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iWitch's avatar

Am I the only person in the world that doesn't understand patriotism?

Asked by iWitch (593points) August 16th, 2010

When I talk to people about wars, bombings, death, and destruction, and the hand the United States has sometimes played in… not helping in the slightest and sometimes making things worse, I always get the following line, “Why don’t you stick with your own country?” Now, I understand the concept of family loyalty, but not patriotism. Sure, these are the people I share land with and a governing system with. They aren’t the only people in the world that are worth my time and worry. My government is extremely fallible, just like any other. We’re not better than anyone else just because we call ourselves Americans. The only thing that makes us different is the fact that our Founders had some pretty good ideas when it came to a legislative system. I like the way my country runs. I just don’t think that living within it’s boundaries makes me a demigod.

Can anyone explain to me why everyone seems to cling to the idea of there being a “them” and an “us”?

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44 Answers

CaptainHarley's avatar

I certainly can’t, at least not for others. I was born and raised in America. My children and grandchildren all live here. My wife lives here. I spent about 34 years in the American military in one form or another. I don’t think we as people are necessarily any better or worse, but Americans were raised believing that we have a special place in history. I suspect it’s a combination of all of that, and more.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Nope, I’m with you.

jrpowell's avatar

Amen.. I feel the same way about sports. I don’t feel any loyalty to a sports team because I happen to be in the same city.

Bill Hicks (RIP) sums it up nicely.

I was over in Australia and everyone’s like “Are you proud to be an American?” And I was like, “Um, I don’t know, I didn’t have a lot to do with it. You know, my parents fucked there, that’s about all. You know, I was in the spirit realm at that time, going ‘FUCK IN PARIS! FUCK IN PARIS!’ but they couldn’t hear me, because I didn’t have a mouth. I was a spirit without lungs or a mouth, or vocal cords. They fucked here. Okay, I’m proud.’”

srtlhill's avatar

There is a them and us. When them are stepping on your head and taking your property you’ll get it. We can be different and still fly the same colors. Be proud of who you are and what others have fought for, for you. Let freedom ring we might have our problems but there’s a reason people through out the world want what we have.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@srtlhill What does all of that mean, anyway? Vague statements, at best

Your_Majesty's avatar

Patriotism? I don’t even care about Nationalism. Most people in my country are Patriotic maniac despite they know they live in not-a-very-good-country. I’m proud about my country’s natural resources,but I’m not proud about my nation,they’re a group of vandalistic,narrow-minded people.

Blackberry's avatar

I believe that Friedrich Nietzsche said nationalism is essentially childish and very not mature-minded…...

KatawaGrey's avatar

My two cents: I am an American and I am proud to be an American. I do not think other countries are worse or better. I am just happy to have been born here and I don’t know if I could be happy living permanently in any other country. This doesn’t make me ignorant. It makes me patriotic.

What I want to know is why everyone including many self-proclaimed patriots think that being a patriot means hating other countries and thinking all other people are substandard. I don’t think that.

Blackberry's avatar

@johnpowell Fucking…Awesome…...

ETpro's avatar

Fortunately, not everyone thinks like those people who mistake demagoguery for patriotism. When the New York Mosque debate erupted, and so many Americans stood up for trashing the 1st Amendment, I was reminded of all the other cases of political demagogery in our history.

There was Father Coughlin in the 1930s demonizing Jews and preaching Fascism. He had a tremendous following an the USA till after WWII when we finally saw where Nazism really led.

During the cold war, Senator Joseph McCarthy lured Americans into hysteric fear of commies behind every lamppost and even hiding in the highest halls of our government.

Nixon didn’t openly endorse it, but there was a strong anti-Catholic undercurrent in his campaign against John F. Kennedy in 1960. There were ads about a papist in the White House, the US being ruled by a foreign power and worse. Even though he was a brilliant orator and campaigner, Kennedy just barely won against that tide of bigotry.

Now we are being treated to Islamophobia, terror babies, race baiting like the ACORN and the Shirley Sherrod hoaxes, and demonization of immigrants.

