these.  How could this ritual help them, all first generation immigrant family members to America?  It seemed then and even now like a strange form of cultural suicide.  But they relished it and goaded each other deeper and deeper in.

At the end of this excerpt, Kapuscinski warns that nationalism will lead to hatred of the other.  He is unequivocal:  the hatred that results is inevitable and dangerous.  Here is the excerpt:

The nationalist treats his nation, and in the case of Africa, his state, as the highest value, and all others as something inferior (and often deserving contempt).  Nationalism, like racism, is a tool for identifying and classifying that is used by my Other at any opportunity.  It is a crude, primitive tool that oversimplifies and trivializes one’s image of the Other, because for the nationalist the person of the Other has just one single feature – national affiliation.  It does not matter if someone is young or old, clever or stupid, good or bad – the only thing that counts is whether he or she is Armenian or Turkish, British of Irish, Moroccan or Algerian.  When I live in that world of inflamed nationalisms, I have no name, no profession and no age – I am  purely and simply a Pole.  In Mexico my neighbors call me ‘El Polaco’, and the air hostess in Yakutsk summons me to board the plane by shouting ‘Polsha!’  Among small, scattered nations, such as the Armenians, there is a phenomenal capacity to see the map of the world as a network of points inhabited by concentrations of one’s own compatriots, be it one single family or one single person.  The dangerous feature of nationalism is that an inseparable part of it is hatred for the Other.  The degree of the hatred varies, but its presence is inevitable.

-excerpted from The Other, Kyszard Kapuscinski, Verso, London

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