Patriotism

It’s fair to say that America is a patriotic country; the chants “U.S.A .U.S.A.”  punctuate most sporting events, yet whether the pride is for the abstract ideal of the country or everyone and everything in it is another question.

To myself, as an outsider it seems that half the population see the US as a country of one, and the pursuit of happiness should not extend past yourself.  This individualism seems long engrained within society possibly due to the hyper-capitalist age with spending geared around what will benefit me and only me. Yet this attitude comes at the expense of a sense of community and the development of a truly social conscience. Robert Putnam in his book, Bowling Alone sees the dissolution of trust and by extension the vanishing of communities due to the atomised lifestyles we are living.

The blubbing and boohooing surrounding tax increases, a threat so viciously reported, one would be led to believe it relieved itself on the Constitution (some might say it has, but they deserve to be patted on the head and left alone). Contrary to what some people may believe, higher taxes can BENEFIT you, the uses are endless: schools, hospitals, prisons, the arts, space exploration and so on. They don’t get funnelled into a secret project to create a tunnel from Mexico into Texas allowing people to come into the country and steal your guns. No, the money is used to help you or others. But that is the killer part to the sentence. Others. Ah yes, the self-interested part of the country just couldn’t bear to see a struggling single mother have a slightly easier time of it; don’t they know you want to get a new TV this year? I mean the old one has lost its new TV smell.

Yet those who bemoan taxation are the very people who claim to love their country. Just like in any relationship, to love is to share, so please do not get your knickers in a twist over the pitiful rate of taxation that has to be paid. Take one look at any of the Scandinavian countries and you will find some of the best literacy rates, the best healthcare in short, amongst the best quality of life in the entire world and their tax rates can be around 60%, a number that is unthinkable to some Americans.

Some might say that being American is to be free from government interference, and the lack of restrictions on the way you live your life. But that position is one that is built on shoddy foundations: why do those people allow the creeping tentacles of shady companies to slowly close around their everyday lives yet distrust the publically accountable government? Other than citing people who lived in a different age, are there any real reasons for hating taxation? In my opinion (one that is very rarely incorrect), man is a social animal, and this society extends to the very corner of the kingdom and beyond. Whilst it might be irksome to lose some of your paycheck every month, just think of the public benefits it will generate. One that no number of TVs can bring.

The idea of patriotism not following words with actions is lamentable yet wholly unsurprising as self-interest has been one of the backbones of any society since time immemorial. Yes, this is an act of socialism but what is wrong with that? Why is looking after your fellow person such an alien concept? The pervasive growth in belief in the United State of One needs to be addressed; the folly of self-interested behaviour has to be challenged. In short, patriotism can only be truly achieved by gaining a social conscience.

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9 thoughts on “Patriotism

  1. The Isle of Man. So do you know Mark Cavendish? Great sprinter! Too bad he did so poorly at Milan-San Remo. Hopefully he’ll be ready for the Tour though.

    Like I said, in my blog, this is America. We don’t believe in helping our fellow man. God takes care of those who are really in need. Not me or the government.

    Remember what Gordon Gekko said, “greed is good.”

    And I’ll add, “as long as I got mine, why should I care about anyone else?”

  2. Alas I don’t I’m afraid. Though the Island is so small I know people who know him. His mum runs (or used to run) a dancng accessory shop in the capital, the fact I know that clearly shows how small the Island is!

    See thats what I don’t understand. What happened to ‘love thy neighbour’, or to take a different take on it: ‘its as easy for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than a camel to walk through the eye of a needle”. Christianity preaches the very tenets of socialism yet this is ignored in America.

  3. I know.

    Some how along the way we transformed ourselves from “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses”, to an arrogant, selfish and bigoted people who think we are better and know more than everyone else in the world.

    We have been brain washed by corporate interests and and religious ideologues into doing their bidding.

    It’s not how I was brought up, and it boggles my mind how so many people are willing to cut their own throats rather than see someone in need get a helping hand.

