Why I Am Not a Patriot

Patriotism is widely regarded as a natural and essential virtue. Other views of the matter are, however, defensible. I do not feel even remotely patriotic, and I’m suspicious of the motives and intellectual capacity of those who do. Here are the principle difficulties that I see with patriotism.

National boundaries are, in every case, the result of historical accident. How is it even possible to align oneself emotionally with the outcome of a historical accident? Two hundred years ago, California was part of Mexico. Two hundred years in the future, it may well be an administrative region of China. I feel some affection for the hills and valleys of California, but how could I sensibly transfer that feeling onto the United States of America?

National boundaries are an abstraction, and exist only for administrative purposes. There is, in fact, no such thing as a border between nations. A border is an abstraction that exists only because we all agree that it exists. You can walk, if you care to, from France to Russia without at any point crossing anything that could be construed as a physical (that is, geological) boundary. National borders exist only because they are guarded by soldiers, and the soldiers are there only because rich and powerful men issue the orders. The motives of the rich and powerful we should always regard with deep suspicion.

The world is a single entity. Thanks to the global reach of our transportation systems, it is the height of foolishness to promote the interests of one group of people at the expense of another group. No man is an island: all are part of the main. Because the interests of one group of people will always, sooner or later, come into collision with the interests of another group, we must learn ways to resolve the conflict that recognize the legitimate needs of all groups. We dare not cling to an archaic sensibility that asserts that the interests of one group (namely, us) are automatically superior to the interests of another group (also known as “them”).

Patriotism is quite often invoked in order to incite violence. If you’re trying to whip large groups of people into a frenzy that will cause them to take up weapons and butcher other people, you will almost invariably do it by appealing to their patriotism. This in itself, even apart from any other issues, would make patriotism morally objectionable.

My place of birth is a historical accident. Come to that, my entire identity is a historical accident: There is no such thing as “me” apart from an astonishing concatenation of accidents. So it doesn’t quite make sense to say that “I” could as easily have been born in Thailand, Denmark, or Costa Rica. It makes as much or more sense to say that “I” was indeed born in all of those places. “I” am not anyone special, and my point of view is not special. I’m sure that those who were born in Denmark may feel some special affection for Denmark, those born in Thailand may feel some special affection for Thailand, and so forth. That fact does not make Thailand superior to Denmark, nor vice-versa. Any feeling of affection that a Dane or Thai may feel for his or her place of birth is based on an accident.

Every nation has good and bad features. The tendency of the patriot is always to inflate the magnitude and importance of the good features of his homeland, while minimizing or entirely denying the bad features. This is intellectually dishonest. I prefer not to be intellectually dishonest.

Noble traditions are meaningless apart from noble actions. It is perhaps understandable that one might feel some affection for the legal framework or cultural traditions of one’s native land, if they are indeed admirable. But all too often, people who feel that they love peace find excuses to wage war. People who feel that they love freedom find excuses to repress those who are different from them. Institutions that nominally exist to serve everyone all too often bestow their benefits on the rich while neglecting the poor. To admire a noble tradition, then, is another form of intellectual dishonesty. Let us admire noble actions, and let the traditions fend for themselves.

The United States of America is disgusting. The nation in which I happen to have been born and have lived my life has a long and wretched history of oppressing, if not butchering outright, anybody who got in the way of the grandiose ambitions of the rich and powerful. Not long after the white men succeeded in decimating the native population of North America, they set their sights abroad and began establishing military outposts in distant places like Hawaii and the Philippines. The quagmire in which our military is now floundering in Iraq and Afghanistan is not an aberration: This is what the United States of America has been doing, over and over, for the past two hundred years. We are bullies in foreign policy, we fail to care for the weak and helpless at home, we use far more of the world’s vanishing natural resources than we have any right to, and with a few shining exceptions, our culture is a dismal farce.

I trust that explains why I’m not going to stand up while you salute the flag.

