Sunday, December 11, 2022

The blurring of borders: moral universalism, nation-states and the World Cup

The appeal of nation-states today lies more in the emotional services they provide than in their functionality in the world of the twenty-first century. The demand for secession, for example, is more influenced by identity issues than by economic issues, although secession movements have clear economic implications. As the UN Kenyan ambassador recently said, more than fighting the battles of the past about borders, most countries today try to cooperate over them. In Europe, the mechanism to make borders irrelevant is called European Union.

The 14 players (out of 26) of the Moroccan national team in the soccer world cup that were born in European countries, are not fighting for a nation-state they barely know, they probably just want to be treated with dignity in Europe. And still, because there are residuals of old times where borders mattered more, they have been caught singing against the independence of Western Sahara (the intricacies of which may elude them).

National anthems (better not to understand what they say, usually related to arms and enemies) are still part of the ritual of world cups, but some players of the contending national teams may be team mates during the ordinary season and have difficulties to understand the animosities in the stands. Some of them have been criticised for not being able to sing anthems correctly.

Many of the world cup players are probably moral universalists, they are willing to cooperate and show trust with strangers as much as with co-nationals. Actually, that’s what they do all year long in their club teams. Hopefully, national rivalries will be more and more relegated to the soccer pitch, where we may accept to play our ritual warrior dances, in a similar way that there are folkloric festivals in many developed and multicultural cities.

The degree of moral universalism has an impact on many decisions that matter for our standards of living and for the kind of society that we are building. It may affect our decisions on education, investment, consumption and the policies that we support.

The semi-final between Morocco and France will show two national teams that are expressions of the same phenomenon: a multi-racial and multi-cultural Europe that should treat all its citizens equally, as an example of what can be done when nation-states lose their significance. The Moroccan national team is the result of a deliberate policy to recruit players in the diaspora, where they are part of the millions of descendants of Europeans from African origin. The French national team integrates in itself other children of these immigrant communities. One could think that the semifinal between Croatia and Argentina will be very different, between two proud nationalisms, but most if not almost all of their players also play in European teams (including just a few in Croatia), and have been living out of their countries since they were kids. The Argentinian superstar Leo Messi has lived more time in Barcelona than in Argentina. He has no plans to go back to live in his native country, but probably the national team provides him some valuable emotional services.

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