Friday, June 8, 2012

The randomness of countries

What would the news do without countries? There would be no bankrupt nations that need a bailout, no wars, no jubilee of the queen and no hunting trips of the king. Worst of all – no European football championship! Nothing to fill the endless pages of daily news coverage.

Countries are weird though. Have a look at this photo:

On the right, where the lighthouse is, you see Spain. The rock in the middle is Gibraltar and the mountains to the left are Morocco. We have Africa, the EU and the Commonwealth, all happily represented within a radius of 50 miles.
Now, on the far left of the photo is Ceuta, a little town in Morocco which, at time of writing, is Spanish. Gibraltar used to be Arab, then Spanish and now it’s kind of British. Morocco used to be French, Southern Spain belonged to the Arabs. A few hundred years ago neither the EU nor the Commonwealth existed and a few million years ago it was all Dinosaurland. Pretty messy, to say the least.

One morning last month my 9-year old daughter was staring at the silly rock between the two continents and asked following question:
“Dad, is Gibraltar a country?”
“No, not really, it belongs to England.”
“To England? How is that possible, England is far away.”
“I know, it’s just like that. Not that long ago, even India belonged to England.”
“India? Really?”
“Yes. Stupid, isn’t it?”

The conclusion: The best word that decribes countries is RANDOM. Because that’s what they are, random lines on the map! They are totally unnatural and only exist because we decided that we need them for some reason. They are political constructs that are subject to constant change, they come and go – in fact, most countries have probably less survival chances than the Orangutans in Borneo.

Culturally they are of little use either, because culture is rooted to a certain area. Geographically, culture is far more permanent than a country. Take Flamenco – it’s from Andalucía and it will always be from there, no matter what country Andalucía may belong to in the future. Using Flamenco as an example of Spanish culture, although common, is simply wrong. Same as if you use the Oktoberfest for an example of German culture – it’s Bavarian, not German, and it will always be Bavarian.

So – who the fuck needs countries? My suggestion: Let’s keep the flags so we can have the Eurocup, Worldcup and, if necessary, the Olympic games. For everything else we are much better off without countries. After all, why do we need borders to live together on the same planet?

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately, I think humans will always feel a need for "countries" in some form, i.e. a border that defines our space. My garden is "Sue's Country", my neighbour's garden is "Christine's Country." People have been known to go to war over the placement of a garden fence. Alas, our need for borders will remain, but maybe we can learn to allow those borders to be a little more permeable.