Patriotism, Patriotism, Wherefore Art Thou Patriotism?
April 28, 2013

patriot: n. a person who is devoted to and ready to support or defend his or her country. Syn: nationalist, loyalist; flag-waver, chauvinist. Oxford Desk Dictionary.

patriot: n. 1596, fellow countryman; also 1605, person who loyally supports his country, in Ben Jonson’s Volpone; borrowed from French patriote, and directly from Late Latin patriota, from Greek patriotes fellow countryman, from patria fatherland, from pater (genitive patros) FATHER, with the ending –otes expressing a state or condition as of one’s origin. Chambers Dictionary of Etymology.

One of the greatest attractions of patriotism — it fulfills our worst wishes. In the person of our nation we are able, vicariously, to bully and cheat. Bully and cheat, what’s more, with a feeling that we are profoundly virtuous. Aldous Huxley, Eyeless in Gaza, 17, 1936.

Patriotism is in political life what faith is in religion. Lord Acton, “Nationality”, 1862.

To deride patriotism marks impoverished blood, but to extol it as an ideal or an impulse above truth and justice, at the cost of the general interests of humanity, is far worse. John Mobley, Notes on Politics and History: A university Address, 5, 1913.

In Dr. Johnson’s famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort [sic] of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first. Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, p. 98, 1911, Dover Edition, 1958.

Obviously there exist many ways to look at patriotism. One of the most intriguing may be Lord Acton’s statement that patriotism analogizes to religious faith, which is to say that patriotism is belief without evidence. But of course religious people will quarrel with that, and to my mind they will always be on the wrong end of that argument. Be that as it may, Lord Acton may have a point.

Patriots, and I am speaking of American patriots generally, especially the loudest of them, do seem to subsist on faith. They seem to know very little of the actual history of the United States; little of the actual content, intent, and context of the founding documents; little even of the institutions of government that live right in front of them today. They seem to believe things of the ilk that George Washington cut down a cherry tree and never told a lie; that the United States has never fought an unjust war; that the United States has always supported democracy, freedom, liberty; that a real citizen and patriot must have a gun in every room in order to repel the invasive government that is coming in force to take his handgun away; and the like. In other words they tend to believe nonsense and folderol, and they are willing to twist any fact they may accidentally come upon to fit their ignorance, if not downright ignore it as hard as they can.

But I’m willing to go further. I’m willing to say that the vast majority of Americans are not patriots. Most Americans haven’t made the effort required to be a true patriot. Most Americans couldn’t pass a civics test or an American history test if their life depended on it. Further, I suggest that most American don’t love the United States: love requires knowledge and understanding, two items sorely missing from the repertoire of so-called American patriots.

There’s a reason for that, more than one, but a big one is the simplest one. Most Americans are not patriots for the simple reason that they were born here.

Being a citizen by birth means you never have to choose to love your country; you never have to choose to be a citizen; you never have to pass a test demonstrating you know enough history and civics to become a citizen. You just are one.

And your education feeds you the myths and fairy tales designed to inculcate patriotic love of country. Washington and the cherry tree. The United States is the greatest country in the world. We’re the good guys, always. And every morning in school you have to take a loyalty oath, called the Pledge of Allegiance, when you don’t even understand it or its implications.

Between the sense of birthright and the failure of education, it’s no wonder that patriots are few and far between.

Now someone will immediately spring to the defense of our military and say they are patriots. Not necessarily. If you are born here and you grow up here and you run through the standard educational processes, such as they are, that are offered throughout the country, you won’t question military service. Today you don’t even have to think about it unless you are looking for a career choice in a lousy job market. In the past you only had to think about getting drafted, and that only if you were unlucky. Most soldiers simply accepted that service was what they had to do if they couldn’t avoid it.

No one says to our teenagers that if they want to be a citizen they have to serve a hitch in the military. Unless they’re immigrants – it seems popular these days among politicians to offer citizenship in exchange for accepting a role as cannon fodder for a few years.

Those who made a deliberate choice to sign up, usually in time of war or threatened war, for the most part made their decision based on jingoism and government propaganda, not on complete information about the conflict, not from historical perspectives, not on critical thought about the reasons for the war and the reasons for the leadership pushing for war.

