“Why did we choose to identify with nations and not something else?” I once again left class pondering this question. Why don’t we identify ourselves with things other than nations? In class, Professor Hayden joked about identifying yourself with a job and where you worked. “Can you imagine identifying yourself with Google” or something similar to that, he joked. Well, serious or not, this comment triggered my memory back to a book I read last summer called Jennifer Government.
Jennifer Government is a novel by Max Barry (an Australian novelist) that looks at the world if we didn’t identify ourselves with nations and instead identified ourselves with corporations. The plot of the novel itself is more on the complex side as it follows the lives of seven different people all of whom have been affected by the shooting of a girl over a pair of Nike sneakers.
But, the plot is hardly the point. What I found interesting throughout the world that Barry created was the dynamic that people had when they interacted with each other. They identified themselves by name with the company they worked for. For example, if I worked for Google, my name in Barry’s world would be Becky Google. But, if I had a daughter, her hypothetical names would be something like “Samantha McDonald’s” because her name would be based on the corporation who owned her school.
In Barry’s world, there is no distinction for family or tribes. You are your company. But, even with these people there was a still a sense of loyalty to those you worked for. So, this dynamic got me thinking. Perhaps even if we didn’t identify ourselves with nations, we would still manage to clump ourselves together and identify ourselves with others who were similar to us just based on other characteristics such as our job.
I think that the answer to Professor Hayden’s question is complicated, but the reason we identified with nations first is due to the fact that they were there first. People later came to identify themselves by what job they had, but it wasn’t until much later in time. I guess, in this sense, I’ve sort of agreed with Benedict Anderson and his notion of an “imagined community.” But, I don’t necessarily know if the “imagined community/nation” is exactly true and yet, the idea of “insert-sport-teams Nation” and online communities lead me in other directions. Honestly, I think people just want to be able to relate to one another and perhaps the nation was the first way to make that happen.