Pride’s Sleight of Hand

Nationalism isn’t a new trick, but it’s one that’s sure to be vigorously used for eternity. Is loving your country bad? No, but what makes it so special over any other?

expatriated [Converted]

We are often taught that patriotism is a good thing. We’re instructed to get a little thrill about our country’s past, its achievements and its glories. The reality is that it has all the value of a vicious mental disease.

Patriotism, generally-speaking, is about as nourishing as cocaine: the first line is a good buzz, but keep snorting and it’ll slowly kill you, or at least drive you insane.

Being an expatriate at least brings these things clearly into view. Cut from the umbilical cord of the motherland, a certain independence shows itself and we realize that we perhaps ought to view our home countries with the horror they deserve. Though it doesn’t always work like that.

A few years abroad often gives many of us rose tinted spectacles: Yanks yearn for freedom, Brits pine for cricket and warm beer and the French are, presumably, left desirous of philosophy and kinky sex. It’s all bullshit, of course.

Sure, we have built some fancy buildings and invented some decent medicine. Hell, we even have bullet trains these days. Yet, if you take the long view, bloodshed and destruction are really our main game.

Currently, these nations offer up a billionaire with a large bouffant and even bigger bombs, an archipelago receding into isolation, while gripped by hysterical fears of immigration and a republic standing on the precipice of reconfigured fascism. If this is why we should be patriotic, shoot me in face.

China was, by no means, late to the party. The country loves to conflate the state with the nation. Attacks on anything can be made to look like an assault on the national character. It’s the equivalent of someone saying a Brit is not patriotic because he thinks Tony Blair is a dick.

Since 1989, China has pushed hard to educate its people patriotically, with a particular focus on the “century of humiliation,” which emphasizes the horrors inflicted on China by any number of foreign barbarians and gives the nation an awkward victim complex.

In the 1930s, Chinese writer Lin Yutang, wrote of China’s 3,000-year history. Some 80 years later, the nation proudly boasts of its 5,000 years of history. It seems that each additional year adds almost 25 years of history. If archeologists up their game, by this time next century, China could have 8,000 years of history. Now that is something to be get behind.

I mention history since it is used to bolster patriotic thought the world over. As if we as humans should be proud of our collective history: perhaps Germans should high-five Cambodians because they both really bossed it on the genocide front or the British should really get excited about their centuries of brutal, bloody imperialism.

In a century or so, the Brazilians might also be able to get on the coveted patriotism train: “Yeah bro, we smashed that rainforest to smithereens. Screw you, Amazon.”

Really, human history isn’t something to be hugely pleased about. Sure, we have built some fancy buildings and invented some decent medicine. Hell, we even have bullet trains these days. Yet, if you take the long view, bloodshed and destruction are really our main game. We all have little to be smug about, and certainly not the fickle bordering of nations states.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t have any pride in our nations at all. I’m prone to wax lyrical about British comedies from the 70s, English breakfasts and fizzy cider, but I wouldn’t drop a bomb for it. The nation you identify with is, after all, just the luck of the draw.

The fact that your mother gave birth in the Swiss Alps doesn’t give you any more standing for the mountains than a guy taking credit for herring and adult-film because his dad relocated his family to Sweden for work.

By all means, we should approach the quirks of our home nations with a certain whimsy and pleasure. Nonetheless, it’s important to temper our pride with some bitter medicine and realize that patriotism is all-too-often merely tinder for what is an imagined chauvinism, a spark for land grabs or a chance for our boorish leaders to strengthen their grip on power in times of supposed crisis.

Be fond of your country, but remember, if you are getting angry and riled-up about a foreign threat to your country, it is more than likely you are getting played. As Samuel Johnson said way back in April 1775: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

These days, it seems, there are more scoundrels than ever.