    Ok, enough lamenting. Time to go [bicycle] racing!

  4. It is so irritating, as for some inexplicable reason (as in I’ve never been to the US) I have this strong love for the US. You guys have a fantastically great country, with a superb culture. Yet possibly because of my like, I want to scream and tear out my luscious locks out of frustration. The belligerent right just have sunk to new nasty levels, such was painfully evident with the lack of renouncement of the spitting and horrible name calling of the Dem Congressmen.

    I can only imagine this is much harder for you actually living there.

    Over in the UK at the moment our biggest threat is the British National Party. Thugs in suits basically. A really nasty bunch, who want to repatriate all non-white citizens to their “home country”. The level of stupidity it is impossible to comprehend. About the Haiti Earthquake they said “Sending aid to rioting ingrates while our own people die is stinking elite hypocrisy […] I’d rather see that £6m that we spent keeping our own people alive. You look after your own first”. Which although is horrifying, it shows that he does believe in the concept of the government safety net, which places him to the left of Rush and Beck.

    Enjoy!!!

  5. My conservative dad really liked the book Bowling Alone. Many Republicans are social conservatives and they fondly reminisce the time when small towns were healthy affluent communities. My dad grew up in Alexandria, IN which at one point was given the title “Small Town USA”, but since then industry along the railway has dried up and the town is poor with a dying downtown.

    The problem is that social conservatives hold up values that worked well in small towns. Industrialization initially helped make many of these small towns affluent (the black and white 1950s vision of the happy small town), but in the long run industrialization destroyed the small town. Nonetheless, the ideal of small town values haunts the American imagination. The problem is that the values which worked well in a small town are rather dysfunctional when applied to our present society with poverty-stricken small towns and large cities with their sprawling suburbs.

    Small agricultural communities were able to take care of their themselves. Building the schools and fixing the roads. Taking care of the poor and needy. That was perfectly fine when healthy communities existed, but those small agricultural communities have been a threatened species for more than a century now… despite the 1950s idealization of them.

    In our present industrialized society, a large government with social services becomes a necessity. If we refuse socialism because of fantasies about the past, the people who will be hurt are the poor working class. In a wealthy country, it seems wrong to let poor people die of easily treated diseases and let the poor be malnourished and hungry. Of course, many people in the 1% who own more wealth than the bottom 95% doesn’t want to share, but I’d like to believe that even the rich understand that taking care of the poor helps everyone in society in the way that giving everyone basic education helps the rich by providing educated workers and helps democracy by providing an educated citizenry.

    The fear of taxation and big government isn’t entirely unfounded. The US government spends more tax money on the military and on the alphabet agencies (FBI, CIA, NSA, etc) than on all other expenses combined. The US government spends more money on the military than the rest of the world combined. The US government bails out powerful corporations and banks while the average worker is unemployed, the average homeowner is in danger of losing their house and the average small business owner is failing. I’m not sure that the US government is wasteful in it’s use of tax money, but it certainly doesn’t use most of the tax money to actually help the people who are taxed. Meanwhile, some of the wealthies corporations in the US pay no taxes at all.

    As a liberal, I feel pulled in two directions.

    The conservative libertarians would like to shrink the government so that it’s “small enough to drown in a bath tub”. The problem is this would just leave corporations even more powerful than they already are. Despite politicians being in the pocket of big business, the government actually does do some regulating which keeps capitalism at least partly honest.

    On the other hand, the two main parties don’t serve the interests of the average American. The Democrat party doesn’t even serve liberals. Real liberals cringe when Obama gets called a socialist or a progressive.

    At least conservatives dissatisfied with Republicans can turn to libertarianism. On the left, we are too diverse to have a single third party to represent us. According to Pew, the demographic of Liberals is growing and the attitudes of Americans is becoming more progressive, but it doesn’t feel that way sometimes.

