'Nationalism' for the rich: Poll shows globalisation won't change humanity

“More than half of those asked (56%) in emerging economies saw themselves first and foremost as global citizens rather than national citizens…”

Last night (UK time) the BBC World Service released new research which addressed attitudes to 'Global citizenship' from 18 countries worldwide. This study forms part of a longer series of radio programs which look at “how identities are changing in a globalised world”. The findings are based on 20,000 people polled by GlobeScan.

I heard the initial reports last night, read the in-depth analysis of the findings on the BBC site this morning, but couldn’t find the full statistical findings anywhere online. Still, I thought the information as presented on the site, was worthy of extra comment.  

The main thrust of the report is that “people are increasingly identifying themselves as global rather than national citizens”. This is driven by emerging regions, it explains, with Nigeria highlighted because 73% of Nigerians polled identify themselves as global citizens.

Yet, the number in industrialised markets is far lower, it says. The survey pinpoints Germany where fewer people say they feel like global citizens now (30%), compared with 2001.

The survey does acknowledge that: “One problem with polling attitudes on identity is that ‘global citizenship’ is a difficult concept to define and the poll left it open to those taking part to interpret.”

Research also asked some more quantifiable – politically loaded – questions like: “What are your views on intermarriage between different races/ ethnic groups?” And: “What are your views of accepting Syrian refugees?” To both of these Germany emerged as the most “undecided”, Russia as the most negative and Spain as the most positive.

Now I love the BBC, despite serious cuts the BBC World Service does some genuinely outstanding work, and it always attempts truly global approach to news and analysis. However, I do think the concept of a poll on ‘global citizenship’ is a little flawed.

Firstly – and more prosaically – there will naturally be a bias in the kinds of Germans, Nigerians, Indonesians and whoever, who take part in a left-leaning BBC World Service poll. And many wealthy Nigerians, especially, were educated in the west.

Secondly, there is a strong cultural bias in each country which makes the resulting slant impossible to ignore. Broadly speaking Nigerians, for example, tend want to please in conversation, so you can see how the big idea of ‘global citizenship’ might seem like a nice thing to say you’re on board with. This is not so true of Germans.

Thirdly, many Nigerians (to continue the example) have a more outward facing view because domestic problems within their own country are so rife. These aren’t just social and economic issues but also debilitating infrastructure problems that even extreme wealth struggles to solve - like the lack of electricity. Germany, on the other hand, is as far removed from these kinds of problems as anyone could be – things tend to work rather well – and they’re not looking longingly at anyone else’s country. In fact, they’re happily reaping their glorious fruits-of-frugality and have far less reason to identify themselves globally than others might.

To me, this survey doesn’t really poll anything close to social conscience but, in fact, highlights protectionism. People want to keep what they’ve got. That’s where their energies go and their allegiances lie. It is as simple as that.

Take Britain and the debate raging over Brexit at the moment. A good proportion of the emotional arguments on why we should to leave the EU – and it is hard to ignore the work of Nigel Farage [excellent ‘Lunch with the FT’ interview in the Financial Times if you’re not au fait] here – focus on good ‘ole Blighty, “this scepter'd isle”, going it alone against all those garlic-eating Europeans.

It hinges on the idea that our fine historical island shouldn’t be left to sink under the great buckling weight of the flawed European Union. It is all grounded in the view that we have something worth saving and thus reason for our splendid nationalism. This has long been the foundation of the more aloof European countries and North America, but tends to be less common in poorer countries that regularly receive aid.

In the end, while globalisation may be breaking down certain boundaries and changing the way many professionals work, some fundamental principles will always remain intact. If people have anything at all, they tend to want to hang onto it. And the first place they start (at a societal level at least) is their national identity.


Further reading:

Country Spotlight: Nigeria

Viewpoint: Germany, Google & the Stasi Legacy

German View on Startups: South Africa vs. Nigeria


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