Patriotism - Ain’t Good For Much

February 21st, 2006 by Andy in Viewer Commentary & Response

Comments posted by a USTV viewer in response to our program on the question of “What Is Patriotism?” (USTV List of Programs)

I’d say patriotism, if it is something that must be talked about and affirmed, does no good whatsoever.

The various dictionary definitions of patriotism are about what you would expect.

patriotism: love for or devotion to one’s country

The real question is, what is patriotism good for? What does it do? Some optimists will say patriotism inspires them to improve their country, to make it more liberal, kinder and gentler, or whatever. But while they may define it that way personally, as linguists would say that’s a prescriptive definition, i.e. wishful thinking.

I submit that the descriptive definition, meaning the way people generally understand it, is that you love your country as is. Patriotism says “we are separate from other countries, and we are better.” Nobody waves the flag to say “It’s a small, round world, and everyone is equal.” And this patriotism only does one thing: inspire people to war. (And I suppose also to root for our team at the Olympics, which were invented by the Greeks as a surrogate for war.)

If we are invaded, as opposed to being the aggressor, then Americans will see their way of life as better than the invaders’, and they will fight to remain a separate nation. But that sort of patriotism comes naturally. It does not need pep talks. When patriotism comes to you as a pressure from others, it is corrupt. Kings and Presidents throughout history have needed some powerful psychology to convince people to die horrible deaths for petty causes. I can think of several flavors: fear, hatred, duty, honor, glory, and patriotism. Rubbish, all.

So when I hear it suggested that it is my patriotic duty not to question the government when it decides we are at war, I don’t disagree. Yes, that IS patriotic, but it’s not democratic, and it’s not wise. I would even say it’s un-American, as a personality trait. If Americans are proud of one thing, I always thought it was individualism, and patriotism is inherently collective. The typical American, I would have guessed, is happy to be free but a little embarrassed by patriotism.

Incidentally, the Merriam-Webster definition of ‘patriot’ is a little more interesting.

patriot: one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests

That’s quite a bit closer to the John Ashcroft definition, the one appropriate to the Patriot Act.

Any one else have a take on this?

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