Us vs. Them

Yesterday the Flag Man was standing out in front of the Post Office again, selling American flags. I’m aware that patriotism is a widespread sentiment, both in the U.S. and, I’m sure, in Botswana and Senegal, in Finland and Poland, in Cambodia and Vietnam. That is, everybody feels patriotic about their own country.

At an emotional level, patriotism is the warm, fuzzy feeling that one’s own nation (whatever that might happen to be) is somehow special — that it’s superior in some way to other nations. If asked to identify the locus of that superiority, most people would probably mention their nation’s rich cultural traditions, its political system, its military prowess, or perhaps its geographic splendors.

But if the French feel that France is superior, and the Germans feel that Germany is superior, that’s a recipe for trouble brewing. Also, it’s logically absurd. It’s not possible for all nations to be superior to other nations. Clearly, many of the people who feel patriotic are just plain wrong.

I could go off on a tangent here. I could point out that patriots generally downplay or entirely deny the flaws in their own nations. But that’s a topic for another time.

What concerns me is the fact that patriotism divides the human race into two camps — us and them. Us are superior. Them are inferior (possibly even nasty). Us are motivated only by the soundest of moral precepts, and work unfailingly toward the highest good. Them will lie, cheat, steal, and murder to achieve their unworthy goals. Us are clean and handsome. Them are dirty and ugly.

That being the case, us are entirely justified in killing them.

As an antidote to this insanity, I would earnestly recommend the following mantra: “There is no them. It’s all us.”

Looking at the world this way requires a bit of mental gymnastics, but it’s worthwhile. Instead of saying, “They hate us because of our freedoms,” we have to say, “Some of us place other values above freedom.” Instead of saying, “They’re torturing animals in scientific experiments,” we have to say, “Some of us are torturing animals in scientific experiments.” Instead of saying, “They’re entering this country illegally,” we have to say, “Some of us are coming north to look for work.”

This way of looking at the world changes one’s consciousness. There is no them. It’s all us.

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