Nationalism, Multiculturalism, Assimilation, and Patriotism

August 5, 2009

Could I have someone to relate to? See, I’ve been travellin’, travellin’ forever, and now that I found a home, feels like I’m in Heaven.
~Hans Zimmer (The Traveling Song)

Anybody that has been in this planet the last fifteen years have heard how the world is getting smaller: Globalisation, global citizenship, the global village, and the flat world. Pundits are announcing the end of the nation-state, the end of the local community, and the upcoming era of the global person. They claim that nationalism is dead, and that ethnicity will only matter in history books. Nicholas Negroponte went as far as stating that nationalism is a disease. There are voices claiming that “The debate on national identities has become obsolete”.

I’ve been around the world in the pourin’ rain,
Feelin’ out of place, really fellin’ strange,
Take me to a place where they know my name,
Cuz I ain’t met nobody that looks the same

As a student of sustainability, it is very important to understand the social fabric of a given society. We target three bottom lines: Economic, Ecological, and Social, and you cannot target the social bottom line with a “one size fit all” culture that the Western in general, and the United States in particular, pretend to impose. Legions of immigrants come to Europe and Angloamerica, and they integrate, and they prosper, and for some, nationalism is a matter of the past, since they want to belong to their new home. But for every successful immigrant, there may be another ten who did not prosper, and there are thousands who are still in the homeland, keeping their own culture alive.

The United States still possesses the unique ability to assimilate new citizens of every race, religion, and culture into the fabric of its national and economic life, but the United States is not the world. Jerry Z. Muller declares:

Americans also find ethnonationalism discomfiting both intellectually and morally. Social scientists go to great lengths to demonstrate that it is a product not of nature but of culture, often deliberately constructed. And ethicists scorn value systems based on narrow group identities rather than cosmopolitanism. But none of this will make ethnonationalism go away. Immigrants to the United States usually arrive with a willingness to fit into their new country and reshape their identities accordingly. But for those who remain behind in lands where their ancestors have lived for generations, if not centuries, political identities often take ethnic form, producing competing communal claims to political power. The creation of a peaceful regional order of nation-states has usually been the product of a violent process of ethnic separation. In areas where that separation has not yet occurred, politics is apt to remain ugly.

I’m a fish out of water, Lion out of the jungle,
(He a fish out of water, loin out of the jungle)
I need my peoples, my peoples, take me to my peoples,
(He got jungle fever, show him some love, show him love)

Nationalism leads to wars. In Europe, after the conflicts of 1914 and 1939, a web of transnationals institutions were created, first to integrate Germany in a trade-dependent Europe, then to resist Soviet pressure, and finally to become a supra-state. Educated Europeans and North Americans like to think that nationalism is behind and that the globe is now a village. However, for the thousands of Latin Americans, Asians, and Africans who die every year trying to reach the promise land, the frontiers are not so open.

Just gotta have someone, gotta have someone, to relate to, to relate to,
(I found a brand new home)

In 1900 there were many states in Europe without a dominant nationality, by 2007 there were only two: Belgium is close to break up, and Switzerland, where the domestic ethnic balance of power is protected by strict citizenship laws. We also have Canada, where the ethnic division between French and English is a constant burden to Canadians.

Ethnonationalism has played a larger role in modern history than is commonly understood. Look at the post cold-war conflicts: Yugoslavia, Rwanda, the partition of Czech and Slovaks… Some places inside the Francophony only welcome francophone immigrants, and even in cities like Toronto, they are huge areas where people from one ethnicity dwell.

There are two ways of thinking about national identity. One is that all people who live within a country’s borders are part of the nation, no matter their origins. The other one is ethnonationalism, which defines a nation as a shared heritage, a common language, a common faith, and a common ethnic ancestry. Québec was recently recognised as a nation by the Prime Minister of Canada. Ethnonationalism draws much of its emotive power from the idea that the members of a nation are part of an extended family, ultimately united by ties of blood. It is the subjective belief in the reality of a common “We” that counts.

The end of the British mandate of Palestine created Israel, where two ethnics, Jews and Palestinians. Israel has been unable to live in peace for 61 years. The independence of Algeria saw the end of the Algerian-European ethnic, which was forced to go back to Spain and France. In Sudan, a civil war between the Islamic North and the Black South is still hot.

We, as promoters of sustainability, need to take the idea that nationalism is dead into serious consideration. The worlds elite, that probably includes all my readers (Westerns with access to internet and an interest about social issues) and fellow bloggers, belongs indeed to a supranational, non-ethnic world, but for each of us there are thousands and thousands who still believe that they only be home when everybody look like them.