One thing all these movements share in common. The demagogues who push them for political gain end up on the scrap heap of history. They are all on the wrong side of where history is inexorably going. And as Americans look back at the national moment of hysteria and insanity these political opportunists were able to inspire, they do so with a sense of shame.

wundayatta's avatar

Nope, you ain’t the only one who doesn’t understand it. Or the only one who finds it to be a paleolithic concept we can no longer afford.

However, I do understand it. It’s really pretty simple. People need to belong to a group in order to feel they are complete. They need to affiliate, and one way of affiliating is by avowing your loyalty to the group, over and over. You are proud to be (whatever nation or state or city or high school or employer or baseball team you belong to). Patriotism gives you an identity. Or rather, your affiliation gives you identity and you are patriotic in order to demonstrate your love of that which gives you an identity.

Patriotism also means being willing to protect your group against other groups. You are willing to stand up for it, whether by fighting or by words, such as saying you are proud to be (whatever).

Personally, I have a loyalty so something much larger than America. My loyalty is to the human race. It is the human race that I want to protect—from environmental degradation, war, greed, discrimination, racism, sexism and on and on. I do not think, “my country, right or wrong.” Yes, I was born here and I have a passport here, and this is the context in which I make most sense. But my loyalty is to the human race. As long as my country does things for the benefit of the human race, then I’m right there with it. But if it starts doing destructive things, then my loyalty ends there.

Winters's avatar

@Blackberry Nietzsche also believed in incestuous love

Nullo's avatar

Patriotism is an extension of the sentiments that one has towards family and friends. If you don’t see your country as such, you won’t feel terribly patriotic.

Seaofclouds's avatar

I’m with @KatawaGrey. I am proud of what my ancestors have done in the past to get this country to were it is today (maybe not today day exactly but in general). Yes, there are moments in our history that aren’t good, but they brought us to where we are today. I don’t hate other countries just because they aren’t mine and I don’t think we are better than other countries. I just like the country I live in.

srtlhill's avatar

devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty.
I hope this clarifies what I was saying in my own words.
I’ve served in the USN for four years.
My family has a total of 40 years of military service.
I would gladly put myself in the line of fire to protect those who can’t protect themselves, weather their Americans or not. This is my definition of what being patriotic is.
I also don’t lash out at others who benefit from being Americans even if their not helping others. That’s cool be yourself but just remember this country is full of disabled vets who were trying to serve and protect their families and friends way of life. Right or wrong sometimes you do have to pick a side and defend it to the end. This does not mean I have a kill them all and let God sort them out attitude it just means I’m fortunate to live and prosper in a land that allows me to say what I just did without fear of being put to death. Patriotism and freedom are the same to me. That’s all no less no more. Peace to you if you understand or not this is the Best I can explain to all.

lillycoyote's avatar

No, absolutely, not at all. One’s nationality is nothing more than an accident of birth, to be honest. I was born an American, that is not something that I can claim any particular pride in. I suppose I could have very well have been born somewhere else. The fact that I was born an American, just because I was, doesn’t make me any better or worse than anyone else. It just happened. It’s not anything that I had any control over and therefore is not anything I have any particular right to take any pride in.

shpadoinkle_sue's avatar

I’m with you. Sometimes, I wish I was Canadian.

In America, there’s such an amalgamation of different cultures and ethnicites that it’s sometimes hard to feel a sense of patriotism. I try to stay more local and be proud that I’m from Oregon.

ETpro's avatar

@srtlhill I too have my pound of family flesh in the defense of the USA. My dad was in the US Navy in WWII. I served, and was lucky enough to get out just before Vietnam boiled over. My daughter died in a Naval Hospital after giving birth. I believe that if she had been in the civilian hospital she would be alive today, because she died of peritonitis from a ruptured rectum caused by straining. That should have been detected early, but it went on for 3 days untreated. My son will deploy to Afghanistan next month. He’s an Army officer.

