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Being a patriot and not a nationalist

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, July 7, 2008 15:26 EDT

Fun on the internets: Matt suggests that there’s something juvenile and narcissistic about conservative American patriotism, which extends beyond normal, human levels of sentimentality about home, and fierce defensiveness about it. Conservatives really have convinced themselves, he says, that America really is objectively special, and not just special to Americans. We all know sports fans who feel this way about their home team, and it’s annoying. But it’s worse when it’s patriotism, because then it drifts into nationalism and is especially scary. And, of course, childish.

As Thers chronicles, the wingnuts respond to being called childish by shaking their rattles and kicking at their high chairs. How dare you call their delusions delusional! (This, by the way, is the source of 95% of wingnut anger. The rest is toe-stubbing that’s blamed on welfare queens and sexual rejection.)

As a Texan, I’d like to add to Matt’s observations. We liberal Texans have much to offer the rest of liberal America in terms of how to cope with loving your home while hating much about it. You really get a good handle on separating out love of home from feelings of genuine superiority, and perhaps have a more complex, deeper love because you have to cope with massive flaws. I imagine Cubs fans have gone through a similar process, but don’t know enough about sports to say.

The problem with patriotism, of course, is that it’s not like sports at all, because the urge to conflict with another culture and get the pleasure of competition doesn’t get scratched without people getting killed. We’ve been watching the series “Rome” at home (too bad it’s only two seasons), and one thing that show really does a great job of showing is how war scratches that competitive urge that would be better channeled through sports, because war, you know, gets people killed. You have to admire, though, the refreshing honesty of a more brutal time. The polytheism means that they don’t have to deny the validity of other cultures or other religions to conquer them,* and war is treated like a sport in the sense that the winner gets to take all and give a raspberry to the losers. I’d like to say that we’re gentler nowadays, and in a lot of ways we are. But Americans have convinced ourselves that our right to wage war on other countries needs to be justified with more than, “Nyeh nyeh because we can.” That means we have to concentrate really hard on declaring that our culture is objectively better than all others, and that other countries should strive to become exactly like us, and if they don’t, then our recourse to warfare is for their own good. One of the more humorous examples of this is how conservative Christians often frame the war on Iraq in terms of a clash of civilizations between Christianity and Islam, where they then declare that “God” is real but “Allah” is not and/or Satan in disguise. It’s funny, because “God” and “Allah” are traditionally the same exact deity. Taking the spoils of war is less about, “Nyeh, we won and this is our trophy,” and has to be hidden inside a baffling bureaucracy. Are we less brutal on this front? I’m not sure. I’d like to say that understanding that war is not a game is a step forward, but not if we still insist on having wars to entertain and enrich ourselves.

It’s obvious that some people can be patriots but not nationalists. Liberals, like Matt says, do it all the time. But I worry that there’s always going to be a percentage of people who hear “America! Fuck yeah!” and think, “America! Fuck everyone else!” Even sports, where the arbitrary nature of fandom is really fucking obvious, has that percentage of fans that get violently stupid about their team, and completely forget that teams are defined arbitrarily and, you know, it’s just a game. Is the solution therefore to shun patriotism altogether? To relinquish the love of home and country because some people have no idea to love X without hating Y? What do you think?

*Yes, I’m aware that the Romans were brutal racists that made a big fuss out of how barbaric their conquered peoples were. But there is an acceptance that the gods of other cultures, and the worship of them (and all attendant culture surrounding that) was real. Americans trying to justify our empire tend to slide into not just dissing other cultures, but demanding that those cultures are somehow invalid.

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