Creative Destruction

June 17, 2006

“I don’t see why people care about patriotism.”

Filed under: Philosophy,Popular Culture,War — Robert @ 1:24 pm

""The entire country may disagree with me, but I don't understand the necessity for patriotism. Why do you have to be a patriot? About what? This land is our land? Why? You can like where you live and like your life, but as for loving the whole country… I don't see why people care about patriotism."

– Dixie Chick Natalie Maine, as reported in the Telegraph.

"We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and then bid the geldings to be fruitful."

C.S. Lewis

Advertisements

25 Comments »

  1. “Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.”
    George Bernard Shaw –A, perhaps, more enlightened English Writer–

    Comment by Peter Van Valkenburgh — June 18, 2006 @ 12:37 am | Reply

  2. Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.
    Oscar Wilde –another–

    Comment by Peter Van Valkenburgh — June 18, 2006 @ 12:39 am | Reply

  3. “The soul and substance of what customarily ranks as patriotism is moral cowardice — and always has been.” —Mark Twain –(to be fair) a more enlightened American artist–

    Comment by Peter Van Valkenburgh — June 18, 2006 @ 12:42 am | Reply

  4. Why patriotism? is a very good question to raise, and the quotes above indicate that perhaps it isn’t quite the obvious, unstated assumption it’s often perceived to be. Further, there is a lot in American culture, politics, and history about which to be ashamed.

    Were I an expatriate at some stage in life and had a useful point of comparison, it would be far easier to wax nostalgic over the good elements of living in American that aren’t necessarily present abroad. Regrettably, I haven’t had that experience. Travel doesn’t accomplish the same level of familiarity.

    I’ve often thought that patriotism is a mere accident of birth. Will the Pitt-Jolie kids be patriotic Americans (having American parents) or patriotic Namibians (at least the one having been born there)? I suspect that we cathect with the place we most closely regard as the home of our childhoods, despite where we might have been born. If one moves around a lot, there may develop no sense of home.

    The best reason for patriotism (that I’ve found, anyway) is that each country has an interest in fostering a cohesive national culture (which is different from nationalism). Citizens are socialized as children and sometimes adults within the context of a country’s culture and value system, and a sense of patriotic duty to contribute to the culture is often instilled. In the U.S., our culture is unique (but becoming less so) because almost all of us (or our forebears) came from somewhere else and brought aspects of different cultures that were subsumed into American culture. That’s what makes American culture — such as it is constituted at any given point in time — an unusually diverse and pluralistic one, which is frequently revealed as a strength and sometimes a weakness.

    Comment by Brutus — June 18, 2006 @ 10:46 am | Reply

  5. I have a totally honest, really non-snarky, but Asperguesque question: Why is patriotism supposed to be a good thing? Is it good only if one is born in a “good” country? Just wondering. It’s one of those things I really never understood. I was born in the US, which seems to me to be a decent enough country, with some good points and some bad points, but nothing that makes it really all that much better or worse than a number of other countries. Why should I value the lives, health, wealth, whatever of people in the US more than that of people elsewhere just because I was born here?

    Comment by Dianne — June 19, 2006 @ 3:21 pm | Reply

  6. Why should I value the lives, health, wealth, whatever of people in the US more than that of people elsewhere just because I was born here?

    So that we will value yours similarly.

    Comment by Robert — June 19, 2006 @ 4:20 pm | Reply

  7. But couldn’t that also be an argument for Dianne’s perspective? After all, perhaps we should all value the lives, healths, whatever of people all over the world just as much as we value those of people born in this country. That way, perhaps more people around the world would value ours similarly.

    In any case, if your best defense of patriotism is raw self-interest, I don’t think that’s very morally compelling.

    Comment by Ampersand — June 19, 2006 @ 4:25 pm | Reply

  8. So that we will value yours similarly.

    Why should you value mine over that of any other random stranger’s?

    Comment by Dianne — June 19, 2006 @ 4:29 pm | Reply

  9. Why should you value mine over that of any other random stranger’s?

    I don’t.

    But I value yours over that of some random person who isn’t an American.

