THE CASE AGAINST PATRIOTISM
The idea of loving one’s country and doing everything to protect it in any way possible has been around since the beginning of life as we know it, and it is time to try and study it from a wholly new perspective; a skeptic one.
The main objective of writing this article is to explain why the concept of patriotism itself has been twisted and corrupted in order to become the construct that holds under it a set of values and principles which shape what can only be described as a cult… Not only that, but it became normal that the concept itself demands that those who criticize it be punished, either socially or materially. In other words, it has been turned into something very similar to religion in its most extreme forms.
The origins of patriotism
Before being able to go any further, we need to determine the exact meaning of Patriotism. The word itself came from ‘patria’ which is based on the Greek πατρίδα (patrída) meaning fatherland.
According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, patriotism is “love of one's country,” but that is not all, as the same source specifies that it can also signify any or all of the following:
“-Special affection for one's own country;
-A sense of personal identification with the country;
-Special concern for the well-being of the country;
-Willingness to sacrifice to promote the country's good.”
The most important question in this regard should be: “Where did such a special feeling and attachment come from?” Therefore, the real point to look at becomes the source of patriotism within the processes of human evolution, and the main factor which turned it into something beneficial during our species’ development through the generations and the different epochs… Charles Darwin in “The Descent of Man” (1871) states that there “can be no doubt that a tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to give aid to each other and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection.” In this passage, it is clear that what Darwin was talking about was the help that individuals were offering other members of their group in order to achieve what was beneficial to all; and this included the helpers and the helped.
Arthur Keith, in his book “A new theory of human evolution” (1948) explains that humans, in their beginnings, separated themselves into groups and communities, and as a result of such division and separation a new need appeared; and this was to “safeguard and protect the group which, when danger threatens from without, or from within, muster forces for the defence of the group. This set of mental activities, which automatically arms the members of a group in its defence, is known as patriotism.” Keith does not hide the fact that “Patriotism is an exaggerated and prejudiced form of affection which is manifested by members of a group or tribe.”
But after all that, how did this quality of man mutate into the justified act of killing other men; not only that, but it also became an honor to do so in the name of the love of the motherland or the fatherland or home or country, or whatever name or description given to the geographical location where one was born, or where he/she resides for one reason or another.
In 1767, Adam Ferguson, a Scottish philosopher, wrote an essay dedicated to the history of civil society, and in it we find an illuminating thought: “Mankind not only find in their condition the sources of variance and dissension: they appear to have in their minds the seeds of animosity, and they embrace the occasions of mutual opposition, with alacrity and pleasure”… And thus the concept of ‘The Other’ appeared, and it finally became acceptable to defend your territory and your borders and your property, whether private or public, with whatever means possible… And this transformed itself into a virtue.
The whole idea can be described by saying that when our ancestors lived in caves, they formed groups of not more than 15 people… And within each group, social classes, in their most primitive form, appeared; as there were the Alpha Males, who were those who succeeded in convincing all the others of their claimed superiority, either physical or intellectual, and that gave them a better chance to be leaders and to plan for the clan and put forward the paths for the future… Another social class was the hunter/gatherer, who was endowed with speed of movement and with a higher ability of observation, then there was the thinker or what we, with our present day understanding, can call a philosopher, whose sole role in life was to attempt presenting answers to the deep questions of our existence; why are we here? What is the purpose of life? And how did it all come to being? It is obvious to us that the mentioned classes evolved to become what we still see around us today; as the Alpha Males are the political and economic leaders of the states were we live, and hunters/gatherers are the workers and employees and soldiers of today’s society… While the thinkers/philosophers went on to become one of two: The Scientists, whose sole purpose is to understand how the universe works, or The Religious Leaders whose sole purpose is to pretend to know all the answers and thus demand control over our lives according to the moral system they think is divine and represents the only truth in the world.
A very interesting study about this specific subject (by Sergey Gavrilets of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville) was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (May 25th, 2012)… The study found that the major roles in the mating process were played by weak males who had inferior fighting abilities and females who were faithful to them.
Is Patriotism Right?
All what was mentioned leads us again to the question: How should we judge Patriotism?
The main point in all the story of humanity should never exclude that life is the most precious and valuable truth of all, and that preserving life should be the only purpose of society and of civilization.
The concept of Patriotism was originally invented to encourage the members of a certain community to defend the set of values that is held high by that community… It was the way to protect the way of life of that small society those members were a part of… But with time, different schools of thought (including nationalistic and religious ideas) mixed to form new types of Patriotism, or new ideologies… According to Wikipedia, “In classical 18th century patriotism, loyalty to the State was chiefly considered in contrast to loyalty to the Church, and it was argued that clerics should not be allowed to teach in public schools as their patrie was heaven, so that they could not inspire love of the homeland in their students…” This is a very important factor: How can people be patriotic and be able to sacrifice anything and everything to protect their homeland, if they believe that their final and eternal homeland is beyond this life? And how can people be religious, and work hard to improve their actual and present homeland regardless of what will come after death? This conflict still stands today, as one side struggles to persuade people to fight in the here and now for the here and now, while the other is doing all it can to establish a state of mind which translates this life into nothing more than a passage to another?
What Patriotism represents today is love of one’s country; a country that you found yourself in because of pure luck, and in choosing it you had no say… Is it logical to expect someone to sacrifice his/her own life for those who in our past were the so-called Alpha Males? Because the wars that are being fought in the modern times are not much different from those of the past… The sole purpose of them is to preserve the way of life of the politicians, the bankers, the wealthy businessmen, and the religious leaders… You cannot demand that some people leave the only real and precious thing they own, their lives, so that the top few continue to enjoy theirs.
The only way that a feeling, such as patriotism, can be true, logical, and acceptable is in the case when someone relocates to a country within which he feels truly connected to the values and to the way of life of the people of that country… And not because he/she was born there.