A Non-Patriot’s Guide to Liking America

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Patriotism is such a loaded term.

If I say I’m not patriotic, people with star spangled wind chimes and confusion regarding the nature of medicare will grumble and utter nonsense like “love it or leave it.” If I say I like America, people with fair trade arugula salads and romantic notions of camping in one’s own filth will assume I have bake sales to fund more CIA renditions.

It thus seems prudent to define the term as I intend to use it. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a patriot is “one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests.” It also, in my subjective opinion, connotes pride in and personal identification with a country. To me, “I’m a patriot” means “I’m proud of the fact I emerged from my mother’s vagina within the confines of an arbitrary, invisible and shifting set of lines we call borders. I now intend to define my life at least in part according to this accident.”

This is why I’m not a patriot. I consider my American citizenship an accident. I see no reason why I should value a Minnesotan I’ve never met over a Manitoban I’ve never met who was born three kilometers farther north. I don’t ascribe my countrymen with any special characteristics whatsoever. I will not support my country when I think it’s doing something stupid and I refuse to look at things (which countries are) as anything more than tools. So no, I don’t love America any more than I love soap or a well made set of wrenches or a comfy pair of underwear.

Of course “America” is capable of and has perpetrated pretty terrible things. Americans were awful to South Americans in general for the better part of a hundred years. The Vietnamese would certainly be justified in resenting the United States and the average Iraqi is not exactly being ungrateful if he doesn’t want to fly the stars and stripes off his front porch.

However, none of those things are “essences” of the United States any more than murder is the essence of a shovel. True, you can murder someone with a shovel, but the tool is morally neutral. Further, like most good tools, the US has been good for the world.

So, without further adieu, here are 5 things this non-patriot really likes about the United States:

1. Immigrants. I like the fact that the US has been brain-draining the rest of the world since before it became a nation. I like the fact that this has prevented the formation of proud ethnic heritages and prevented fossilization. I like the fact that nobody takes the notion of “Floridian pride” seriously, I like the fact that a pure bred American is only slightly easier to find than hens’ teeth.

2. A hard-on for royalty. I love the fact nobody gives a shit what Chelsea Clinton thinks. I love the fact that we don’t have an archaic tax-payer funded fuster-cluck like the House of Windsor. I smile when I remember the US doesn’t have a multi-billion dollar fetish for the masters of inbreeding.

3. The first amendment. I love the fact that Nazism is allowed out in the sunshine, right next to Marxism, Satanism and the works of Ayn Rand. (Sorry, I had to.) I love the fact that Americans believe stupidity exposed dies quicker than stupidity suppressed.

4. The Marshall Plan. I love the fact that two world wars’ worth of ashes gave birth to a peaceful EU, a free and rising Africa, first-world Asia. I am delighted by the fact this happened in part because Americans preferred to do business with successful neighbors rather than establish imperial control over stricken rivals.

5. Cultural Imperialism. I like the fact that when America most successfully controls other countries, it’s because America is really good at making things those countries’ citizens want to buy. I love the fact this flows both ways. I really love the way this makes cultural preservation a farce globally.

What are your favorite things about your country?

If you enjoyed this article, please consider buying the author’s novel.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Blackguard-Ben-Garrido/dp/1939051746

For customers living in East Asia.

http://www.whatthebook.com/book/9781939051745?

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25 comments

  1. I like the brain-draining part too. Although, I wish we’d do more and perhaps provide a better education to all.

    I like our national parks and the beauty and diversity of the land. Not saying this isn’t elsewhere too, but I’m thankful for it all the same.

    1. Very true. One of the downsides of diversity is that people tend to be less willing to share resources (legal or educational) with those they consider other.

      Are you feeling better?

      1. Yes, that’s very true, especially around here where immigration is a big deal.

        Thanks for asking! To be honest, the symptoms appear to be getting worse. I’m waiting for the results of a spinal tap and hopefully that will shed light on my problem. It’s definitely a lesson in patience! I’m very lucky that I don’t have to hold down a job through all of this and that I can still write. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be struggling financially on top of everything.

    1. Thanks for the re-blog. 🙂

  2. Five things? Let’s see.

    1. I love that we can kick the president out of office every four or eight years without having to storm the ramparts to do so. Would that the same were true of all elected officials.

    2. That I was able to live in ten different states, as diverse as Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Colorado, Florida, Mississippi, South Dakota, California, Tennessee and Texas, without having to file for permission or show any sort of internal passport.

