Am I Unpatriotic?
By Steve Gillman - July 22, 2012
From reading a few of my essays and blog posts some people
might get the impression that I am unpatriotic. What does the
word mean? I found this definition in a dictionary online: "not
enthusiastically supporting one's country and its ways of life."
Apparently patriotism is worse than I thought; it isn't enough
to support the nebulous concepts of "one's country,"
and "its ways of life" but one must do so enthusiastically
Yes, of course I am unpatriotic, because I would always choose
truth and justice over support of either the government or the
three hundred million citizens I've never met and so do not know.
I cannot enthusiastically support a country because I haven't
seen one and what some might label with that name, or with the
more specific "United States," is a mix of good and
bad people and has a mixed history of good and evil. Enthusiastically
supporting anything without reason is not in my nature.
More than just being unpatriotic, though, I am against patriotism
and nationalism in general. Why would I choose to identify with
a geographical area that is too large to meaningfully know, or
with millions of people I have never met, and who have values
very different from my own? How could that make sense? Someone
drew a line around some land, and because I happen to have been
born or lived within that line I am supposed to be loyal to the
government that has power there, or the people who happen to
be inside the same line? It seems too silly to take seriously.
But it is taken seriously, and by most people. In fact, though
I write about these matters, I do not normally bring them up
in conversation, because I not only will offend someone, but
in the wrong place I will probably be attacked with more than
words. The seriousness with which most people in the United States
"honor" their country is scary, to say the least. It
creates an "us and them" mind set, and does nothing
for the cause of peace (which I happen to value more than the
cause of flag waving).
I have written about this before. In the post, "Do
I Love This Country?," I go into a bit more detail about
what I like and don't like about the United States. In my book
I have an essay titled, "I Have No Duty to My Country,"
where I explain the fallacy of the concept of a citizen's "duty,"
and how when anyone claims you have one it just means they want
something from you. In my book Mind
Puppet I have an essay that spells out exactly how I feel
about flags in general and about the American flag specifically--it
isn't a feeling of reverence.
Here I want to ask a question, and I wonder how many readers
have a well-thought-out answer. It is this: Why should I be patriotic?
Some people will claim that I should feel grateful for the
freedom and opportunities I have here. I am, but in a general
sense. There is no sense in thanking our current government while
each administration limits my freedom further. Obviously the
people who voted for the crooks and criminals in Washington do
not deserve thanks. What about the soldiers? They are used as
pawns for political goals other than the defense of freedom (really,
Iraq was going to attack the United States?).
Freedom is a tricky concept in any case. There are hundreds
of laws here that prevent people from doing things they could
freely do in other countries, and hundreds of restrictive laws
in any of those countries that are not found here. How free a
person is or feels depends in large part on whether what he or
she wants to do is not legislated against where he or she happens
to live. In general, there is more freedom here than in some
other countries, but my loyalty would have to be to that freedom,
not to any country's government that claims they can "allow"
it or take it away.
Tribalism is the basic concept behind patriotism. Since I
am against tribalistic thinking in general I am naturally unpatriotic.
But I should point out that at least most tribes of the past
were made up of people who actually knew each other, and so had
a natural concern for one another. Loyalty to a group like that
makes more sense than loyalty to the more nebulous "country"
or "countrymen." But even in that case, and even at
the level of the family, it makes no moral sense to place such
loyalty above doing right and being willing to see and speak
Some will claim that their loyalty is to the concept of America,
to the ideals for which it supposedly stands. It makes for a
more intelligent-sounding argument, but really? Most of these
same people would vote for any number of laws that violate the
"freedom" they think their country stands for. For
example, most patriots would be happy to vote for outlawing the
burning of the flag, even as they pretend to believe in the "right"
to free speech (and what better example is there of the kind
of political expression that the The First Amendment of the United
States Constitution should protect?).
It seems plain to me, when we look at the history of this
country (or any other), that loyalty to truth and justice has
to at some point--and at many points in time-- preclude loyalty
to the people or powers that rule. So why bother with the argument
for loyalty to a leader, government, or a bunch of random people
who happen to live in the same colored area of a map? It just
encourages those who would do harm to others to use this patriotism
as a means to their nefarious ends.
Whatever community spirit it engenders, or other minor values
that come from it, patriotism adds more misery to the world than
anything else. It inevitably is used to gain support for evil
policies. History shows little evidence that it has led to better
treatment of people or greater freedom (consider that it was
the only the unpatriotic members of the British Empire
who fought for and won a modicum of additional freedom here in
the states). Meanwhile we see throughout history that it has
been used to whip citizens into a state of frenzy and incivility
toward outsiders (or even groups within the society). It makes
it possible for patriotic citizens to go along with the killings
of millions of other people.
Yes, I am unpatriotic, because my loyalties are to higher
values than the whims of the herd or its herders. I am against
patriotism in all cases, because it offers us very little other
than good feelings, while it enables all sorts of crimes and