July 4, 2011
Fireworks like dendrites
appear suddenly expand
wildly above trees.
Today is July 4 and I would like to truly honor the country of my birth by talking about the dangers of patriotism. I realize it is a touchy subject. When I wrote a paper about it in college, the professor became downright defensive. But I always thought that citizens who preached the philosophy of “My country: love it or leave it” or “My country: right or wrong” were the most dangerous people to their “beloved” country.
Fortunately or unfortunately, nothing in this world stays the same. Rome thought itself pretty special too. If we cannot honestly and somewhat objectively critique what our government does, we are destined to make critical mistakes. And we are destined to repeat them.
Over the past few centuries, many countries have used the United States as an example for forming a more democratic form of government. However, that does not mean that we are better than other countries. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranked the happiest countries in the world and the top three were 1. Denmark, 2. Norway, and 3. The Netherlands. The U.S. finished 11. What was interesting is that these three countries also ranked in the top five as the most generous countries: 1. Norway (1.1% of Gross National Income); 4. Denmark (0.9%); 5. Netherlands (0.81%). The U.S. ranked 19 (0.2) well below the 0.7% recommended by the United Nations.
We live in a highly interconnected world. Troubles in Europe affect us; troubles in the Middle East affect us; troubles in Asia affect us. Patriotism ignores that interconnectedness with its inherent “us or them” confrontational mentality. It has at times set friend against friend, brother against brother for no other reason than they happen to live on different sides of an arbitrary line.
In my own school where I work, we did not stand and recite the ”Pledge of Allegiance” until the government wanted us to go to war – which seems like a clear sign that its main intent is propaganda and a military recruiting tool rather than a declaration of love.
Patriotism is comparable to fanaticism in religion. It is the result of mistaking symbols and metaphors for God, mistaking a path for The Path. The comparison is so fitting that sometimes the two even get mixed up. I have a friend in Denmark who refers to the United States sardonically as Guds Egen Land, “God’s own country.” Whatever the Unknowable is, it seems incredibly absurd and belittling to believe It takes sides in our silly and horrific games like some sports fan rooting his team to victory or running on to the playing field and tackling the opposition.
Consider a more down-to-earth symbol: the American flag. In our country, flag burning should be a cherished right, not something to be criticized. It is more representative of what our country stands for than the flag itself. What is the highest principle upon which our country was formed? Freedom of speech, freedom of expression. Allowing the flag to be burned means individual rights are being protected – and no symbol is above that.