    3. That I can fly the Lone Star flag at the top of a tall pole next to my gate and not have a cadre of jack-booted thugs stopping by to question my motives.

    4. That I can follow any religion, or none, as my conscience dictates. No one forces me to kneel and bow toward Wall Street five times each day.

    5. That I am fortunate enough to live in a community, without regard to how wide you wish to define it, where people, without regard to religion, ethnicity or any other identifying factors, are willing, even eager to reach out and help those in need and knowing that should fortunes ever reverse, such aid will be there for me in turn.

    Ben, a similar listing on dislikes might also be instructive.

    1. It could be, but I’d have to figure out a framing device.

      Liking America without boot licking and being annoyed by America without foaming at the mouth or growing dreadlocks, perhaps?

      1. How about simply: “The first five things I would change about America if I had absolute power.”

        Foaming at the mouth and growing dreadlocks can be a positive. They tell you who to avoid without the need to actually engage the dreadlocked foamer in conversation.

      2. I could definitely do that, though I think I’d spend a lot of time beating up on what I consider a naive and massively too idealistic view of rights.

  3. Like rung2diotimasladder I like our wilderness. It doesn’t exist anywhere else to the same extent. I also like the freedom to be able to purchase firearms, not because I love firearms, but because I believe the choice is between an armed citizenry and a police state.

    1. Interesting. I want to eventually write something about the guns issue, but I’m not sure how to do it without provoking dung throwing and flaring nostrils.

      What led you to your belief, if I might ask?

  4. I am, as you, not a patriot and for the same reasons. Your argument is very much a part of the theme of my novel. I would include–and I think you imply–that I am also not proud of my ancestry and for the very same reasons. I am proud, however, of those who understand this argument and tend to view others as no less and no more than themselves, at least in origin and desire for social justice and economic equity.

    If you will permit me, I think you will appreciate this excerpt from my lead character’s thought-soliloquy (as opposed to a verbal soliloquy):

    ————-
    Terry asked me, “How is it that Muslims believe as they do?” What Terry wanted to know, of course, was why do they not believe the same as he.

    The question comes up at least once a year, usually in Introduction to World Religions, referencing one theology or another. The form of my reply is always the same—that some young adherent to Islam would be right to ask the same of his professor, “How is it that Christians believe as they do?”

    It’s all a matter of how and where one is born—into which society, which religion, which family. A child is born neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Muslim, nor atheist, nor an adherent to any other brand of religious or philosophical order. A child is born a human being with an ability to learn and from this raw material society builds her walls of nationalism and religious certitude.
    ——————

    I like the fact that in the U.S., one can write such heresy–that good folks like Hitchens and Dawkins can write well reasoned books without fear of machete wielding, wide-eyed, teeth baring, religious fanatics breaking down their doors.

    I like the fact that our founders made a masterful attempt to create a just society where, under law, one person’s views of religion are equal to any others views and people of Reason strive to preserve that balance.

    I like the fact that the legal contradictions to the ideal of equality, such as slavery and a multi-tiered citizenship have been largely erased from the books. It is unfortunate that conservatives are doing their best to reverse that trend.

    There is more I like, but a lot I do not like, and I fear our nation is quickly sliding into kleptocracy and eventual oligarchy.

    1. Good points all. The two thoughts with which I might differ are in “quickly sliding” and “conservatives are doing.” In my opinion this nation has already become a de facto kleptocracy and oligarchy. For all intents and purposes we are being ruled by one class of a few seeking personal gain at the expense of the many. Also, and especially at the federal level, conservative and liberal have become distinctions without a difference.

      1. “For all intents and purposes we are being ruled by one class of a few seeking personal gain at the expense of the many”.

        I agree with much of what you said but I’d like to try a thought experiment.

        1. Do you agree that power is a zero sum game? If not, I’m very interested in your justification and we’re done with the thought experiment. If you do agree, go to number 2.

        2. Do you agree that people pursuing a result X are more likely to achieve result X than people who are not pursuing result X? If not, that seems to imply a very dim view of human competence and, by further implication, the conclusion that evil intentions are academic because we suck so bad at getting the things we want. If you agree, go to number 3.

        3. With power as a zero sum game and people are capable of getting desired results, is a society where one class of people seeking personal power at the expense of others (since power is zero sum, saying at the expense of others is redundant) do not have more power possible?

