Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Equivocality of Patriotism

This ridiculous hoopla over the patriotism of Barack and Michelle Obama is sophomoric. It is imbecilic to believe that if one does not wear the flag on their sleeve that it is an indication of their unpatriotic character. Americans, in general, fall prey to media hype for ratings, and political obfuscated rhetorical hyperbole over most issues, including patriotism. As a result America’s leadership and the fourth estate do our country a very grave disservice. They are not “straight shooters.”

Does wearing a flag lapel pin make one a patriot? Does driving a gas- guzzling vehicle around with the flag on the antenna make one a patriot? Does whether one salutes the flag or not make one a patriot? Does saying one is not proud to be an American make one unpatriotic? Does military service or if one is a war veteran make one more patriotic than others? Does not honoring “my country right or wrong” make one unpatriotic? Does a desire to bring troops home from an illegal, immoral, and misguided war, declaring those who do as not supporting our troops, unpatriotic?

The answer is of course not.

Patriotic equivocality is heightened and apparent when we are at war; when there is a political event or an election; when it is Memorial Day or the 4th of July; and when we connect our particular faith with patriotism. Patriotic fervor is particularly at its apex when all of these come together.

The differences in interpretation of patriotism coalesce into two distinctly different mindsets, and can be metaphorically represented by those who think the “Star-Spangled Banner” is more appropriate for America than “America the Beautiful.”

Patriotism is not authentically represented in idolatry or by object value. Patriotism is not being a follower who blindly acquiesces to a nation’s leadership, for that takes the form of Nazism. Patriotism is defined simply as love and devotion to one’s country. Without it being kept in check it can represent good as well as evil. The only way one will ever know whether or not one is a patriot would be to have the ability to read the mind of that individual.

Love and devotion for one’s country must be expressed by telling the country that they are wrong when they are wrong, as much as telling the country that they are right when they are right. The problem is in being able to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong, for this duality can be nebulous. Sometimes distinguishing between right and wrong is easy and sometimes it is not. However, whatever side of a perceived right or wrong one is on should not be a litmus test for one’s patriotism.

That being said however, wrong is always wrong when human action is not concerned with fulfillment, growth, creativity for both the individual and humankind in general; when it does not pursue objective truth with the understanding that new knowledge and experience constantly alter our imperfect perception of it; when it does not have concern for this life and a commitment to making it meaningful through better understanding of ourselves, our history, our intellectual and artistic achievements, and the outlooks of those who differ from us; when it does not search for viable individual, social and political principles of ethical conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility; when it does not concern a conviction that with reason, an open exchange of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children; and, It is always wrong, inarguably so, when the result of human action causes harm to any life, society, culture, or environment.

“The worst patriots are those who hold certainty dearer than truth, who, in order to spare themselves the pain of thought, are willing to inflict untold sufferings on others. Adolf Eichmann comes to mind.

But if uncritical lovers of their country are the most dangerous of patriots, loveless critics are hardly the best. If you love the good you have to hate evil, else you're sentimental; but if you hate evil more than you love the good, you're a good hater.

Surely the best patriots are those who carry on not a grudge fight but a lover's quarrel with their country. And the main burden of their quarrel in today's and tomorrow's world must be to persuade their fellow citizens that the planet itself is now at risk, and in an order of magnitude never previously even imagined. Hence, everyone's security depends on everyone else's. No one is safe until all are safe.

The ancient Roman Tacitus defined patriotism as entering into praiseworthy competition with our ancestors. I think we should enter into praiseworthy competition with Washington and Jefferson. As they declared their independence from England, let us declare our interdependence with all countries. Beyond saluting the flag, let us pledge allegiance ‘to the earth, and to the flora, fauna and human life that it supports; one planet indivisible, with clean air, soil and water, liberty, justice and peace for all.’

Today our most relevant American patriot might well be Thoreau, who, a hundred years ago, said, ‘I am a citizen of the world first, and of this country at a later and more convenient hour.’”­
– William Sloane Coffin

“We must never relinquish our sense of justice for a false sense of national pride. ‘My country right or wrong’ is neither moral nor intelligent. Patriotism is support for the highest ideals of the nation, not for whoever happens to be in the White House. As citizens we must continue to fight for justice and equality so that we might make a better nation and a better world. We must give credence to our invitation: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’ for the character of our nation is rooted in the affirmation of those ideals for all of our people.’” - Jesse L. Jackson

The bottom line of patriotism is rather very simple: a patriot is one whose love and devotion to a country and its people are expressed and represented by an unselfish pursuit of life, liberty and justice for all people in consideration that “we are citizens of the world first.”

And in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.”