Unpatriotic

I closed yesterday’s post with an odd allusion that might not have made much sense in the context in which I put it, so I thought today I’d clarify.

You see, patriotism doesn’t make much sense to me, and here’s why:

First off, patriotism implies an allegiance to a country that either you were born into, or that you have moved to and chosen for yourself. Now, in the latter case, having an allegiance because of a conscious decision you’ve made makes some sense. You determined which country would be the best fit for yourself, and you’ve made considerable sacrifices in order to reside in or even to take up citizenship in that country.

But most people don’t make that conscious decision. They reside in the country they were born in. And though some may disagree with me, I will maintain for this argument that you don’t choose where you’re born.

So, then, what obligates your loyalty to a choice you don’t make? Let’s start by looking at who or what makes this all-important choice. And of all the theories and philosophies and theologies I can think of, it boils down to one of two options: Chance and Fate.

Let’s look at Chance first. This theory assumes that the place and time of your birth is left up to the randomness of the universe. And it’s hard to argue in favor of loyalty to sheer randomness. But, to make my point clearer, let’s look at just how random this chance is. It’s important to bear in mind that nation-states, as we understand them today, are very temporary things. I’m reminded of how my father always referred to “the great 48 states of the United States”. Now, I think my father was aware that there were 50 states when I was a child, but when he was a schoolboy, Alaska and Hawaii had not yet become states, and he could never get that early schooling out of his system. So it’s always been evident to me that what constitutes a nation-state changes over time. And, for a wonderful further proof of this phenomenon, check out this video:

If I had been born at a slightly different time (relative to the very long history of humanity), then my obligation, my loyalty, would suddenly change. So this idea of patriotism is a very impermanent thing.

But now, let’s argue that the time and place of my birth were not random, that some supernatural power (that here, to accommodate all the belief systems that share this claim, I call Fate) had foreordained the time and place of my birth with a specific purpose in mind. Then, suddenly, there’s purpose to the time and place of my birth, which would seem to justify a feeling of loyalty and patriotism. But wouldn’t this adoration be more properly directed to the Fate that put me here? The time and place would be secondary, in this equation.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s argue that this formula still obligates me to be patriotic to my country. If the time and place of my birth were foreordained, it stands to reason that this would be true of every single person who ever lived (because, gracious, there’s nothing particularly special about me). But then, that means that different people are born in different countries at different points of history were all put in their particular locations by this same Fate. And that would mean that every person was obligated to be loyal to whichever of the thousands of countries that have graced this planet over the milennia.

Now, here, I think the fact that I was born in America gets in the way. In the United States, we are taught that our country is the greatest country in the world. (Even though, in many measurable respects–from healthcare to infrastructure to education to sports–we are not #1.) But it stands to reason from the path of my argument that every country could argue for being the greatest country on earth. And that makes no sense.

It’s not that I’m lacking in loyalty. It’s where I place it. And I place it in humanity – a view which is independent of time and place, and which recognizes our fundamental equality.

I am not a patriot. I am a humanist.

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About Whittier Strong

Whittier Strong is an MFA student in creative writing at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, with a focus in nonfiction. He graduated from Metropolitan State University with a BA in creative writing. He has special interests in sociology and philosophy.

Posted on 26 May, 2014, in Commentary and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Patriotism can be used as a weapon of sorts for powerful leaders… appeal to patria, the Fatherland, stirs a chord in many people, but is then cynically twisted to their own ends. With good and honorable intentions, many people die for patriotism to serve cunning and cynical rulers.

  2. Your argument is logical, but as I have had it explained to me, patriotism is something that tests (among other things) your ability to be loyal to your country, and shows how much you will care about it, or defend it, or other measures of this loyalty, and that it is meaningful in part BECAUSE you didn’t have a choice about where you were born.

    It is seen by some as a test of one’s strength of character, demonstrated by one’s unquestioning devotion to those who, by fate or chance, also share the country in which you are born (or in which you choose to become a citizen). This line of reasoning is similar to one commonly seen in the military: You are thrown together for whatever reasons, but once you arrive, you are soldiers, and your unquestioning loyalty must be there toward these total strangers whom you may not even like. Your ability to be a good soldier is judged in large measure by how much you commit to bond with these strangers and fight for the common goal of defending your country, despite the fact that there are few real uniting characteristics among you to make you a cohesive group outside of the military.

    It’s a rather strange construct, patriotism. People have some very definite ideas about it, and some are different from the one above, but underlying many of the ideas is a theme of unerring loyalty when there is no real cause to be loyal except that it is expected of everyone in your location and situation. I grasp the usefulness of this goal in some situations, but the thought of expecting people to unite in a belief that one group is superior to another — and to be willing to die for this belief despite the randomness of our location at birth — is pretty strange. It is reminiscent of the expectation that a child born into a religious family will of course adopt, defend, and be a loyal practitioner of that religion, and that to do so will prove faith in god, while many people view it as a character flaw or proof of poor morals if a person chooses NOT to adopt their birth religion unquestioningly. It is no wonder patriotism and religion often go hand in hand in some people’s minds. The expectations are much the same.

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