    Do you really not understand the reason why? Hint: it has something to do with the fact that when your neighbor’s house catches on fire, you run over with the hose and blankets and help him or her, whereas when someone’s house in Australia catches fire, you don’t give a damn.

    Comment by Robert — June 19, 2006 @ 4:32 pm | Reply

  10. After all, perhaps we should all value the lives, healths, whatever of people all over the world just as much as we value those of people born in this country.

    It would be nice if we could.

    However, it isn’t biologically possible. We’re not built that way.

    Comment by Robert — June 19, 2006 @ 4:33 pm | Reply

  11. Frankly, I don’t care more about what happens to some stranger I never met in Indiana than I do about some stranger I never met in India. So clearly it is “biologically possible.”

    Hint: it has something to do with the fact that when your neighbor’s house catches on fire, you run over with the hose and blankets and help him or her, whereas when someone’s house in Australia catches fire, you don’t give a damn.

    The relevant comparison isn’t my neighbor versus someone in Australia, but someone in the US but a thousand miles away from me, versus an otherwise similar someone in Australia.

    Comment by Ampersand — June 19, 2006 @ 4:37 pm | Reply

  12. Frankly, I don’t care more about what happens to some stranger I never met in Indiana than I do about some stranger I never met in India. So clearly it is “biologically possible.”

    I doubt your self-report. (You’re not lying – you just aren’t right.)

    If you care equally about a stranger in Indiana and a stranger in India, it seems odd that so much of your intellectual work, your blog reporting, and your political activism is squarely aimed at the former, and ignores the latter.

    There are three times as many Indians as there are Americans. English-language material about India is widely available. Feminism is a hugely important topic in India.

    So you COULD write about feminism in India instead of feminism in America – but you don’t, mostly. Because, at bottom, you feel a commonality with women in Indiana that you don’t feel with women in Bangalore. You care about them more. They’re more relevant to your life.

    You may argue that you just don’t know as much about conditions in India – but that in itself is a proxy for caring. Given freedom and resources, both of which you have, you know about what you care about. You know a lot about feminism in America, a lot about issues in Israel, a lot about cartooning and the history of comics, and so on. You know a little about feminism in India – because you care about it, a little bit.

    Just not as much as you care about it in Indiana.

    Comment by Robert — June 19, 2006 @ 4:50 pm | Reply

  13. The relevant comparison isn’t my neighbor versus someone in Australia, but someone in the US but a thousand miles away from me, versus an otherwise similar someone in Australia.

    True.

    Given much for typhoon relief in Australia lately? How about for Katrina?

    We care more about people the more like us they seem; nationality is a big chunk of our perception of “like us”.

    Comment by Robert — June 19, 2006 @ 4:52 pm | Reply

  14. I tend to give to disaster relief based on four factors – how much the media is keeping the disaster in my face, how much money I have, how convenient it is to give, and how much I’m plugged in to the media at the time.

    I did give money to Katrina relief, but I’ve also given in response to disasters abroad (I think we gave more to help the Tsunami in Southeast Asia).

    Comment by Ampersand — June 19, 2006 @ 5:21 pm | Reply

  15. Given much for typhoon relief in Australia lately? How about for Katrina?

    As it happens, I gave exactly the same amount for Katarina relief as for tsunami relief.

    Comment by Dianne — June 19, 2006 @ 6:58 pm | Reply

  16. So you COULD write about feminism in India instead of feminism in America – but you don’t, mostly. Because, at bottom, you feel a commonality with women in Indiana that you don’t feel with women in Bangalore. You care about them more. They’re more relevant to your life.

    I can’t speak for amp, but the reason I spend more time thinking about and working towards feminism in the US than in India is twofold. One, I have the belief, possibly illusory, that I understand US culture whereas I know next to nothing about Indian culture. Therefore, I am in a much better position to try to influence US culture than Indian culture and have a better idea of what different attempts to chance the culture will do/mean to people. To use the house on fire analogy, I would make an attempt to put out a fire next door whereas I’d simply ignore one in Australia because I would have no chance of getting to Australia in time to do anything about it. Similarly, as an American voter, I have a better chance of influencing lawmakers in the US to make legal changes I think would be good than of influencing Indian lawmakers. Two, as a citizen of the US, I have a better right to attempt to change laws and social standards in the US than in India. Neither argument implies that I think people in India are any less important than those in Indiana, just that I think I have a better chance of making positive changes in Indiana and a better right to try.

