Is Patriotism Worth It?

I can see a lot of people not liking this blog post. Why? Because everyone loves their country. Everyone loves LOVING their country. We love our countries so much we root for them. We love our countries so much we fight for them. We love our countries so much we die for them. The funny thing is…those people on the other side of our gun barrels, they’re doing the exact same thing. Everyone is willing to die for their country…but is every country worth dying for?

I will not bash my country, nor the significant things it has accomplished. I am lucky enough to be born in one of the most affluent parts of the world, and the standard of living is among the highest on the planet. We have lots to love. Free health care, high paying jobs, a relatively robust economy (for the times, at least), and two car garages. Sounds like the best place to live in the world. Nor am I saying that my country is better than any others. For the way most of us live our lives, it is one of the only conceivable places we CAN live – who grows up on a 6 figure household income and then goes to shit in a hole in a jungle for the rest of their life? Not many of us. But the point of this post goes deeper than a game of “my country is better than yours” and indicates a deeper, and occasionally dangerous, need of the human psyche – the need to belong.

Think back to your elementary school days, when you had those schoolyard rivalries with that other school down the street. It was us and them. Known and unknown. Good and bad. But then when you all went to high school together and went out to cheer on the football team, you were all buddies. Now it was the next TOWN over that were the baddies. “Kick their ass sports team X, they’re not from here! Send em home crying to mama!” All of a sudden you’ve graduated and working at the local automobile factory. Now you and all your buddies are proud, Canadian auto workers, top notch workers in an industry floundering in our society’s maturation to a services based economy. “Don’t buy from that OTHER country! Support US! Your neighbours! Your countrymen! Our cars may not be better, but they’re OURS!” It would take an extreme case of myopia to not see the pattern here.

The severe in-group mentality of patriotism can sometimes be alarming and has been the cause of more than a few world conflicts…and on top of that, the example above is just economically unsound in a properly regulated global market! The issue we are all forgetting when we stand forward to defend our country, whether from economic “backstabbing” or from the evil doings of another country, is that there is a deeper bond connecting all of us, running deeper than patriotism or all our other groups that we create to feel that we belong.

I’m not saying we should all hold hands and wear flowers in our hair being beatniks around a bonfire and be “citizens of the world”, but I would question why that statement garners a “pshaw” from most people who hear it. Is it so unreasonable to extrapolate our lessons learned on the schoolyard and embrace that which ACTUALLY binds us as a species? We seem to so crave that in-group sense of belonging that we forget that we are ALL part of an in-group, as human beings. Should that level not take precedence over our nationality, no matter how awesome our country is? “Well that would be no fun, there would be no one to exclude!” Maybe someday we will find life on another planet. Then we can all have fun being xenophobes and maybe we can have peace on Earth.

Empathy has been called the most intelligent and evolved of all emotions. Perhaps that’s what this is about. We evolved from solo hunters who had to kill any nearby stranger because they were a threat to survival. We’ve evolved our loyalties into clans, then tribes, further into large, organized religions, and even further into nations of strangers. Can you spot the pattern yet? Perhaps we have to evolve past that nationalism, too. I swear there’s a quote from Lincoln out there somewhere about how if we grew up with the same influences and experiences as our enemies, we would be no different from them…so how can we hate them for it?

Granted our forms of government can hardly handle the burdens put upon them by supporting and ruling even their small amounts of citizens. But perhaps one day we can hope for a unifying body that is capable and trusted enough to carry out our next schoolyard evolution.

Update: Found this video from the RSA a few weeks after writing this and he brings up some really good points that go along with this post! Enjoy!

Update:  Came across this in a book I was reading on the history of the world.  ‘A wise old Buddhist monk once said he’d love to know why someone who boasts that he is the cleverest, the strongest, the bravest or the most gifted man on earth is thought ridiculous and embarrassing, whereas if, instead of ‘I’, he says ‘WE are the most intelligent, the strongest, the bravest and the most gifted people on earth’, his fellow countrymen applaud enthusiastically and call him a patriot.  One can be attached to one’s own country without needing to insist that the rest of the world’s inhabitants are worthless.’

China: Progressive World Power or Oppressive Backwater Regime?

China. A country of unending size, where each city seems as far off as the last. (I can sympathize with backpackers travelling to Canada!) Exotic food delights you at each street corner, and beautiful landscapes surround you each time you depart from city life. For a country poised to take center stage in world economics, to become a superpower with a powerhouse of an economy, China still has a few surprises in store for visitors.

Children urinating in the streets, epidemic impoliteness in crowds, and other uncouth habits plague those who are not accustomed to such behaviour, but there are more concerning issues to be dealt with. An ingrained paranoia in the upper echelons of Chinese leadership has persisted seemingly since the dawn of Chinese civilization, starting with the first emperors who believed themselves to be immortal dragons – yet at the same time built their palaces with a courtyard 15 LAYERS of brick deep, to prevent subjects from the city common from digging under the palace to attempt assassination. In Curtis’ words of the architect: “Well sir, if you’re a dragon, couldn’t you just…fight them? Or at least fly away?” At which the emperor would probably say: “Uhhh…yeah…well what if I didn’t…you know, what if I didn’t want to…nyeah…just put down the damn bricks, I’m the dragon emperor! Rraahh!!”
This paranoia persists today in their fear of a politically educated society. With internet censorship including a block of Facebook, Youtube, many blog sites and parts of Google itself, and with Lonely Planet China being confiscated at the border one has to wonder at the maturity and honesty of an elite so afraid of the truth being found by their own people. Not to mention some of the human rights abuses such as the disputed claim over Tibet and Taiwan that have garnered much international rebuke lately. China, although a grand and ancient country, seems to have some distance to cover before emerging as the world leader that many predict.
For another thing, Chinese tourism smacks of the rank and file proletariat. “Oh, we’re making an 8th stop between here and lunch? Alright, we’ll follow you in line wherever you go, as long as you’ve got that flag! Time for food? Okay. Whatever you say Mr. Tour Guide. Oh, that Mountain looks like Chairman Mao, Zhou Enlai, AND Deng Xiaopeng? Ha ha, why it does, doesn’t it! Don’t we love them!” It seems that there is quite a bit of propaganda still in China, with the government seeking to control the thoughts of the general population in order to keep the reins of power as long as possible. For example, the Lonely Planet for any country can be bought within China, except for the China edition itself! They claim it has something to do with a map in the book that marks Taiwan as a separate country (which China obviously disagrees with), although I wouldn’t be surprised if it had something more to do with some of the history presented by the unbiased authors of the Lonely Planet (compared with the government approved drivel printed in the tour books that are legally allowed to be sold in China).
This ‘brainwashing’ definitely has it’s negative effects, but there is also a surprising upside to the information that the government crams down people’s throats. They are incredibly well informed about different market systems, from communism (when that was all the rave in China) and more recently about the workings of a capitalist market system. China has pursued a calm and cautious approach when shifting their economy from a closed communist system to a more open market, compared with many unsuccessful market shifts in Eastern Europe and South America, to name a few examples. China has consistently resisted the Western world’s requests to give up all authoritarian power in government and move to a completely free democracy, while at the same time moving from a centralized, government run communist economy to a completely free market. China has studied the history and mistakes of other countries who have tried to do this and failed, and has instead slowly opened up its market piece by piece, at the same time holding tightly to authoritarian power which allows for a controlled market shift with acceptable time to build the necessary institutions to accomodate such a shift. With its broadening economic freedoms comes a slower trickle of democratic freedoms, which China is accepting in stride. Not bad for a country who brought one sixth of the world out of abject poverty within the past few decades…