Congratulations if you’re planning to read this article. Many will not. Many will see the title as anti-patriotic and will be irritated or insulted or angry. And so they won’t continue. Yet that’s a shame, because it is such intolerance to new ideas that is the point of my claim. Patriotism doesn’t have to mean intolerance but, somehow, that’s what it’s become. For some people patriotism has been cast as a belief so pure that it should never be questioned. One’s pride in country is so great that the country itself should never be maligned. But denigrating patriotism or any country is not the goal of this article at all. The purpose here is argue against blind support for anything: a country, a political philosophy, a religion or, in fact, any treasured idea or concept.
Why should patriotism, or any belief, enjoy blind support? Would anyone think patriotism in Iraq under Saddam Hussein was reasonable? Or in South Africa during apartheid? Or in Germany during World War II? A blind support of one’s own country is just that, blind. Reasonable, thoughtful people don’t give blind support to anything because nothing is perfect and nothing is static. This outlook doesn’t mean that support for one’s country cannot happen. But should it happen just because it’s the country in which one is born? Everyone is born as a citizen of some country and that choice of country is not a choice; it is a happenstance. There is no reason why the country into which each of us is born should be the best in the world or even that it should be satisfactory. So there is no reason it should deserve unqualified support. That doesn’t mean that it can’t earn our support; it just means that we should always look at our own countries with a critical eye. Yesterday might have been different and tomorrow might be different still.
The United States is a case in point. I can’t think of another country today with a greater sense of patriotism than the United States. A generation ago that patriotism may have even been deserved on a limit basis. But today I see little good coming out of America. The two party system is now completely broken, with the population highly polarized in outlook. The latest President, Donald Trump, is self-serving, cruel, bigoted neanderthal with a contempt for the truth. That doesn’t mean that there is nothing good to take from his Presidency, just the there is not much good. So how was he elected? Firstly, the American people have been ill served by an inward looking educational system that is little concerned with the rest of the world. Many Americans therefore seem wholly unaware how heartless their society is to the poor, needy and even the middle classes. There is no guarantee of health care nor is there a decent country-wide social safety net. I’m not suggesting that there are not serious problems in other countries related to the provision of these services, but the US is the outlier. Yet the average American continues to be patriotic, to the point of dismissing other countries as inferior, without even understanding how far behind the US is in terms of the global progression of basic human values.
Instead of Patriotism, we should be encouraging personal intellectual growth. Each person should be encouraged to understand his place in the world, his country’s place in the world, and how he and/or his country could be improved. Each person has to understand his country’s political, economic and electoral systems in order to make the best possible choice for his country’s future. It’s no longer enough for each resident to cast a vote for his own personal interest; rather, everyone needs to push for the future improvement of the country as a whole. And this is not necessarily an altruistic vote for the welfare of strangers; this is a vote for the future of our children and their progeny ad infinitum.
Returning to America as the example, it seems clear that Donald Trump was elected on a wave of frustration against the political classes. On that basis, his election is understandable. But he was also elected to improve the lot of those who voted for him at any cost. His supporters appear to support a lashing out at immigrants (and immigration in general). They don’t seem to mind racist slurs against other cultures or races, even when they are their neighbours. They don’t seem to mind bashing other countries and their products if that will preserve American jobs. Yet this support is made without an understanding of the basic economics of trade. Block others’ products and American goods will be blocked too. Block others’ products and American goods will become more expensive. Block others’ products and the American economy will contract.
The supporters of Donald Trump also seem to be taking a long time to understand that the White House and the Republicans are not in fact helping the hard working people who elected them but are, rather, simply lining their own pockets. It seems clear that the latest tax cut proposal will hugely benefit the rich at the expense of everyone else. (Although there are now provisions for a small tax cut for the middle classes, a cut which at best can best described as bait-and-switch, since over the life of the legislation the middle classes will not benefit financially.) Again, this goes back to a poor educational system and a lack of understand of the way the system works.
Time to stop being patriotic without cause. Most countries are a mix of good and bad. The best countries educate their populations so that they can understand what they are voting for. The worst keep their populations in a swill of fuzzy clichés. It’s time to change that status quo by standing up as an individual, not as a citizen blinded by fallacious patriotism.