On patriotism and community

Jay and I got into rather a long discussion about the nature of patriotism on my post Your Flag Decal, which is dovetailing into some other thoughts I’ve been wanting to get out. I should first acknowledge that I was being overly dismissive of patriotism as a whole, and one thing I was decidedly missing that came through in Jay’s comments was the way in which patriotism and community building are connected.

I would, in some ways, like to believe that I am capable of the kind of infinite love that I think Christ calls us to emulate. When he demands that we love our enemy, and love our neighbour as ourselves, I think it’s clear that he is asking us to constantly expand our boundaries and definitions of community. In that post and in the comments, I was critical of patriotism as loving others essentially because they become extensions of self. This is equally apparent in family relations, and I think it’s relatively easy to think of examples of expressions of desire to protect one’s family that are really actions of self-protection. Being ‘proud of’ a family member, for example, implies that I have done something worthy of a sense of accomplishment.

But I am, at the same time, strongly in favour of community building efforts, because these, to me, imply that we are looking out for one another and creating the basis for sharing and mutual growth on a manageable scale. It strikes me that the impulse to extend self onto like others is the only way to even start getting at community building. I can’t start expanding my definition of neighbour until I get a sense of what it looks like to love my literal neighbour. I think I’d like to get past patriotism, ultimately, and recognize that it’s a stepping stone rather than a stopping place.

The other point that Jay and I were debating was whether appreciating certain values because they are ‘patriotic’ ultimately detracts from the values themselves, partially because nations are such abstract, transitory, arbitrary constructs. Do I value ‘peace, order and good government’ just because they are Canadian virtues? If so, does that make me less able to see when my country as an entity is not manifesting them, or, alternatively, when other entities are? If I value ‘liberty and equality’, it should be because those are good things in themselves, not because I was born in a country that has them. And then, I think, I also have to subject the ideas I have always been taught are patriotic Canadian values to greater scrutiny in order to make sure that I don’t just believe they are virtues because I’m Canadian, but actually because they are valuable in and of themselves (‘order’ comes to mind here, especially in light of the truism that ‘well behaved women rarely make history’).

This is all quite stream-of-consciousness, and spinning into another post, but it was becoming too unwieldy for the comments section.

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2 thoughts on “On patriotism and community

  1. Nenya says:

    Ooh, good thoughts. I’ve always been amused by “peace, order, and good government”, because it was so very different from the American cowboy-diplomacy style of patriotism. But the “order” bit sometimes bothers me, because it definitely *can* get used to keep people down. In the best of situations it’s an aid not a cage, but having those national virtues may mean we have different things to watch out for than people with other things on their mottoes. (Or on their list of things they really believe about themselves–may or may not match up to the official motto.)

    Really good thoughts about community building, too….ties in with some other things I’ve been hearing & thinking about how online activism, while wonderful, sometimes keeps me from doing things in the Real World (while at the same time, sometimes opens opportunities for RW activism that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise).

    Also–never let anyone tell you that Canadians aren’t as patriotic as Americans. Some of us are tempted to be nationalistically proud that we don’t have American-style patriotism! How’s that for a mindfuck…. 😀

  2. purtek says:

    Some of us are tempted to be nationalistically proud that we don’t have American-style patriotism!

    Oh my God, yes. And I think (as with the racism thoughts you commented on earlier) this assumption about ourselves keeps us from even initiating a conversation about the impact that jingoism does have on our cultural attitudes.

    I like what you’re saying about online activism/community as well…outside of talking about direct opportunities for RW action, it’s also interesting to see the model for positive (or negative) space as it happens online, because what kind of discourse is encouraged/welcomed and what kind of community develops organically is much more subject to the engineering of the owner(s) of an online space than it is in the real world. I don’t know if that makes sense, but the positive experiences I have had of finding kindred spirits online has helped to make me feel much less isolated in a real world where I’m fairly used to feeling quite disconnected from everyone around me (particularly those I’m supposed to be close to, like my family).

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