Debate - What does it mean to be British? (and others)

Discussion in 'Every Day Debating' started by Overread, Jan 3, 2015.

  1. Overread

    Overread Wolfing it up! Staff Member

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    So here's a thought for the day.

    What does it mean to be national?

    To be German or Dutch or English or French?


    It's a question that sounds simple at the onset, but which when you pause for a moment and think about it is actually very confusing and complex.



    I mean consider;

    Is it the land your born in? The land of your birthplace? Well now many might jump up and say that yes, the land in which you are birthed defines your nationality. But what about those born in other countries whilst on holiday? My mother is British, yet she was born in Germany whilst her parents were visiting.


    This raises the idea that your nationality is defined by your parents and their national identity. That because of them and their history you are defined in who you are today. Many would argue that this is the right path. That your nationality is a result of your heritage.

    However how far back does one go? Many people the world over are often the result of migrations and inter-national breeding. You can see it all over, America would be a prime example of where a vast number are nationally American, yet if you go upon the national heritage of their ancestors they come from many European nations. So maybe we only go back one or two generations - only a tiny timespan back into our history to define the intrinsic part of our heritage through our nationality.


    Then there is the legal side of it; is nationality purely a legal bit of paperwork? Well considering that you can apply for it that would suggest that it is. That your nationality is nothing more than a slip of paper gained only through successful application. Indeed the rules for this are hammered out in most nations - certain time limits - histories - generations - marriage etc... All added together to provide a proof that you are deserving to gain a nationality.
    Interestingly though for many applying from the outside its a sense of value that is strongly attached. That if you are of benefit to the people of the country that you have a right to be part of their nationality (part of their club); whilst if you're seen to be living off them or begging that you are unworthy.

    So instead of heritage, birth or paper is your nationality defined by the work you do - by the earnings you generate for the country you live in. Is your nationality defined by how much you pay the tax-man - is it nothing more than a label to wear once you've paid so much?


    Then there is time; if you've lived in a country for a long period you can claim nationality in many cases or become eligible for it. So as such is that all there is - live within a certain region for long enough and you are assigned the heritage and nationality of that country.







    There are other views to - other criteria by which we might measure - what food you eat - what religion you are - what moral values you uphold - what language you speak - what accent you have - what colour your skin is etc....

    Indeed when we think of a national of a certain country we have in our minds an "ideal perfect" concept (or maybe a couple if we are more aware of that country and its sub-groups). This "person" who is the embodiment of national often combines many of the afore mentioned criteria together. They are a construct we use to measure what is and isn't national to our minds. You can be more than, less than and equal to - yet the point at which you move from less than to not than appears to be mobile and blurry. As if we are truly unsure as to what really is a national.



    Take colour - when you think of a British citizen you think of a whiteman. In fact I'm betting most of you thought that without any provocation - yet we all know there are those of many nations within the country who consider themselves British. Maybe I should cut closer and say English where the definition has just cut out the Scots, Irish, Welsh.... But even there we've still got the same ideal person - the same ideal concept - and that person is still white.
    Yet we know there are those within Britain who are far from white, but who count and are counted as British. They've got a slip of paper and indeed to ask them they've the heritage too - a generation - two generations - sometimes quite a significant number of generations of historical presence within the country.


    And yet when push comes to shove the ideal construct reappears. When times are hard and we start to draw battle-lines we push that ideal to the fore - an ideal that we are not really sure where it comes from - its some part of history and yet not; for the Historical view (and its nearly always some historical view) is still only one niche of the people its from.




    So my rambling is coming to a close now - so many ideas buzzing around as to what might and what could make one considered a national. I'm fast coming to the conclusion though that the concept itself is flawed. That there is no real Englishman nor Welshman nor Frenchman.

    We can do it by birth - we can do it by colour - by language (as we oft do) - we can do it be mannerisms. But when push comes to shove we can't really pin down a single definition. It's a range, a range that represents the vast historical mingling of peoples over the world.

    From recent to ancient history we've been mingling and what often defines us as a people -as a nation is the flag we hold up. As such I put it that nationality is not a birth given gift - not a legacy of heritage or some connection to the land - its a choice.

    A choice we choose for ourselves and one which others make for us (the two need not be in agreement always). It is a choice we all make, although many of us by circumstance rather than intent (where it is not chosen for us*)



    *many of us never think on it and allow our parents to choose - then it all travels back to the last person who made the choice to define themselves.
     
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  2. Firiath

    Firiath Halfling barbarian

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    That reminds me of my s.o., who is Serbian (whatever being Serbian means, but that's the question of this whole thread, I guess) - or rather identifies as such. His parents are Serbian, born there, grown up there, came to Germany a couple of decades ago, speak Serbian as their first language, follow Serbian tradition (including Serbian orthodox tradition), all things Serbian. Their son, however, was born in Germany, grew up in Germany, speaks both German and Serbian, and loosely sticks to his parents' culture. I like to say that he's more German than I am (German parents, spent my whole life (minus a total of a month that I spent abroad during trips) in Germany, spoke nothing but German until I learned English and French at school), but usually mean it as a joke, because I respect what he identifies with.
    And sure, I identify as a German, but what does that even mean? The questions you're asking in this thread are not only interesting, but definitely something we should all think about.
    We (humans) like to categorise everything. We need categories like British, American, German, French, or others like Christian, Muslim (with their innumerable sub-categories), Hindu, atheist, etc. Some of these categories overlap, sometimes causing crises, personal or political, but still many people feel like they need these categories - or to be categorised like that. For what, I don't know. Stability? I'm not so sure about that.

