Happy 4th, folks. Don’t fear, I’m going to spare you the list of America’s evils (which in any case have been better documented elsewhere), except maybe to direct you to the Fresh Air interview with Philippe Sands, who makes a persuasive case that the Bush administration committed war crimes, and explains why they have an excellent chance of being indicted at some point in the future.
What I want to talk about instead is patriotism and nationalism. You’re proud to be an American? Why? Isn’t it an accident of birth that you’re here? It’s not really something you get credit for. Why not be proud of being a good person instead? The thing to realize, and really my central point, is that when we celebrate our peoplehood as a nation, we diminish our peoplehood as a global society. This leads to support for dubious wars, unethical immigration policy, and inane arguments against foreign aid on the basis of “there’s hungry people right here in America.” Sorry, but the people starving to death in Africa have no less a right to food then the people starving in America (and possibly more of a right, since their opportunities to feed themselves are likely vastly inferior).
“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” said Samuel Johnson in 1775. In Sex, Drugs, and Coco Puffs, Chuck Klosterman describes reaction to an e-mail he sent to a number of his friends:
Just about everyone . . . viewed patriotism as a downside. I wasn’t too surprised; in fact, I was mostly just amused by how everyone seemed to think extremely patriotic people weren’t just updateable, but totally fucking insane. One of hte mwrote that the quality of “patriotism” was on par with “regularly listening to Cat Stevens” and “loves Robin Williams movies.” Comparisons were made to Ted Nugent and Patrick Henry. And one especially snide fellow sent back a mass message to the entire e-mail group, essentially claiming that any woman who loved America didn’t deserve to date him, not because he hated his country but because patriotic people weren’t smart.
So, that’s just silly, right? Plenty of patriotic people are smart. But when you ease back on thinking of yourself as “American” and see yourself as a citizen of the world foremost, a funny thing happens. You become more interested in the events of the world. You start to care about all humans everywhere, and in so doing come in touch with a more profound aspect of your own humanity. And you become more able to see the flaws in your country and criticize them, which in turn makes you more engaged and in the long term leads to making your country better.
I hope its clear that I don’t have any problem with America. It’s a great country; better then most. What I’m saying here goes just as well for any country in the world. Let’s all be members of the human race, and see national borders as a maybe necessary but increasingly less significant political construct, and let’s all get along. I’ll drink to that.