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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Myth of Patriotism


“Patriotism” is a word bandied about so casually that one would assume its meaning to be clear. That, however, is not the case. Who are the people who most loudly proclaim themselves to be patriots? Who hitch overlarge flags to their trucks and obscure their bumpers with "God Bless America" stickers? Who are these "patriots"?

Well, on the whole they are poorly traveled. In fact, they have often never left the country. Yet despite having no frame of reference, they bravely declare their native land the best in all the world.

What, then, is patriotism? An opinion based on a carefully nurtured ignorance of international affairs? It would seem so. Countless citizens of nations across the globe are fiercely committed to the idea that their country is matchless. It is subjectivity incarnate. Conversely, well-traveled individuals, those whose familiarity with a diversity of cultures has lent them a degree of perspective, tend to reject the very idea of patriotism as laughable.

But perhaps I'm being unjust. Perhaps it's not about comparing ones country with another. Perhaps patriotism is simply a benign and innocent swelling of pride, not a statement of superiority, but one of objective self-admiration.*

Having determined that these individuals are proud we must ask the question: What are they so proud of?

Are they proud of American cars? American food? American dirt? These questions are absurd, but appropriately matched to a concept of still greater absurdity. It is more likely that they are proud of the ideals we claim to stand for, but of which there are few shining examples. That said, if you can’t identify concrete aspects of a country that fill you with pride, you must love the country in and of itself. Unfortunately, the idea that you can love a nation itself is a trick of language. In the end you profess to love your country because you love yourself. As George Bernard Shaw once said: "Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it." Could anything be closer to the truth?

Furthermore, it should be clear to us by now that nationalistic feelings of this sort are artificially generated, and have long been political tools of the ruling elite, used to drum up popular support for economic/political ventures (i.e. war) and to merge unaffiliated groups of people with dissimilar interests into politically useful chunks.

In the end patriotism, or nationalism as it is more aptly termed, is a psychological condition (one might say disorder) resulting from this very political manipulation, a mental chain binding our sense of identity and well being to arbitrary national borders.

How do politicians succeed in duping the populace to such a great extent? They succeed because they are preaching to the choir. The romantic idea that you are a part of your country and it is a part of you has permeated the culture to the point where it is all but inextricable from the ranks of our most cherished assumptions. The central given is that we're all in the same boat and that boat is shaped like the United States; the idea that what's good for America will benefit all Americans and what’s detrimental will harm them. In truth this very conceit is flawed.

We are a nation defined by chasmal class divisions, where some are more equal than others and only wealth can make you free. We are not all in the same boat. Some relax on super-yachts while others sweat in proverbial dinghies. It is the poor who drown in the waves of economic fluctuation, and the poor who die at war defending the very lie that we’ve all been fed since childhood - namely that we're all in this together, all equal, all children of the same loving motherland.

Rise and shine America. Wipe those fifty stars out of your eyes and tear that ridiculous flag off your car. It's not the world you think.

6 Comments:

At 3:05 AM, Blogger DJEB said...

I don't think that there will be any controversy when I say that humans are tribal. Modern society, however, does not lend itself to genuine tribal development. What can replace that then? Even a small country like Japan (my current home) is made up of separate groups: the Ainu and Okinawans considering themselves to be quite another people than the Yamato who themselves are build of people with very individual dialects, customs and foods. Yet nearly any book you pick up on Japan will harp on and on about how homogeneous Japan is (an argument very popular with anti-immigrant bigots). It is only artificial nationalism that brings them together. But in today's world, what else is there?

It seems to me that patriotism is not only a conscious design used by those in power (as you say) to try to rally people together, it is also a search by some for their tribe in a world that is incapable of delivering one.

You say that patriotism is "a trick of language." This, I think is very, very astute. Countries (I'm avoiding the word "nation" consciously) are artificial contructs. The idea that you can love - love being the commitment to the spiritual growth of another/others - such a thing is like announcing love for a particular museum. I can love my people, but my people are not my country. And being one of those you mention who has spent time outside of his country (12 years so far in Japan), "my people" is an ever-expanding concept.

All that said, the work I've been getting into over the past year is permaculture - a design system that, among other things, aims at real re-tribalisation of communities.

Again, great piece. Thanks for writing something that I can be bothered to read.

 
At 2:54 PM, Blogger DJEB said...

Thanks Stefan. I just grabbed this for my advanced ESL class...

 
At 9:15 PM, Blogger stefan said...

What's that - english as a second language?

 
At 2:58 AM, Blogger DJEB said...

Sorry, been away from the site for too long...

Yes, ESL - English as a Second Language. It made for an interesting class, if only for the teacher.

 
At 11:31 AM, Blogger zazou said...

Very, very good post, I might borrow it for my class as well. I think you can be "patriotic" without being chauvanistic (in the larger sense of the word)- but you are quite right about travelling or at least exposure to other countries, other cultures as giving onesome perspective. I grind my teeth when anyone says this is the freest nation in the world (not), the most advanced (nope) and the best provider (wrong again)- and I have a few facts up my sleeve to bolster my position ( + the fact I have lived in several countries, including a Third World one)- and this is what makes a Goerge Bush possibel

 
At 10:00 PM, Blogger stefan said...

Thanks for the remarks mate. I'll be adding a lot more content soon, once my life takes some fiber and becomems a bit more...regular. :P

 

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