Patriotism Revisited

In the past, I have ranted at length about patriotism. I have pointed out that if you were born here, being patriotic is like being proud of having blue eyes; it's an accident of birth and nothing more. I have pointed out that we are all in this together, and no amount of arbitrary line drawing on maps will ever separate Us from Them in a meaningful way; what happens inside our borders affects those outside, and the reverse is true as well. I have even given examples of the historical legacy of rampant patriotism - the Holocaust, dozens of communist pogroms, the Cultural Revolution, and McCarthyism, to name just a few. In short, I think of myself as a citizen of the world who happens to reside in America.

Today in class I ran headlong into internalized, old school, conditioned response when I suggested that perhaps patriotism might not be a good thing. I suggested that perhaps the Us vs Them mentality that patriotism generates is not what the world needs right now. I asked my classmates to just think for a moment about why they were patriotic, and see if their reasons were really good ones. Their responses were pretty disheartening.

One guy said he was proud to be an American because we can go to McDonalds and have cheeseburgers or go shopping anytime we want. A girl said she was proud to be an American because that was the way she was raised.

I didn't have the stones to say, "So you are proud of being the gluttonous pig at the top of the food chain, and you are proud because your folks told you to be proud."

I couldn't bring myself to bust them in the mouths like that. They are young, and trying to overcome rural Wyoming upbringings. I tried to tell myself that at least I made them think about it, and planted a seed in their minds... but it wasn't a very satisfying rationalization.

The truth is, these kids aren't thinking about it, and many of them never will. They don't see that we are the beautiful Eloi to the third world's Morlocks, and that our pleasures come from their misery. They don't care that our lifestyle is killing off the workers that make it possible. They certainly don't care that the country they are so proud to be part of is a bloated monster that feeds on the carcasses of poor, mostly brown people everyday. In fact, their beloved America would gladly consume them too if they ever fell to that social strata.

What they are talking about is not pride - it's relief. They are relieved that they are American, because being from somewhere lower on the ladder is crappy. In a sense they are saying, "I know that we are giving the rest of the world a raw deal, and I'm really glad I don't live there; better them than me."

If they aren't thinking about the interconnectedness of the world now, when they are college students, it's likely that they never will think about it much. If being surrounded by the diversity and intellectual intensity of a university community doesn't wake them, what could? As dear old Dorothy Parker used to say, "You can lead a whore to culture, but you can't make her think."


La Petite Fleur (AKA Tessa) said...

i like cheeseburgers as much as the next guy, but puhleeze, that is the least respectable reason to be proud of anything - if your going to be proud of a cuisine, be proud of one that is original - oh wait there isn't one from America - oh well better luck next time, i'm sure there is a good reason somewhere to be proud to be an american.

Clayton said...

But I am proud of my eyes...

Sirus Kane said...

Bravo Good Sir, Bravo!

Rachel said...

I've spent about 20 minutes trying to decide how I want to comment on this post and I'm not satsified with anything I've come up with, really, so I'll have to chew on it some more. But I find it very compelling that you link fear into the equation. I think we must spend huge amounts of subconscious energy on rationalizing and justifying the atrocities we see in the structure of the world, just so that we can live day to day. Patriotism may well be another means of rationalizing that allows people to feel more comfortable in a truly ugly situation.

ZEUS said...

I thank you for your insight.. it has caused me to do far more than just think.

Modig_Bjorn said...


Thanks for this post! Keep fighting the good fight! You just have to hope that individuals will each have their own opportunities to "wake up".

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