Monday, May 31, 2010

Ramblings on Patriotism (1)

It’s time once again for the FIFA World Cup, and yet again the streets of Manchester are awash with St. George’s crosses – and once more the only reaction I can muster is a feeling of intense befuddlement.

Your regular garden variety patriotism I can just about grasp – while I disagree with the idea I can almost, (but not quite) understand it. If the people with the cheap flags bolted to their cars also had full sized flagpoles in their yards which they attended to every morning and evening with chocked throats and tears welling, then I could understand a vast outpouring of pride every four years. I’d still think it was utterly ridiculous, but I'd at least note their consistency.

That’s not the case though – the people who’ve picked up cheap flags from the local supermarket for the duration of the world cup stay away from this more “American” style of patriotism – if they’re at all patriotic for the rest of the time, then it’s a crafty new form of patriotism – a ‘stealth patriotism’.

I’m going to take a slight step back here, and spell out my views on patriotism in this post;

I like the UK. It’s a decent place to live, and I’m lucky to have been born in a reasonably civilised country. There are some good people here, and as a country we’ve produced some fantastic works and artists – William Shakespeare, George Orwell, Steven Moffat – they’re all giants.

However I fail to see how they link to me, they just happen to have been born within a few hundred miles of my own birth place. Their great achievements and similar achievements of other great figures from this country say nothing about me as a person. I had no say over my birthplace, and nor did anyone else - I fail to see any significance.

Using the magic of Google I tracked down some arguments for patriotism, but they did nothing to help me. I present them here anonymously;

“Being Patriotic is more than a piece of land. You have been brainwashed by the liberal way of thinking. Patriotism is being proud of the beliefs and values of the people who happen to inhabit the piece of land you refer to.”

“Being patriotic to your country is not stupid, it shows you are proud to be an American. Patriotism is more than being proud of the country you was born in, but also being proud of the rights and freedoms your country provides and the values it represent.”

The reasoning behind nearly all the responses was this: ‘Patriotism is not pride in the land you live in, but pride in the culture, traditions and people’. This strikes me as odd. Countries can and sometimes still do have terrible traditions; slavery, female circumcision, torture – the list goes on. Presumably this pride you feel for your countries traditions should also extend to these, assuming you were unfortunate enough to be born in a culture with these traditions.

I cannot see a good, rational reason to be excessively patriotic in my country, and I would be interested in what fellow skeptics think on the matter. Do I have a point, or am I simply ignorant and selfish?

- Gavin Schofield


  1. Would it not be easier for just people not supporting England to have a flag? It would save on carrier bags and red paint.
    In my humble opinion I think that anything that creates a sense of unity is a good thing.
    I wonder what the stats for violence are like in places when the majority of people in pubs watching sport are supporting the same team?

  2. "Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it." Bernard Shaw

  3. I never did get patriotism, or nationalism as patriots don't like me calling it

    Don't get me wrong, i like england.
    It has nice weather (if like me you don't mind the rain and the cold), pretty hills. It has no tigers, or scorpions or giant, pre-neolithic bears to trouble what would otherwise be a pleasant, morning stroll.
    Rum is legal!
    I've never been proud to be english though.
    It's only ever in formal forms and papery paper work i ever refer to myself as english anyhoo.

    I'm human.
    Fuck places. Isn't every where moving around anyway?
    Geography is too inconsistant for my tastes...bloody techtonic plates

  4. Tectonic*

    I spend to much of my life going on about technology :$

  5. I have never understood patriotism. Being “Welsh and proud of it”, as one of my good Welsh friends refers to himself, has always sounded pompous to me. It’s a country, and not one you created. I understand being proud of something you’ve achieved or made, but to be proud of something that would exist with or without your influence seems to be jumping on the bandwagon.

    You claim to be proud of it because everyone else you know also claims to be proud of it. Your parents said they were proud of it, your grandparents said they were proud of it and you’ll teach your kids to say they’re proud of it too, like it’s a family tradition.

    Interestingly, it’s how most people inherit their religious beliefs too.

  6. I can understand why someone would be proud to share a nationality with all the great historical figures you listed, provided they hadn't ever accomplished anything themselves they could be more reasonably proud of.

  7. I completely agree Gavin. I certainly wouldn't describe myself of "proud" of my Englishness, for I cannot be proud of something I did not accomplish myself.

    It's just pure tribalism, which may have served our evolutionary past, but is no longer relevant. Most if not all of us understand this primitive emotion, but many of us have moved past it or dismissed it on logical and empathetic grounds.

    Having said that I shall be flying my cheap flags and chearing on England with the rest of them. I do this on a superficial level, where I can let go and enjoy my base instincts safely(a bit like you might do in paintballing or clay pigeon shooting).

    The trouble with some people is they do not see the dividing line between cheering on your football team in good spirits, and destructive tribal xenophobia. Sports should be an outlet for our tribal competitivness, not a gateway to real world antisocial behaviour.

  8. Yes, we gave the world some crap. But we also gave it some wonderful contributions. We also have a wonderfully diverse landscape. Socially I think some people are not too forthcoming in their appreciation of English culture and symbols because of connotations with the far right. Royal deaths and football tournaments seem to be something of a pressure valve for pent up patriotism. It also coincides with some people seizing the moment to pass patriotism and head to xenophobia, but they are no means exclusive to one another. Me, I'm half English, but I also take a keen interest in the fortunes of the other two national sides from my heritage.

    I think there is a historical context to the 'Welsh and proud' types as those people are clinging to a national identity. English culture has chipped away at Welsh identity for centuries.

  9. One for you Gav:

  10. Things I like about this country.

    Positive contributions to the world including sports, some truly influential people, the countryside, the people, the traditional pub, our appreciation of conserving ancient monuments, the language and literature.

    Things I dislike.

    Our bloody history and sense of superiority from it, the debts, our more right winged attitudes in comparison to some of European neighbours, the association with Americans and our lack of appreciation for other languages and cultures.

    Now personally, I wouldn't really want to leave this country as I prefer it here and I fell at ease and settled in comparison to when I go to my girlfriend's parents in Belgium. But I don't see any need for patriotism in the way football exhibits it.

    However, I do see the need for a sense of community. With it you have a link which ties people together, unites them and as such, will result in people producing more respect for their country and government. Democracy relies on trusting the system and it works better as people trust it and respect it. This could be why some people carry out vandalism and get caught up in gangs.

    Oh and Mr Mykie, I want to note that most of the violence in sport is usually the result of football. I've known some occasions where rival fans will quite happily watch Rugby League games. And as to quote one of my favourite sayings:

    Football is a gentleman's game played by thugs. Rugby is a thug's game played by gentlemen