Gymno

succumbing to peer pressure

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Patriotism

Sid and I differ in many of our beliefs (providing fodder for many a satisfying debate), but one thing we have in common is that we're two of the most patriotic people I know. You might not suspect that about us; I, for one, am often sort of quiet about my patriotism. I have a hard time these days untangling my kind of patriotism from the flag-pin-on-the-lapel variety.

I'd been thinking about this, but Sid got the ball rolling today with his lovely post:
Proclaiming "all men to be equal" endowed with "certain inalienable rights". Arguing that a government was supposed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people, extending no farther than was necessary than to promote each individual a safe and equal chance to pursue their own happiness and prosperity. That's some amazing stuff. So, its nice to take a day to reflect on those values, those ideas, the -intent- of the Founding Father's to establish a republic that wasn't abusive or nepotistic or fascist in its power or structure.

It's been a bad eight years for the country, but those values are powerful, and I think in the end they'll prevail. In the meantime, I'll be using my vote and my (still free) voice to do what I can to atone.
Then I continued the theme of the day with Brooke's beautiful pictures from his cross-country trip, and disturbing experience of "a major league patriotic cluster fuck the likes of which you will never see again in real life." (the park ranger at Mount Rushmore listed the "... two most prominent milestones in American History: the moon landing, and the 9/11 attacks," and then screened a video including the gem “and thus began a series of events that eventually led to a significant reduction in the population of the Native people.”)

Followed up by Andrew Sullivan's reminder that a favorite criticism of conservatives seems to be accusations of being un-American (and not just un-American, but a Commie!):

"I have said publicly, and I will again, that unless he proves me wrong, he is a Marxist," - Tom DeLay, 2008.

"And did the Obama rally begin with the Soviet National Anthem?" - Hugh Hewitt, 2008.

"My occasion for spending a little time once again with the old Communist was Barack Obama’s now-famous comment at an April 6 San Francisco fund-raiser," - Bill Kristol, 2008.

"King's view of American society was thus not fundamentally different from that of the CPUSA or of other Marxists. While he is generally remembered today as the pioneer for civil rights for blacks and as the architect of non-violent techniques of dissent and political agitation, his hostility to and hatred for America should be made clear. While there is no evidence that King was a member of the Communist Party, his associations with persons close to the Party, his cooperation with and assistance for groups controlled or influenced by the Party, his efforts to disguise these relationships from public view and from his political allies in the Kennedy Administration, and his views of American society and foreign policy all suggest that King may have had an explicit but clandestine relationship with the Communist Party or its agents to promote through his own stature, not the civil rights of blacks or social justice and progress, but the totalitarian goals and ideology of Communism. While there is no evidence to demonstrate this speculation, it is not improbable that such a relationship existed," -Jesse Helms, 1983.


Patriotism had been on my mind anyway, and not just because of our recent birthday. A colleague and I were recently discussing some of my research and future plans and this of course involved a discussion of human rights. This colleague and I are pretty far apart on the socio-political spectrum, but he asked for some more information on human rights and I was only too happy to loan him my copy of 25+ Human Rights Documents. A few days later he returned the book, was much appreciative, and said he was sort of surprised to discover how similar my values were to his, and how (shockingly) American they seemed! And I got to wondering how is it that I have ended up in a place where I'm not afraid to use the S word to describe myself (socialist) and yet somehow shy away from calling myself a patriot? How have I allowed all those "you're with us or against us" easy patriotism bull-shitters to co-opt my word? And when do I get to be offended at others' failure to be patriotic? When can I use that as an insult? Because if you ask me, stomping on privacy and civil liberties is pretty fucking un-American.

Being a patriot is hard. And it should be! It is, by definition, heart breaking. Because it means you love an idea of a country that is so lofty as to be almost guaranteed to be unattainable. We are, after all, a country of humans, and will inevitably be corrupt and greedy and imperfect in a million large and small ways. But as Sid said, that idea of a country is pretty damn amazing. And everyday I do find reasons why I love it here and why I'm proud to be from here. But everyday I also find faults and things that need to be fixed and improved. Should patriotism really mean turning a blind eye to our mistakes? Should it really mean believing that we never do wrong? I think it should mean taking responsibility for the good and the bad, owning the government that I elected. I may not have voted for all of them, but I am a part of the society and system that chose them. And if I want that society and system to improve in ways that are important to me, isn't that because I love my country? And want better for her and believe that she deserves better, that she can be better? If I settled for this, would that be honoring the idea of my country?

I don't often wear my patriotism on the outside (though I do confess to a pretty dorky red-white-and-blue outfit at the baseball game this past Friday). But the Declaration of Independence gets me all choked up. Walking around the monuments in DC at night, when it's almost quiet, feels pretty close to religion. And I experience a full range of emotions with regard to actions my country takes - happiness, pride, excitement, anger, disappointment, and yes, shame. Because that's what loving your country means. At least to me.

2 Comments:

Blogger Sudiptya said...

I'm glad you liked the post. The fact that you -get- it is, of course, one of the major reasons I adore you... but it doesn't do much good to link to a locked entry. Though, I suppose, anyone who wants to read it can just comment elsewhere and I'll add them to the readers' list...

(BTW, you have no idea how much joy it brings me to hear you think of yourself in terms of socialism...)

~Sid

11:36 PM  
Blogger Ben Ostrowsky said...

My reaction to "MLK was kinda Commie" was the same as my reaction to "Well, if the gays should be allowed to marry, then we should allow polyamorists to marry several people".

That reaction is: "YES! Preach on, brother!" I don't care that the gay-poly argument was intended to be an implicit modus tollens.

To paraphrase Rebecca West, I only know that people call me a socialist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate poor people from a doormat.

5:40 AM  

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