We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Alfred Tennyson, 1833
In his description of the social paradoxes of late Soviet social life, the anthropologist Alexi Yurchak expounds on the concept of “hypernormalisation”, a social condition in which the established ideological paradigm has grown to be so total that it becomes impossible to imagine a situation in which it does not apply. It becomes so overwhelming that individuals inside the ideology cannot see beyond it.
This self-fulfilling and circular belief operates as a set of paradoxes. The Soviet totalitarian system was both eternal and dying, full of vigour and structurally flawed, dedicated to high ideals yet operating in a manner devoid of them. Understand this paradox, and you will understand nationalism and the nationalist, how supposedly rational people believe in false-equivalence, establish and maintain their echo chambers, ignore facts in favour of opinion and reduce all to “us” and “them”.
When times are hard, and no clear path to recovery is visible, it becomes all too easy to blame the “other”. Nationalism is the cowardly and simplistic choice for those who seek to deny their responsibility for the situation they find themselves in. It is always someone else’s fault. Your town is visited by the plague, burn the nearby ghetto. Your country is struggling, blame the immigrants. Your team is not successful, blame the opposition. You lost the war, blame a “traitor”, or better still create one.
Nationalism channels and personifies all that is wrong into a single entity combining all that frustrates, frightens and constrains. Yet, in doing so, the Nationalist creates a figment of their imagination. They have both made and drank their own snake oil, poisoning themselves in the quest for a cure to an illness that never even existed.
I have devoted my professional career to the study of warfare and the reasons why people fight. I have watched the nationalist movement grow, yet never sophisticate, and now I see it degenerate. I now see the same hate, insecurities and blame that I have experienced to horrifying ends across the world, from the vast prairies of the American heartland to the dusty cities of Afghanistan.
I ask you, how many of you have seen the remains of a man power-hosed off a wall after an explosion ripped the atoms of his existence apart all in the name of constructed divisions? If this narrative and anger continues, you may well see it, and I can promise you, that you will never forget the sight, the sound and above all the smell.
Scottish Nationalism is not different; it is not civic; it is not noble; it is born of the same hate which has claimed countless lives. I am at a loss to understand how a nation with such recent and visceral experience of internecine war in Northern Ireland could ever believe that the solution lies in replicating it. But then, I have not swallowed the snake oil.
The pendulum of opinion for Scottish ‘independence’ is inexorably tied to the performance of the economy, and ultimately the state and attitude of society. When things are going well the desire to separate is low. Things aren’t going well now and many people feel powerless, so they feel the need to blame and rage against something simple. They desire to separate regardless of the extent of damage that it would cause. The French would call this a crime of passion.
In reality, to face the world as we find it today with all its problems and all its possibilities, many of which make the constitutional debate pale into insignificance, we must shoulder responsibility; we must build bridges even when we want to burn them. We must reach out to those who have swallowed their own snake oil, and let them know the reality of the facts they have rejected.
Despite the rank division of the last decade, recent polling continues to show that 60% of people believe that the populations of the UK have more in common than their differences. That alone should settle this verbal civil war and give us hope for the future.
For over 300 years, we have been unified, and we have prospered. Together we are greater than the sum of our parts. Together we are bigger, we are richer, and we are smarter.
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