Is Patriotism ‘good’?

The recent debate about ‘respecting the flag’ or the national anthem etc has raised questions about what actions are patriotic and what are not. Is it more patriotic to stand up against injustice, or blindly to stand up for a tune and a piece of cloth?

But these all make the assumption, unproven, that patriotism is something worth pursuing at all; that it is something noble and virtuous. Is it? Why? Can anyone actually provide a fundamental analysis that reasonably concludes that society is improved if we encourage patriotism within the populace? They can’t, because we don’t do such analyses when spouting dogma. That is, after all, the definition of dogma; unfounded statements of right and wrong, rights and duties, privilege and burden.

The knee-jerk responses to the questioning of patriotism prove how ingrained this is. And if you are one of those who unthinkingly assumes its virtue, please pause, and think. Why? Beyond societal indoctrination, how did you come to this conclusion. Discard the lifetime of claims from others who haven’t justified it either, and can you justify it yourself?

In our distant past, I suspect a feeling of commonality and mutual support, combined with a feeling of suspicion and dislike for competing tribes, will have provided a tribal cohesion that will have helped such communities survive and grow; against predators, against diseases, against the elements of nature, and against other communities with a competing sense of identity. Valuing the lives of those in other tribes less than the lives of those in yours, will have helped fighters to accept actions that they would naturally abhor.

But are these natural inclinations useful to our crowded, global society? Surely one of the points of human growth is to exploit our pre-frontal cortex to create a society that beats our evolutionary compulsions. We use our intelligence to provide tools, clothes, shelter, warmth, food; why not use it to provide an optimized society that values everyone equally.

Should we stand up for America, or stand up for humanity? Should we salute a piece of cloth, or salute justice, truth, and compassion. Is not a Syrian baby as beautiful as an American? Do its parents not love it as much?

I don’t have ANY dogmatic patriotism. I stand up for right. To the degree that ‘my country’ pursues ‘right’ better than Saddam Hussein, better than Osama bin Laden, better than Hitler, I am patriotic. But this is tempered by our failings. It’s harder to feel patriotic about the better state of our democracy compared to that of North Korea, while the criminal punishment for having a broken-taillight-while-black is summary execution. It’s hard to criticize Cuba’s regime while we deny our poor people healthcare. It’s hard to criticize Venezuela while our forces of Law and Order luxuriate within the organized crime rings of ‘asset forfeiture’.

Remember, this country only exists because folk were UNpatriotic. Unpatriotic to King George. They disrespected the Union flag. They disrespected “God Save The King”. Were they wrong to be unpatriotic? Are we the descendants of evil folk? Of course not. Patriotism is a word with a meaning, but that meaning is poorly correlated with ‘right’. So let’s stop assuming otherwise.

My book Age of Wisdumb, while not addressing patriotism directly, focuses on tackling dogma; challenging statements that control our lives, that are not based in logic and reason. It suggests that all conclusions of right and wrong etc should be based on a Utilitarian analysis. If a dogma doesn’t make lives happier anywhere, if it doesn’t reduce suffering somewhere, if it doesn’t help people live longer more actualized lives, then it is not justified, and must me seen for what it is; a tool to control the masses. A tool to help send young black men to die while rich white men get richer. A tool that allows corporations to make money out of the deaths of people whose lives have been assumed to be of lower value than ours. A tool to allow the President to suppress dissent, to stimulate racism, to distract from his actions and inactions.

Patriotism is bullshit. It’s a word. It’s not a virtue.


I quote Betrand Russell on page 178. What do you think?

I merely wish to suggest that we should treat the criminal as we treat a man suffering from the plague. Each is a public danger, each must have his liberty curtailed until he has ceased to be a danger. But the man suffering from plague is an object of sympathy and commiseration, whereas the criminal is an object of execration. This is quite irrational. And it is because of this difference of attitude that our prisons are so much less successful in curing criminal tendencies than our hospitals are in curing disease.