      2. No, I do not agree that power is a zero sum game. You beg the question.

        The term power is ambiguous and must be defined case specifically. A certified peace officer has the power to legally kill you if he feels that you present a dangerous threat; The internal revenue Service has the power to divest you of all your possessions should you run seriously afoul of their 65,000 page ‘guidebook’; my red-headed, two year old grandchild has the power to make me push her in a swing for hours, without regard to other urgencies.

        When it comes to power wielded by those in government, we must consider that our founders gave us an excellent set of rules to govern by but those rules have been altered, twisted and contorted over the years in order to vastly increase the amount of power available.

        If the power vested in the federal government were truly a zero sum game then no such increase would have been possible except as provided by amendment. Goodbye Louisiana Purchase, The War Between the States and several other examples of actions not permitted under the constitution which were accomplished, without regard to legal authority, “for the good of the nation”.

        The above paragraph assumes that you believe the constitution was written to limit the power of government. Those who view it otherwise will take exception to my premise.

        Thanks for the discussion to this point, I like the way you think.

      3. I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing.

        A peace officer gaining the power to enforce law does so at the expense of would-be vigilantes. The IRS takes power at the expense of tax payers. Your grandchild takes power over the playground at your expense.

        I wasn’t really thinking of the constitution, and I would argue that it was designed to increase federal power anyway, but that’s not important right now.

        We can still use it as an example. Any powers vested in the government pre-twisting, post-twisting, whenever, are at the expense of the states, counties and cities. Any powers held by the states are necessarily powers not held by the fed. Barack Obama’s powers come at the expense of Mitt Romney (and many others), Jim Boehner’s powers come at the expense of his defeated local election opponent (and many others). Warren Buffet is CEO of Birkshire Hathaway because somebody else isn’t.

        Power isn’t like wealth. Everybody on earth can get richer, but whenever somebody becomes more powerful, he or she does so by surpassing another.

        That’s what I was trying to say.

      4. Okay. If you view “power” as being akin to Jungian Cosmic Consciousness then yes, my power to eat an ear of corn grown in Iowa comes at the expense of a native in the Kalahari.

        One more example, also from that charming little essay, The United States Constitution. Article 1, section 8, the enumerated powers. “Congress shall have the power to regulate commerce with the foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.”

        These words granted a certain level of power to the congress but examining the word “regulate” it would seem that it has been subject to definition creep which has greatly expanded its meaning between the time it was used by our founders and is currently being interpreted by the legislative and judicial branches.

        If “regulate” meant to the framers of the constitution to simply remove unfair advantages (to make normal or regular) but now has come to mean to completely control through legislative action then I submit that this is a power that was not available to either the federal government or the states under original intent but was subsequently created.

        There, you’ve gone and made my brain hurt again.

    2. Max,

      Thanks for that excerpt. Very succinctly put. 🙂

      Why do you think conservatives are trying to reverse equality? Surely they must have legitimate reasons. I’m not saying this to defend Republicans, but to strongly imply that dividing populations into “good” and “evil” factions is to choose narrative convenience over understanding. I’d go farther and say that good and evil, in our Western Tradition (which very much includes humanists, I’d add), is largely irrelevant above the level of individuals and even then only if the individual is relatively powerless.

      As for your fears, I don’t think our kleptocracy and oligarchy are much different from any other first world democracy. Destruction breeds reform breeds advancement breeds safety breeds complacency breeds decadence breeds destruction. This also, it appears, is completely insensitive to the (in my mind largely trivial) right left divide. Conservative reformers like Otto Von Bismark or Park Jung-hee are every bit as capable of restarting that cycle as are the Lech Walesas and Che Guevarras of the world.

      I’d really recommend you read Discourses on Titus Livinius. Countries have a natural aging process and I think the US is pretty much on schedule, somewhere between safety and complacency.

      1. authorbengarrido, I appreciate your response and questions. You know how to push my buttons.

        I’m a bit surprised at the first question. There is an obvious, fundamental difference between the conservative and democratic worldview in how society should run. And when I write of conservatives and democrats, I do not mean all conservatives and all democrats. I am writing of the average politicians. Conservatives basically argue that virtually everyone can “make it” on their own with no assistance. Liberals do not believe everyone has the same advantages and want to reach back and lend a hand. Little is accomplished simply because the opposing have largely canceled each other out.