None of what I say about soldiers intends to demean their sacrifice or their intent to serve their country. If anyone can be said to have earned citizenship, it is our combat soldiers. On the other hand, it may well be fair to say that most of them didn’t know what they were getting themselves into – in part because they were and are too often lied to and abused by politicians, many of whom never saw a day in uniform. Case in point: the Republicans, responsible for $800 billion dollars in war debt (so far) and responsible for two unnecessary, useless wars, and responsible for sending thousands of our soldiers to death, severe injury, severe psychological trauma, have recently blocked a one billion dollar jobs bill for returning veterans, claiming it’s not paid for. Oh, but it has been paid for, in coin that the Republicans will never understand. The point, though, is that the actions of the Republican leadership is an abuse of the soldiers.

Aside from soldiers, nobody born here is asked to take a test for citizenship. There is no test for patriotism, for love of country. In fact too often those who do most love the country are those who are most derided and demeaned by so-called patriots. I mean those who take a serious interest in civic affairs, who dare to speak in dissent from government policies, who dare question the myths and propaganda spewed out by politicians and pundits. Who loves their country the most – those who work at knowing and understanding the facts and truths about their country, or those who have done nothing but be born here and have simply assumed that they are therefore real Americans, with all the privileges thereof?

Most people fall into the latter category. To them I’d say that the lowliest immigrant who applies for citizenship and studies to pass the citizenship tests and meets not only the requirements but negotiates successfully, perhaps after several tries, the bureaucracy of immigration, is more worthy of being called an American and a patriot than vast swathes of the people who were born here.

A patriot might be the kid who decides to join the military, not as a career choice, but because he has read our history, because he has read our military history, because he has researched the contemporary issues of his time and sought to understand them, and concluded that the virtuous path for him to take would be to sign up. A patriot might be the kid who has done the same work and concluded that the current political situation calls for dissent and resistance to the calls of politicians for more soldiers, and becomes an active dissenter. Neither of those two people should have their love of country questioned.

A patriot might be a woman with a family, called to jury duty, who, instead of complaining about it, does her research into the legal system and the place of juries in her contemporary legal framework and in the history of the country, and concludes that she should accept jury duty as a responsibility of citizenship. And a patriot might be her opposite who has done the same study, and determined that the jury system needs to be questioned and perhaps changed, or that the people in charge of it are treating the system with contempt and need to be changed. Both may be considered to love their country.

Blind faith in the leaders and institutions of the country is not love of country. It is the antithesis of patriotism.

Ignorant belief about American history is not patriotism. It is the opposite of love of country.

Waving a flag or wearing a lapel flag pin demonstrates nothing besides blind faith or ignorant belief.

Shouting ‘We’re the greatest nation on earth’ while waving the flag, literally or metaphorically, demonstrates nothing but ignorance of facts and an unwillingness to consider facts about the country and its place in the world.

Disparaging others because they are black, or white, or red, or yellow, or brown, or gay, or straight, or male, or female, or speak with an accent, or are immigrants, disparaging other Americans because they are different demonstrates a complete failure to understand America and its founding ideals.

Ignorance of our history, ignorance of how we became a nation, of what was the intention of our nationhood, of how we have acted in the world and at home, willful ignorance supplanted by willful acceptance of falsehoods, that should be disparaged, discouraged, and corrected.

It is not enough to call oneself a patriot because you love your country. Ignorant love is not real love. When you pursue knowledge of your country, of its history, of its intent, of its actions in the world, of its actions at home; when you look at the facts and the messy truths and accept them; when you choose to make your country better and when you act to make your country better from a sense of concern and compassion and understanding, not from a sense of unfounded pride, not from bigotry, not from hatred, not from fear; when you care more for your fellow Americans than for your bank account or your possessions; when you don’t shrink from civic duty, whether it is jury duty or military service or paying taxes, whether it is honest dissent or reasoned civil disobedience or calling out the false patriots in power, then you can begin to call yourself a patriot, then you will have discovered what it is to love your country.

