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To be or not to be, that is the nation state
'We have no need of enemies, but campfires.'
Last week I interviewed environmentalist, Ashish Kothari, on the history of colonialism, the global obsession with economic growth, development as neo-colonialism, global and national inequality, patriarchy and the reality of elite exploitation across all nations. This is an extraordinary and inspiring episode, as Ashish goes on to introduce the people’s movements springing up around India, turning imagination into possibility as viable models are trialled which re-embed communities in their land and heal their relationship with the earth.
During the interview, Ashish weaves in the concept of “eco-swaraj” which loosely translates to “self-rule”. It’s a form of radical ecological democracy which is picking up speed in the people’s movement of India, speaking to communities’ autonomy and their right to govern themselves, with Ashish highlighting how such a decentralised network of communities will be more equipped than a national, centralised form of governance.
Wonderfully, there is an important caveat to eco-swaraj: the autonomous decisions one communities make must not come at the cost of another community. This philosophy is, therefore, a far cry from feudalism, the last time communities approached some form of autonomy, with decisions being made deliberatively by the community who recognise their role in maintaining the well-being and cohesion of the ecosystem of communities, of the network. Built into ec-swaraj is that knowledge that communities cannot survive without one another; their best interest will only ever reflect the best interest of their wider community.
The dream of eco-swaraj is a decentralised network of communities working interdependently to steward the planet and take care of each other. This is a vision for a world in which people are in trusted to help one another and trusted to respect one another. And perhaps this would be possible without the narrative spun out by national governments and their media megaphones, because what is a nation state if not a story told by elites in a bid to embed people in that which does not exist? There is no such thing as the locality of a nation state. Yes, it may be on this island or that swathe, but one cannot feel a nation state—one can feel communities, one feels the relationships with the land, one hears dialects and witnesses customs. One cannot be embedded in a nation state in the same way that one can be embedded within a community, within a village, within a town, even a city.
Every culture that the nation state creates of itself in order to self-perpetuate is nothing more than a story in a bid to bind disparate people together and delocalise them. One of the last nation states in Europe to be created was Italy, and that is a story of eradicating languages, homogenising culture, and creating a more powerful authority with which to bind people. The national identity is imposed, enforced, and works to homogenise rather than celebrate.
People have to be connected to the land, they have to be embedded in a sense of locality for culture to emerge. As a Brit, and perhaps especially as a Brit with a second passport, the sense of dislocation that permeates this island is, to me, palpable. The performativity of pageantry, pomp and puns no longer adequately mask the poverty; the decimated nature, the abandoned towns, the thievery. Yet still, leaders face the public and weave tales of global leadership and vision; eyes cast to the stars when our our seeds fail to take root.
We are bound to stories of untruth; stories of flags, of crests, of Kings and Queens anointed by God to protect us—protect us from the other, the alien, the dangerous and threatening enemy, created so that people may gather together, forgetting that the concept of a people was made by those very humans gathering together. We have no need of enemies, but campfires.
A nation state should be the political apparatus with which collaborative decisions are made on a global scale to protect planet and people; to represent the best interests of all, to funnel money towards that which is helpful, to facilitate wellbeing, to sit and listen at many campfires.
Eco-swaraj says that we don't need a national identity. We need to be active, because if one is active doing a thing, then does one particularly need to claim the identity of a thing?
Allow me to explore: I can call myself a journalist, no matter what I do day-to-day, because I have consistently produced pieces of journalism over the past few years. If one day I stop producing those pieces, I can still claim to be a journalist, by the history of my having been. And perhaps that will be necessary, perhaps that sense of identity will become an anchor to which I bind myself, like a moment in a video game when you save your progress at the last checkpoint.
Perhaps a cultural identity functions similarly. Cultural identities are reflected in what we do, but it becomes necessary to speak of identity and perhaps to freeze the identity, to capture it, to render it two-dimensional, to render it permanent. Culture is that which evolves, but once we speak of it, we write about it, and once we write about it, it decays into permanence; writing serves to make us believe we can know a thing without engaging with that thing; knowledge becomes culture; our bodies merely ghosts.
When culture becomes an identity, grounded through the verb to be rather than growing through the verb to do, transmitted through statement rather than explored through action, it facilitates our dis-action, our apathy.
Choosing to do, though, and having that sense of knowing that one is through one's actions, and one's actions are constantly in relationship with other people, other things, the world in itself, and, therefore, constantly evolving. And that knowing becomes a feeling, that knowing becomes an intuition that is sung of, rather than a badge of pride that is dictated.
That is the container in which you can trust communities to look after one another.
© Rachel Donald
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