sentences i wish i'd thought to write

Julian Sanchez:

You can think of patriotism as a kind of status socialism—a collectivization of the means of self-esteem production. You don’t have to graduate from an Ivy or make a lot of money to feel proud or special about being an American; you don’t have to do a damn thing but be born here. Cultural valorization of "American-ness" relative to other status markers, then, is a kind of redistribution of psychological capital to those who lack other sources of it.

This seems about right to me.

I made the mistake of commenting on a casual (read: we haven't seen each other in 15 years) Facebook friend's comment last week regarding how she thought that singing "God Bless America" at baseball games cheapened the ceremony of singing the actual National Anthem. Discussion proceeded into the etiquette of putting hand over heart during the two songs, etc. My contribution was that GBA is a silly song from a musical, and that I thought standing respectfully for the ceremonial playing of any country's national anthem was the polite thing to do (for example, at an NHL game with both American and Canadian teams playing) but that I thought saluting was absolutely optional.

As you might imagine, this invited some invective from friends of the "friend". Being a long-time veteran of online arguments, I did the sensible thing: pretended I never saw those comments, and got on with my life.

Still, one in particular almost drew me out. To paraphrase: "Try to imagine waking up in a different country, under a different flag." It was hard for me not to say that I had, on several occasions, woken up in different countries, and furthermore had no difficulty imagining doing so since I am married to someone who has that experience every day of her life, and who I know misses her home very much. I could have further answered that there were many times in the last 10 years or so where I thought waking up under another flag permanently myself wasn't such a bad idea. (I still wouldn't rule it out.)

Of course, the underlying assumption was that America is simply the greatest country on earth. That's a fine opinion to have, and easily justifiable--depending on what you value--but what I'll never understand is the conviction that to merely consider America among the best countries on earth is to be fundamentally "anti-American". America is a great country. So are Canada, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, Australia, and Switzerland, among others. But to suggest that the US actually has peers in terms of quality of life and freedoms enjoyed is to strike at the very heart of the "cultural valorization of 'American-ness'" on which so many seem to base their self-worth.

This is silly. No one suggests that liking tacos makes you necessarily "anti-sushi" or (perhaps more appropriately) that having friends makes you "anti-family".

But more than anything, I think it's just sad. Wilde said that patriotism is the virtue of vicious...but maybe it's just the virtue of those that don't find much else in which to take pride.


RW said...

I had a friend who always cried at the National Anthem. Her name was Maude Lynn Schmaltz.

get it? I made that up just now.

No but I'm pretty sick of the whole thing. Stuff makes me want to pull out my black flag and go off and join the anarcho-syndicalists of my youth. Except they're all capitalists now selling Che shirts.

I made a comment recently on another board that "I love America, it's Americans I can't stand sometimes."

Well... you can imagine.

Dave said...

I had to stand for the national anthem at a movie theater yesterday ... I thought that was really quite silly. In this case the NA was set to a video montage of war, or more specifically (expensive and tactically useless) American military equipment blowing stuff up. Not cool. And I see absolutely no reason to reiterate my national allegiance before watching a movie. And to be honest, I'm not sure why I have to do it at sporting events, other than it is now firmly established tradition. With regards to GBA, my sense is that familiarity breeds contempt. If the NA or pseudo-national anthems like GBA are a routine event, they become cheapened and thus meaningless. And frankly, Take me out to the ballgame is just more fun. I actually have little interest in most displays of "patriotism" because they are shallow and cheap. I especially dislike Support The Troops signs, mostly because they don't actually accomplish anything other than make the person displaying the sign feel good without actually having to do anything. So they are not just cheap, but also disingenuous. I also dislike being called a "hero" mostly because my motives are mostly selfish (being in CENTCOM AOR is a good career move designed to get me promoted and thus earn more money) and again I tend to think that the word is used casually and without any real consideration of what that means. In today's specific case, I asked during our "warrior transition brief" (gag) why if I am such a hero I have to sit in Norfolk for 3 days until the out-processing center opens on Monday morning (we get in late Friday night). As with most patriotic discussions, the terms tossed around are shallow and largely meaningless. So I would just as soon avoid their use all together.

Gino said...

i've got a lot of thoughts on this discussion that i've tried to put into type on a few occasions, only to fall way short of what i was trying to say.

i'm proud to be an american. if i was born on the other side, i'd proud to be an italian, as well.

i see it as a form of larger tribalism. we all belong to something bigger than we are, and at several levels.
for example: if i start dissing your family, you'd be pissed, even i may repeat that YOU, personally, are a great guy.

i may not like some of my family, and even possess a small disdain for a few, but... you hurt one on of mine, i'll kill you.
they are the first loyalty. we share that,me and my family, together.

and it just expands from there: locality, region, alma mater, nation, ethnicity, religion...

we all belong to something bigger than ourselves. unity/comraderie has its rewards and blessings, as well as its drawbacks and responsibilities.

you toss the minuses, you lose the pluses as well.

Brian said...

"and it just expands from there: locality, region, alma mater, nation, ethnicity, religion..."

True, and if you take that one or two steps further, you eventually get to "humanity". That is the direction of progress. I'd like to think there is a future in which nationality is as meaningless as clan is here and now.

And I don't think that is unreasonable expectation. Imagine describing Europe in 2010, with its multicultural economic integration, open migration, and borderless travel to someone living there in 1939.

Brian said...

Hell, imagine describing it to someone living in Poland or Hungary in the early days of 1989.

RW said...

Relative to the whole place/ethnicity thing though, have you ever looked at Hubble pictures and felt how insignificant that kind of shit is? Like it's all in our heads because LOOK at all this vast shit out here and you're worried about a mark somebody has on their damn forehead or what somebody said about somebody you know??

That kind of thing.

Gino said...

"And I don't think that is unreasonable expectation."

its absolutely unreasonable. human nature doesnt work that way. we may someday eliminate nations, but we will never eliminate limited associations.

can you see, ever, UGA and GTech putting it all aside in favor of their membership as georgians of the NCAA?
not as long as TN are AL are nearby.

and thats my point. there will always be somebody else nearby, another collective identity to compete against.

its a mixed bag of blessings and curses, but one that will always be there as long as human dna exists.

personally, i'm prouder when americans collectively show the world we are better through individual acts. like the tsunami in asia, or the quake in haiti.
as persons, we gave. it was only later that the facts come out that we gave more.
things like that make me proud of my american identity.

Gino said...

RW: i've looked at satillite pics of the earth and said to myself: somewhere down there,at this moment, a bunch of dudes are killing each other over a speck of land we cant even see from here.
how stupid is that?

but i'm not near that speck of land, so i dont know what they really are fighting over.
that might be one dude's whole world, his farm, the support for his family's well-being.
then it doesnt seem so stupid anymore.

RW said...

But the stupidity isn't in the guy defending, it's in the guys trying to take. They're the ones without the benefit of perspective. It's not an argument for or against a moral imperative, it's just a statement of how screwed up we truly are.

Gino said...

thats true as well.
and why i waffle in my thoughts.