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USA! USA! We’re Number One! We’re Number One!
September 6, 2012

Among industrialized nations, the United States has the

  • highest poverty rate, both generally and for children;
  • greatest inequality of incomes;
  • lowest government spending as a percentage of GDP on social programs for the disadvantaged;
  • lowest average number of days for paid holiday, annual leaves, and maternity leaves;
  • lowest score on the United Nations index of “material well-being of children”;
  • worst score on the United Nations gender inequality index;
  • lowest social mobility;
  • highest public and private expenditure on health care as a percentage of GDP

These trends are accompanied by the

  • highest infant mortality rate;
  • highest prevalence of mental health problems;
  • highest obesity rate;
  • highest proportion of population going without health care due to cost;
  • second-lowest birth-weight for children per capita, behind only Japan;
  • highest consumption of antidepressants per capita;
  • third-shortest life expectancy at birth, behind only Denmark and Portugal;
  • highest carbon dioxide emissions and water consumption per capita;
  • second-lowest score on the World Economic Forum’s environmental performance index, behind only Belgium;
  • third-largest ecological footprint per capita, behind only Belgium and Denmark;
  • highest rate of failure to ratify international agreements;
  • lowest spending on international development and humanitarian assistance as a percentage of GDP;
  • highest military spending as a portion of GDP;
  • largest international arms sales;
  • fourth-worst balance of payments, behind only New Zealand, Spain, and Portugal;
  • third-lowest scores for student performance in math, behind only Portugal and Italy, and far from the top in both science and reading;
  • second-highest high-school dropout rate, behind only Spain;
  • highest homicide rate;
  • largest prison population per capita.

From Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco: 2012, Nation Books.

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Every Goddamned Day…
July 29, 2012

Here’s the start of two stories from the AP site this morning:

DA: Mass. dad shoots 2 kids, 1 fatally, kills self
OXFORD, Mass. (AP) — A man who had recently separated from his wife shot his two children, killing his 7-year-old daughter, before committing suicide, prosecutors said….

3 shot dead in Pa.; girl taken, found safe in Ohio
QUINCY, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania man confronting his estranged wife about custody arrangements for their daughter shot the woman to death and killed her boyfriend and his mother, then fled with the 4-year-old girl before the two were found about 250 miles away in Ohio, authorities said….

Yeah, let’s arm everybody like the Republicans and their whoremaster NRA want to do. That’ll make the country safe for women and children.

James Holmes doesn’t look so bad in light of the everyday slaughter in the United States. At least Holmes has the excuse of suffering a legitimate mental disease, if current reports are true.

But these stupid bastards who kill their wives and children? They’re inadequate assholes who haven’t got the guts to man up and face reality and deal with their problems like a man. Nope, they’ve got to have a gun to feel like they’re worth anything. They’ve got to kill something so they can feel they’re ‘a real man’. In fact, they’re pathetic and weak, the products of a culture of ignorance that worships celebrity, violence, and money while mouthing pieties about ‘family values’ and ‘God’.

That’s America, where guns substitute for brains, and bullets substitute for emotional intelligence.

Maybe the NRA needs a new motto. Instead of ‘Guns don’t kill people, people kill people’ they might want to consider ‘Guns don’t kill people, men with guns kill women and children’.

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Reprise: Stopping The Noise
July 28, 2012

[I wrote this last Fall, in 2011. I just stumbled on it while looking for something else. I’ve added a few annotations.]

The television is gone. Literally. I threw out the television with a lot of other stuff when I had the junkman come and load his truck. But before that I cut the cable. Not literally, but I told the cable company, "No more! Cease! Basta! Stop!" That got rid of most of the telecrap, and a month later even the dregs were gone. I’ve been without the stuff since September 20.

I think my blood pressure dropped a few points.

It has, though I don’t know if I can attribute it to being TVless.

I was addicted to the stream of images, yes. My brain wanted them, wanted that flow of motion and noise. And some sick part of my psyche reinforced the addiction because my social life barely exists and television characters had become my social life. Between those two forces I was letting myself wreck on the reefs of triviavision.

I still have no social life, but it concerns me less. There’s no flow of fictional characters to remind me that my real social life mostly consists of Facebook, this blog, Starbucks baristas, and an occasional real person.

But a long time ago I quit smoking, almost thirty years ago, having my last two cigarettes on the day I went to divorce court. And I was a heavy smoker. If I could do that, I could certainly quit television.

Turns out television wasn’t so tough. After a couple of days I barely missed it, and now I have no interest in reviving it in my home or watching it elsewhere.

Which still rather amazes me. But it’s true. I don’t want it. And anyway it would take up room I need for books.

I do miss a couple of things. English soccer. The occasional professional rugby game from the far corners of the world. And that’s about it. There’s nothing else to miss on that misbegotten box. Maybe The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

I do still miss soccer and the occasional rugby match, but hey, not so much. Nor do I really miss Jon Stewart.