But I do not accept the idea of “my country, right or wrong, my country.” If I had been born in prewar Germany, I would not have thought it my duty to herd Jews into gas chambers. Sometimes,.political leaders are dead wrong, and so fundamentally so that following them would taint a soul for life and beyond.

Winters's avatar

Personally, all the important people in my life live in both South Korea and the USA, and hence I’m more than willing to defend both these countries for them. Does that make me patriotic?

iWitch's avatar

@srtlhill I can’t say I agree with you, but thanks for helping me better understand your feelings.

“Right or wrong sometimes you do have to pick a side and defend it to the end.”

I don’t like that mentality, and when I really think about it, picking sides is usually a horrible idea (as has been shown in many wars throughout history). However, I understand where you’re coming from and know that your intentions are inherently good.

I’ve never said a word against the vets, and I always speak highly of them. I don’t agree with war, but I agree with the feelings they have towards what they stand for. Thank you for your service as well. I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.

iWitch's avatar

@Winters Nope. It means you love your family. You didn’t say you loved the USA and South Korea right there, you said you would defend your family.

ratboy's avatar

This very biased selection of quotations regarding patriotism were obtained here.

“Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”
—Samuel Johnson

“Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.”
—Oscar Wilde

“Patriotism is a pernicious, psychopathic form of idiocy”
—George Bernard Shaw

“Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons.”
—Bertrand Russell

“Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism -how passionately I hate them!”
—Albert Einstein

“Patriotism is as fierce as a fever, pitiless as the grave, blind as a stone, and irrational as a headless hen.”
—Ambrose Bierce

“One of the great attractions of patriotism it fulfills our worst wishes. In the person of our nation we are able, vicariously, to bully and cheat. Bully and cheat, what’s more, with a feeling that we are profoundly virtuous.”
—Aldous Huxley

“Patriotism is the religion of hell”
—James Branch Cabell

“Men in authority will always think that criticism of their policies is dangerous. They will always equate their policies with patriotism, and find criticism subversive.”
—Henry Steele Commager

JLeslie's avatar

I feel very patriotic. I love America, I love our ideals, even though we fall short of them often. I love our mottos and tag lines…give me your tired your poor your huddled masses yearning to be free; separation of church and state; life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I think a lot of people use the word patriotism when maybe nationalism is more appropriate. I think nationalism is scary. To be so identified with ones country, and to have a specific idea about who should live there is too rigid, and flies in the face of individual thought.

I don’t think wanting to be an American and prefering to live America is the same as saying America is better than other countries. I think America can definetly improve some things, that we can learn from other countries, and that other countries can learn from us.

rooeytoo's avatar

@JLeslie – congrats, GA

I am proud to be American and Australian. Neither country is flawless, nor is any other that I am aware of. But let us not forget the good that America does in addition to its shortcomings. I don’t get the them and us and I have never perceived that feeling from anyone I know.

When I hear people who have nothing good to say about the USA but think that another country has it all right, I assume they have never lived anywhere else or traveled to other countries. America is a good place to be and it is populated by good human beings and some jerks, but show me a place that isn’t. I thank my lucky stars that I was born a yank!

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

The notion of “My country, right or wrong” represents the blindness of patriotism which so often is used to justify acts so perverse or evil that no same person could support and respect such conduct. Criticizing what is wrong with your country is more patriotic than blind support for everything it does or has ever done. @Ratboy those quotes come from some pretty bright people. I agree with most of them!

augustlan's avatar

I wouldn’t say I’m proud to be American (after all, I had nothing to do with it), but I am certainly happy about it. I don’t understand the “my country, love it or leave it” or “us vs. them” attitudes, though. People matter more than countries, more than lines drawn on a map.

Nullo's avatar

@JLeslie There is no SOCAS, just an amendment prohibiting a state-sponsored religion. You cannot truly have your separation, because a religiously-motivated person’s opinions are every bit as real as the opinions of an atheist or agnostic.

