Archive | September, 2013

The Failed State?

24 Sep

I am reading a book by Jared Diamond called “The World Until Yesterday”. If you haven’t read it, do. It is not particularly sexy and does not even tell you what you want to hear. But it does make a lot of interesting arguments about nation states and how they operate, also non-state societies which used to be the norm apart from a couple of places well suited to growing lots of food – usually in the form of grain – where states were established thousands of years ago. I love the sense of perspective one gets, when considering human society not only now, but over thousands of years. Not a lot has changed really, we just make much more lethal weapons now, and we have machines to do many of our tasks and maximise our food production so we can keep standing armies and fight all the year round instead of staying at home, working in the fields, taking care of our grandmothers…

I saw a photo today, on Facebook of all places. It really touched me. I have travelled in many places in my life, and the one rule I have found to be absolutely universal is that people everywhere, whatever their nationality or religion or language, are basically the same. Take a look at it.

24 September, occupation, Jerusalem.

Who knows why this guy is being handcuffed. Maybe he was protesting, or just expressing himself? I am not so interested in Israel-bashing, or any other bashing. I will just say that nation states on the whole tend to be large, blunt, insensitive and somehow idiotic entities devoting themselves to simplifying the role of the individual. Frankly, when I look at England or America or even Germany, I don’t find the nation states there are doing an excellent job of understanding what is really happening. The nation state is always at odds with people, democracy is always a justification for the failures of the nation state. The argument, we are all familiar with it, is that democracy is the best form of failed system. Maybe so, but it is important to be conscious of failings and to put them in words.

To go back to the photograph, I would like to say that there is no such person as a Palestinian. There are only people who live in Palestine. Nationality has been used for too long as a way of categorising individuals. Nationality is largely a 19th century invention. In the case of Palestinians, it is even younger. Until very recently, the whole of the Arabian peninsula and most of the Horn of Africa were defined by their tribes and clans, which came a little closer to defining the outward signs of the individual. But in the end, people are just small bands of individuals trying to take care of their own families, friends and allies. To believe even for a moment that the state can fill that role is like saying that God will sort out your car insurance or help you get a better job. God is not concerned with these things. We know that – we know that all too well.

So let’s not take David Cameron too seriously, or Vlad Putin. They are just players. They are pushing an old model, and we need to move on.







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