30 Oct WHY I CAN’T BE PATRIOTIC… BUT IT’S NOT AS SIMPLE AS THAT
I’m fortunate enough to be able to live where I choose and, though I’d spent years in other countries, nowadays I happen to be living fairly close to where I was born. Same country, different city. Over the past decade I’ve noticed a subtle but widespread increase in public nationalism – generally speaking – from the media and the public. At first this surprised me, because I had always equated flag worship with the worst type of mob jingoism. I figured society was slowly but surely evolving beyond those idiot tropes. I guess I was wrong. Maybe society wasn’t evolving after all.
There’s been a paradigm shift in the directions of public inertia and patriotism is one of the symptoms. It’s an interesting phenomenon. I asked myself why I wasn’t on board with celebrations of national pride? Why didn’t I feel a sense of personal satisfaction in being able to share a patriotic love of the homeland with my fellow patriots? Because I’ve never been on board with national pride and I don’t share a patriotic love of the homeland with my fellow patriots.
But it’s not as simple as that…
It’s easy to make allowances for a nation ostensibly founded on (or responsible for founding) principles like freedom of expression, fundamental rights of personhood and property, rule of law, access to education, separation of powers, healthcare, social security and safety from the violence of despotism (home and abroad). It would be churlish to be ungrateful for the good fortune to be born into a class gifted the privilege of living out the ideals of equality, liberty and fraternity.
It would be easy to make a list of reasons why it’s better to be here than (insert country), especially if I cherry-pick only the most noble chapters of history and contrast the worst caricature of this or that foreign land. But I don’t this. I won’t allow cheap self-congratulation to misrepresent the truth of what I’ve seen and what I know. I don’t need to affirm my identity by shackling it to a flag. I can be of a country without being its apologist.
What’s more, I don’t want to justify my life choices by bullshitting myself I live in the best of all possible worlds. If I love where I come from and embrace where I choose to live, it must be an authentic eyes-wide-open preference; and it doesn’t require me to denugrate alternatives nor does it create an obligation to pledge allegiance to the red white and blue.
Having said that, most of my peers are decidedly patriotic. Some more, some less. It seems to vary by life experience and inherited habit. Many enjoy cultivating a nationalist attachment to country, proclaiming a public pride in their accident of birth-nation. They cheer public displays of jingo, exalt triumph at sports or war. I can’t share this happy self-satisfaction. There’s no comfort in the whiteness of crowds. I can’t see the world in terms that start with me and end with my circle of familiar privilege.
As an adult, patriotism feels instead like its rooted in a wilful disdain for the outgroup. At best it insists on a myopic insensibility to the suffering of other human beings that – in no small part – was and is imposed on the vulnerable to fund the class benefits underwriting my quality of life. I can’t ignore inhumanity. I can’t see us as somehow divided into haves and have-nots and be happy to be a have and reconciled to the servitude (or plundering) of the have-nots.
In the end, the more I learn about the reality of how privilege is maintained, the more our mechanisms of entrenched power, wealth and opportunity hording are laid bare, the more I’m exposed to the selective arbitrariness of those precious founding principles and the more evidence stacks up of grotesquely unfair application of basic rights, the less it’s possible to see patriotism as anything but the benzo delusions of a gangster’s moll.
We may have no choice where we’re born and where we grow up. We may choose, as individuals, to be pragmatic about where we live and what we live by. But this doesn’t create an obligation to be a proponent of cruel systems of exploitation, however convenient, however out of sight, however easily it can be kept out of mind.
Patriotism is an unnecessary exhibition of misplaced pride, an evil absolution, a blind faith in unnatural hegemonies and a crass celebration (and acceptance) of the world divided into fraternities and untermensch. I want no part of that.