    The problem is that libertarians are the loudest voice whose criticisms get heard in the media. Libertarians say they want to shrink the government and cut taxes, but that wouldn’t solve the problem of the deficit. Cutting taxes would only increase the deficit. Besides, whenever conservatives cut taxes it always benefits the rich more than the working class or even the middle class. The libertarians basically just want to say the deficit isn’t their problem and that by ignoring it maybe it will go away.

    There is only one demographic that strongly supports reducing the military, reducing the deficit and balancing the budget. And it ain’t the libertarians. The one demographic that wants to take on the problems of government head on is Liberals. But Liberals only represent around 10% of the population.

    Instead, the wealthiest and most powerful Pew demographic are the Enterprisers who want to increase the military while ignoring the problems with the budget and deficit. Guess what news outlet the Enterprisers are the most loyal fans of? Yep, Fox News.

    Liberals are forced to look to alternative news sources in order to find voices that represent them. The rightwingers claim the media is controlled by liberals, but to a real liberal the media seems controlled by corporations (in fact, they are considering almost all media are owned by just a few corporations).

    Somehow patriotism in America has becomed defined by three things: Military, Capitalism and Christianity. Of course, democratic ideals get lip service, but we don’t have a functioning democracy to any extent. Most Americans don’t even seem to understand the Constitution. Somehow the Constitution gets defined in terms of Military, Capitalism and Christianity. The average working class person is seen as the enemy of democracy. Patriotism means aspiring to be rich and if you can’t be rich then suck up to the rich.

  6. You really are truly elegant writer! I, personally don’t believe there is anything wrong with wanting to revert to a more communitarian aspect of living, and as far as I understand Robert Putman bemoaned the individualisation of society and didn’t necessarily advocate the return to 1950s Mom and Pop Industries (though there is a really interesting film by a British comedian who attempted to traverse the US by only using Mom and Pop industries). What I want is people in any sized community to get beyond their own lives and try to care what Gladys next door is doing, or invite the Howards down the road over, or to care about the local butcher instead of going to the large supermarket which is a soul destroying experience but more convenient. It is because so many people across the Westernised world attempt to live atomised lives that people struggle. We need the bonds of community to lift us beyond the humdrum. This might seem idealistic but this is a genuine belief. Making people genuinly positively proud about where they come from will improve education, will lower crime (just look in the Middle Eastern states where crime is low, although some are hardly beacons of democratic values) and these positive attributes will continue to reap rewards.

    Whilst I can see why people want lower taxes and are scared of Big Government, they are usually the ones who want defence spending ring fenced. But it does seem utterly confusing to me for people to not like a government who in the most part works for our benefit, yet get misty eyed in adoration for an profit seeking, unaccountable business. Anything where the only goal isn’t public service should have no place in the provision of them.

    One of my friends said something once that has stayed with me to this day: that if you are not in a party then you cannot change it. So if there are disaffected liberals, then (although it might be nigh on impossible) you can change the direction of the Party, you can remove Big Business from the pocket, you can once more claim that there is true difference between the parties.

    The media is mainly controlled by economic liberal, socially centre (some centre-left), but the sheer fact that 5 companies own a lions share of the media is beyond belief. And people wonder why this never gets reported?! If you haven’t already, Ben Bagdikian’s book The Media Monopoly is a terrifying read.

    In another argument, I used a quote from a text book on US Politics that I have, regarding the Constitution, and the response was something akin to: what do those moonbat, left-wing intelligensia know about the Constitution? One American friend I have said something that smacks of truth: the conservative Americans place the Founding Fathers on such a pedastal of infalliabilty that it is decontextualised. For the great document it is, why does it have to be 100% perfect, devoid of fault? Just like anything else it was a product of time and place.

    • I certainly have nothing against the desire for a communitarian lifestyle.

      It’s conservatives who are usually portrayed in the media as valuing community, but many liberals value community very highly. Liberals tend to be the people who start neighborhood associations and neighborhood gardens. If you look at the heart of the liberal vision, you’ll find a longing for community. It has largely been liberals who have experimented with news way to organize and promote communities in contemporary society: communes, intentional communities, cohousing, housing cooperatives, food cooperatives, community theatres, etc. And liberals are more supportive of programs and institutions that benefit community: public schools, public libraries, welfare, family planning clinics, etc.

