When Patriots Inflate

Surprise!  There’s not going to be a lot of football in this post.  But I’ll work it in where I can.

I grew up within a thirty minute drive of one of the most deployed military bases in the U.S., so it’s safe to say that I’ve been exposed to just about every brand of hyper-patriotism in existence.  Every house on every street sported an American flag, and Memorial Day was actually more than just “Giant BBQ Day,” because everyone knew/loved somebody who was literally putting their life on the line for their country.  Because of this, there’s almost a sense of urgency to the way people there go about loving their country.  Basically, your friends and family may die for the USA at any point, so you need to love your country to pieces, because otherwise questions about the necessity of their sacrifice will eat you alive from the inside.

And you know what?  I get it.  I really do.  I know people who’ve lost parents, siblings, and spouses in the military.  It’s heartbreaking.  However, emotions only ever get in the way of rationality, and when you take all of that away, I can only reasonably come to the conclusion that patriotism–or at least, the inflated emphasis on it that I encounter daily–is straight up dumb.  I really could go on and on about this, but for now, I’ll sum up my problems with patriotism in a few points.

1. It’s Practically Nationalism.

In most cases I’ve encountered, the two are inseparable.  There’s a reason why synonyms of nationalism include both “flag-waving” and “jingoism.”  Sure, you can argue that the two are distinct; patriotism, at its core, is devoted love of your country, and doesn’t necessarily have to lead to all of the negative “us vs. them” bulls**t we so often see.  I’m not about to go the route of the “slippery slope” argument, but seriously, that’s a fine line to tread.

Most American patriots I know will throw around phrases like “the greatest country on earth” or “the city on a hill.”  It’s sickening, but we put up with it because, in our case, there either aren’t any major negative consequences (yet) or they’re so far removed from us as to be a non-issue (unless you happen to live in a country where we currently have boots on the ground).  It could be worse.  It could be ethnic nationalism, or religious nationalism. The fact is, inflated patriotism generates a pretty prime climate for that sort of nonsense to proliferate.  This would be forgivable if it actually did us any good otherwise, but…

2. It Displaces Our Moral Dialogue.

Need an example?  Here’s an image that’s been circulating on Facebook.

Stupidpatriotism

Based on the source, they could just as easily be complaining about the change in ethnicity as the change in deference to the flag…

Now, I am quite aware that the individuals spreading this sort of thing around have plenty of specific, policy-related complaints about our current president.  Whether or not those complaints are valid isn’t the issue here, because at least they’re related to topics that are relevant.  A president should be measured by his policies, diplomacy, etc., and not how well he/she holds up in a patriotic dick measuring contest.

This extends to every citizen in and out of politics.  I’ve met plenty of unpleasant people that will proudly call themselves a patriot first and foremost.  To them, it’s the ultimate good.  A good patriot is a good American, right?  Wrong.  A good American is someone who treats their fellow Americans with respect, for whatever reason.  So, when Fox News questions whether a student should be punished for “patriotic” vandalism at his high school, the answer is yes.  Yes, he should.  Because he’s an a**hole.

Likewise, just because Tom Brady is a Patriot in the most literal sense of the word, it doesn’t mean he’s not a ball-deflating monster.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) jokes with teammates during NFL football practice in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday Dec. 7, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

On a broader scale, it muddies the waters of discourse surrounding our shared history, and even current events.  The hyper-patriot could talk all day about the virtues of the Founding Fathers, but they’re not gonna like you very much if you bring up the fact that our National Dads literally considered black people to be 3/5 of a full human being, or that Thomas Jefferson had a bunch of bastard children by a slave woman that he never freed.  Flash forward and we have the Civil War, the Trail of Tears, that prohibition nonsense, Vietnam, and, dare I say it, Iraq?  American history is full of blunders, and hyper-patriotism is only ever going to distract us from truly grappling with them.

3. We’re Too Big.

This one is more of a qualifier than an actual condemnation of patriotism.  It brings us back to its most basic definition: love of one’s country.  But what, exactly, is your country?  Is it the land it sits on? The policies?  The people in it?  All of the above, really.  But the fact is, at least as far as the USA is concerned, claiming to love all of those things in their entirety is pretty nonsensical.

I was born and raised in New York.  I went to school in New York, and am currently working on my PhD.  In New York.  Sure, I’ve visited other states, and even made it as far as the West Coast for a brief time.  But can I really “love” or feel a kinship with California/Californians, or they with me?  The biggest connections I can think of are Walmart, McDonald’s, the English language, and the fact that we both sit on international borders with major drug smuggling problems.

At our core, we’re social animals.  We need to form groups, and groups thrive on good will.  But they also have to be practically based.  A global society just doesn’t make sense, for obvious reasons.  There’s too much cultural, economic, and geographic diversity to practically govern everyone in a universal manner.  But maybe the unification of the 50 states doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, either.  At least, not in terms of patriotism.  Any love you’re going to feel for someone you’ve never met half a continent away is only ever going to be abstract at best.  Your state? Less so.  Love of your town/village/community makes so much more sense, because it’s so much more tangible.  Whether or not you love your immediate community is going to have far more noticeable consequences than if you don’t love your country.

So, not only is over-inflated patriotism often a bad thing, even at its best it’s pretty limited in its usefulness.  That’s not to say that you can’t be a good, thinking person who’s also a patriot.  It’s just that that last part is probably the least relevant aspect of your character.  So don’t over-emphasize it.  Maybe don’t bother with the national anthem, and definitely avoid that whole Pledge of Allegiance thing (it’s weird).

So, in the words of the one and only Gronk: by all means, please, deflate “deez nuts.”

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