Thursday, 23 April 2009

Can one be 'proud' of their country?

This is a long standing issue which evokes a lot of good arguments from both sides as to the answer of this question. It really seeks to define a sort of line between patriotism and nationalism - where ones gratitude of the nation is flirting with the border.

“Patriotism is proud of a country's virtues and eager to correct its deficiencies; it also acknowledges the legitimate patriotism of other countries, with their own specific virtues. The pride of nationalism, however, trumpets its country's virtues and denies its deficiencies, while it is contemptuous toward the virtues of other countries. It wants to be, and proclaims itself to be, "the greatest," but greatness is not required of a country; only goodness is.”
- Sydney J. Harris quotes (American Journalist and Author, He wrote a syndicated column, Strictly Personal, from 1944-86. 1917-1986)

I think this definition of the both types of 'pride' strikes the issue on the head.

Today is St. George's day but as is common in the UK you are not allowed to be proud of your culture for fear of insulting other cultures. That said, I would just like to state some recent polls: 72% identified themselves as Christians when asked what they identified themselves as - another 2% identified themselves as Muslim. The majority is thus not allowed to assert themselves for they might insult a Jew, Buddhist, Muslim, Jedi, Sikh or why not a Hindu. The problem is though that these groups are also English/British and they live under the English/British flag of government and carry a British passport so why are they raising qualms about English culture? That is precisely it though, most of them do not and are perfectly happy to wave the flag and join in the culture - it is the very vocal minorities however who are given media time and further hyped up and 'sensationalised' by the press which make it seem that the entire grouping has their opinions. In some cases it may be more than just a select minority but in most cases it is not and the government does not have the backbone to stand up to its own people because of religious sensitivities. I have of course not raised the most annoying issue that when minorities seek to celebrate their culture all doors are open regardless of whom they might insult, denying them their celebration is denying them their culture which is awful I completely agree but why is this so vigorously imposed upon Christians (i.e. most people) but not on the minority religions? Another shortcoming of this government, what a surprise.

Further the left is sorely not acknowledging that in other countries not asserting the national culture would be an act of great insult. I am sure you can think of some countries for yourself but just to name a few; USA, China or India are a few examples. Their gratitude for their nation is at times (quite often I should say) rather jingoist or why not say bellicose chauvinism - they often have the problem, as Harris points out, that they cannot comprehend or down right deny the country's deficiencies. But regardless of this, and the elements within, the population which deny the shortcomings are still proud of their nation irrespective of what we might think of them.

This is a typical conversation that often pops up here and there.

1 - "Gosh, I am proud to be English!"
2 - "Why are you proud of something you cannot control?"
1 - "What do you mean?"
2 - "You never chose to be born in England but you are proud to be an Englishmen - it makes no sense to be proud of something which is beyond your control."

The above conversation opens up a very difficult and profound discussion about existentialism. Nr. 2 presumes that Nr. 1 cannot possibly be proud over something, a decision, which is beyond his control - this argument is used a lot, I have heard it myself several times and find it equally ridiculous each time. But here comes the fallacy of Nr. 2's argument he presumes that he knows that we did not have a choice i.e. he is assuming, through his argument, that the choice of birth place is outside of our control. In doing so he assumes knowledge about life before birth. This is precisely as ridiculous as it sounds. How can he possibly know about life before this? He cannot, but he is claiming to do so through his use of argument which makes it a rather dim argument (not to say a rather dim conversationalist).

If one were to get even more drawn into this debate we could for arguments sake say that possibly we did have a choice in choosing our birth place. For example we chose England because in our previous life we led a very poor and monotonous life as a suricate on the steps of Africa, this time we would like to try something more exiting e.g. as a human being on the hills of Shropshire. You might say this is a ridiculous line of thought but then I must remind you that Hinduism (including Yoga, Vaishnavism, and Shaivism) is based upon a similar principle: If they lead bad lives as human beings they will be reincarnated as a lesser creature. It is all based on karma which is literally the sum of one's actions. Bad karma means bad reincarnation, if we for example deem lice as bad then it would be quite sad for the person in question to reincarnated as this. Perceptions also have to be taken into account of course. Good and Bad is not a universal scale but is decided upon by the individual. Just because society teaches us that some actions are bad and others good that does not mean that it really is so, there is no empirical evidence to claim that one action is preferable to another based merely upon human emotional response to the actions.

Going back to St. George's day and if we were to give Nr. 2's argument the benefit of the doubt, then we can and should reply with; if we indeed have no choice of our birth place then we should at least be grateful that we had the good fortune to end up in England - whatever means of power, logic, randomness etcetera got us here. New Labour with much help from the Tories, it must be said, have quite successfully wrecked Britain as a standing nation-she is now on her knees-but there are still far worse places out there into which one could have been born, based upon the predisposition that we indeed have no control as to this plight (if one believes in destiny or is agnostic, then it would be mighty rude to the higher powers that be, to be ungrateful of their actions in placing us in England - they could just as well have dumped us in North Korea and then we would really be in the thick of it).

All in all, be proud to be English even if "society" tells you not to, they are wrong. For all the monologues thrown about in the world, in the blogosphere, in the media, in Whitehall and in the street, we have yet to create a dialogue on this issue. This is England and we are quite adverse to the kind of patriotism advocated by America but we do not like the non-patriotism as exhibited by Finland, somewhere in between lies England but until everyone stops talking and starts listening we will not find 'our' brand of patriotism.

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