I feel much the same way about my house. Sure, it’s got aluminum siding and a weird lawn, but it’s my house, dangit.

JLeslie's avatar

@Nullo I was stating phrases that area associated with America. Give us your poor, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free…is a poem. I was not making a statement about actual rights or the constitution or other formal documents of our nation.

However, you might want to remember that the US, which has supported individual rights and freedom to practice your own religion, and basically does believe in the separation of church and state as an important and intergral part of our country, is one of the most religious and believeing countries among industrialized nations. Our system has allowed religion to flourish, you might not want to screw around with it.

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
Nullo's avatar

@JLeslie I am concerned with the current tendency to discount a person’s opinions because they are derived from his faith, on the grounds that supposedly there is to be no religious anything involved in government. There are those who would enact legislation to that effect, using the SOCAS doctrine as justification.
SOCAS is a twisted re-imagining of the First Amendment, and every time you give credence to the idea of the SOCAS doctrine, it gains strength.

JLeslie's avatar

People’s opinions are not discounted because they are based on faith, I disagree with your statement. People’s opinions are discounted if they are not based in fact, are hateful, racist, destructive, limit others people’s religious and civil rights and freedoms, I could go on. SOCAS protects you. You are obviously a religious man, I would assume you would prefer that if a Jewish politician is the next mayor of your town, that he not start with a Jewish prayer in Hebrew before every meeting. That if Muslims start moving into your community, that the public school where your child might attend not teach the Qur’an to your 8 year old. That if Mitt Romney becomes president he does not get to make it the law of the land that all people listen to a Mormon message.

If you were the minority religion you would feel differently I think. In many communities across America Christians are not 95% of the community, which is probably how it is where you live (if I am wrong please correct me). You need to set up the law so that when the tables turn, you won’t have to worry about your rights. No one is stopping you from teaching your children your faith, from practicing your faith, from believing whatever you choose to believe. Secularizing public institutions is not getting rid of Christianity. I understand it feels like that to Christians, because especially in the bible belt they have not really followed SOCAS in many communities, and so to these people it is removing Christianity from places like schools. But, times are a changing. The country is now almost 40% minorities. In towns that were almost 100% white Christian are now experience influxes of people from other regions of the US, other countries, other ethnicities, and other religions. I think what you want to protect is unrealistic as we move forward into the 21st century.

SOCAS is not to be equated with trying to spread atheism and inhibit religion, which I think might be how you see it. SOCAS is to make sure the government cannot restrict citizens to a particular faith or lack of. I am an atheist, I would be horrified if the US tried to become an atheist country by restricting religious practices of private citizens or closing houses of worship.

Have you ever been to NYC? Washington DC? San Francisco? Really experienced diversity in our country?

CaptainHarley's avatar

Historically, the Christian Church ( meaning the body of believers, not buildings ) has always prospered under persecution. Be careful what you pray for.

JLeslie's avatar

@CaptainHarley This is exactly what I am talking about. If the Christians try to stifle other religions, the other religions will get louder. If people try to stifle the Christians they will fight back harder. I completely agree.

Facade's avatar

I don’t get it either

ETpro's avatar

@Nullo It is efforts like yours to redefine the Separation of Church and State, a doctrine which has served this nation admirably now for well over 200 years, as not really existing—as being some sort of atheist fabrication, that draw the ire of so many. It’s true that the actual words, “Separation of Church and State” do not occur in the First Amendment, but it is equally true that the concept does. Thomas Jefferson, in correspondence to a friend about what the founding fathers intended, used the phrase and his letter gave rise to the term SOCAS doctrine.