        I consider that virtually all conservatives (republican and democratic) now hold the neoconservative worldview. I researched that worldview for my novel, and found it to be a Straussian political philosophy of Machiavelli’s ends justifies the means, combined with Nietzsche’s philosophy that a will to power should be one’s primary motivating force, and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism which says that one’s actions are rational only when such actions benefit one’s self interest over the interest of others.

        As for “good and evil,” I do not make that distinction per se. I consider politicians, who try to recognize the plight of the poor and understand the basic problems and want to do something that will bring about better opportunities, to be good people to varying degrees. I consider those who are generally indifferent to the plight to be people of self interest in power and money–corporate oriented individuals.

        But, first, I will make it clear that I said the Founders made a masterful attempt to create a just society. They did not succeed and I am not sure, due to our inherited, genetic proclivities for self interest, that any governmental system can achieve true justice where justice is defined as fairness in a Rawlsian sense, (i.e., [1] that every person is to have equal rights to all basic liberties; and [2] that every person is to have social and economic equity. A deprivation of the latter necessarily brings about the deprivation of the former).

        According to Rawls, “social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage, and (b) attached to positions and offices open to all.”

        A system of inequality, then, would be a system that distributes social and economic advantages in a manner that leaves some disadvantaged.

        Economic justice:

        Evidence of inequity in our economy is the ever widening income disparity over the past three decades between the wealthy and the average worker. With the rise of the neoconservatives spearheading the implementation of supply-side economics and the drive to pull the teeth of workers unions, came the relative flat-lining of worker income and the continuing rise in the income of the wealthy. Production (labor produces value produces profit) has increased, but workers receive no parity. Virtually all the increase in wealth has gone to the already wealthy. This is the legacy of supply-side economics.

        The philosophy of supply-side economics is completely wrong as its failure has been demonstrated by the Great Depression and the Great Recession. It is not the wealthy who create the greater wealth, it is demand for products produced by labor. Therefore, labor should have parity in the profit. That would be justice.

        I agree that “globalization” has taken justice virtually out of the equation.

        Social justice:

        The frequent conservative argument is that everyone already has the same opportunity to succeed in society/business, and the poor are simply lazy and only want the government to support them.

        But, everyone does not have the same opportunities and advantages, and I think most congressional and potential candidates on the conservative side very well know it. The screaming disadvantages, then, are ignored as they point to the relative few who have escaped the disadvantaged life and use the poor to anger their base and drive them to the polls. It is callous indifference to those who didn’t have the nurturing and that chance situation/caring person to arise that impelled them to escape. According to conservative thought, “I got mine on my own, now you get yours on your own.” They completely disregard the psychology of it all.

        So, since their view is that everyone has the same opportunities, conservatives fight fang and claw against any attempts to bring about the necessary equity of advantages, (e.g., forcing corporations to pay a living wage such that the workers can have enough money to have proper proactive healthcare (bitterly fought against by conservatives), and perhaps have the where-with-all to get a better education.

        These are not problem of “good and evil” divisions, per se, but a systemic problem where we have a government and election process wide open to those who would take advantage for self interest, and who have little empathy for others. Our system is money-driven.

        Thus, I do not completely agree with your circular model of society, but that will no doubt require a lot more debate. The wealthy continue to become more wealthy, but the system is continually generating more up-and-coming young oligarchs nipping at their heels.

        By the way, in case I haven’t mentioned it, you might be interested in the conservative formula for effective propaganda. I think this is the major reason for the serious uptick in the political rancor and misinformation in society today. http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article4443.htm

      2. Hey Max,

        Thanks for this very well thought out response. There are about a million things I want to respond to, but perhaps a blog post would be a better format.

        I tend to agree with you on a lot of conclussions you’re making, but our ways of getting to those conclussions are pretty different. I also doubt those conservative politicians are knowingly false. It’s not difficult to, with good faith and a relatively open mind, conclude that the poor simply suck. I don’t think this is the case (and least not inevitably the case), but you could certainly forgive most people for confusing learned helplessness (a super common disease of the downtrodden) with simply being a loser.

        One thing you said that really intrigues me is how you paint neo-conservatives as Machiavellian, Neitzchean types. I don’t like most of their policies because I think they are unrealistic and blinded by idealism.

        I wonder how we came to such different reads on the neo-con movement.

      3. authorbengarrido, I tend to agree with you for the most part. Certainly some conservatives can be genuinely convinced that the poor, “suck.” The human mind, being as programmable by nurture and propaganda as it is, can see the plight of all the poor as the major problem. Certainly many, if not most, of the older generation of poor folks have given up and become settled in their “comfort zone,” but to reject opportunities to lift the younger poor by providing greater opportunities is, I think, grievous indifference.