    However, in principle, these arguments about whether people tend to feel more positively about their neighbors (tribe, country, etc) are a bit of a red herring. If I understand your argument correctly, you are saying that people should care more about their neighbors (fellow tribespeople, etc.) than other people. Again, why? Why is it more honorable to be patriotic?

    Comment by Dianne — June 19, 2006 @ 8:32 pm | Reply

  17. Two, as a citizen of the US, I have a better right to attempt to change laws and social standards in the US than in India.

    Why? In one case, 99.99999967% of the people who will get/have to live with the consequences of that change aren’t you, and in another case, 100% aren’t. Does it really make that much difference?

    That said, I’m with Ampersand on this one. I don’t care about Americans I don’t know any more than I care about Indians I don’t know. Insofar as I’m more concerned with change (the good kind, not the lefty kind) in the US than with change abroad, it’s because I care more about myself and the people I do know (some of them, anyway) than I do about people I don’t know.

    Comment by Brandon Berg — June 19, 2006 @ 9:14 pm | Reply

  18. Why is it more honorable to be patriotic?

    Amp complains that my reasoning is too pragmatic, but that’s where I come down, I’m afraid.

    It’s more honorable to be patriotic because countries where people aren’t go down the tubes. If the unique institutions of American life don’t stir you to loyalty on some level, then those institutions will be easily taken away from you.

    Comment by Robert — June 19, 2006 @ 10:26 pm | Reply

  19. It’s more honorable to be patriotic because countries where people aren’t go down the tubes.

    This may end up being one of these arguments about terms, in which case it’s probably hopeless, but I’m not sure how honor comes into it if the argument for patriotism is essentially one of self-interest: if you aren’t patriotic then your country might fail. Since this would be something between a nuisance and a tragedy for most anyone in any given country, it is a reasonable argument for patriotism, but I’m still not sure where the question of honor comes in. (I suppose one could claim that patriotism involves a limited form of altruism, and a possible sacrifice of personal interests for national interests, but if you’re going to go there why not go all the way and be interested in the interests of all humanity or the world or whatever?)

    If the unique institutions of American life don’t stir you to loyalty on some level, then those institutions will be easily taken away from you.

    One can feel quite strongly about the institutions without feeling particularly strongly about the country. Truthfully, I’m much more attached to the Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights (except maybe the second amendment) than the US per se. So, if, for example, the US underwent a schism and separated into “redland” and “blueland”, I’d move to (or stay in) the one that continued to guarentee the most civil rights, even if it turned out to be the one that didn’t keep the name USA. (Incidently, which institutions are unique to the US?)

    Comment by Dianne — June 20, 2006 @ 1:37 pm | Reply

  20. “Honor” was a bad word choice; I should have selected a different term. “Pragmatically survivable”, how’s that.

    All of our institutions are unique to our country. Institutions aren’t a set of formal rules, articulated and generalizable to any other nation; they emerge organically from the rules, the personalities of the people partaking in them, their history, the culture and traditions they are surrounded by, etc.

    Comment by Robert — June 20, 2006 @ 2:40 pm | Reply

  21. Amp complains that my reasoning is too pragmatic, but that’s where I come down, I’m afraid.

    It’s more honorable to be patriotic because countries where people aren’t go down the tubes. If the unique institutions of American life don’t stir you to loyalty on some level, then those institutions will be easily taken away from you.

    Just to be clear, are you saying that people should be loyal to their nation (regardless of the qualities of the nation)? Or are you saying that people should be loyal to American institutions (even if they are not Americans)?

    This is a timely discussion as we approach the Fourth of July, the day the US celebrates a gang of people who jointly declared their betrayal of their country in order to form a new one.

