There is a current patriotic revival going on in England at the moment. I believe it is a counter, whether planned or impromptu (but probably a bit of both) against a huge influx of foreign people and ideas into this country. I think the majority of people in England are worried and angry by groups of immigrants continually allowed free access and accommodation at the expense of the British taxpayer. There is distain that foreign religions and customs are given more deference than incumbent British and England traditions. In some parts of the country, the ultra-PC crowd would have a St George’s flag taken down, lest it offend non-Britons. (For an excellent debunking of one aspect of political-correctness, see this post by fellow blogger A Load of Bright).
I don’t believe most non-Britons would be offended by the British flag or the cross of St. George. I don’t believe the majority of non-Christians are really offended by the Christian cross. Even though I’m an atheist, I find the logo of Manchester United far more offensive to my eyes than the Cross. (Indeed, I fear I will start smoking should anything Man-Uish touch my pure skin.) It is actually the politically-correct crowd who, being the true racists, would have anything that reminds people that they’re different, removed. My own personal response to any outsider who is really offended by the symbols and customs of people in their home country is simply this: “fuck off. Who do you think you are?”
An acquaintance of mine, Pat Condell, quite astutely in his own jocular way says that “nobody has the right not to be offended”. If you are a visitor to another country, you have absolutely no grounds on which to take offence at the residents of that country – assuming they aren’t committing immoral acts or hurting people. You are a guest, and as such a modicum of humility and respect is required.
And yet, the British government seems to be happy to open up more times in a day than the local streetwalker, and the PC crowd make sure that when any foreigners do arrive in this country, it is the locals who are made to feel unwelcome.
Having said all of that, I’m not a very patriotic person. The number one reason I would see St. George’s Day as a National Holiday is so that I get a day off work. But I don’t believe what I’ve said above requires patriotism.
National pride should be treated like a dog on a leash. I understand being proud of your heritage and culture if there is something to be proud of, and I appreciate that people believe their origins represent certain values and ideals. Like a silhouette cast at a distance though, this is a murkier, distorted, and exaggerated version of reality. What I said about American rubbish a few blogs ago was that no culture in the world represents any unique set of human values and ideals. Anything that says differently is nothing short of propaganda.
Patriotism unchecked leads to nationalism, which at extreme levels is almost religious in its faith-based convictions, and just as dangerous. Wikipedia has this to say: “Extreme forms of nationalism, such as those propagated by fascist movements in the twentieth century, hold that nationality is the most important aspect of one’s identity and attempt to define the nation in terms of “race” or genetics.”
Believing you are better than another human being because of your race and/or nationality is just as ridiculous as believing the same because another person doesn’t share your faith or religious convictions.
Just as all forms of faith are irrational and potentially dangerous, and there is no clear line between harmless delusion and evil delusion, it is not always clear to see where patriotism because nationalism and nationalism becomes racism. (I am not saying that patriotism necessarily leads to nationalism, or that patriotism is irrational or evil.) This is because humans tend to mistrust and dislike things that are different. History is replete with individuals and establishments taking advantage of human differences to fuel racial hostilities and wars. Let us never allow our pride to turn to righteousness!
The reason patriotism can lead to nationalism if left unchecked is because it is very easy to allow faith to creep in. Faith is that horrid ominous insanity that would say if personified: “believe, even though you have no reason to.” There is a difference between having a healthy pride in your country and heritage, and believing there is anything special about you because due to sheer luck you were born in a certain place. To believe this is nothing less than an act of faith. I’ll go into this in more detail shortly, but first an example:
In the original 60s Star Trek series, the crew of the Enterprise encounter two beings who are intent on destroying each other: Loki and Bele. They are from a planet that is millennia ahead of Earth technologically, but the planet has been torn apart by racial hatred. Loki and Bele (however realistic this is from a biological point of view is irrelevant as the metaphor is beautiful), have an usual phenotype: their skin colour is black on one side of the body and white on the other. However, Bele is black on the right side, and Loki is black on the left. This is the source of their racial hatred! How stupid! How ridiculous. How, pathetic!
When the Enterprise reluctantly returns to the homeworld of Cheron, the entire population is dead – self-annihilated. And thus the metaphor is complete.
Humans are no better than Loki and Bele. We fight over every possible difference, and the pathetic thing is just how arbitrary these differences are. Not only is your colour and nationality irrelevant to how you should be treated as a person, these things are completely out of your control!
As Jack Dee laughably says in response to (imagined) people who act better because they are taller: “wow, I do wish I’d had the forethought to grow that high!”
It’s funny, because no one can control their height, or nationality, or place of birth, or eye colour, or skin colour. So to discriminate against a human being on these grounds is the definition of insanity. So is believing you are better because one aspect of your social/genetic makeup is different to someone else’s.
You have absolutely no control over where you are born, so it really that important? Is it really something to be proud of? If you were born over the nearest border your entire life would be different and you’d likely have an entirely different set of beliefs. Actually, given the state of affairs in the world today, being born over the nearest border in land B would result in a hatred of land A based on events that happened centuries ago. Land A thinks its right and Land B is wrong, and Land B thinks the reverse. How similar does that sound to religious intolerance?
In fact, as I see the apathy with regard to patriotism in England when compared to the self-adulation of the Americans, I am reminded of older more-established religions like Catholicism who are less interested in fundamentalism; smaller less-powerful nations resemble religious cults – believing they are fading or somehow oppressed, and with a fervent desire to keep the original language and culture strong. Their national pride is analogous to supporting a football team: ‘my team is the best in the world’. National flags become like football logos, to be adorned on cups and walls, and hung from windows. The other teams and fans are rubbish compared to theirs’. This is an observation more than a criticism.
The point is: what makes you different and special as a person, is not your hair colour, eye colour, skin colour, weight, size, height, looks, tattoos, age, religion, race, or place of birth. It is the decisions you make. The cliché is true: actions speak louder than words. Perhaps it should be rephrased: actions speak louder than anything else. In our society (rightly so), you are judged reprehensible or responsible, rewardable or reproachable, by your deeds. It is how you live your life, how you treat other people, and what you do to make a difference for the better, which defines you as a person.
Good people and bad people can all come from the same country. Honourable people and horrible people can be black or white. A lot of beautiful people have been religious and a great many disgusting people have been too. This is because these things are irrelevant. The fact that somebody else might share a capricious characteristic with you tells you nothing about that person.
But good people, honourable people, and beautiful people, can be found in all corners of the earth. This is because the best qualities in humanity are not confined to religious beliefs, or national boundaries, or genes. They have the potential to be in each and every one of us. And the realisation that we are one race and one people, isolated by crude and ultimately-meaningless nuances, like long-lost brothers and sisters separated at birth, makes nationality to me just another not-particularly interesting fact about someone. It makes religion silly and irrelevant. It makes racism meaningless and incredibly primitive.
What matters is what you do, not where you come from.