Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Whither Nationalism In Taiwan?

The sensitivity of many Taiwanwese people to how, and indeed, whether their republic is recognized internationally in State forums for cooperation such as the WTO or in sporting events such as the current Olympics in London, is a recurrent feature of political discourse here - online, in the street and, not least of course, in the dinosaur media.

The recent removal of the R.O.C flag from Regent Street in London at the behest, presumably, of the Chinese embassy provoked a typically outraged response from many young Taiwanese people. Last year there was a case in which a Taiwanese taekwando competitor was mistreated by the taekwando officials in South Korea, and this case provoked a similar public outcry. The enforced absence of the R.O.C State from other international forums (such as those within the United Nations for example), and the lack of official diplomatic recognition from other States has been a long-running feature of Taiwanese politics which has permeated the popular culture - imprinting a common craving for international recognition along with, perhaps, an undertow of antagonistic resentment.

Why does the West, for all its' supposed political leaders talk of democracy and human rights, grant recognition to the P.R.C, with its proven track record of State sanctioned crimes, and yet withold diplomatic recognition from the R.O.C with its' contrasting implentation of democractic institutions of governance? Without putting too fine a point on it, it is basically because they are cunts.

Support for the Taiwanese and their craving for international recognition can be reliably found among Taiwan's minority western population. The Nation-State premise underlying modern politics is a starting and unquestioned (and perhaps unquestionable) assumption for almost all of those on the Left which is where the overwhelming majority of this minority population seem to locate their politics.

I, however, do not condone this - for two reasons. First, the State itself, although not exclusive in this regard, is based upon the operating principle of coercion underlying all of its actions as the dominating institution of society. For this reason, a consistent and coherent ethics based around voluntary cooperation and free socialization and which yet involves the State, is simply impossible. Second, the aspect of Nationalism is based upon a distinction over which people have no control: where they were born. The fact that nobody can choose where they are born is reason enough to reject this distinction as having any moral import whatsoever; people should be judged morally according to how they act - especially how they treat others - and nothing else.

That being said, it puts me in what is, prima facie, a somewhat difficult position in that because I cannot accept the Taiwanese struggle for international recognition, I may be regarded as "no friend of Taiwan" or some such nonsense. With that in mind, it occurs to me to sketch out how a nationalism (lower case "n") might be consistent with an ethics of individual freedom.

Essentially, the nationalism I see is an abstraction from an aesthetic sense of place, something which is based not in the dry inanities of political philosophy, the stupidities of hyperbolic rhetoric or the leering portraiture printed on the inflated currency, but in the earthy experience and memories of particular places across the island.

Every "place" you might visit is something you experience through a number of aspects; there are the physical dimensions and variable aesthetic conditions of the location itself; there is the social function of the site and the type and character of the human interactions that "take place" there; there are also our memories of these places, the social events that occured there and the different types of significance we attach to them; and finally, there is our vicarious experience of places, i.e. our experience of places through observing how other people write or talk about, map, photograph or video those places. That each of these different aspects should contain a rich amount of detailed information from which a person may draw upon in trying to draw an abstracted concept of "Taiwan" (or indeed of any country) should be obvious. Not only that, but the sheer overwhelming quantity of this information may be such that it far exceeds any simple, formulaic "definition" or pithy soundbite.

What I suspect happens all too often is that, in the way Taiwanese people think about "Taiwan", there is an unfortunate amalgamation of this aesthetic-conceptual sense - one which very likely is, at times at least, suggestive of the "mathematical sublime" Kant once distinguished - and the dismal nation-state premise on which the coercive and double-think nature of modern politics is based. What I want to do is insist upon distinguishing the two; a sublime, aesthetic nationalism of place is a thing which can be seperated from the nation-state and from which there are no obvious political implications.

But I bet it is a far more difficult thing to craft and present well than are the shallow and obvious political nationalisms of either the blue "ROCers" or the green "T-I-ers".

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