Monday, July 4, 2011

pride, patriotism, and uncle sam

"You hate America, don't you?" she said.

"That would be as silly as loving it," I said. "It's impossible for me to get emotional about it, because real estate doesn't interest me. It's no doubt a great flaw in my personality, but I can't think in terms of boundaries. Those imaginary lines are as unreal to me as elves and pixies. I can't believe that they mark the end or the beginning of anything of real concern to the human soul. Virtues and vices, pleasures and pains cross boundaries at will." 

--From Mother Night, by Kurt Vonnegut

pride (n.)

1. a high or inordinate opinion of one's own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.

2. the state or feeling of being proud.

3. a becoming or dignified sense of what is due to oneself or one's position or character; self-respect; self-esteem.

4. pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself: civic pride.

pride. Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. (accessed: September 29, 2009).

pa⋅tri⋅ot⋅ism (n.)

– devoted love, support, and defense of one's country; national loyalty.

patriotism. Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. (accessed: September 29, 2009).

pride, and patriotism. these are two words i've often struggled with. i've often found the idea of being proud of being an american a little bit ludicrous. for me, the most immediate denotation of pride is definition #4 above: "pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself". i may be an american, but that is only an accident of birth; i can't claim any sort of ownership or achievement in that. so my affiliation with the group, from the get-go, is rather a result of chance that my own personal accomplishment. then there's the thorny problem of being proud of america. proud of america? of what we've done? having grown up fully steeped in the myriad ways in which we've wronged various groups over our short history - native americans, African americans, the poor, immigrants, as well as all the ill-conceived military actions we've been involved with across the globe - there often doesn't seem a lot there to be proud of.

i do love the landscape. the recent national parks special on PBS quoted someone to that effect; that viewing the national parks was a place where people could see the landscape and be proud of their country. and yet - that still rubs me the wrong way. i can be inspired and fulfilled by the landscape, i can love it, i can think places in our country are the most beautiful in the world, but being proud of the land to me, again, implies that i had some hand in it, that there exists some relationship between my actions and its present state. which is even more preposterous than being proud of the actual country. 

and patriotism? devoted support and loyalty? that immediately sets my alarm bells ringing. that sounds a lot like we're getting in to the unconditional realm. i can unconditionally love, but unconditional support? never going to happen. 

i guess this is why i've always squirmed a little when people talk about being proud to be an american, or being a patriot. i realize others may not see these words in the same way, not so absolute and threatening. but i've never been able to figure out where i fit in in the whole discussion though.

see, i am an american, through and through - i know that now and know it's no use pretending i'll ever be anything but a product of this country and of this landscape. so, maybe instead of pride, or patriotism, what i really feel is some sort of love - love in a complicated, uneasy, begrudging way. like in the way you might love a very grouchy and unpleasant relative, an uncle sam, say, whom you know is a bit of a bastard, but let's face it - they are family, and you do love them overall, even if you don't always like them. even if you don't want to ever have to back up things that they say or support things that they do. and in some way, whether good or bad, whether you like it or not, their presence has shaped who you are and what you think and feel. so you're connected, and you love, sometimes with a sweet appreciation for all that you have and have been given, sometimes with very little like and a whole lot of anger at the actions your beloved has taken. 

happy fourth of july, y'all. 

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