Most of our founding fathers remembered well that either they or their families had escaped religious persecution of European state churches by moving to the New World. It is blasphemy to suggest that we turn our back on their wisdom, and adopt the very state-sponsored religion they came here to escape. I would remind you that while much of Europe today is largely secular, the USA has a wealth of vital churches and faiths of every ilk. Far from wiping religion out, our Constitution has ensured it prospered.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Look at it this way: God does not need our help to make things turn out the way he wants them to. Quite the contrary… WE need his! Our responsibility as Christians is to love the lord our God with all our heart and soul and strength, and to love our neighbor ( that means ALL our neighbors ) at least as much as we love ourselves. We are directed to strive to be at peace with all men whenever possible. We are to be examples of what God can do to the average human: so live your lives among men that they will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Beyond that, “render therefore unto Ceasar the things that are Ceasar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”

Nullo's avatar

@JLeslie Many were the times that I heard people wail about Bush’s faith and how it was somehow a violation of SOCAS. Perhaps you ran with a happier crowd in those days.

I suppose that I was not sufficiently clear in my meaning earlier.
I don’t mind so much what the policy has been – as you say, it’s done a decent job so far – but rather I am worried about what it may become.
As I mention above, I have encountered those who want to bar religious people from public office on the grounds that anything less would violate the doctrine. I don’t want that, and I feel that the solution is to remind people that the amendment that they’re so fond of came from the troubles derived from a king who was the head of the Church of England – not from a ruler who happened to be a Christian.
I advocate the use of different language – specifically, Constitutional language – that will not encourage locking the faithful out of government.

ETpro's avatar

@Nullo If there is ever a move to bar someone from serving in public office because they are religious, I will be right there with you fighting such insanity. That is just as much a violation of the 1st Amendment as forcing a single state religion on us all would be.

I don’t recall a huge outcry about George W. Bush being a Christian. The concern was for moving to install faith-0based initiatives as part of his administration. That effort, IMHO, was a clear violation of the Constitution.

I certainly do not believe you have anything to worry about. No professing atheist has ever been elected to high office in the USA as far as I can recall. Some may be closet atheists, but almost all claim to be Christians. If they didn’t, it is highly questionable of they could get elected as dogcatcher.

Now, if you want to note that lots of them, once in office, don’t live like Christians, I am right there with you again.

JLeslie's avatar

@Nullo I didn’t mind that Bush is a Christian, look I thought Clinton was great and he is a christian. I did not like as @ETpro mentioned Bush wanting to mix church and state with faith based initiatives. Also, many people blamed his ignorance and lack of interest in science on his religious beliefs, that might be some of what you are referring to, but it could just be he is not science minded regardless of faith. I really think you are confusing two issues, politicians who are Christian and Christianity and religion in government. When a politician wears his religion on his sleeve, practically preaching what he thinks is right and what is right for others, excluding people of other faiths, that is when it becomes a problem. Would you want to feel excluded in your country? If you lived in a country that is 80 percent Muslim would you want separation of church and state? Would you want to feel free to practice your religion safely, to raise your children without interference from the government with religious comment, control, or indoctrination. For your government not to be funding Muslim initiatives that possibly exclude you and your beliefs? If you are thinking, “I would never live in a Muslim country,” which I hear from Christians all of the time when I ask this, I say that is avoiding the question, and shows a lack of empathy for the minorities in America. It demonstrates to me those people simply don’t care about people of other religions, they think the US is, and should be a Christian country, and they don’t care how they achieve it. It implies holy war (war is harsh, but I cant think of a better word) not just wanting to practice Christianity freely.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@ETpro I don’t know if there was ever an effort to bar someone from holding office because they were religious, but I do know that there have been efforts to bar atheists.

Critics of Cecil Bothwell cite N.C. bar to atheists

CaptainHarley's avatar

@JLeslie It also demonstrates a lack of faith.

ETpro's avatar

@Dr_Dredd My point exactly. Christians fearing being barred from government is as silly as Whites insisting they are being stripped of everything by affirmative action. The statistics show that neither claim has any merit whatsoever.

Until atheists and agnostics can successfully run for public office, I won’t be losing any sleep worrying about Christians being blocked from politics.

JLeslie's avatar

@CaptainHarley Can you clarify?

CaptainHarley's avatar


Sure. It’s still “helping God,” who needs our help not at all.

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