The Double Standards of Patriotism
Living in Russia has given me quite an education with regard to the power of nationalism and historical narratives. As Americans, our understanding of the world is highly calibrated by our own values, successes, and media. Even while history is being written, such as in Hong Kong, Ukraine, and Iraq and Syria, all places where terrifying social and political upheaval are currently underway, Americans still manage to create highly simplified binaries to avoid the discomfort of objectivity.
The reality of these events is always more complicated than initially stated. Despite what America’s media and government would have us believe, other narratives exist, and it is not always the specter of good versus evil that our leaders are eager to spin. A few weeks ago I wrote a piece on Tibet and attempted to highlight the many misconceptions westerners have regarding both Buddhism and that region’s history. This will be similar in which we recognize that it is not always necessary for us to stand for or against one side. When both alternatives are equally malevolent, but for different reasons, we don’t need to support either as a matter of course. Instead, we can choose to stand by our principles and abandon those causes which clearly have none, regardless of what CNN or Fox News has to say about it.
The dialogue about ‘Free Tibet’ is a great example of the ‘Evil China’ and ‘Good Dalai Lama’ dichotomy, despite the fact that when research is done, many arguments could be adduced for why Communist China did more for the Tibetans than their lamas ever did. In the same way, Assad in Syria has been equally demonized despite his utterly non-threatening stance to the United States, and the fact that his secular authoritarian regime, while not ideal, was comparatively stable and substantially less abusive than many of his contemporaries.
We don’t even need to know that much about Syria in general to realize that Obama’s decision to support a disjointed, ideologically nebulous and incoherent morass of rebels was probably not such a great idea. It would seem that these two camps, authoritarian dictator and balkanized rebel factions, would fall easily into the ‘two evils’ camp – one Obama shouldn’t have touched but if he needed to, could have just conditionally supported Assad. It would have been easier for both our country and theirs than attempting to tear down the entire regime and replace it with a bunch of nobodies while simultaneously combating crazies like ISIL.
One begins to wonder who our leaders are being advised by. A friend of mine supposed that all of Obama’s Mid-East advisors are little more than grad students who took a long weekend in Saudi Arabia. A discomforting thought…
Ukraine and Russia are equally great examples of these kinds of world politics shenanigans. Presently, the two former Soviet States are engaged in what I like to call the Who’s more fascist game? The sad reality is that both show frighteningly fascist tendencies. Both have corrupt, authoritarian regimes and each of them have unsavory ties to fascist supporters and organizations. The United States and Europe, however, consider it a forgone conclusion that Ukraine is the victim and righteous underdog fighting for its democratic life and aspirations.
All of this brings me to my point about patriots which is their remarkable penchant for double standards. Whether you come from a country with a proud narrative of success on every imaginable front like America, or a nation beset by constant and soul-sucking tragedy like Russia, patriotism is unwaveringly and invariably dependent on double standards.
Now, I’m not talking about a fondness for where you grew up. I am not talking about one’s general and natural comfort in the culture they were raised in, I am talking about the unreasonable and untenable belief that there is something innately better about you because you come from that country and further, that all of that country’s successes can be credited to you while all of its evils or set-backs are either denied or ignored. I am talking about taking credit for events, qualities, and successes that you had nothing to do with while blaming others for events, qualities, and failures they had nothing to do with.
Every country has these people but some countries definitely suffer from more of them than others and if I were to wager, I’d bet America has a lion’s share. Countries like Russia and China are also shining examples of nations which suffer from populations that are overwhelmingly prone to nationalist fervor.
Patriotic people take credit for all the good in their country, and any bad that might be highlighted is either transmogrified into something good, distorted, or ignored entirely. Let’s take Russia today, shall we? I cannot count the number of times Russians have, when talking about World War II, have taken credit for the entire affair. Not only do they hastily ignore the fact that the Soviet Union was more than just Russia, but they tend to ignore Britain’s and America’s role as well.
Never mind all those Ukrainians, Belorussians, and others who contributed in large part to the defeat of Nazi Germany, let’s just streamline all of it and say it was just Russia. Except that it wasn’t just Russia. It was the Soviet Union that defeated Hitler, which was headed I might add by a Georgian named Stalin.
Americans do much the same thing when they ignore the U.K.’s and the U.S.S.R.’s role in WWII when discussing Hitler’s defeat. They also do it when criticizing Iran without acknowledging the CIA’s role in the 1953 coup which overthrew a democratically elected leader. That’s right, Iran was actually doing okay and was well on its way to being a liberal democracy when, in order to protect economic interests, America and Britain orchestrated its overthrow. Indeed, one could reasonably blame Iran’s current political state and its threat to world security on the United States. A similar happening occurred in Guatemala when in 1954 democratically-elected Jacobo Arbenz was deposed and a military regime was put in his place. Actually, America has a very long history of supporting such dictators and regimes.
So here we have to examples of the United States actively stifling democracy in order to selfishly safeguard economic interests – interests that were by no means of immediate and emergent concern to the American people. So does America stand for democracy? Sure, when it’s really, really convenient in serving her needs, otherwise she’ll kill you. What patriot do you know will take credit for that?
Patriotism doesn’t make sense. It is as irrational and blind to reason as religion and equally as prone to cause wars. But aside from the double standards and the inconvenient facts one must overlook in order to maintain their nationalism, practically speaking, how can you justify being a patriot/nationalist?
Have you lived in every country on the planet? Have you even lived in every liberal democracy on the planet? If not, then how do you know yours is the best? Military might and GDP are hardly the only indicators as Norway, despite not having much of either compared to America, is substantially wealthier and safer. Did I mention that their wealth-poverty gap is practically non-existent compared to America’s?
Even if we examine freedoms, America is scarcely a leader any more, in fact some would argue that on the gay and reproductive rights front, she is lagging behind. Spain legalized gay marriage in 2005, and as someone who has visited the country, I can tell you the culture there is far more supportive of gay families and relationships. As for Canada, she grants new parents nearly a years-worth of maternity leave which can be shared between partners, something that is unheard of in the States.
Again, loving where you live and your culture is one thing. Deciding that it makes you better than everyone else is another – acting as though your passport is a kind of badge to your excellence is a problem, in large part because it actually says almost nothing about you aside from what language you likely speak.
Dispensing with patriotism is also cathartic. It means I don’t have to be responsible for the actions of people I can’t control, like when congress or the President decide to do something I haven’t consented to (nor should I be). It means our beliefs don’t have to be conflated with the actions of our governments which, more often than not, act without our consent and outside of our best interest. I don’t know about you, but its been a relief for me.