January 19, 2016 by What Is A Name After All?
I feel homesick when I am away for too long, I want the Government to make good choices and feel a connection with a Portuguese person when I am abroad and hear my language. I feel an emotional connection with this place. The great majority of my memories take place here: some happy, some traumatic – most life-changing. The people that matter the most to me are here, and the path that led me to being who I am took place here as well. There are things I cherish in our culture, there are others I pity and would like them to be changed and improved.
What I want to explore is a possible shift from a political and economical patriotism to an emotional patriotism. The first one means that, because I was born here, I believe my country is superior to others and want it to succeed economically, frequently imposing itself above the rest of the countries. This is what usually patriotism means: an elation of a country’s qualities, often perceived as being more honorable than those of the other countries and a feeling of duty and responsibility towards the Nation you were born in. This kind of feeling and attitude often brings about negative consequences like superimposing the country’s necessities compared to foreign countries, self-centered policies that benefit one’s country at the expense of others and ultimately a feeling of magnitude while undermining the qualities of other countries.
The country is seen as a deity, to which every citizen owes everything and should honor and respect. “God bless America” – like a country is a homogeneous mass and a whole, something completely apart from what exists outside the borders. It is basically a maniac delirium in which every person feels this way about their own country.
This delirium has serious repercussions. First of all, xenophobic attitudes show that a citizen feels more entitled to that land than other person from elsewhere. There is this fear that the foreigners will somehow spoil what the country has achieved.
But the most relevant and dark consequence of patriotism is war. Although no one sees war as a positive or desirable situation, because it is located within the norm and is institutionalized, it is not seen as the real atrocity and abomination that it really is. It is seen as something above the petty daily lives, something transcendental that happens despite the regular day. It is seen as necessary and unavoidable. There is a great moment in the last Hunger Games in which Gale says, “It’s war, Katniss. You can’t take every death personally” and Katniss replies “I, of all people, know that it’s always personal”. And that’s undeniable. How can killing a person not be personal? It’s a person! Independently of the motives (“the greater good”, “our Nations prosperity”) every nameless human being that has been killed was a person and his death was personal. Someone like you – or me – was murdered and acting like that was just a number or a necessary evil just transcends me.
War is justified with nationalism: a soldier is defending the Nation and that’s noble. The army has this complex display focused around symbolic elements of honor and the cult of the hero and most people who would be disgusted by a pointless murder, accept effortlessly that uncountable people get murdered in war. War is institutionalized murder and a soldier is a legal murderer. But somehow people don’t care that their country is sending people to die or to kill other people in order to supposedly defend their own interests. Like Voltaire shrewdly observed,
It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.
Patriotism is deceiving and it distorts the way we look at Humanity. We start depersonalizing people from the rest of the world, failing to recognize that we are all Human and the only thing that determines my nationality is sheer random luck. If I was born in France, would France be the greatest country in the world? Would the people I know now no longer matter? Would I only care about the interests of France? Ultimately,
Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it…. George Bernard Shaw
Plus, how can a country be a unit? There are so many different aspects of it, different individuals, different personalities, beliefs, stories etc. I am trained to think I have more in common with a Portuguese person I have nothing else in common with than with someone from another part of the world that may share my values and beliefs. And that’s just absurd! The only valid reason I see for having stronger feelings for a country compared to others is an emotional factor. An emotional patriotism is, I think, the first step towards a global world, where we see everyone in it like a human being and like an equal, transcending the normal boundaries of country, nationality and patriotism.
This concept means I love my country because of the time I spent here and the experiences I lived in it. It means that I have no idealized vision of it, nor do I consider it superior to other countries as a whole. It means I see everyone in the world as a valuable person and the people in my country no more than the others, except considering the fact I have connected with these ones more. It means I want my country to improve and have good quality of life, and it means I will do my best to help it achieve that, but no more than I want the rest of the world to have this as well, and no more will I be dedicated to help Portugal as I will be dedicated to help the rest of the world, except for the logical ease there is in making a difference in the place you’re in and belong to.
Stuart Mill awakened in me this concept, sketching it in his work Coleridge (1840). It goes
We do not mean nationality in the vulgar sense of the term; a senseless antipathy to foreigners; an indifference to the general welfare of the human race, or an unjust preference of the supposed interests of our own country; a cherishing of bad peculiarities because they are national; or a refusal to adopt what has been found good by other countries. We mean a principle of sympathy, not of hostility; of union not of separation. We mean a feeling of common interest among those who live in the same government, and are contained within the same natural or historical boundaries
It is okay to love your country. But be sure you cogitate about what that means. Do you love all your country? Obviously not, I don’t know all my country in terms of physical land or every person who lives here. What that sentence means is I love part of what I know about my country. Do you have a moral duty to serve your country? Not at the expense of anyone national or international and no more than you should contribute to the welfare of all Humankind.
As soon as this concept sinks in, the concept of country itself grows void: there is absolutely no difference between the people inside these frontiers and the ones outside them. Its all man-made. It’s all Humanity. Then we can start thinking in terms of word-wide citizenship.