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6 Responses to Why I Am Not a Patriot

  1. K P says:

    Though I cannot express myself as eloquently as you, I admit I very strongly agree with your point of view, have felt that way as long as I can remember, and for years growing up often questioned what was the matter with me, only to conclude years later that my beliefs were not the problem. I understand after years of introspection… not getting along with others, not being able to hold a job, and continually asking myself, “How can everybody be so fucking stupid?” I’ve come to a couple of simple conclusions. Number one… I admit I have a chip on my shoulder, it’s caused me problems at times in my life; number two… people really ARE that fucking stupid.

    From a very early age I never understood why people were so proud of this country. Though I had teachers tell me to be proud, I could never understand why. When teachers asked me to repeat “one nation under God” I refused. I didn’t believe in God, I thought God was tied in with all the military bullshit somehow, and I refused to buy into the idea that “dying for your country” was honorable… or smart. If I told anybody that, I probably would have been called a coward. When I heard in 1966 that Phil B. would only politely stand during the POA with his hands at his sides, that sounded about right to me. I’ve followed his example since. I learned while growing up to NOT express my feelings, or ask questions about “patriotism” because it got people riled the same way it got them riled with religious questions. The taboo against admitting who you are extended from religion to patriotism. Over the past few years I’ve read some of those textbooks I never read in high school to try to get a better overall understanding. I’ve also read Howard Zinn and a few others. A cranky old liberal at Seattle Tennis Club gave me a reading list, including history, a book about sociopaths, “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” and more. I read all of it. Just for good measure, I threw in a book about polytheism. All this has done is to reinforce my beliefs. This is NOT a good country, we are NOT good to others, and we are NOT worthy of respect. We treat our neighbors poorly… we are the neighborhood bully. We do this at great expense and we do more harm than good to others, and to ourselves. To make matters worse, we brainwash our children in a crappy public education system to believe all the crap written in “Lone Star” editions of history texts, that the United States has been the Lone Ranger, stepping in to win every war they’ve ever fought and once again preserve liberty for all. We’re the good guys! Hardly…

    Just before the start of the Bush/Iraq war I made a comment on my travel radio show that I hoped we would not be going to war, and that this whole thing seemed wrong and was going to effect all of us badly. Within 3 hours I had a rack of e-mails including threats, people who said they would never do business with me again (all but one of them had never done business with me prior…), and accusations of me being Un-American. You probably remember our leader telling us “Either you are with us, or you are against us!” I remember being shocked, disappointed, and WORSE hearing that from the “leader” of a “free” country. It looked to me to be the beginning of VERY bad times, which could soon graduate to internment camps, rampant racism, and armed military guarding our airports and train stations patting us down and arresting us if we had as much as a dangerous looking toothpick like those little plastic ones in Swiss Army knives. Well… GEE !!! I’m sure glad that none of this has come to pass! I guess I was WRONG!!! Oh…. I guess I’m NOT wrong. Under one guise or another, including tens of thousands of new government working for “Homeland Security” in one form or another, it’s ALL happened. BABIES are being “wanded” at airports, while nut cases who are deemed to be “true patriots” openly post gun sights aimed at congresswomen on their Facebook pages. None of it makes a whit of sense, but it’s DEFINITELY not something of which to be “proud”.

    Like you, I have some “affection” for the landscape. Despite being “raised” there by abusive drunks, I still even have a little affection for the area where YOU live, even more for the Black Hills, though I admit I’m getting tired of the rain in Seattle. I have no idea why people who believe in protecting the landscape are considered to be “crazy fuckin’ liberals” while people who believe in sucking the environment dry and killing everyone who is not “like them” are praised as “patriots” who are worthy of special recognition, not to mention DISCOUNTS when they buy shit. In my mind, the true patriots protect the landscape and advocate protecting each other, regardless of borders.

