Doing things differently since 1984

Patriotism on the Rocks

As Independence Day / 4th of July rolls around for the 238th time, I am yet again faced with a serious social problem for an American to have:

I’m not patriotic.

Now, before anyone scrolls straight to the comments to blast offensive clichés at me, and before the FBI adds me to their watch list, give me a chance to explain myself.

1) I don’t hate America.  I was born here, I live here, and it’s got a lot going for it.  I’m not burning any flags.  What I don’t buy into is American exceptionalism, or the belief that this country is innately unique and superior to all other countries.   If I were to grade America, I’d probably give it a B-; not too shabby, but plenty of room for improvement.  If you were a teacher, would you swell up with pride at the sight of your B- student?  That’s about how I feel about this country.

American Exceptionalism

American Exceptionalism

2) I do hate ignorance.  I am NOT saying that all patriotic people are ignorant (that in itself would be an ignorant statement).  However, far too often I’ve seen patriotism taken as an excuse for ignorance.  You know, take a terrible idea, slap a flag on it, and BAM!  Anyone who hates this idea is spitting on the graves of American soldiers.  I will be proud of my country when it does something great; I will be ashamed of my country when it does something not-so-great.  Just because my country did it does not make it great.

pledge3) The Pledge of Allegiance creeps me out.   For most of my life, I assumed that every country had its own version of the Pledge of Allegiance.  Guess what?  It’s just us.  And I just can’t shake the feeling of how weird and cult-like it is to make our kids to recite a chant (which is actually an oath, like what medieval soldiers would do to pledge their lives to their lords) every day.  My kids are 3 and 4, and can already recite parts of it for me.  3 and 4 year olds should not be chanting oaths, guys!  It is blatant indoctrination and it is CREEPY.

4) But what about the soldiers who have given their lives for our freedom?  Any time anyone speaks out against patriotism, this is the default rebuttal.  I want to tread carefully here, because I honestly mean no disrespect.  I sincerely appreciate the sacrifices of soldiers and their families that have made our lives possible.  I also sincerely appreciate the sacrifices of truckers, emergency personnel, intelligence agents, farmers, fishermen, activists, and many others who suffer more casualties but get far less attention because they don’t keep a flag with them as they carry out their difficult and underpaid jobs that make my relatively comfortable life possible.  All of these workers deserve our respect, but they are better respected as individuals than as pawns in political wargames.

SOURCE: icasualties.org


SOURCE: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

So, there you have it.  By all means, be proud of whatever country you come from, because it’s part of who you are.  March in parades, have a picnic with friends and family, watch explosives make colorful patterns in the sky.  But please don’t let this pride turn into egotism.  Keep your brain turned on.




9 comments on “Patriotism on the Rocks

  1. Lucas
    July 2, 2014

    Excellent post. With Canada Day just having past, I tend to share your concerns with patriotism (although thankfully we don’t have to make any flag pledges here). Too often such feelings are manipulated for the purposes of exploitation and exclusion. I like to think that my ideas of “patriotism” are more along these lines: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHQr718i6tk

    • abtwixt
      July 2, 2014

      Many thanks for the comment and the link — yes, I think the overall theme fits pretty well. I must say that it says a lot that a Canadian (you) sent the link for a British band, whose song was put to fairly German-centered images. It just goes to show that whilst the details may change, the issue is not entirely unique to America.

  2. figtree23
    July 2, 2014

    You should read James Clavell’s “Children’s Story”. He write about exactly your point. As an outsider, I have never understood supposed American Exceptionalism. In fact, I don’t understand any country claiming exceptionalism. If your country was fortunate enough to have arable land across a large percentage and that arable land was inhabited by indigenous people who you were able to dispossess and your country was a short boat ride from Europe that was going through significant emigration for a great length of time, that is ‘fortunate’, not exceptional.
    I think Lucas has nailed in above. Patriotism, apart from being the large refuge of the scoundrel, is just a tool used to manipulate people and exploit their insecurities. America is a great place, as are many countries in the world. There is no need to go overboard however. There is nothing exceptional about the many metrics in which it does not lead the world.
    Equally, there is nothing exceptional about my own country with respect to the rest of the world. Having said all the above, celebrating independence is a wonderful thing, so have a great Independence Day Abtwixt!

    • abtwixt
      July 3, 2014

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I think you too hit the nail on the head when you stated that patriotism can be just a tool used to manipulate people and exploit their insecurities… historically, all the way up to present day, this has been done many times, though in Americans schools these are called “nationalist” rather than “patriotic” movements (because we can’t call the Nazis patriots, now can we?).

      None of this is to say that patriotism (or nationalism) is inherently bad, but much like religion or any other passion-inducing belief it is a tool too powerful to be wielded by those who wield it.

      All these things aside, I intend to enjoy my July 4th, so thank you!

  3. gingerfightback
    July 3, 2014

    The very freedoms to write this are the key here. Flag wrapping et al is a distraction useful to blind people

    • abtwixt
      July 3, 2014

      Absolutely – the very fact that I have the freedom to write such things factors into this country’s B- (which, honestly, isn’t that bad a grade). However, we kind of like to claim that we invented freedom of speech, as if the very concept wouldn’t exist in the world had we not blazed the path….. this is a “fact” actually taught in American schools…. thus, this country’s positive points hangs in balance with its negative ones. Which, to be sure, is also not exceptional to any other country.

  4. grammatteus
    October 16, 2014

    I concur with every remark you make here, though as a citizen of the UK, not the US. We don’t have a pledge of allegiance but all the other tactics of ‘patriots’ are used here in the same way. I was raised to be proud of the nation that was the central pin in the efforts to defeat the Nazis, and our returning heroes enacted the ‘post-war socialist dream’ that all people would have a country that honoured them, allowed them the right to earn a living wage, health care for all, education freely available for all our children, and care for old age provided, regardless of class or status.

    Now the neo-Nazis have taken over, there’s very little left to be proud of!

    I admire your constitution. It must be one of the greatest political works ever written. I just think the authors would now be spinning in their graves.

    Major political problem is that linguistically, different people read different things into the same statements and infer things never intended by the writers. Your second amendment is maybe the best example.

    • abtwixt
      October 16, 2014

      Thank you for your thoughts and added insight! I probably should have mentioned that I can’t think of a country that I would give above a B, or maybe B+ at best. I am generally extremely wary of ANY form of unquestioning loyalty — because of the “unquestioning” part rather than the “loyalty” part.

      The Constitution is indeed remarkable, but I think problems arise when one sees it as a static document rather than the “living” document it was intended to be. Many of the Founding Fathers would have rolled in their graves when non-landowning citizens were given the right to vote, much less blacks and women. They weren’t perfect, and they were limited to their then-present worldview, as we all are. But they were clever enough to realize this and set up the Constitution as a constant work-in-progress. Thus, reading the Constitution as immutable law does it more disrespect than honor.

      And yes, the second amendment is a great example of this! The 3rd (stating that no one is required to let soldiers stay at their house) is comparably outdated, in my opinion.

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