This is going to be a rant, brought about partially by the brain-draining ennui of the seemingly never-ending election season. So bear with me for a second, please.
I believe it is important to own up to one’s ignorance on a topic, hence I have to admit that I don’t understand patriotism. I can understand the desire individuals might have to closely associate to one group or another for the sake of feeling a greater level of security, or even just to provide some reference of possessing a “greater” identity. I can also understand how this might develop into a sense of protectiveness towards one’s place of birth, which (after family) is usually the most common form of self-identity for a person. But what I don’t understand is how acknowledgment of the fact that we are relatively dependent on the communities we reside in, translates into a perpetual need to proclaim the superiority of one’s arbitrary nation of origin over any other. After all, no one chooses the place he or she–or one’s ancestors–will be born in. The accomplishments that have been achieved by individuals who happen to reside within the same borders as you were done wholly independent of your existence (and even if you had a direct participation in some grand achievement, would it be fair to attribute your accomplishments to something as random as a place of birth?).
What perplexes me most about patriotic sentiments is the manner in which most people accept its value as a self-evident fact. “You need to be proud of where you come from”, “My country, good or bad”, “Any man who does not love his land, and the land of his forefathers, is a man who does not love himself.” The message propagated by all sides is one that denounced all who do not feel the fervor of patriotism as possessing some kind of defect in character. That if you don’t show an innate defensiveness about your nationality, you are thought of as somehow deprived of a matter that is (for some reason or another) vital to a person’s psychological health. This I don’t understand. And simply repeating to me that it’s important to feel pride towards your country of origin is not an argument, it is a demand–worse yet, it is a command. A call for assimilation, in favor of a value that can not be defended outside of baseless tautologies (i.e. “being patriotic is good, because it is good to be patriotic”). I pay my taxes. I follow the laws of the land. So, why must I stand in union with the rest of you as you shout meaningless slogans, sing eccentric hymns, and salute pieces of cloths as if they were the very fabric holding the universe together? Why must I prove that I deserve to be a part of this community through such flamboyant means, when I am already doing my all to keep society functioning at the individual level (the only level I have any authority on)?
I am not ashamed of either the country I was born in, nor the one I currently reside and identify with, but neither am I overtly proud. In truth, I am forced to be neutral on it as a whole, since it holds no uniform identity from coast to coast, from city to city, from person to person. Perhaps, the patriots are right, and my apathy is causing me to miss out on something spectacular here. But then again, I can’t really miss that which I’ve never had.