Patriotism and Pride of Ownership
A Crisis of National Identity
Patriotism, we know it when we see it. Last refuge of the scoundrel, we cringe seeing it debased, diminished to mere platitude, shamelessly brandished by extremists of any stripe. Recently it has returned to the forefront of U.S. national conversation amid controversy over the new Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum ( APUSH ) — or the framework for it — to be taught to our nation’s high school children beginning in 2015. Voices on both sides accuse the other of foisting ideological biases upon the impressionable minds of our nation’s children. Stepping back from it however, removing ourselves from the ideological fray, what appears is a controversy rooted in what can only be described as an identity crisis; not some sinister conspiracy by either party to poison the minds of their neighbors’ children, but a genuine crisis of national identity. A deep and enduring schism in the American psyche, this dichotomy constitutes a clear and present danger to our national security which may only be overcome through some extraordinary, widespread, sensational, even viral reaffirmation of what it means to be an American.
As a child, and particularly as a teen I struggled with the vagaries of school spirit. Never popular, or athletic, nor even particularly well liked, pep-rallies were mostly lost on me. I never cared much for sports in general, and failed to find logic in the implicit assumption that I should take pride in the sports teams of the schools which I attended, simply because I attended them. After all, at the time, there was no open enrollment or school choice, so whichever schools I would attend (K-12) were — for better or worse — decided purely by the chance circumstances of my birth. Born to parents who happened to reside in Jefferson County, Colorado, naturally I attended the schools nearest me in the Jefferson County school district. I didn’t choose this. I didn’t ask for it, any more than to be born a citizen of the United States of America. It simply happened to me, and that was that. So, I wondered, why all the fuss?
What does it mean to be an American in the 21st Century and how does that inform us of our motivation, our moral certitude and self-worth, our individual identity?
What kind of American do you see reflected in the bathroom mirror each morning? Is it one whose citizenship is the envy of the world because… well let’s face it… because, America kicks butt — first King George’s in the war for American independence, and later Hitler and Tojo’s in the second world war?
Does your bathroom mirror reflect an American whose form of citizenship is preeminent on earth because of American military supremacy, with a budget exceeding that of the world’s next ten largest military budgets combined, because might makes right and your American Citizenship assures your right to keep and bear arms?
Perhaps you see an American whose form of citizenship is the pinnacle of human achievement because — though you would never actually do so yourself — your citizenship ensures your individual freedom to amass material wealth far in excess of that which would sustain you — and your loved ones — in comfortable ease, for many lifetimes, while tens of millions of your fellow Americans, and billions of your fellow human beings worldwide struggle just to survive another day?
Perhaps you see an American whose form of citizenship is the pinnacle of human achievement because free, like the bald eagle, it consists in a state of static perfection beyond improvement, above any criticism? Or perhaps, yours is a citizenship committed to the everlasting struggle for — not a perfect union — but A More Perfect Union, committed to the common struggle for Peace, Tranquility, and Justice for all?
Though I couldn’t have explained it at the time, witnessing the famed Miracle on Ice I distinctly remember choking back tears of pride and joy when, against all odds, the underdog US Hockey Team upset their Russian rivals in the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid New York. No triumph of capitalism over communism united us behind them that day, but a triumph of human spirit over insurmountable odds, the same human spirit, the same collective resolve which embodies the true essence, the true spirit of the United States of America itself; the story of us. I remember too, some 6 years later, the enormity of my own heartbreak and solidarity watching news footage of the U.S Space Shuttle Challenger, a fiery ball disintegrating in the skies over the coast of Cape Canaveral, taking with it the lives of its brave crew, and the hopes and dreams of an entire generation.
America’s self image — as reflected in the bathroom mirrors of average Americans — is largely distorted, and subsequently diminished by a misplaced devotion to an alluring civil religion in which selfishness ( greed ) is commonly regarded as virtuous. Deceived by their own distorted self-image, those arguing for the promotion of patriotism and “the free enterprise system” in our nation’s school curriculum, those arguing for the discouragement of civil disobedience are the unwitting pawns of a malevolent minority ( fewer than 100 wealthy individuals worldwide in a population of 7 billion ) whose only interests is the consolidation of ever more wealth and power; unremitting dominion over their fellow human beings; a consecration within the American psyche of a tyranny which they would have us regard as nothing less than sacrosanct. Praise, and honor be to the pawns for their faithful sacrifice, if only someone could shatter the illusion and release them from their bad American dream, revealing unto them what it really means to be an American that they might marshal their energies in support of their true self-interest, and the true American way.
We are descended in spirit from revolutionaries and rebels — men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine.
— President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Two distinct and often contradictory ideologies — individualism and collectivism — have long contended for the same national identity-space — America. Generally speaking of course, individualists and collectivists identify equally with the ideals of liberty and justice. Both are principally self interested, sharing conviction that the individual is paramount, that the individual is the fundamental unit of political, social, and economic concern. Both prize self-reliance as a virtue of the highest order. The schism however, consists in contradictory perceptions of individual identity, or self. Convinced that they are — or should be — limited only by their own atomic potential, individualists identify with the ideal of self-sufficiency, tending to regard selfishness as a virtue. Collectivists, on the other hand, who tend to regard selfishness as a vice, are more inclined to identify themselves as individuals inexorably linked with, and integral to an interdependent conscious whole, at once limited and liberated by it into a greater awareness of self. To see this cognitive dissonance manifested within the debate roiling over our nation’s school curriculum, one only need follow the money.
Perhaps, if we truly wish to promote patriotism and pride of ownership in the American way, we might consider extending voting rights to our nation’s children?