CoDI Show: The problem with patriotism

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David Mountain, Masters student in Nationalism Studies, tells us about his CoDI show exploring the problem with patriotism…

Perhaps unusually for a Masters student, my looming dissertation deadline isn’t the scariest thing in my summer calendar. This is because August also sees my debut at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Believe it or not, these two events are related. As a Nationalism Studies student here at the University of Edinburgh, I’m fascinated and infuriated by the power of national politics, whether it’s the violent actions of separatists or the everyday politics of patriotism. Moreover, I believe that nationalism and patriotism – they’re the same as far as I can tell – are illogical, dangerous and unnecessary, and I’m convinced that a world without patriotism would be more peaceful and productive for everyone. In my dissertation, I’m currently attempting to marshal the necessary political, philosophical and scientific arguments to make this case.

For my Edinburgh Fringe talk, The Problem With Patriotism, I plan to bring these arguments to a wider, non-academic audience. The show is part of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas, an initiative curated by the University of Edinburg that allows academics to discuss provocative ideas in an informal, interactive setting. The Cabaret has just three rules: i) no PowerPoint, ii) spend at least half your stage time in discussion with the audience, and iii) really, no PowerPoint. Other than that, anything goes – fancy dress, musical numbers and gameshows have all made appearances in previous events. Add to that the fact that each show is compered by a professional comedian, and it’s clear that this is not a lecture!

The prospect of facing an audience who have paid to hear and debate your ideas helps sharpen up your theorising no end. Sure, essays and dissertations can be daunting, but there’s a reason why dying on your arse is a malady unique to the stage. Trying to anticipate audience questions about patriotism has forced me to iron out logical flaws in my arguments, to stop relying on academic jargon and to illustrate my case with real-life, relatable examples.

So what can people expect from The Problem With Patriotism? I want to challenge the view that patriotism is something healthy, natural or harmless. We’ll discover how it’s been instrumental in helping people like Donald Trump and Xi Jinping maintain their power. We’ll investigate the crippling effect national pride and respect have on our freedom of thought and expression right here in the UK. And with the help of some (painless) psychological experiments, we’ll demolish the argument that patriotism is somehow a rational belief to hold. I don’t want to give too much away, but there might even be special guest appearances from George Bernard Shaw and Leo Tolstoy.

The Problem With Patriotism will be held at The Stand’s New Town Theatre on Wednesday 8th August from 13.30-14.30. Tickets cost £9 (£7 concession) and can be bought here. More information can be found at @DavidMwriting and @CoDIfringe. I look forward to seeing you there!

David Mountain

David Mountain (@DavidMwriting) is a Masters student at the University of Edinburgh. His writing on patriotism has been featured in numerous publications, including Open Democracy, Latterly and Free Inquiry.

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