      I think the reason why community is so central to many liberals is because, even though there is a religious left, the Christian church hasn’t been as central to the liberal movement. For conservatives, community is almost entirely defined by church. But for liberals, community is more about all the various connections one has with other people.

      What this means for conservatives is that outside of church they actually have in a certain way a more individualistic view of the world. There is a reason capitalism is an ideology that seems so important to conservatives. The religous right tends to see humans as fallen, as weak and selfish. Capitalism is seen as enlightened selfishness in that it takes humans sinful nature and redirects it towards a goal that theoretically serves the greater good of society.

      In the US, even most people on the left support capitalism. Liberals don’t mistrust capitalism per se, but they only trust capitalism to the degree it’s integrated into the functioning of a democratic political process. Most liberals see democracy as including some combination of government and community.

      You’d think there would be more agreement between conservatives and liberals. The difference is that liberals don’t see a conflict between government and capitalism and conservatives do. Conservatives see society as a constant battle that must be won by one side or the other. The idea of mutual benefit is more of a liberal vision. My sense is that liberals are more open to work with conservatives than the other way around. I base this on data which shows Republicans criticize government when a Democrat is in power, but not when a Republican is in power. However, Democrats tend to support government more equally no matter who is in power.

      Another element of community is family values. Conservatives idealize the nuclear family which has always been a part of the American tradition, but which became a truly collective fantasy in the 1950s. Industrialization led people to move around a lot which disconnected people from their extended families. Suburbanization led people to even be disconnected from their neighbors. So, the nuclear family became the bedrock of what community meant and still means for many people. People are isolated in their own homes and so the nuclear family becomes one’s immediate ‘community’. For conservatives, the 3 pillars of society are church, nuclear family, and work.

      Liberals tend to have a looser sense of family and community. I think this is partly just because liberals are more open to alternative lifestyles and alternative community living. I can’t say that liberals have discovered the answer to how to have a functioning community in contemporary society, but I’m not sure the conservative Christian vision is likely to remain the primary answer considering Christianity is shrinking and multiculturalism is growing. Liberals have a more flexible outlook that allows them to deal with a world that is changing quickly. Still, I don’t dismiss the conservative value of holding onto what has woked in the past.

      I live in the midwest which I think is a good example to consider. The midwest has pockets of both conservativism and liberalism, but overall the midwest is relatively moderate as compared to the rest of the country. The midwest is the place of the heart of the American imagination: Mark Twain, Garrison Keillor, Stephen King, Norman Rockwell, Grant Wood, The Music Man, Wizard of Oz, Hoosiers, A Christmas Story, etc. What is considered standard American English is the midwestern dialect. The midwest is Middle America. We may be boring fly-over country, but we represent a specific norm of American culture. As I pointed out, my dad’s hometown in Indiana had the very title of “Small Town USA” and it’s also where some of the Gaither family lives of Gaither Gospel fame. In the town I live in, Iowa City, there is located the oldest writers workshop in the world where many famous writers attended and taught.

      The midwest has been a place of a very American variety of culture and community. Farming communities still exist in the midwest and they still have many family farms. Traditional liberal Christians like Quakers along with Unitarians still have strongholds in the midwest (the first church in Iowa was Unitarian which isn’t surprising as it was a popular church in early America). This is also Amish country which is probably the most traditional community in all of America.

      In the midwest, the clash between industrialization and agriculture has been paricularly keen. This has contributed to the strain of progressivism that exists in farm regions. In Iowa, we are one of the first states to legalize gay marriage and legalization of medical marijuana has been discussed here.