Travelin’ the world like a tourin’ man,
Been around the planet in a foreign land,
I’ve seen things that I thought I’d never see,
Take me to a place where they look like me.


Welcome to BIXI

May 12, 2009

Are we building cities for people or for cars?
~Jane Jacobs

I have never totally agree with Jane Jacobs’s vision of what a city should be: Her vision of high-density, highly concentrated cities is like a living hell to me, and my impression is that, for her, all cities should look like Manhattan; people cramming in high raises.

What I applaud of her vision is the pedestrian city, the city of parks and walkable avenues. I also think that any big city needs to cater to cars, AND public transit, AND pedestrians, AND alternative forms of transportation. There is no need to chose one over another, and I always tough that the cancellation of the Spadina Expressway and its branches was a huge mistake driven entirely by political, but not economical, social, or environmental reasons (Please moderate your hate mail, I have children reading this!).

The mere fact that megacities exist is antinatural. Such high concentration of people cannot be healthy, no matter how much environmental precautions are taken. Toronto likes to call itself a Megacity, but thank God is not, it is a very livable city, 2.5 Million people (aroung 6 in the GTA), with plenty of parks, ravines, rivers, bike lines, a not so good public transit system, and a not so good street/highway grid, BUT you can chose between a very livable downtown, an exciting midtown, and a familiar suburb, after all, Jane Jacobs also said that “the point of cities is multiplicity of choice”.

That is why I am impressed with Montreal’s new program: Today, at 11:00 EST, BIXI kicks off. The program is simple: You go to one of the 300 BIXI stations (BIXI=BIKE+TAXI), pay for a bike (first 30 minutes are free), ride it to your destination, and leave it in the nearest station. With 300 stations and 3,000 bikes just for starters, you would really have options.

bixiYou can also pay an annual fee of $78, taxes included, and ride unlimited. The bike looks cool, feels cool, and surely will improve your health. No more waiting for the bus, no more trying to squeeze in the subway: Take your bike and go!

These kind of simple ideas are what make a city works: To offer options, to let you chose your lifestyle, where you will raise your kids, and cater to your needs. I will be parking my car more often now that I have a choice (My famous bike was donated to one of my wannabe neohippie friends), and I think that is the way to change a city and its environment: person by person, ride by ride.

Global Corporate Citizenship

June 11, 2008

Corporate governance is how a company behaves when nobody is looking
~Klaus Schwab

I always find curious the attitude of some people that advocate for certain actions but cry foul when a corporation actually engage in such actions. We want the world to go organic, but we do not like when Walmart sells organic food. We want Fair Trade coffee, except if it comes from Starbucks.

Michel Porter and Mark Kramer stated that “Corporations are not responsible for all the world’s problems, nor do they have the resources to solve them all. When a well-run business applies its vast resources, expertise and management talent to problems that it understands and in which it has a stake, it can have a greater impact on social good than any other institution or philanthropic organization.”

We can think of organisations as evildoers looking to predate the world. Certainly, the Rational Theory advocates for companies only looking after their shareholders; but Rational Theory has been challenged nowadays and we can look at companies not only responsible for their shareholders but for all the stakeholders involved in the company’s environment and sphere of influence.

The new vision for companies as global citizens incorporates a host of concepts and practices, including the necessity for adequate corporate governance structures, the implementation of workplace safety standards, the adoption of environmentally sustainable procedures, and philanthropy. We tend to use the umbrella term”corporate social responsibility” to explain the new vision, but this concept is an oversimplification that has led to a great deal of confusion. Klaus Schwab distinguishes four different categories or behaviors:

  • corporate governance
  • corporate philanthropy
  • corporate social responsibility
  • corporate social entrepreneurship

A new attitude for business will be described as “global corporate citizenship”. Companies not only must be committed with stakeholders but need to become themselves stakeholders, side by side with governments and civil society, The logic being:Global issues impact business -> Global issues impact the bottom line.

Global citizenship is then part of a corporation’s self-interest, hence, it is sustainable. It is not an act of charity, is a business model.

Companies are getting involved in the health of workers, the education of employees and their children, and the pensions that sustain them in retirement. Corporations have an impact on everything from air quality, to social justice, to life-saving drugs availability. It is normal then, and justified, to look to corporations with request for help and criticism for wrongdoing the same way we looked upon governments.

The focus of much of the civic action of NGOs has naturally been corporations. After initial confrontations, some of the critics came to appreciate that many business leaders are engaged in society.In 1971, the World Economic Forum identified the stakeholder concept: the idea that a company has a clear responsibility to the community beyond its shareholders. In 1973 it became the cornerstone of the Davos Declaration, Five core concepts -corporate governance, corporate philanthropy, corporate social responsibility, corporate social entrepreneurship, and global corporate citizenship- define the different types of business engagement.

