Identity, Nationality, and Culture

Whilst Scotland held a referendum on independence, at the helm of the @WetheHumanities Twitter rotation/curation account, @cristobál started a discussion about identity with an environment/environments:

So, I would like to know your opinion about identity in your environment, how you would define it and if there is space for multiple ones.

With nationalism rearing its ugly head, I recounted how the occurrence of the Falklands Conflict in my high school years cured me of that sentiment for life. (I have two mementoes of this: the Pink Floyd album The Final Cut, and Raymond Briggs’ book The Tin-Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman. Both highly poignant.)

I had long thought that my aversion to nationalism had stripped me of any real national identity, but a couple of hours sitting on a tractor, mowing weeds, gave me  time to ponder this, and  related issues. Realising that I had more thoughts on the matter than would fit comfortably into a tweet, or three, I decided to unburden myself here, instead.

It did not take me long to realise that my antipathy towards nationalism was as strong as ever – “we are better than everyone else who lives outside of this artificial boundary” does not sit well with me. Sexism and racism, where there is generally a fairly well defined means of demarcation of “them” and “us,” are pretty despicable things, but when the demarcation is an imaginary line – no, I’m just not going there.

To mis-quote Socrates, I am neither English nor Australian, but a citizen of the world – or am I? My tractor-time gave rise to the realisation that whilst I might not identify with the concept of a nation, there are cultural artefacts with which I do identify, things that are So Very English. PJ Harvey’s White Chalk [Youtube] says something about the landscape of my early childhood, and never fails to move me. Likewise the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, a good India Pale Ale, the accents of South West England. Yes, I realise that people from the other side of the world can love these as well, but it’s the collection of these cultural artefacts that make me think that, culturally, I am English. [Note: I don’t use ‘British’ as I come from one specific place; if I used British, I might as well use European.]

So, this culture, that which I assimilated in my early years, is part of my identity. I don’t particularly miss the country I left – I am now somewhere else, this is my home. Is Australia part of my identity? If it is, in any way, it’s the landscapes.

And the Scottish vote? Important – a people deciding its future in a very significant way. (I do not regard a nation choosing its way forward as nationalism – unless that way forward involves something like the annexation of a neighbour.) I regard voting as a duty more than a privilege, and was delighted to see such a high-turnout, from a country where voting is not mandatory, as it is in Australia.

There is a certain irony in that, despite my views on voting, I am voluntarily disenfranchised. I won’t cast a postal vote for the country in which I no longer live (I left, I am no longer part of it,) but am unable to vote in the country in which I do, as I am not a citizen. I have rejected the idea of becoming a citizen, as this requires swearing an oath to be, as I see it, a flag-waving nationalist. If the oath were changed to “I swear to obey the law and pay my taxes,” just tell me where to sign.