With the arrival of September, flags and allergies sprout from one day to the next and become a fundamental part of the Creole spring landscape. By the way, they never disappear completely and, although we could anticipate their appearance, their irruption is always something abrupt and catches us by surprise. While they don’t seem to have much in common, both the idea of “nation” and “immune disease” refer to issues that seem to be beyond history: in one case, the discomfort caused by cyclically repeated seasonal pollens whose causative elements are part of the natural world; in the other, a permanent, stable and recognizable identity that would define us as a people and as a culture. Paradoxically, however, both phenomena are relatively recent: the celebration “of the 18th” has just over a century, the definition of allergies as a seasonal disease even less.
The massification and globalization of allergies and nations are directly associated with two of the fundamental institutions of the modern world: science and the state. In the first case, the revolution in agricultural techniques, international trade, the growth of cities and changes in medicine itself have transformed our exposure to those biological agents that provoke negative reactions; in the second, military conscription and compulsory basic education were key to establishing as fundamental those common experiences that we share as part of the same collective. The official language, the patriotic symbols and the ephemeris are all expressions of that state attempt to shape that cultural unity that it wants to represent.
Allergies and nations are an inevitable expression of the world in which we live: we all have an allergy to something and we feel part of some nation. We all know of relatives or friends who suffer from severe allergies to certain agents and who have a special relationship, of attachment or hatred, with this or that nation. We cannot choose what we are allergic to or which nation we belong to; these are events over which we have no control, where genetics, place of birth or exposure to certain elements in early childhood play a crucial role in determining who we are.
Thus, a good part of our adult life will be dedicated to morigerate, change or reinforce those traits, even knowing that it is no longer possible to alter them completely. The passage of time, a little luck and a lot of will allow us to learn to relate to allergies and nations in a better way: we take antihistamines, we avoid certain foods, we learn to appreciate and reject certain traits of nationality.
Finally, we learn to live with them with the ambivalence that is a fundamental part of our human experience: sometimes we must highlight them and sometimes we hide them with shame, at times they limit us and at others they help us to be creative and imaginative. We understand that it is delusional to want to eliminate them completely, but we do not accept that they are forces with the ability to totally dictate what we can do and how we are to live.
At best, they confront us with the modern world in its diversity rather than its homogeneity, in recognizing our own limitations rather than in exaggerating our strengths. At worst, they lock us in on ourselves, encourage us to demand recognition of every event and, above all, make us immune to the pains and sufferings of others. Thus, the most important lesson of September should be that, if there is no reason to be proud of the allergies we suffer from, there are hardly any reasons to glorify the nations in which we live.
The content expressed in this opinion column is the sole responsibility of its author, and does not necessarily reflect the editorial line or position of El Mostrador.