Nationalism – a Semantic Short Circuit

Nationaldagen 2009 - Ballongfirande

Today is the National Holiday in Sweden. In recent years the National Holiday has become the subject of much argumentation as to its validity and whether or not it is inclusive or exclusive.

I browsed through the major editorials covering the broad spectrum of views on this subject, as well as the public commentary following the articles. It saddens me that such a large amount of “argumentation” is more like a semantic short circuit than a rational train of thought – on both sides of the political spectrum.

In the “old” days we used to have arguments about the Left versus Right. More taxes or less taxes. More social welfare or more free market, etc. Though arguments could get loud, once finished, the two sides could still share a beer together and maybe even a laugh.

Today that is not the case. Today there are two dominant sides of the political spectrum which no longer can be identified as left or right but rather are set apart by values as it pertains to the view of nationalism. One side is stereo-typically referred to as the liberal left. The other side as the conservative right. But it is not the economic aspects that sets the two sides apart, but their attitude towards the concept of a sovereign state.

Both of these sides see the other side as something absolutely despicable. Now, there are some few percent of absolutely despicable and deplorable persons on each side, but by social media commentary one can easily get the idea that almost ALL of the other side, more or less, are despicable. So much so one can absolutely not be Facebook friends with such a person, nor meet in public, nor accept the person as a co-worker, etc, etc.

But, when I speak with people from both sides, after my best efforts of doing diplomatic slalom by not triggering a reaction, I realize that the absolute majority of people are NOT that far apart as far as what they REALLY think, but are REALLY far apart as to what they think the other side thinks. Kind of comical really. Actually kind of sad…

The one factor that makes understanding between the two sides so hard can be summarized by: SEMANTICS – the branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning and matters such as sense and reference and presupposition and implication of what is said.

30 years ago it was a given to be proud about one’s country. Proud when we won in some sporting event. Proud to introduce our country when traveling abroad. Proud to simply be from my country. Nobody in their right mind would have associated this pride to something like Nazism. Today, unfortunately, the analogies are quite common. How come?


Nationalism first occurred in the English language sometimes in the 1830’s. At that time the term meant  a doctrine of asserting the interests of one’s own nation viewed as separate from the interests of other nations. The doctrine put forth a spirit or aspirations common to the whole of the nation and required devotion and loyalty to one’s own country.

This concept was born out of hundreds of years of imperial and colonial federations, all of which were coming to an end and sovereign states started to form.

In 1871 Darwin made the observation that no single human being is stronger than that of humans cooperating as a team. He described this attitude to keep the group strong and prosperous with attributes such as “greater patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy…”. This became one of the greater influences within nationalistic ideology.

For the next 120 years this was the dominant doctrine behind the formation of nations and their subsequent political ideology.

I am not intending to give a dissertation of the history of nationalism nor a lecture on whether it’s a “good” or a “bad” doctrine, but simply show how semantics have distorted the entire societal commentary on the subject.

A man named Adolf came along and created national socialism. This was an entirely new concept inspired by the Eugenics movement where race and heredity suddenly became major factors. This ideology strayed from the older philosophical aspects and focused solely on biological factors to define nationalism.

Today, 2017, “nationalism” is more or less synonymous with Adolf, in social commentary, not just in Sweden but in the US and the entire western hemisphere.

But nationalism had its basis in empirical observations of group behavior and hundreds of years of colonial and imperial failures of keeping a large diaspora of people united under one common flag.

Today, 2017, many Swedes will think more than twice before calling themselves “Swedish” or saying they are proud to be Swedish, or even admitting they want to celebrate the National Holiday. Today, 2017, you are not “Swedish” but a “Swedish citizen”. Very important distinction as the first may give somebody the wrong idea of ethnicity which can indicate racism or non-inclusion. Therefore the politically correct way of calling oneself is a “Swedish citizen” as a citizen does not indicate your roots.

30 years ago every American I knew was a “patriotic American” – both Democrats and Republicans. But today, 2017, especially after the onslaught of Trump, even being a Patriot is a bit “ugly”, a bit non-inclusive and something many Americans will hesitate to admit today. It has become somewhat socially suspicious if you even call yourself a Patriot.

The same phenomena can be observed in the UK and all over northern Europe.

Here in HK the phenomena is the opposite. Here the politically correct thing (as far as commentary on social media) is to denounce any patriotism towards mainland China.

But Sweden takes the lead on anxiety as far as using the wrong words connected to simply being proud of being a Swede. Why is that?

