A little late considering the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, but as reports come in saying 80% of participants in an unofficial referendum support a Catalonia split from Spain, it is a good time for me to revisit one of my early posts involving the classic eighties comic strip.
Similarly to the Catalonia vote, I was writing on the occasion of the unsuccessful Scotland independence referendum back in mid-September. While the outcome this time so far is different, the questions I raised back there remain the same about the ebb and flow of national identities in a world for which borders have less meaning.
Ironically, there is similarity in the many forces that both pulled people together, which brought down the Berlin Wall in 1989, just as much as what’s pushing them apart. There is nothing wrong with the demand to live independently and be true to your own identity. I’m just not convinced that from the public interest perspective that in the long run, such reductionist thinking is sustainable.
As much as I appreciate and am proud of my own Japanese heritage, I’m sure I’ve made my preference clear for nations being defined by principles rather than ethnicity. Adding to the brief discussion of Quebec’s relationship with Canada I wrote about in the previous post, the situation there highlighted a couple of other problems with such independent movements.
First, plainly, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Quebec separatist leaders too often assumed that their relationships with other nations, including Canada, would not change if the province became independent, yet if you choose to establish your own separate identity, the reaction may be more hostile than you expect. An American comedian reminded a Canadian audience a decade ago that the US is a country that tried to eliminate “French” from the English language (remember “freedom fries”?).
Second is the question about where does the subdivision of territories end? The situation isn’t as acrimonious as what happened to the Ukraine with Crimea’s recent split, but Quebec, in pursuing its independence from Canada, would face the threat of aboriginals subdividing the province itself following the same logic.
This brings me back to the Bloom County comic I included in the previous post that reflects the continuing inward trend being pushed by people focused on independent thinking. I can certainly respect the need to confirming a unique and individual identity, but it would be a travesty if our lives are reduced almost literally to just establishing and defending territory, whether by building a wall like in Berlin or wielding guns like Portnoy (the hedgehog) and Hodge-Podge (the rabbit).
The cartoon also illustrates another problem about identity in whether you treat a group, no matter the size, any differently than an individual. As I wrote about in a more recent post, such varied definitions of identity challenge how we approach each of them in order to determine the degree to which our relations will be hostile, separate, and/or mutually productive.
Taken into context, there are valid reasons for groups and individuals to stand up for themselves, but otherwise, we cannot continue to depend on this direction of thinking. Eventually, we must turn away from this focus on independence in order to place more attention towards learning how we can all move forward.