The news programs have continued their descent into trivia and hysteria, delivered by people who barely qualify to appear in a still photograph, much less to deliver the news on television. All that can be said of a news program that tells you there is something incredibly important happening, something you absolutely must know, something that affects your health or your welfare, and then says they’ll tell you at the end of the show, or in an upcoming segment which doesn’t come up until ‘later’, all that can be said of such news programs is that selling you their advertisers’ products is way more important than giving you that piece of information.

I get all the news I want from either NPR or the Web or borrowed newspapers, with none of the aggravation. Well, okay, NPR can be aggravating at times. A big improvement over TV news.

I won’t even go into the fraud that televised American professional sports commit every week. But just one little example, one serious peeve… The NFL broadcasts run three hours. Official game time is one hour. But actual play consumes about twelve minutes. Twelve minutes of the ball in play, twelve minutes out of three hours. Sorry, fans, that’s fraud. They’re telling you your time will buy you three hours of football, but they’re only giving you twelve minutes. That’s television. I gave up on the NFL some years ago, except for an occasional game, but I could barely stand watching because of the constant insult. The game that really turned me off had Cincinnati playing someone, and the game opened with five straight penalty calls from the horde of officials on the field. Game over!

I’ve taken to listening to baseball on the radio, and also the Patriots games, but mostly for the soporific value at night. It doesn’t take long for a Red Sox game to put me to sleep.

Later…

I wrote all that exactly one month ago, on September 30 [2011]. The only television I’ve seen since then was in a restaurant where it was impossible to sit anywhere without seeing a television running sports programming (NFL replays, if I recall correctly).

But here’s the interesting thing. I feel calmer, more collected, more connected to myself. I suspect my blood pressure is down because I’m not constantly aggravated by television programming.

And here’s something a little more interesting. I don’t really care what happens in Libya or Somalia or Thailand. I don’t really care that Rick Perry is an arrogant, egotistical, ignorant Texas loudmouth. I’m neither excited nor worried about the Occupy Wall Street movement.

It’s not that I’m not aware of the human element in all these dramas on the world stage. It’s not that I no longer appreciate human suffering or human triumph. But I am no longer assaulted by breathless reporters and concerned anchorpeople telling me by word and action that I should be concerned, that everything that is happening everywhere should demand my attention, should capture my emotions, [that I] should stay tuned in order to hear the latest developments in the next hour, developments which are exactly the same as in this hour, and whose subtext is ‘Watch our commercials!’ And of course the sub-subtext: ‘Isn’t my hair pretty!’

I see television now as an assault on emotions, an affront to intellect, a waste of airwaves. Its trivialization of everything down to the level of a child’s mind demeans the viewers. And what isn’t trivialized is generally dumbed down.

Apologists for television will say that it does some good things, that it is not all a Minowian wasteland. And that is true. Television covers live events pretty well. Freeway chases where cops race after felons on California highways for two hours or more, for example. Some battle scenes in various wars, as long as American television blurs out or simply refuses to show the devastating results of a child hit by bullets or shrapnel. They don’t want to upset the viewers, who might turn to another channel and watch those other commercials. So they lie. Here’s the war correspondent and his cameraman hunkering down behind a wall while bullets whiz around them. Wow! It’s as exciting as an NFL game and even less truthful. You don’t get real war on television. You get pretend war, you get prettified war that lets you go on cheering for your side because, after all, nobody really gets hurt. Not on American television.

Television almost never tells the truth. The truth hurts sales. Children turned to red paste and shattered bone by American arms just don’t sell McDonalds’ burgers or Chevrolet cars or Nike shoes. And anyway you can see all the gore you want at the movies or on the premium movie channels.

But yes, once in a while something worth watching shows up, but because it is surrounded by the rest of television, by triviavision, by pretendvision, by lievision, can you really trust that one good thing to be the real thing? And with outfits like Fox News imitating Pravda, can you trust any news channel?

So, my television is gone, and I’m doing fine without it. The noise in the air is gone and the tumult of noise in my head is gone. I’ve got reality settling in all around me now, and it’s a little banal and it’s pleasant and I think I’ll stick with it. And there’s no commercials to screw it up.

And there’s a couple of more real benefits of having tossed the tubes out of the house:

I don’t have to watch the crappy, commercial-laden, manipulative programming the networks use at the Olympics.

