empathetic nationalism?

Nationalism and empathy.

Nationalism: “patriotic feeling, principles, or efforts.”

Empathy: “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

Are these two inherently at odds? Does feeling national pride preclude the possibility of understanding another person from a different place? Perhaps yes and no.

I wonder if tribalism is a brand of humanity, if it is the default position. And if it is the default position, is that alone enough to comment on its morality? In other words, is the natural order definitively moral or is it a noble quest to overcome it?

These are a few thoughts stemming from a conversation I had with two leaders, Sam and Richard, of the St. Cloud White Student Union. It’s no secret that racial tensions persist and this group composed of anonymous individuals has been a vocal contributor to the debate playing out in Central Minnesota.

St. Cloud White Student Union, portrait 1 (Sam or Richard)

St. Cloud White Student Union, portrait 2 (Richard or Sam)

They’ve been labeled a white supremacist group (which in our conversation, they quickly rejected) and a white nationalist group (which they didn’t reject but nor fully accept).

It’s a distinction I’d not thought of much before. White supremacy implies a sense of superiority, of wanting to rule over other races. As Sam says, “We don’t view it that way. We just want the ability to advocate for our community and our people… We want the right to have our own ethnic group just like any other ethnic group does… None of the material we’ve circulated would suggest we are white supremacists.”

I wondered how they could say this yet post public posters saying for example: “There has never been a greater force for good in the world than the white race. They [anti-white professors and the media] wish to see our people bred out of existence by importing millions of culturally incompatible migrants. We will not accept this fate.”

So much for empathy, I thought.

It’s a “nationalistic sense of empathy” Sam says. It’s not so much that he wants to dominate over others, but more-so that he believes white culture is the best thing for the United States and Europe.

Nationalism

Empathy

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Can white history be celebrated without taking into account the evils it has generated? I’m not sure it can. (And to be fair, it seems that this should apply in celebrating any culture). Though Sam and Richard don’t seem to ignore it either. In fact, they are keen to discuss colonialism… The benefits of it.

Benefits of colonialism? It’s a stretch to join empathy and a defense of colonialism.

But no matter the level of volatility this path of intellectual exploration presents, it’s, if nothing else, a revealing mind exercise. Is it possible to entertain the thought of potential benefits of colonialism without justifying it? It seems that it needs to be tempered with acknowledgements/an understanding of the tragic outcomes it wrought.

I wonder if Sam and Richards’ refusal to reject the validity of colonization is a belief they ascribe to fully or if this is a case of saying something provocative to get attention. Or perhaps a third possibility… it’s an exaggerated effort to defend the legitimate innovations of white history.

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I’m taken with the idea that power is not a zero-sum game. Many believe that whites are losing power as others “gain” power (or even simply representation). Is the white race less powerful today than it was 100 years ago? I grapple with this question. Whites in many ways retain, in the viewpoints of many around the globe, their status as imperialists. But it’s also true that that sort of hegemonic power domination is coming to a close. So from this perspective, comparatively, white power is indeed diminished and diminishing.

I’ve come to think that a key piece to understanding this whole issue is grasping this idea: any threat to identity, whether actual or perceived, can be an earth-shaking phenomenon. We’ve all created a framework for how we believe the world operates and the degree to which that informs our identity is significant, whether we realize it or not.

white student union profile pic.jpg

At the core of Sam and Richard’s work is their desire to embrace their European heritage. The status quo, has in some sense, shifted. Through their lens, other cultures are encouraged to celebrate their culture but whites, comparatively, are not.

“Multiculturalism?” Richard asks. “The left doesn’t respect diversity and multiculturalism at all. They want everyone to blend into one paradise where everyone’s the same.”

The kumbaya-singing, rainbows-and-unicorns version of peace: how representative of the left is this sentiment? Probably not too representative.

Similarly, how representative of the right is the tiki-torch-bearing “you-will-not-replace-us” movement? Probably not too representative.

It could be said it’s representative enough to elect the current president. But I believe it goes deeper than this. The divide is not that stark and like in most cases, is far-more nuanced. I don’t claim to understand each granule of nuance but I do know that understanding the importance we place on our identities and the values that inform them is key.

Sam and Richards belief that people around the world should have the right to determine how they want to be governed, whether it be by sharia law or by democratic ideals, so long as that self-determination doesn’t morph into externally imposed order.

They’re primary frustration is the lack of civil dialogue. It can be difficult to see this given their strategy of provocation. They say that in order to grab peoples’ attention, to garner clicks, it needs to be provocative, jarring, unsettling even.

Personally, I struggle with the idea of provocation being a constructive starting place. Doesn’t this simply serve to put people on the defensive? And starting from this position, how is progress possible?

Many questions remain and there’s certainly more to be said on this topic. The point of these writings is not to be taken as gospel, but to be genuine food for thought, a spark for wondering. These ideas have something to teach us and to wholly dismiss them as hateful fringe ideas is to turn a blind eye to reality, no matter how unsavory. It’s another thing to say these ideas should be endorsed… This is only to say that they need to be honestly grappled with, ad hominems left aside.