My thought is that Sweden is unique in that it has not been oppressed or invaded by another country for over 200 years. Most countries fought against an enemy to finally gain (or re-gain) sovereignty as a nation. This resulted in a natural pride, a pride Swedes never had. Swedes, for the last 200 years, never had to fight through starvation, hardship, deprivation and people being slaughtered on the battle field. Compared to every other Scandinavian neighbor there is no fight or victory to be remembered against some tyrannical enemy. So the national pride is not in any way connected to pride but rather to the shame of having gotten away with any kind of conflict for over 200 years.

Prominent Swedish politicians have taken Globalism to entirely new levels, preaching the eradication of all borders, a one-world federation and abolition of sovereign states, adding, they would never even dream of celebrating the National Holiday. More than one prominent politician…

Their argument is not why this is “good” but that any idea of a national state is, in so many words, old-fashioned, conservative, nationalistic and basically Adolf… or as is the fad in 2017, right-wing extremism, alt-right or populism…

The conservative right fights back and believes the left liberals are crazy, insane, deluded, wants to destroy the country, etc, etc. “Liberal” used to, for me, be a good thing. Today a liberal person is a crazy idiot, from the perspective of somebody on the conservative right. I have always identified myself as a liberal, but I don’t even recognize myself in 2017 where words mean so much more than what the words originally meant.

Today, I would simply advise, don’t use words as liberal, conservative, nationalism, patriotism, populism, multiculturalism, etc, as you are doomed to either get instantly labelled and for sure be misunderstood.

The way I see it, maybe 80 % of people I talk to, whether they identify themselves as conservative right or liberal left want roughly the same thing. They may differ in slight political ideas, but they still agree on many fundamental premises. But, because of semantics they literally think “the other side” is the devil incarnated…

It is empirically, socially, psychologically and otherwise proven that a unit with common values, norms and practices survive better. Almost nobody will argue that a family unit is “good”. (Thank God…) Almost nobody will argue that having a known set of policies within a company that everybody follows who are employed by that company is “bad”. (Thank God…)

But people still argue that having set norms, values and agreed upon principles in a nation is “bad”. Why?

People argue that assimilation is a bad method of including people from other cultures. Maybe it is because the liberal idea is to never force norms on other people.

But how successful has it been on this planet to mix people of diabolically different cultures and norms in the same society??? Empirically?

Nobody will argue that if a mom never want to use any form of discipline against a child, and the father wants to punish the child at every step of wrong-doing, that family will have issues.

So why do we argue that issues arise when we mix people of different cultures with polar-opposite norms???

This is NOT racism, or lack of education, or even prejudice. This is scientific and empirically observable and documented facts. Why are we then so sensitive and politically correct about it?

Why don’t we simply skip using terms as “assimilation”, “integration”, etc, and simply say that we wish people to adopt to our societal norms, but in their private homes they can do whatever the f_ck they want? This is literally what most people I talk to actually think, so why not just do it instead of getting hissy fits over semantics?

A nation, in principle, is NO different than a company, small group or even a family unit. The fact is, it can only work as long as every member of that unit, group or society are in somewhat harmony and agreement with each other.

A successful group is built on norms, principles and agreements. It does not matter what those norms and principles are, at all – as long as they are in agreement. One can argue the validity of capitalism versus communism, but for me, this is not an essential argument, as either system can work IF, and only IF all members of that society agreed upon the premises. It is the AGREEMENT and HARMONY between members that is important, not what the exact system or set of values are.

Empirically I can guarantee that the happiness level of people in Shanghai is about the same as the happiness level of a small town in Sweden. That is my personal observation, but not scientifically proven. Entirely different systems, but the agreement of norms and principles are determining the happiness factor, not how “good” those norms and principles are.

I beg the Swedish people and all people of the west, please stop being so sensitive to the words used (semantics), but instead try to understand the concept behind what is being expressed. Most people agree that a society will work well as long as everybody agree (more or less) on the norms and standards, whatever they are.

If you keep polarizing the liberal left against the conservative right, only disaster looms ahead.

Please focus on the things that unite, which I am convinced of is 80 % of you Swedish people, regardless of who you vote for. The difference between you is mainly how you react to politically “charged” words that make your views of the other distorted.

Try to understand the concept, ignoring what semantics are used. Any workable unit, society, nation is comprised of basic agreements. Sweden had it until the late 90’s when suddenly some people thought anything “old” is destructive. I am sorry, but when I left Sweden in 1990, I thought it was the best country in the world. I was proud to impart its values to others. You should be too, because the values of “old” were truly workable, as you built a great nation, which included everybody. But you lost sight of it.

Don’t forget it!


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