And as the year winds down to the November elections, I won’t have to watch a single political commercial. None. Not one. Ever. My blood pressure drops about ten points just on that realization alone.

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The Fallacies of James Holmes
July 23, 2012

Just in case you don’t recognize the name, James Holmes is the guy who shot up the movie theater in Colorado Friday. His act goes a way toward revealing a couple of American fallacies.

One of the results of his murderous spree  is the howling from the juvenile fantasists comprising the gun culture in the United States, particularly those like Russell Pearce, the state Senator in Arizona, who claim that a) it was the victims’ fault for not stopping Holmes, and b) if everybody were armed in society this sort of thing wouldn’t happen.

As for a) Russell Pearce would probably have crapped his pants if he’d been in the theater. He’s a loudmouthed, ignorant bigot who authored Arizona’s Latino Bigotry Act.

As for b) if everyone in that theater had been armed, including of course the little six-year-old who was killed, then James Holmes would not have had to shoot anybody. All he would have had to do was pop a couple of smoke bombs, fire a few shots into the ceiling, and walk away. Then all the armed jackasses could have committed a greater slaughter than Holmes did by himself. The upside is that there would then be fewer armed jackasses walking around.

Of course the NRA nutcases claim that gun owners are properly trained, take safety courses, and understand when it’s appropriate to use a gun, and so on and so forth ad nauseam. Which is pure bullshit. The only people ‘properly trained’ for high stress panic situations are a few elements of the military, and a few elements of big city police forces. A few hours of NRA bullshit won’t get you through an Aurora situation. More likely you’ll shoot yourself in the foot or you’ll kill innocent people.

Another aspect of the Holmes shootings is that it was frankly a waste of a psychopathic or diseased mind. Holmes planned his attack for months, if the current information circulating in the media is true. He took months to purchase his weapons, his explosives, his armor, and to plan the attack. He put a lot of thought into it, and apparently a lot of skill and planning. But why waste all that intellectual power on a theater full of people who didn’t matter outside their sphere of family and friends? With some more work and planning he could have done the world some good: he could have taken out some dangerous politicians in the Senate or House, or even in some state legislatures, some sellout Supreme Court justices, the Pope, or at least some archbishops, or some of those fundogelical bigot preachers, or at the very least some known animal or child abusers. But no, he had to waste all that effort on powerless people who were only out to have a good time at the movies. Hell, if you’re going to commit some serious killings, at least make it matter. But what can you expect from a crazy person? (Crazy in this instance defined by the act, since we don’t know if Holmes is in fact insane.)

And speaking of fallacy and crazy, how about all the religious nonsense surrounding this event? All those people out there whose piety and love of some god or other that the media is showcasing. Right now the ‘public’ is wallowing in religion, many thanking god or whoever that so many were spared from the ‘evil’. God is good, god is great, blah blah blah. Well where the fuck was god during the several months that his creature James Holmes was assembling his arsenal, buying his ammunition and explosives, buying his body armor, and making his plans for the murders? The only answer the religious zombies can come up with is ‘It’s part of god’s plan’ or something similarly vapid and mindless. Religious people are delusional or stupid or both, often both. But that’s all we hear and read now about the incident. All the religious hokey pokey from a citizenry that worships celebrity, prefers mind-numbing television to active mental pursuits, bows down to money in the belief that it confers special powers, and ignores the facts of reality. Some twenty percent of Americans believe the sun revolves around the earth. Over half believe a god created the world and that evolution is false. These morons put plenty of energy into protesting gay marriage and virtually zero energy into understanding and doing something about the global warming that is killing them.

But now we’ll be inundated with religious crap, with preachers going on about ‘evil’ and all the usual religishit about god’s plans as they try to understand why Holmes did what he did. All of that is utter nonsense. Holmes cracked, whether from some emotional pressure or from a psychotic break or physical brain disease. There’s no ‘evil’. There’s just a kid living in a culture that glorifies violence, that worships fame and celebrity, that wallows in ignorance and superstition and is proud of it, that thinks money is the highest value, and that rich and powerful people are demigods and should be given deference. There’s no ‘evil’ here. There’s simply the inevitable effect of a purulent society on unstable minds.

And what are the two most common solutions being passed around society today to deal with the problems of society that lead to the Aurora or to Columbine or the other mass killings?

More guns.

More religion.

Holmes is the logical result of a sick society.

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