    I recently got to know a woman who's Romanian by birth, who grew up there until she went abroad to study in Canada, where she married. She moved to the US after a while, where her son was born, and she now lives in Germany with her family. AFAIK, her son is American, Romanian, and now even German, all at the same time. I'm sure at some point he'll ask himself the question what he actually is.
    The answer could be so easy. Why not simply be human? Does it really matter where you were born, or raised, or where your family is from? (I'm sure it does matter, but does it have to?) Hasn't the globalised world become far too complex to categorise its inhabitants as British/German/American/Japanese and be done with it?

    If we forgot these categories, just for a while, and thought about that we're all human beings, couldn't that alone solve many of the (interpersonal and political) problems that exist in the world? Oh, what am I saying - forgive me, I'm dreaming again :p
     
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  3. Sparrow

    Sparrow Well-Known Member

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    I'm mostly Scottish and I find Scotland to be quaint and charming, and somehow very small. When you live in America, even a first generation American like myself, you see things in an altogether different light sometimes. It's very dynamic here, amazing and ugly at the same time. I'm proud to be an American, to be part of an Empire, as politically incorrect as that may sound.

    It's sort of amazing though, I think, here I am one generation removed from my dad who during WWII was a second pilot in a bomber that flew missions over Austria and Germany, and I'm on a forum posting a message after a German woman... past history be damned, wounds heal and things change for the best.
    In fact my old man once said, only half joking, that he hated the English worse than the Germans.
     
  4. George R Powell

    George R Powell Music Composer for Media

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    Even though I am a born American, I am of Welsh heritage on both sides of my family.

    I remember that I once asked a few of my UK friends if being Welsh was a good thing or a bad thing, to which they'd answer (with a chuckle): "It depends on who you're asking..."
     
  5. Lord Yuan

    Lord Yuan Death-Thousand+

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    I'm a third generation American with Irish, French, German and maybe some other EU blood in me. It has reached the point of convolution where I feel very alienated from any EU roots I might have. Not only that but I'm strongly against nationalism and nationalistic movements running rampant in America. I'm hesitant to call myself anything other than a consumerist because other than that I don't see any common ground among peoples in America.

    Left and right people are being turned into a commodity here but we still thrum our Bibles and say we're all born equal and that we all are "free". You can say anything you want but if you do people will say you're infringing on their freedom of speech as if they get the right to drown out others. My culture and heritage just built up to consumerism, cognitive dissonance, and cultural appropriation.

    As crude as it is I still enjoy picking what I do enjoy from the cultures I appropriate from. The globalization of the US giving that freedom is probably one of the few things to be proud of here.
     
  6. Firiath

    Firiath Halfling barbarian

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    What I'm wondering, however, is: When you (whoever this applies to) say you're proud to be [insert nationality here] - What is it that you're proud of? Or you do mean you're happy to be [insert nationality here], rather than proud?
    Because what have you done, what have you accomplished, to say you're proud of that? Because the way I see it, it's pure coincidence your were born wherever you were born. Or fate, if you believe in it, in which case you didn't participate in your being-born-somewhere either. :p
     
  7. Overread

    Overread Wolfing it up! Staff Member

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    I've always seen national pride as a pride at the nations achievements rather than one's own personal accomplishments. To be proud to be *insert name here* is to be proud of that nation; proud of what its done, what it stands for - proud of what's best in it.
     
  8. Lord Yuan

    Lord Yuan Death-Thousand+

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    I guess there is a semantic catch in saying "proud of" instead of "proud for" something. Like you could still be proud of your child for doing something good. I don't know if it speaks well if I say I see my country as a massive meandering baby that I smile at when it doesn't mess the bed.
     
  9. Sparrow

    Sparrow Well-Known Member

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    For the most part you're right, it's just chance that I'm an American... but, I could move to Canada or Britain easily enough.
    However I was born one week late and that might of been the difference between being Canadian, or American.:)
     
  10. Dreamscaper

    Dreamscaper Royal Hamster Wrangler

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    I would argue that your nationality comes down to the culture you were raised in and take after the closest, nationally speaking. The heritage is a matter of ethnicity, not nationality. Ex: ethnically I'm Irish, but my nationality is American.
     
  11. RayCaptain

    RayCaptain 如朱

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    Two kinds of "British/German/etc"

    Nationality and Culture. One is a legal technicality and the other is spawned from previous generations and countless years of becoming a people. America, unfortunately, has lost almost all of the latter, becoming a martyr for radical egalitarianism upon the sword of cultural Marxism... Come to think of it, in America, nationality means almost nothing. o_O
     
  12. ~Elladan~

    ~Elladan~ A Elbereth Gilthoniel

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    Nationality is combination of birth place and place/nature of cultural upbringing. Although I have an Irish mother I was born in England, raised in England in mainstream education so I'm English. A few years ago I would probably have described myself as British as I see the four home nations (England, Scotland, N Ireland & Wales) as being one people but politicians seem keen to highlight divisions for their own ends.

    If you look back to colonial times I doubt there would be many (for example) children born to British parents in India who would describe themselves as Indian as they would not have been brought up in that culture. The reverse is also true ~ many British born Indians still relate to India (a politician ~ Norman Tebbit ~ once suggested they apply a simple cricket team test.. do those Indians support the English national team or the Indian when they play?).
     
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