Some Historical Roots of Racial and Cultural Superiority Tendencies
Historically, the things any ‘one people’ had in common were really very local in nature. Most communities were illiterate and didn’t travel. Their exposure to any foreign influence was minimal or non-existent until the growth of cities resulting from the industrial revolution. Prior to that, most were peasants who lived on farms generationally, in Europe anyway, and who worked half days and half years. They were not highly motivated to do much other than scratching out enough food for the winter, for the land owners, and scratching their butts. With the advent of scientific farming, land owners in Europe were able to get 10 times the yield and began kicking their peasants off the land. Fortunately (or unfortunately according to Marx), the new industrial cities were able to hire them, and all cities began to grow exponentially throughout first part of the 1800s. The science of social engineering came into its own during this time.
With the growth of cities the culture industry was born, and it became a tool of the nation builders; local, regional, and national governments who had to find ways of making the masses malleable and controllable in their hands. Newspapers were born, telling people the common news of the nation today. Intellectuals were hired by states and employed at modern universities in order to codify common histories and create mythical national heroes that would breed a passionate commonality and patriotism in the hearts of the people. The awareness of common people grew up from their placid patches of lazy farms to encompass an informed over-arching awareness of larger maps and sister cities. Small time local family feuds were traded in on national and international rivalries. Language was codified and standardized so dialects began to disappear and socially, culturally, educationally, and informationally, we began to define ourselves with paradigms of wider sweeping, more inclusive, and more grandiose scope.
At the same time, the ideology of rule by the people was advanced, and civic responsibility began to take on new meaning. The king was no longer an agent of God, or a god himself, but an employee of the people, and ostensibly hirable or firable by their will. Legitimacy of power is claimed now to come through a kind of social contract, and citizens supposedly share a common charge both in the rule and defense of the nation.
Modern nationalism and patriotism creates an ethos of hyper-superiority and can morph, especially in times of war, into a very ugly and in-humane business. Also, it tends to linger generationally after the war is over. Often, families of those currently in the military, those who have served before, and those whose have families that have sacrificed their lives in service of the country tend to comfort themselves with feelings of passionate, even religious justification for the horrors they have lived through. Many religions along with secular agents of the nation egg on this kind of perspective, although not everyone buys into it.
Finally, there is the pinnacle of the progressive trajectory that began during the colonial times and endures to this day. I feel it myself as a westerner with a conscious measure of chagrin. The fact that it was white Europeans who launched and presided over the scientific revolution, and that for thousands of years more quaint and static cultures made little or no progress, presents a seductive justification for the prejudicial mindset described as the white man’s burden. I don’t like that in myself and try to fight it. But the world is full of the productions and benefits of western science, and although it is ok to be proud of that, I guess, we should beware the slippery slope that attends.