    After all, perhaps we should all value the lives, healths, whatever of people all over the world just as much as we value those of people born in this country.

    It would be nice if we could.

    However, it isn’t biologically possible. We’re not built that way.

    Not biologically possible? Yet if we love only those who love us, what merit is there in that? Surely the Taliban do as much. And if we do good only to those who are good to us, what merit is there in that? Surely members of al Quida do as much.

    Much as I admire C.S. Lewis, I believe even Robert would recognize a greater authority on this question.

    Comment by nobody.really — July 2, 2006 @ 3:49 am | Reply

  22. I’m saying that Americans should be loyal to their own country. My country right or wrong; when wrong, to be set right, but nonetheless, my country.

    Yes, we have a spiritual duty to attempt to love everyone. But realistically, we do not expect that of everyone, or even of most folk, and we certainly can’t make policy on the basis of hoping that will change.

    Comment by Robert — July 2, 2006 @ 2:15 pm | Reply

  23. Yes, we have a spiritual duty to attempt to love everyone. But realistically, we do not expect that of everyone, or even of most folk, and we certainly can’t make policy on the basis of hoping that will change.

    A spiritual duty to attempt to love? Here C.S. Lewis may have something more to contribute. In his Four Loves, Lewis argues that the duty of agape does not involve emotion at all, but merely the will to seek the welfare of others. So unless you surrender the idea of free will to the idea of biological compulsion, I can’t see how you would conclude that the duty to love others is biologically constrained. Or, to quote another deep thinker, “Do, or do not; there is no ‘Try’.”

    Admittedly, I’m not betting the farm on the idea that the world will wholly embrace this philosophy any time soon, and I agree with developing public policies based on a contrary assumption.

    I’m saying that Americans should be loyal to their own country. My country right or wrong; when wrong, to be set right, but nonetheless, my country.

    Is American patriotism merely a redundant compilation of other virtues? Or is American patriotism a separate virtue to be embraced, potentially at the expense of other conflicting virtues – especially justice and meritocracy?

    More generally, I wrestle with the reputed virtue of loyalty. Against every natural impulse, I asked someone to marry me, and she said yes. It’s worked out surprisingly well. But the precise nature of the relationship between us is a matter of constant discussion. In particular, what duty do I have to promote her interests above other people’s interests, even when it runs counter to my own judgment?

    In E.M. Forester’s book Howard’s End, two sisters reject social convention and promote the interests of a poor family. One of the sisters, Margaret, eventually marries a wealthy man and hires the poor couple to manage their estate. Later the wealthy man is traumatized when it becomes known that he had an affair with the poor woman. Margaret betrays her prior values and sends the poor family away, not out of anger at the woman, but out of a desire to relieve her husband’s guilt and anguish. It is hard not to see the injustice of punishing a poor family for the mutual wrongdoing of the rich man and the poor woman – especially when comparing the very tangible hardship that will befall the poor family and the very ephemeral benefit that will accrue to the rich man. But I can’t help but affirm the priority that Margaret places on alleviating her husband’s distress. Clearly at some level I embrace the idea that spouses will promote each other’s interests, even at the expense of others.

    In other literary venues, I can’t avoid feeling jarred by Dilbert’s mom, who seems entirely objective and dispassionate about Dilbert’s trials and circumstances. Clearly at some level I embrace the idea that a mom should promote the interest of her kids, even at the expense of others.

    So why do I balk at the idea that a citizen should promote the interests of a fellow citizen at the expense of others?

    Comment by nobody.really — July 2, 2006 @ 10:35 pm | Reply

  24. So why do I balk at the idea that a citizen should promote the interests of a fellow citizen at the expense of others?

    Because you’re a filthy liberal. Duh!

    Comment by bobhayes — July 2, 2006 @ 10:38 pm | Reply

  25. Agreed.
    Patriotism has no tangible value and is therefore a barrier that exists between true human unity. I think that it would be best if we left it in the history books as a memory of more primitive times in human history.

    Comment by OurGlobalPotential — July 28, 2011 @ 6:54 am | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: