Independence Day is behind us, but I’m still thinking about patriotism. Perhaps given the circumstances of my life that’s hardly surprising. In this country we expend plenty of energy debating what constitutes patriotism, but precious little time discussing its efficacy.
Liberals and conservatives argue over whose perspective is more patriotic. Right-wingers are champions of the “my country right or wrong” line of thought. On the other hand, some on the left are critical of our many wars, but argue that it is more patriotic to correct their country’s mistakes. In other words, it is more patriotic to engage in protests when you disagree with your nation’s policies than to obey blindly.
But both sides apparently presume that it is better to be more patriotic. This attitude doesn’t address what I believe are more basic questions. Why should we be patriotic, and is patriotism a good thing?
Children are taught from elementary school that they should love their country. They learn that their nation is an extension of their family, their friends and their community. They are taught that the highest form of patriotism is military service, and that the most heroic thing they can do is to die for their country. Conversely, it is a given that betraying your nation is a great evil. When foreign nationals become American citizens they must renounce all allegiance to “a foreign prince.” Patriotism equals loyalty and placing your nation ahead of all others. Those who are unpatriotic are charged with hating their country and/or adhering to another.
But if someone refuses to place their country above all others does it necessarily follow that they are transferring their allegiance? This ignores another possibility. What if you reject the idea of being patriotic because you refuse to place any group of people above another? What if such sentiments indicate the expansion of your love to all of humanity or the Earth as a whole rather than proof that you don’t love your country? What if instead of betrayal, such attitudes reflect enhanced loyalty? Perhaps a more global devotion is what the modern world requires of us.
In fact, what if our survival hinges upon this new-fangled concept of loyalty? If the world is headed toward ecological disaster and militaries (with our own far in the lead) are the Earth’s biggest polluters, then aren’t people in all nations who support their war machines betraying all of humanity in the name of patriotism? If we face a global crisis that commands a response of planetary proportions, then don’t we need worldwide solutions that render nation-states obsolete?
I know I’m not the only person who thinks this way, but it is very hard to find any public discourse along these lines, or hear a peep about this subject in the media. We need more people to consider this concept, but that won’t happen if we don’t raise these issues. So this year I’m taking a post-Fourth of July vow to raise these questions more often between now and the next Independence Day holiday, and I hope at least some of you will join me.
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