Over 3,000 companies in 120 countries have signed on to the UN Global Compact: Ten core principles to guide business behavior in areas such as human rights, the environment, labor practices, and corruption. Some others are subscribing to the Global Reporting Initiative, launched in 1997, to institute international guidelines for sustainability reporting, the publishing of an organization’s economic, environmental, and social performance and impact.

Corporate philanthropy is engagement that does not go beyond writing a check or handing out donated goods. Social investing is a special form of corporate philanthropy, in which a company invests in organizations or programs that have broad social appeal, such as inner-city housing projects or funds for student loans.

Corporate social responsibility is measured through so-called triple bottom-line accountability, according to which a company reports not only on its financial results but also on what it is doing and what it is not doing in meeting stakeholder expectations of its environmental and social responsibilities.

Corporate social entrepreneurship is strictly defined as the transformation of socially and environmentally responsible ideas into products or services. The role model of these social entrepreneurs, Muhammad Yunus, the inventor of microcredit, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006

Global corporate citizenship goes beyond the concepts of corporate philanthropy, including social investing; corporate social responsibility; and corporate social entrepreneurship in that it entails focusing on “the global space,” which is increasingly shaped by forces beyond the control of nation-state. It means engagement at the macro level on issues of importance to the world: it contributes to enhancing the sustainability of the global marketplace.

Nestlé voluntarily takes measures to reduce the water it uses in its operations. As Nestlé engages with governments and NGOs to reduce water use in a broader way, it also offers an example of global corporate citizenship. If the company gave free water to a community, it would be engaging in corporate philanthropy. And if it sold recycled water in biodegradable bottles, that would be an act of corporate social entrepreneurship.

Non-Conformist Conforming II

March 9, 2007


by Wiley Miller

Talking with Perspective

February 28, 2007

The only way to make sure people you agree with can speak is to support the rights of people you don’t agree with.
Eleanor Holmes Norton

One thing that prevents me to join some organizations such as Greenpeace, J4MW, et cetera, is the radicalization of a great number of its members. In the other hand, the organizations perceived as all the evil that exist on Earth, are usually opened to its critics’ positions. Shell, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund always welcome its most critics’ point of view.

Let’s take an example, In Davos, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum is regarded as a rendezvous of the rich and powerful, but the voices opposed to globalization are always heard; they even have got special events, like the Open Forum. In contrast, the World Social Forum, the anti-globalization counterpart of Davos, is completely close to anybody who wants to speak in favour of globalization.

When in the small village of Atenco, in Mexico, riots and violent anti-governments manifestation turned into criminal acts, J4MW supported unconditionally the criminals that led the demonstration, closing the doors to any voice that support the legal status and the government position. In similar ways, radicals at Greenpeace make even grassroots activist to draw themselves out of this organization.

In the sustainable movement, David Suzuki once declared that ‘anyone who owns a SUV can’t care about the environment’; but he has being more moderate since then, and he is regarded as one of the greatest authorities concerning the environment. In the Fair Trade movement, any research that indicates that fair trade is not sustainable in the long term, because it keeps people in poverty, is usually received with a lynch spirit by the grassroots activist.

The left is plagued by people who likes the social ideas, but don’t have the willing to research how well these ideas apply or how realistic they are. In many cases, people joining social movements do so in order to oppose globalization, pollution, free trade, but just for the sake of oppose them. How somebody can seriously support Chiapas’s egomaniac Marcos? After 12 years of ‘war’ the area he controls is even poorer than before, his solutions are completely unviable, his openness to dialogue inexistent, but a lot of leftist still support him. I for once abandoned his line after two years of policy inconsistency and bad poetry that characterize the Sub-Commandant.

The ideas that these organizations embrace are usually the ones that I will support: anti poverty movements, global warming awareness, justice for migrant workers, and human treatment to animals. Is the lack of pluralism and self-critic what drives me and, I am sure, most moderate leftist away from them. Some organizations are no more that umbrellas for all kind of socialist movements, that oppose in general all what comes from the capital’s owners, the multinationals, and the USA, but can’t come up to particular solutions. Compare such organizations full of wannabe hippies against real, humanitarian movements like Medecins Sans Frontiers, the World Wide Foundation, and Amnesty International. These are real, grassroots activists, really busy trying to make this a better world, with little time to criticise everything they are against to.

In the meantime, this is an organization that can count with my absolute support and blessing:

Running of the Nudes