        I like your comment about trying to work this out in another post. I’ve been working on the sidelines for a while (with daily interruptions) on just such a post. I want to spell out how I believe poverty can be overcome and why conservatives will never allow it to happen.

        Yes, I too am pessimistic, especially about the foreseeable future.

        My views on the rise of the current neoconservative movement and their world view came about for two reasons. First, in researching the recent history of U.S. politics, trying to determine how we arrived at such a high pitched rancor and why false information and personal attacks are so prevalent in conservative media (especially on right wing websites), I found evidence that the idea of “supply-side” economics, industrial (Wall Street) deregulation, and unfettered “free-market capitalism,” coincided with the rise of the neoconservatives. As well, it seemed to me that the vitriol now so extreme in conservative ranks against liberals has a fairly recent history, also coinciding with the rise of the neocons.

        Secondly, not wanting to jump to conclusions based on coincidence, I researched the rise of the latest crop of neoconservatives and found that, for the most part, they were a product of two worlds (1. young democrats disgruntled by the failure of liberal politics to bring about social justice, but finding personal purpose through Leo Strauss’ esoteric political philosophy, and 2. Dixiecrats angered by the Democratic Party’s embracing and passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, eventually, after their failed attempt to form their own party, migrated to the Republican Party and joined the ranks of the young Strauss-educated neoconservatives.

        The first two neoconservatives to gain positions of real political strength and position were Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in President Gerald Ford’s administration (Cheney as Ford’s top advisor and gatekeeper, and Rumsfeld as Ford’s head of the DOD).

        During my research, I found another confirmation of my growing suspicions: Newt Gingrich’s Memo to GOPAC in 1996. Titled, Language: A Key Mechanism of Control. It is a formula for effective propaganda, and it fully explain why conservative candidates and those in power use the very same style of language with addressing Democrats and their policies (especially the personal attacks). See http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article4443.htm

        As Doremus, a character in Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, said, “. . . in America the struggle was befogged by the fact that the worst Fascists were they who disowned the word ‘Fascism’ and preached enslavement to Capitalism under the style of Constitutional and Traditional Native American Liberty.”

        I think we’ve reached a kind of neofascism (corporatocracy/kleptocracy), but true oligarchy will come next.

        The future is not bright.

  5. I’m not sure you and I are far apart on that, but I as far as I am concerned, there are a few anti corporatists on the left, e.g., Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Rep. Keith Ellison. As well, were we already an oligarchy, Obama could never have been elected President and the Social Safety Net would have been repealed..

    I do recognize, however, that the ACA could not have been passed were it not for Obama’s promise to Wall Street that they would realize greater profit from the program via subsidies.

    There simply are not enough progressives in the Democratic Party, and none at all in the Republican Party. That is why I say a “quick slide.” Not all the anti worker/pro Wall Street legislation has been passed as yet.

    1. Close enough. Only a very thin line between the optimist and the pessimist with me squarely on the pessimist side.

      Pessimist only because I honestly see no way to reverse the trend without enlisting the support of a majority in government, both sides of the aisle, who benefit greatly from the status quo and have no incentive to ever return power to the people.

      Given the current state of my finances I simply can’t afford to buy a congressman or two.

  6. It came first from a recognition that no 20th century genocide was carried out without prior legislation to deny citizens the right to own firearms. Modern gun prohibition laws actually have their origin in racist legislation designed to prohibit slaves and black freedmen from owning guns. This was done, not just to deny blacks the political power of arms, but to prevent them from “aspiring to the dignity of free men.”

    What was meant by the term “dignity of free men?” Thomas Jefferson said: “Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others?” About Europe, James Madison said: “the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” Forged in the furnace of armed conflict in defense of their liberty, the Founders had developed a level of ethical maturity and individual responsibility, which at its core, manifested itself in the knowledge that they were truly competent to govern themselves. The dignity of a free man or woman lies in the fact that, only by being willing and able to make life or death decisions and take full responsibility for our actions, do we earn the right to govern ourselves. The Founders knew that if we do not trust ourselves to make these decisions we will almost certainly get the government we deserve but do not want.

    1. Very Rooseveltian, that. Strenuous life type stuff.

      Fascinating idea. I’ll probably be writing about it soon.

      🙂

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