Brazil will be...
All of these statements are followed (in English) by an adjective, a word that conveys a subjective quality.
Isn't it interesting that we fight (if they are nasty) and nod our heads (if they are nice) over those adjectives, but we don't pay much attention to the nouns in those sentences? We take for granted that there is such a thing as nation-states and nationalities. That somewhere out there in the world there is a place called "Brazil" and personages called "Brazilians" who are reported to be singular by virtue of some combination of qualities that no other nation or people on this planet possesses. Strangely enough, we do this even if we've never set foot on that soil, much less met an actual native. A tad bit irrational, n'est-ce pas?
Or not. It's useful to think of these things as categories - buckets into which we conceptually gather things that seem to go together and we label that bucket "Brazil", "France", "Japanese" and so on. Actually the buckets are filled in two ways, not just one. The related concepts of "France" and the "French" and the positive or negative stereotypes tied to them are nourished by the imaginations of the French themselves and by the imaginations of the non-French all over the world. Not exactly a fair fight either - there are roughly 7 billion people in the world and only 66 million of them are French.
I am fascinated by these categories and how we mentally manipulate them for our own ends. But my ideas are nothing compared to the work of cognitive scientists, people who think about how the human race thinks. In Women, Fire and Dangerous Things the cognitive linguist George Lakoff has an outstanding overview of the different theories that attempt to answer these questions:
"What is reason? How do we make sense of our experience? What is a conceptual system and how is it organized? Do all people use the same conceptual system? If so, what is that system? If not, what is there that is common to the way all human beings think?"Categories, Lakoff says, figure prominently in all discussions about how we reason. Human beings are hard-wired to put things into mental buckets and then manipulate, compare, contrast and label them. It's innate and every person on this planet does it. How, for example, could we think about or discuss "international migration" with others if we didn't have categories like "citizen", "migrant" or "Japanese"?
Lakoff present two schools of thought about categories. The traditional view says that these categories are mental constructs that are "independent of people, and defined by the characteristics of their members and not in terms of any characteristics of the human." The mind and the body are separate. Emotion is irrelevant to reasoning. Reason itself is transcendental and there exists a "God's eye view of the world- a single correct way of understanding what is true and what is not true". All human beings share that single understanding. .
More recent theories, and one in particular called prototype theory, argues differently and contends that "human categorization is essentially a matter of both human experience and imagination-of perception, motor activity, and culture on one hand, and of metaphor, metonymy and mental imagery on the other." Which implies that there is no one right way to truth and understanding will vary according to a number of different variables.
Lakoff believes (and this is the main point of his book) that we organize and reason according to idealized cognitive models (ICMs) and our categories are what comes out of this method of mental organization. An example he gives is that of the "week". "Our model of the week is idealized. Seven-day weeks do not exist objectively in nature. They are created by human beings. In fact, not all cultures have the same kind of weeks." The idea of le weekend would not exist in a culture or country where the work week wasn't 5 continuous days followed by 2 days off. Another example is the category called "bachelor". This category can only be defined "with respect to an ICM in which there is a human society (typically monogamous) with marriage, and a typical marriageable age."
Taking a stab at it for myself, "citizen' as a category can only exist if there is an ICM based on membership in a nation-state which divides into sub-categories: French, Japanese, American, Brazilian. The idea of "France", "US", "Japan" and "Brazil" are predicated upon an ICM of the "nation-state."
At the core of the new theories about categories are prototypes which means the Best Examples of the categories we accept as real and want to use. An apple, for example, would be a fine prototype for the category "fruit". Are there prototypes for other things like nations or nationalities? I think so.
From the outside looking in, is it possible for us to think about ourselves or the Americans, Japanese or French in the world and not have in mind some sort of typical idealized representative of each one? Is that where we derive our judgements and our adjectives? We take the best example we know (actors, politicians, heroes or villains) magnify his/her useful qualities and then extrapolate them to an entire nation? Maybe. I know that I can't think of Britain without thinking of Winston Churchill or France without a mental image of Gerard Depardieu.
No nation, country, culture can define itself without reference to something outside itself. For the category of "American" to exist, something out there (or within) must be defined as Out of Category (i.e. not American). If there were no other countries in the world "France" would have no meaning at all.
Acknowledging these things leads to a strange thought experiment: imagining a world where we couldn't tack on an adjective at the end of Americans are/Japan is/ France was/Brazil will be because we will have changed our minds about this way of organizing our world, and we just don't need those categories anymore.