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Racism Makes You Miserable

See, all that time we'd been worrying about how it feels to be on the receiving end of a rascist or xenophobic rant, we should have been worrying about the frothing bigot instead.

Flippancy aside though, there is much anecdotal and intuitive 'evidence' to suggest that the angry ones pouring out the abuse at BNP marches, outside pubs at chucking-out time, or on the Croydon tram are less happy than the rest of us. Xenophobia is a phobia, and like any other phobia, denotes fear. Believing that everything is going to the dogs, whether you choose to blame it on immigrants, skin pigmentation, bankers or politicians – doesn't make for restful contentment.

National pride, an easy concept to twist into a vicious weapon of cultural revisionism (note the way the 'Blitz spirit' was used by the national press last month to describe the stoic perserverence of those inconvenienced by public sector strikes – a pretty subjective view of the term if there ever was one), is a vague and emotional thing, often predicated on a sense of superiority toward other nations. It may be shit being British, the thinking goes, but it's better than being Belgian.

Today's news item, then, is an interesting one. Not so much in that it examines the possibility that bigots might be unhappy. Common sense tells us that such is true. More interesting is the definition of two clear types of national pride – the 'civic' and the 'ethnic'. Useful terms, and a useful observation. Have a look, see what you think:

National pride brings happiness — but what you're proud of matters

Research shows that feeling good about your country also makes you feel good about your own life—and many people take that as good news. But Matthew Wright, a political scientist at American University, and Tim Reeskens, a sociologist from Catholic University in Belgium, suspected that the positive findings about nationalism weren't telling the whole story.

 "It's fine to say pride in your country makes you happy," says Wright. "But what kind of pride are we talking about? That turns out to make a lot of difference." The intriguing—and politically suggestive—differences they found appear in a commentary in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science.

Reeskens and Wright divided national pride into two species. "Ethnic" nationalism sees ancestry—typically expressed in racial or religious terms—as the key social boundary defining the national "we." "Civic" nationalism is more inclusive, requiring only respect for a country's institutions and laws for belonging. Unlike ethnic nationalism, that view is open to minorities or immigrants, at least in principle.

The authors analyzed the responses to four key questions by 40,677 individuals from 31 countries, drawn from the 2008 wave of the cross-national European Values Study.

Like other researchers, they found that more national pride correlated with greater personal well-being. But the civic nationalists were on the whole happier, and even the proudest ethnic nationalists' well-being barely surpassed that of people with the lowest level of civic pride.

The analysis challenges popular feel-good theories about nationalism. "There's been a renaissance of arguments from political theorists and philosophers that a strong sense of national identity has payoffs in terms of social cohesion, which bolsters support for welfare and other redistributive policies," says Wright. "We've finally gotten around to testing these theories." The conclusion: "You have to look at how people define their pride."

Source: Association for Psychological Science


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