      I have noticed some conservative sentiments increasing in my local community. Various programs and policies have caused an exodus of many poor minorities from the inner city of places like Chicago. These poor minorities have spread throughout many smaller midwestern towns including the one I live in. Also, illegal immigrants have been attracted to the midwest partly because of meat packing plants. The largest illegal immigrant raid that the government has ever done happened a while back right here in Iowa.

      This has created social tension. Midwesterners are an easygoing and neighborly lot, but most small midwestern towns have never known much in the way of multiculturalism. As I’ve lived in the Deep South, I know what class consciousness looks like. Midwesterners aren’t a class conscious people. Unlike in the poor conservative Southern states, there is less economic disparity in the midwest meaning there is a larger middle class. Midwesterners even when wealthy have less of a tendency to want to show off their wealth. Unlike in the South, affluent midwesterners people are more likely to do their own work on their yards and houses… and more likely to help their neighbors.

      It’s a bit different where I live. I rent an apartment in the downtown area of a college town, but the town overall is a very neighborly place. I rent from a family owned business, I buy my groceries from a small family owned store and a food coop, and I do my banking at a community credit union. I suppose I’m not a typical American since I don’t drive to Walmart to do my shopping. Walmarts have done a lot to destroy the downtowns of small communities all over the US. I’m lucky to live in a college town where the downtown is still thriving (mostly with restaraunts and bars).

    • I know that slightly less than half of liberals (as defined by Pew) don’t identify with the Democrat party, but I’m willing to bet many of those Independent liberals voted for Obama. I personally didn’t vote for Obama. I don’t believe in the two party system. I think it’s a sham, just political theater to distract the masses.

      I am mostly disenfranchised, but I have participated in the political process. I voted for Nader against Bush. I protested the wars in Iraq and Aghanistan. By the way, that protest movement was larger and grew faster than any protest movement before including the Tea Party, but the Peace protest movement wasn’t backed by corporate money and corporate media.

      I don’t really care to try to change the Democrats. I’m a bit cynical and jaded about politics… which, in case you didn’t know, is another American tradition.

      I’m a person who believes knowledge is power and so I focus my energies on my studies. I follow the news, mainstream and alternative. I listen to the chatter on blogs and forums. I keep tabs on Youtube. I watch Stewart and Colbert in order to stay sane. I also read a lot of books on culture, psychology and religion. I study history enough to understand the context of how things came to be this way. I try to digest it all and then I write about it in my blog and in comments around the web. That is my civic duty in this life. I do my best to understand the truth, to spread the truth, and to confront lies and spin with truth. I’m pretty tireless in my pursuit of truth. If this isn’t good enough, then at least I failed trying.

      I’m one of those silly liberals who believes truth matters and who believes humans have the capacity for reason. My ideals are often challenged by the average person I meet in life and on the internet, but my ideals remain.

      In America, we love free speech and we believe free speech matters. Even the uneducated loony rightwingers believe in free speech even if only for themselves. Any good American wants to either die while speaking his mind freely or else while holding a gun. LOL

      Free speech, though, has been a right that has been upheld with a lot of fighting throughout history. European countries have a similar tradition of civil rights, but it’s my understanding that certain European countries are more strict about free speech. In America, we are free to deny the Holocaust or state any other lies we so please. American free speech is about the right to have an opinion and so isn’t limited to the right to express what is commonly held to be true. I’d be curious to know which European countries have similar laws about free speech.

      Certainly, the internet has been a boon to free speech. The internet as a platform of free speech is interesting as it’s the perfect example of what can be created combining government socialism and private enterprise. Even more interesting is the fact that the development of the internet was funded and directed by the military in response to the fear of largescale attack on the US. They wanted a system of communication that would be decentralized and so would survive even if numerous cities were annihalated.

      This relates to the issues of media monopolization. If it weren’t for the internet, media monopolization would be much more of a serious problem. I’d say that the internet has increased democracy in the world more than any other single thing.

      Thanks for the book recommendation. I don’t think I’ve heard of Ben Bagdikian or his book The Media Monopoly. I’ll check it out on Amazon and see if there are any videos of him on Youtube. My understanding of media monopoly comes from thinkers such as Noam Chomsky. There was an interesting documentary based on his work called Manufacturing Consent. In the past, I’ve done some research on and blogged about media bias and media control.