    I’ve seen a few of your recent comments about the “gun” stuff. It’s not that I agree or disagree, it’s just that “I don’t think we’re going to get there in this lifetime!” Here’s how I explained it to my wife: “If you asked all those founding fathers, who we all know were CHRISTIANS, if they really intended for “Free Speech” to mean INFLAMMATORY HATE SPEECH, and for the 2nd amendment to mean, “Everyone has the right to have NUKES in their basement, they probably would say ‘Jesus Fucking Christ NO! That’s not what we meant!'” In short, I guess I agree with you, but I think we’re all getting old… let’s enjoy the rest of the time we have and leave this problem to the next few generations, and HOPE that human thought evolves enough to resolve the issue without destroying the planet. I’ve been criticized for not taking an active role in the discussion and a stand one way or the other. Frankly… I’d rather spend my time learning Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms… one measure at at time. I guess I’m pretty selfish in that regard. Even though I may NEVER approach your level as a musician, I believe the only truth is MUSIC. My wife was a little shocked years ago when she was describing our retirement… “We can go somewhere where it’s warm, we’ll have a condo, and you won’t have to have a grand piano and you won’t have to play every day.” I explained, “You don’t get it. When I retire it’s to do this MORE, and… I hope I have a nine-foot Steinway!” Fortunately, she knows me better now, and she understands. I think.

    Years ago, I remember a friend going through great lengths to file as a Conscientious Objector to “avoid” the military. I remember thinking that he probably was 4F anyway, or was certainly smart enough to avoid the whole thing without all the paperwork. But I also remember thinking that he had reasons for doing it “his way” that I was not intelligent enough to discuss with him. A few years later I decided he did the CO thing to disrupt the draft board… to clog the system. That certainly makes sense to me, so when I re-tell the story (as I have, many times) I relate to people that I know someone who had these convictions at a much earlier age than I, and he had the guts to actually do something about it. I tell them that I had a vague idea this was all wrong even back then, but I’m SURE today, but Jim Aikin had convictions by the time he was 18. I’m sure there’s a lot more to the story… you probably had parents who allowed you either the space or the support, for instance… something I never had. If you’d ever like to share the whole story, you’ll at least have an audience of one. Though there has been a huge gap in time, I admired you back in the 60’s, and admire you AGAIN in the next millennium just from the brief snippets. You have the guts to admit who you are, you can take the heat, and you display at least a reasonable amount of humility.

    • namekuseijin says:

      nice reading by both of you, old men.

      Still, unfortunately we are living in Worldwide Idiocracy. It’s just as idiotic and unreasonable as in other parts of the world, which means there’s really no reason for patriotism other than to protect frontiers from leaking money.

      Idiocracy is also why people brainlessly consume junk food, funny little and shallow flash games and listen to noise instead of healthy food, interactive fiction or Beethoven.

  2. namekuseijin says:

    yes, atheists and their lack of belief in anything will never be as succesful as faith-driven people. You believe in nothing, you feel like you have no goal in life. Even in giving life: atheists have far less kids if at all when compared to religious people who obey God and His command to populate the Earth.

    Ironically enough, religious people have a far better darwinian evolutionary prospect than atheists. :p They spread and atheists mingle…

    and you know, nationalism is just religion too, only God is a place.

    • midiguru says:

      Good point about the close ties between nationalism and religion.

      It’s not quite true to say that atheists “lack … belief in anything.” Most atheists would cheerfully affirm the value of the scientific method. What we don’t believe is specifically the stuff for which there is no credible scientific evidence.

    • kamugisha says:

      u know it depends on wat u want in life…who said atheists feel like they have no goal in life? thereis a big difference between one having a goal and life itself having one.
      funny bit is when he get so concerned with popuating the”world,” he takes little time to realise that the resourses will soon get scarse

  3. kamugisha says:

    “yes, atheists and their lack of belief in anything will never be as succesful as faith-driven people. You believe in nothing, you feel like you have no goal in life. Even in giving life: atheists have far less kids if at all when compared to religious people who obey God and His command to populate the Earth.
    Ironically enough, religious people have a far better darwinian evolutionary prospect than atheists. :p They spread and atheists mingle…
    and you know, nationalism is just religion too, only God is a place.” funny

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