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The Danger and Destiny of Nationalism

The Danger and Destiny of Nationalism

As part of our partnership with this year’s HowtheLightGetsIn festival, Closer To Truth host Robert Lawrence Kuhn shares his thoughts on the event’s main theme of Dangers, Desires, and Destiny.

Robert's Blog Post

“Global Understanding via Ultimate Questions”

by Robert Lawrence Kuhn

When I was a child I hated the Boston Red Socks, or, depending on the season, I hated the Baltimore Orioles. The reason, as any baseball fan can surmise, was that I was a New York Yankees fan. Though I lived in New York, geographic chauvinism was not the primary driver; there were many a World Series when, although I was born in Brooklyn, I hated the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The primary driver was what I’ll call “kindred imprinting,” expanding common uses of both terms: “kindred,” extended from genealogical relatives to any social group in which one becomes embedded; and “imprinting,” extended from young animals fixed to mothers to any experience that becomes psychosocially permanent.

I recalled my baseball animosities after speaking recently with philosopher Hilary Lawson, IAI founder, about the theme of the 2024 HowTheLightGetsIn festival: Dangers, Desires, and Destiny (my discussion with Hilary is coming soon). After we answered questions from viewers on AI consciousness and risks, which we both discounted, one viewer asked: “What is the most dangerous desire of humankind?”

I said “nationalism,” which Hilary generalized to “tribalism.”

Political scientists may see multiple motivations for barbaric wars over man-made boundaries; I see often-laudable patriotism degenerating into always-malignant nationalism. It’s global: whenever different groups—ethnic, racial, religious, tribal—find themselves abutting each other, trouble lurks. Myanmar and Peru have never had a problem.

One might think that today with wealth and power related more to knowledge than to land, the link between competing claims of territory and belligerent, anti-other emotion would weaken, but, alas, if anything, the evil link has strengthened. Though social media is culpable for intensifying the problem, it cannot be blamed for causing the problem.

Nationalism, the nation-state amplification of tribalism, is to blame. Nationalism is rooted in biological evolution: hunter-gatherer allegiance to the tribe, the group, increased fitness for survival and procreation. In today’s tightly wired world, this once-critical adaptation has warped and maladapted—much like our craving for sugars and fats that served us well when food was scarce and uncertain now causes illness and disease. Humans have confirmed time and again that they will bear any burden, endure any hardship, to protect the group—even the pride of the group—which today is usually the nation-state or ethnicities.

Closer To Truth is my life passion; I conceived CTT purely as a quest to find the best thinking about the deepest questions of cosmos, consciousness, meaning (if any)—Cosmos (mystery of existence, fundamental physics, beginnings and ends of the universe); Consciousness (mysteries of mind and brain, free will, personal identity, even psi and survival); Meaning (challenges of theism, atheism, agnosticism, philosophy of religion). All infused with critical thinking.

I’ve loved the conversations and we at CTT love to share them. But what has heartened me has been to see, from the world over, many Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists as well as Christians and Jews— seekers of all kinds—and certainly many atheists—all who think seriously about ultimate reality—becoming members of the CTT community. Even though we may come from countries or groups in conflict, regarding ultimate questions, we are united, expressing the same fascination and sharing the same passion.

While dangers of nationalism/tribalism are ever-present, our desires to comprehend cosmos, consciousness, life, meaning, can alter our destinies. When CTT members from every country on Earth, of every religion, race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, orientation, education, socio-economic status sense the same wonder and awe, and are willing to hear diverse views when addressing ultimate questions of cosmic existence and human sentience, there is hope. Global understanding via ultimate questions was indeed not my CTT intent originally, but it is surely part of our CTT strategy now.

Nonetheless, to this day, though I haven’t followed baseball for decades and couldn’t name a single Yankees player, I still hate the Red Socks.

HowTheLightGetsIn is the world’s largest ideas and music festival, taking place from 24-27 May in Hay-on-Wye. As a long-standing festival partner, we’re offering an exclusive 20% discount on tickets to all of our readers, with the code CTT24. If you can’t attend in person, don’t worry. The festival’s online platform IAI.TV has a wealth of festival content to enjoy.

Don’t miss out on discounted tickets here with code CTT24.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn is creator, executive producer, writer and host of Closer To Truth (CTT TV, website, YouTube). Closer To Truth’s co-creator and producer/director is Peter Getzels.