Don’t let’s be proud to be Americans

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.

7 thoughts on “Don’t let’s be proud to be Americans

  1. I think America is very patriotic due to their history and culture. I come from England, and patriotism there is looked down upon, yet, should you bring up the “EU”, then people become downright patriotic and align themselves with Americans way of thinking.

    However, your suggestion that we think of ourselves as ‘citizens of the world’ is childish… we don’t need you to preach Alesh.. just inform like you normally do.

  2. I always hated July Fourth. I think the fireworks are loud, unnecessary and they frighten small animals and babies. Now that there is a war raging in Iraq and Afghanistan it is even worse. Close your eyes and listen tomorrow and imagine that there really are “bombs bursting in air” it is actually the sound of death and destruction, shock and awe.
    War Sucks! am I unpatriotic? I’m happy/lucky/blessed to have been born in New York and not Bagdad.
    God Bless my Underwear!

  3. LJ~

    What aspects of America’s history/culture do you think make it particularly patriotic? Don’t we have an unusually high concentration of immigrants?

    Oh, Citizens of the world = childish??


    It’s funny how every country has a “fireworks holiday” but they’re all different. Actually, in Iraq they have “shoot your guns into the air” holidays, but I think you’d agree that fireworks are preferable. And but it’s funny how the 4th of july is so evenly timed to new years, sort of like we’re fireworks junkies and need our 6-month fix.

  4. Thanks for writing the post I couldn’t manage this year, Alesh. I agree with pretty much everything you said, and wish that more Americans would view our role as global citizen, rather than global thug.

  5. Alesh,
    I understand where you’re coming from. Having lived in Canada for a couple of years, during 9/11 and the beginning of the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions, I was able to view world affairs and the rise of uber-patriotism in America from an international perspective. When I returned to my home in Miami in the summer of ’03, I cringed at the glaringly superficial patriotism I saw and was appalled by the dangerous support-of-country-regardless-of-the-consequences attitude.

    However, while “proud to be an American” is tainted with a kind of hubris that I personally distance myself from, I cannot in principal agree that thinking of oneself as a citizen of the world as opposed to a U.S. citizen makes one have MORE care for people everywhere. That is, when I lived outside the States I became aware of the bubble I lived in and how Americans had an unhealthy U.S.-centric perception of the world.

    Living abroad helped me recognize this fault of willful blindness to the world around us, and I hoped to be a catalyst for change from this mentality within the U.S., however small. At the same time, I still saw myself as an American citizen within the context of a global society. This does not mean I will parrot what my country wants me to say or do. On the contrary, I am ashamed of plenty of things that the U.S. has done, and continues to do, and speak out against it. This freedom of speech is at least one of the things I can celebrate on the 4th of July.

    While I know Miami is pretty much its own country, I am also keenly aware of a sense of place. I am from America. I share citizenship with many “family members” who are quite different than I am and I often strongly disagree with them, but they are still family. I cannot disown them, and, in my opinion, celebrating our freedoms as Americans together does not diminish our peoplehood as members of the global society.

    P.S. I have to say, I was a huge fan of Critical Miami. I look forward to seeing this blog evolve and grow for a long time. Keep up the good work, Alesh.

  6. Cindy Sheehan ‘peace mom’ showed us how it’s done. John Nichols tell us what need doing ‘impeachment’. Naomi Klein explains why we are screwed ‘disaster capital’ and Samuel Adams, the great patriot/brewer, gave us the elixir to sooth inequities.

  7. I love Chuck Klosterman and I love America. I even like Robin Williams (Awakenings was a repeat watcher). I think it’s perfectly possible to be well informed and involved in world affairs (be a world citizen) and still love the nation from which you sprung. I’m at least 3rd generation on every side and my dad’s family’s been in Canada or the US since the 17th century. Most of them came because they had to, and it’s nice they were accepted. Not to be simplistic, but my Arabic great-grandmother came over to escape the Turks (as they say) at 15, with a child, alone, and the first thing she did was learn English. I like that; that’s love. That’s a genuine thank you for letting me live here and to receive an education. Lebanese girls were being raped and killed on the way to school, and here my ggmother owned her own store.
    I think we can step back for a day and say thanks to the US for giving us a place to grow and live. I love the American landscape. It’s so American! “American culture” is creepy at times (Walmart), but have you ever been to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston or to Teddy Roosevelt Island in DC? This is where we live, and it’s worth loving, as is Uganda and France. Our countries and cultures all need a little love sometimes. Everyone deserves food in our bellies, medicine when we need it, too. Many US policies are unacceptable and hinder world progress, and we need to change that. I appreciate your thinking beyond the physical borders, but I think that America is so fluid, that if you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that these borders are softer than anyone might want us to believe.

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