Thursday, March 20, 2008

So what is it?

This post might piss some people off. Just letting you know in advance. See, there I go, being all American and politically correct and not wanting to offend. Be offended if you feel like it.

What I'd like to know is what is it that makes us (Americans) display the level of patriotism that we do. I'm not picking on Beth (I love her and she's an amazing and loyal friend) when I point out that she commented that she was 'thrilled' to be an American. I think a lot of people would say the same thing. And then there's the whole flag thing. But I want to know WHY we say and do things like that.

I've been living away from the US for 11 years and I've never once heard anyone of any nationality other than American say something like that. Or seen a flag hanging in front of a house.

Today in class my students worked an on article from theeconomist.com about Obama's speech from the other night and the race issue and we started talking about patriotism and related issues. I questioned them about their own patriotism. They said it was something they felt but didn't show unless it was a regional thing (think Corsica, Basque, Provencal, Breton etc). They also tried to distinguish (but couldn't) between the notions of being chauvin and patriotique.

Le chauvinisme est une manifestation excessive et agressive du patriotisme et/ou du nationalisme. Il est le reflet d'une admiration exagérée, voire trop exclusive, de son pays. (From French Wikpedia)

Chauvinisme is an excessive and aggressive form of patriotism or nationalism. It reflects an exaggerated or even exclusive admiration for one's country.

I think there's something there. I don't think we are patriotic, I think we are chauvin. To an extent that eliminates our capacity to see other points of view. A cultural egocentrism that gives us a serious kink in the neck.

7 comments:

beth said...

First, I am not pist off at all - it's nice to be talking about something other than diapers. Here's two of my reasons why I, at times, can feel so patriotic. . . I live in a town that is a tourist town and I meet many foreigners and I've traveled a bit - and one thing that seeems to remain constant is that others (foreigners) seem to question my patriotism or question "what is so good about your country" - this I was asked about 6 weeks ago from a tourist from Spain and I wasn't wearing a flag or anything so I have no idea why he asked me this - and I guess the somewhat constant questioning or more or less feeling that I have to defend or explain how I feel makes me more patriotic. Second, I have so many friends and have heard of so many stories of people who have wonderful opportunites is this country (ie Huckabee - born in a house so poor it had dirt floor and now he was running for a nomination) - it is a great land for opportunity (and not that other lands are not a great opportunity - I just happen to live in the USA). Anyway, that's just my opinion. And, by the way, I've actually never hung a flag - I don't even own one, but one was buried with my dad since he served in the navy.

kingba said...

It's mostly that the Europeans (and many othern ations) have known lots of wars through the centuries and millenia ON THEIR OWN SOIL: they KNOW first-hand the excesses of fervent nationalism..
You don't need to go any furhter but if you want one.. I started an opening talk on "Colonial wars" with this quote (my memory, might be off just a tad): "It is not hard to be elected in a democracy: all you ned to do is scare the people and present yourself as the savior"
EVERYBODY assumed I was commenting on the US then (2005). In fact, guess who said it?
-- Goebbels (Nazi propaganda chief, 1933)
Point made, isn't it?

This being said, we should NEVER take it personally, and always respect ANY individual. An Beth's Dad does deserve respect. We are able to talk about this thanks to people like him (and, with all dues respect, I am a die-hard antimilitarist, I have seen too many scars, too many battlefields and their leftovers even a century later (bones, shoes and leather pieces, metal, bullets, casings, etc..)
In most cases (exclude Nazism, for one), not worth it. And it wil lchange you, forever, especially if it is on YOUR OWN SOIL!

beth said...

Also, I am not too knowledgable in history, but I don't recall too many countries ever having great capacity to bend or to see other's points of view - isn't that why there has been so many wars or "conflicts" whether it be over religion, democracy, rulers like Castro or whatever?

Kimberly Ann said...

I love this post. I think you have really hit on something. I think the idea of patriotism - in the rabid form that we often see here in the US - stems from the nature of the country's origins. A group of oppressed people who fought and won our independence from tyranny in a new land that we claimed as our own. It is a powerful myth. Even now, as we look back with a critical eye to the issues of slavery, the native american experience, the denial of liberty to women with the vote, we still cling to this myth and we claim it as our "history". We wrap ourselves in our flag and we claim to be the best country in the world because we represent all that is good and wholesome and free. That's what we keep telling ourselves. That is our communal myth. Now don't get me wrong, I love America and much about it. But I do think we are deluding ourselves into believing that our way is the only way that makes any sense. Extremes in anything - be it religion, patriotism, consumerism, whatever - isn't a good thing.

beth said...

I was telling a few friends about your blog and I asked them "why they feel patriotic" and their answer was that they feel America is always critized for everything and they want to defend their country because they are tired of the critism - when the critism seems much more harsh on Americans than other cultures (one friend was Asian and the other two were caucasian)

Alison said...

I really like what Kimberley Ann had to say up there, but I wanted to comment on your last words:

I don't think we are patriotic, I think we are chauvin. To an extent that eliminates our capacity to see other points of view. A cultural egocentrism that gives us a serious kink in the neck.

You're spot on here. The other day the local paper did a story on gas prices, and interviewed a few people at the pump. I quote:

Faith Dansby, who was putting gas in her van at a Shell station on New Circle Road, said she is coping by trying to cut down on trips, such as getting her groceries once a week rather than making multiple runs.

"As Americans, we shouldn't have to go through this," she said.


Bold mine. (And I don't know how long that link will be valid.)

I was flabbergasted at the statement I bolded up there. WHAT? I found it very narrow-minded, and yes, chauvinistic. What about the rest of the world?* It made me really mad, and if I hadn't just had a letter to the editor printed, I'd write one about that.

*breathes deeply*

OK, I got that off my chest. Thanks for the entry the other day; I found it interesting even if I didn't comment. Today I had to comment, though.

*Fortunately, one of the blogs associated with our paper addressed this today I had to leave a comment there, too. Heheh.

Lorraine said...

I'm very patriotic. I cry whenever I hear the National Anthem or say the Pledge.

Of course, the tears stem from being so sorry that we have gotten so far off course.

But still.

Oh, and I love baseball best. See? Patriotic.