      “One American friend I have said something that smacks of truth: the conservative Americans place the Founding Fathers on such a pedastal of infalliabilty that it is decontextualised.”

      Are you familiar with the conservative propaganda mill in the US? Besides extreme rightwing tv and radio talk shows, conservatives have always been interested in controlling the narrative. As I’ve said, they’ve done this through the culture wars and through politicizing Christianity. But that isn’t the worse of it. The rightwing Christian nationalists have been constantly trying to revise US history for quite a while now.

      The first great propaganda piece the rightwing made was The Birth of a Nation which was a KKK propaganda film back when the KKK was a respectable and powerful political group. Interestingly, the present religious right has the same basic beliefs as was promoted by the KKK (white culture, family values, patriotism, pro-capitalism, anti-immigration, anti-union, anti-communism). These same attitudes helped popularize the John Birch Society which is still around today being promoted by the likes of Glenn Beck.

      Also related to the Birchers and to Beck is Cleon Skousen who was a Mormon conspiracy theorist who promoted Christian nationalism. Skousen is very important as he wrote some books that were Christian revisions of US history, and these books have become popular again with the Tea Party (via Beck’s 9/12 project). Similarly, David Barton is another Christian revisionist who has had much influence on the Texas school board. Because Texas is such a large state, many textbook companies base their textbooks on the Texas schoolboard and these textbooks are used all across the country. This was actually an intentional plan of the religious right. I believe it was Jerry Falwell who said that he’d rather have many conservative Christians on school boards all across the country than to have one conservative Christian president. It’s very very scary.

      I’m more worried about the war of narratives and of propaganda. Those who controls the stories that are told in a society control the society iteslf. And if you can teach your propaganda directly to a whole generation of children, your narrative can last for decades. Fortunately, the internet helps us counteract this.

      Below are some links you might find interesting. I was just today having another discussion with someone on YouTube and so I was doing some research on different rightwingers.

      http://duanegraham.wordpress.com/2010/04/16/glenn-becks-spirit-present-at-joplin-tea-party/

      http://crooksandliars.com/david-neiwert/glenn-beck-chases-far-left-radicals

      http://mediamatters.org/research/200909300024

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-rodda/glenn-becks-new-bff—-da_b_458515.html

      http://seminal.firedoglake.com/diary/29547

    • I had a question for you. You mentioned the book about media monopoly. I was wondering what your experience and perspective is about media monopoly. What media do you get where you live? Cable? Satellite? Or do you get most of your news from the internet?

      In the US, Fox News has become very dominant. It still isn’t larger than all the rest of the media combined, but it’s relatively large. Fox News is owned by News Corp which also owns many radio stations which is why rightwingers dominate radio. It’s strange because America has in many ways dominated media in the world with the influence of Hollywood, but News Corp is run by Rupert Murdoch who is an Australian. Murdoch had taken over media all over the world and he shifted the political spectrum to the right where ever he went… or so that is my understanding. After honing his skills in other countries, Murdoch set his sights on the US market, but in order to own media in the US he had to become a citizen which he did. Like everywhere else, he has helped shift the political spectrum to the right in the US.

      I wonder if this will backfire on him. The spectrum was shifting left on it’s own accord in response to decades of shifting right. But I’m not sure what the end result will be. Fox News has been taking a beating from Jon Stewart who has taken it on as his personal mission to show Fox News for the propaganda machine it is. And Stewart is very popular with the younger generation which is more liberal than previous generations have been. I’m almost optimistic in my hope that incisive parody and comedic commentary can beat propaganda.

      So, have you noticed anything like this where you live? Does News Corp have much presence on the Isle of Man? Is most of the media mostly locally owned or has it been bought up by international corporations? How much does foreign media influence your own worldview? And how much does it influence local politics and culture?

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