July 4, 2014

Healthy Patriotism vs. Blind Loyalty

Little patriot
Little patriot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I suppose it would be fair to say that the subject of patriotism has always been a bit of a struggle for me. I value the form of patriotism that involves giving a damn about one's country and wanting to improve it. I believe that this is the most positive form of patriotism in that it leads us to own up both to what should make us proud and to what should lead to embarrassment. This sort of patriotism means that we care too much to be apathetic. We celebrate our achievements and work to improve our failings.

This form of patriotism strikes me as healthy because it is connected with reality (i.e., we are acknowledging the good things about our country and the bad things). I also think it is healthy because it drives corrective action. We aren't denying our shortcomings here; we are working to improve. If we were talking about a person, we might describe such a person as self-aware. And this healthy sort of patriotism is involves self-awareness in the sense of an accurate assessment of what we are doing well and where we need to improve.

But there is a very different sort of patriotism out there, one I wholeheartedly detest. This form of patriotism centers around nationalism and American exceptionalism. Proponents of this form of patriotism assert that the United States is the greatest country on Earth, that those of us who live in the United States are superior to everyone else because we live in the United States, and that we anyone working to effect positive change here is a traitor of some sort. This is the flag-waving, beer guzzling, close-minded, and extremely hostile sort of patriotism that one encounters with disturbing regularity in many parts of rural America. It seems to be intermingled with anti-immigrant attitudes, racism, and fundamentalist Christianity. It can be captured in the "love it or leave it" response with which proponents will meet virtually any criticism, no matter how well deserved.

This latter form of patriotism is reactionary and defensive. No problems are acknowledged because we are #1. It rejects any suggestion that improvement is necessary. In fact, critics are quickly labelled un-American. It has little connection to reality (e.g., you will hear proponents of this form of patriotism stubbornly insisting that the U.S. has "the greatest health care system in the world" despite all evidence to the contrary).

My views on the subject of patriotism have become more positive over the years. I used to see it as almost entirely negative. I now believe that there is a healthy form of patriotism that can be a positive force. I'd like to see more of this sort of patriotism and less of the other.

If you celebrate the 4th of July, I hope you have a fun and safe holiday. And please take it easy with the fireworks.

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