To have a certain national identity seems to most of us to be as natural as having first, middle, and last names that were given to us at birth and signify our belonging to a family, or maybe even to a whole clan. Our nationality is like an extended family which we feel an emotional attachment to and which provides us a sense of belonging—whatever meaning each one of us bestows upon this word. It becomes second nature, and I venture to guess that few ordinary people question the meaning of this relationship.
However, as Karim H. Karim and Silvio Waisbard point out, nationalism is first of all an invented, imaginary concept, and second, it possesses a dual “elastic” nature, which is both capable of uniting and to excluding, and bring about liberation or genocide. Also the nation as a socio-political category bears a close relationship with politics (nation-states) and the economy (international trade), neither of which are the most humane and ethical realms of human activity. In addition, the national subdivision of human kind is not the ideal, nor is it the final stage of human development (see for example Jeremy Rifkin’s talk on The Empathic Civilization: http://www.ted.com/talks/jeremy_rifkin_on_the_empathic_civilization.html)
As deceptive and illusionary as nationhood is, I think in reality it is extremely hard to remove its blinders. First of all, a person has to realize that these blinders exist; second, he or she has to find the opportunity to leave the territory over which these blinders operate, for an extended period of time; and third, a person should be open-minded about the variety of information he or she would be exposed to in a different country, and willing to accept the inevitable change of worldview this experience is most likely going to bring about. It means that stepping out of your national “shell” involves a lot of work on the side of the individual, including real-life experience (sometimes even painful experience, like culture shock). And here I think is the key to the problem discussed in Silvio Waisbard’s article, namely why despite the great expectations, the global media do not contribute to the “broadening [of] cultural horizons and fostering transnational communities.” (p 385) Instead, “audiences are typically indifferent to the plight of others portrayed in world news.” (p 386)
To see the picture of the “other” on a TV screen, as colorful as it may be, is not enough to bring about serious value change in people. Even more so, people become desensitized from overexposure to information that they can’t personally relate to. At the same time, not many individuals are willing, or capable, or have the opportunity, to travel abroad and to obtain the necessary exposure to the “otherness” of different cultures. In this respect I think that the phenomenon of third culture kids (or TCKs) is of special interest. Scientists believe that children who spend their formative years (when they are under 15) in different cultures are not attached to any one particular culture, which molds their personality in a very peculiar way. They tend to possess “superior diplomacy, flexibility, linguistic ability, patience and sophistication.” (Nina Killham, World-Wise Kids, p 229) TCKs are also “good observers, less judgmental and less prejudicial.” (Killham, p 230) They also possess a heightened sensitivity to world events and “have a three-dimensional view of the world. ‘A TCK will read a headline in a newspaper, and can often smell the smells, hear the sounds, and identify with the pain and disaster a half a world away.’”
TCKs are probably the closest one can get to the cosmopolitanism discussed in Waisbard’s article. That’s not to say that other people don’t possess all these valuable characteristics, but again, they are usually the result of extensive education (including self-education) and firsthand experience. One does not become cosmopolitan by simply watching TV, or consuming other mass media.
Nationalism is but one of the stages in the social development of human kind. Now that we face challenges that threaten our existence as a species (for example, climate change), the cultivation of empathy, “solidarity and commitment to universal values” (p 385) must climb higher on the agenda of the international community, and obviously there is no simple solution to this task.