In Australia, as in most other affluent western countries, nationalism is no longer fashionable. Quite the opposite actually – we’ve become accustomed to weird kind of subtle self-loathing, a permanent collective mood that seems to recognise that despite all the successes of the Australian state we’re still a bunch of irredeemably oppressive colonialists who deserve to feel bad all the time.
When nine-year-old Harper Neilson refused to stand for the national anthem the vast majority of the commentariat sat around clapping like demented seals. This action alone perfectly represents the deeper sickness infecting Australian society.
In this context, it’s hard to see where redemption might lie. The mechanism is incredibly simple – by being universally critical of Australia and Australia’s past one can easily signify that they’re a fundamentally good person, not a horrible racist, fascist, xenophobe or anti-immigration philistine. This is of course in contrast to all the mouth breathers who dare argue that maybe the world was vastly different back when the First Fleet was cruising towards Botany Bay.
The same logic applies to a seething hatred of offshore detention and a thousand other contemporary policy issues – it’s far easier to point out the fact that would-be immigrants are subjected to generally shitty detention conditions than to admit that suppressing the people smuggling industry is an extremely complex issue.
The line becomes blurred over time, as opposition to specific policy transitions into a festering dislike of one’s own country. After all, when you become accustomed to thinking in absolutes all nuance is necessarily lost, critical ability probably eroded precisely like the dopamine receptors of coke addicts.
Despite this creeping trend towards an anti-Australian zeitgeist small pockets of genuine, healthy national pride still manage to emerge occasionally.
If you managed to watch the start of the Bathurst 1000 you’ll have noticed a very uncommon pairing of events – a prayer by the Christian (!) chaplain Reverend Garry Coleman and a performance of the national anthem that saw even the most intoxicated of racegoers upstanding and hatless under the stunning spring sun of the central tablelands.
No political knee-dropping, no aggressive protests – just a simple request to give thanks for all Australia has to offer which was peacefully and respectfully granted by the massive crowd. Our pristine and beautiful natural environment, our stable and prosperous economy, our universal healthcare – all things that should be a constant source of pride for anyone lucky enough to be a citizen, natural born or otherwise.
None of this is to say that objectively terrible things haven’t happened in Australia – of course they have. The whole point that seems to get missed in all this hand-wringing and anthem-sitting is that, when all factors are considered, a certain measure of shared national pride is vital to the proper functioning of a nation state.
Too much national pride manifests itself as toxic authoritarian nationalism in exactly the same way that too little results in political polarisation and divisive chaos. Organisms that actively hate themselves can’t expect to survive for very long – why should that be any different for a country?
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