By Ryan Lau | @agorisms
A man stands tall, clothed in a faded T-shirt bearing an American flag. With each beer he downs, the less he realizes that his garb violates U.S. flag code. Because he loves the beacon of independence and freedom that is the United States of America, the good patriot vehemently supports the troops and parrots the national anthem.
All of a sudden, a record scratches, and the screen freezes. You may be wondering how he got here. More importantly, you may want to know the implications of this terrible position. Ultimately, as a good patriot, it is the job of that man to die or even kill for his country at the whim of its leaders. Patriotism, both in the abstract and applied to the United States, leaves much to be desired.
Patriotism and the Good Patriot
Patriotism, on the surface, is a love for one’s country. Upon first consideration, this may appear to be an admirable quality, or even one to strive for. However, further inspection reveals that unyielding love has no place on the national stage.
In defense of patriotism, several key arguments exist. First, many, such as Leonard Niemand in his essay, “Defending the American Patriot”, claim that the United States offers preferable condition to any other place in the world. Thus, we owe some sort of reverence and gratitude due to our favorable birthright. Arguably, this is true. Yet, there is nothing that this suggests that there is any gratitude necessary.
The Best Option Available
As a parallel matter, consider the following hypothetical. Two friends walk down an alleyway, and all of a sudden, a third man approaches with a gun. One of the two victims tries to flee, and he shoots him down. But, the other man willingly gives him $1000, so the killer simply walks away from the situation, now $1000 richer. By the logic of the good patriot, the living victim should bow towards the murderer, singing great praise and kissing his boots. After all, out of every possible outcome, he got the one with the most freedom! Clearly, this logic does not hold true, as when a man kills a friend and steals from a survivor, praise is simply not an acceptable reaction. Why not? Essentially, because the lesser of evils is still evil. An option being the best available does not mean it is right or just.
Does this principle work any differently with the idea of patriotism? Not in any meaningful sense, anyway. The United States government, with every law it passes, threatens to kill those who disobey. They often imprison the survivors and steal from even those not guilty of any fines on a daily basis via taxation. Time and time again, bombs fly overseas and strike innocent children while even the most dovish politicians merely fiddle slightly with the military budget. The United States is not a beacon of freedom, and should not be treated as such. Though it may oppress less than North Korea or Russia, it is not without deep, inherent flaws.
Unfortunately, every country acts in most, if not all, of the same coercive ways. Given this frightful reality, it is entirely unrealistic to propose that anybody should show love for their own brand of murder.
A Lack of Choice
It is also worth noting the simple fact that in the history of humanity, not a single individual has ever chosen where they were born. So, what reason is there to feel pride in a particular region? States, ultimately, are nothing more than lines in the dirt that the government uses to control the people. They are nothing more than an abstract set of norms that groups coincidentally share. This brings me to, without a doubt, the most dangerous element of patriotism: the willingness to kill and die for such an abstract idea.
The Familial Discrepancy
When a man loves his wife, and she loves him, they are creating meaning. Many, including Niemand, claim that there is a parallel between familial love and patriotism. But in their situation, they are not creating any inherent competition or negativity towards others. The personal sphere is not inherently a violent one. Hence, it is safe to say one can love their spouse without having any dislike for anyone else in the world. The same, though, is not true for a country. The good patriot, in this sense, becomes a good killer, as the good patriot loves and supports his country over all others. The underlying issue is that the political sphere is inherently violent.
When one country receives favorable treatment, another receives unfavorable treatment. This is nearly always true in times of peace, and inherent in times of war. When a country goes to war, the good patriot is willing to go fight the good fight, or at the very least, show strong support the troops back at home. Why should the individual give up his life for an abstraction that mistreats them? And worse, why should the individual kill others who are only guilty of wearing the wrong color on the battlefield? Beneath the guise of national superiority, each human being is equal. Thus, every death on the battlefield is no better than a murder, and the good patriot that supports the country when it acts is no better than a good killer.
Treatment of Oppressors
In every other realm of life, when a victim treats his or her oppressor well, we aptly deem this as a dangerous mental hurdle to get over. Why, then, do we ignore this in the realm of the country and patriotism? The state asks much and gives much, but what does it not give? Choice and free will. There is no legitimate reason to feel an obligation or emotion, as a free adult, to an organization that robs the fundamental right to self-ownership.
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