When I was still in elementary school (grades 1-6, here in the U.S.), my oldest brother graduated to high school (grades 9-12). I’d been hearing him cheer for his junior high school (grades 7-8) football team — the Catamounts — for two years, but here he was suddenly backing his new high school team, the Eagles.
Something about being a Catamount supporter felt natural and right. The Catamounts WERE the best team. My brother had been telling me for two years, and I believed him. But now suddenly the Catamounts were forgotten in this new fervor for the Eagles.
“Why don’t you like the Catamounts any more?” I asked him, but he gave me his look that meant “That’s one of those Stupid Little Brother questions,” and that was the end of it.
I must have been all of 10 years old, but I remember wondering “Can you really care about something so much, fanatically cheer and support someone, and then just … not?”
Apparently you could. But I remember being disturbed, feeling something dark that said love, allegiance, whatever it was, was not something that just flipped from one thing to another, one tribal team to another, like a switched being flicked on and off.
Certainly I couldn’t do it. If I loved something, cared deeply about something, it was pretty much forever. Possibly as a result, love and allegiance came to me very slowly, very cautiously, like a forest animal checking the terrain before committing.
I sat out as many of my high school pep rallies as I could. While the rest of the school was in the auditorium, stamping their feet and shouting on cue, I was in the library reading. On those occasions when I got caught and sent to the auditorium to participate, I looked around at friends and classmates and wondered. I tried shouting and clapping, stamping my feet, all of it, and I’ll admit there were moments when I was caught up in the MUSIC of it, the thundering percussion of it all, but for the most part I sat quietly and watched.
More than team spirit, I felt suspicion. Learning to cheer and wave and stamp our feet on cue, were we being programmed to like this team, and then the next team? Trading whatever developing independence of thought we might have for this knee-jerk belief and allegiance?
Did all this have some goal in mind, maybe a goal that wasn’t even for us, but for the people asking us to do it? Were we learning to be excited and passionate – and sometimes angry and defensive – for somebody else’s benefit?
And after we were programmed to respond with this sort of instant allegiance, would we be switched to something bigger and more demanding and even less helpful to our own personal welfares?
Part of the answer – the Vietnam War – wasn’t long in coming.
For those of you who weren’t around back then, the Iraq War is an even better example. The type of pep-rally-devotion I’m talking about, national allegiance, at a level that ignores justice, reason, and even self-preservation, is right out there in plain sight. Not just for the prosecution of the war, but for the blind, loving, passionate support of it. During the Bush years, to question the war, to express one single word of doubt, was to be a traitor to every American ideal.
To question the war was to waste the patriotic, freedom-loving sacrifice of all those who’d died in it – almost as if you’d killed them yourself. To question the war was to hate America itself, the proud nation which bleeds to give you freedom, safety, wealth, family, God, EVERYTHING. If you doubted the justice and necessity of the Iraq War, you commie traitor bastard, you should definitely go live with Saddam … perhaps before one of your former countrymen, proud patriots all, took you out and shot you.
Well, that was just one of the more recent eye-openers that nationalism, team spirit on a national scale, was something so easily bent to irrational ends that it seemed designed for it.
“My country right or wrong” sounds good as a patriotic quote from American history. But if you THINK about it, think about what it means to support wrong-doing, to back unjustified, senseless war or smaller scale black ops, without thought or guilt or regret, it automatically makes you a bad person. To the extent that you support killing strangers off in some distant country, for no good reason you know, to that extent you are guilty of the killing.
To put it mildly, I don’t like that. I don’t want to be a part of it.
In fact, I don’t want to be a part of ANY automatic tribal or national action. I’m not a “national” person. Meaning, I don’t like to believe I’m owned or ordered by the concept of one nation or another.
I recently had a bit of an epiphany about giving and getting in the modern world, enough that I see that libertarians have some fairly selfish ideas regarding what the world owes them, and what they owe back. But the thing is, I’m willing to give, and give a lot. In fact, I think you MUST give – to family, to friends (human and animal), to some of those others who share the earth with us, in fact to Planet Earth itself.
But not to the people who see themselves only in terms of nations, and not to those nations.
Arguing with conservative friends, I’ve said many times that the “America” we US-ers get so soppy and poetic about is not a place or a flag. It’s a body of ideas. And when I think of myself as an American, my respect is to those ideas, and not to the land contained within these specific geographic boundaries, or to a symbolic flag.
Truthfully, it’s not even allegiance to all of the ideas. When the goddy faction starts in saying this is a Christian nation, they’re instantly disincluding me. I’m not a citizen of any Christian nation, and there is no exclusively Christian notion I hold with.
I’d even argue there are a lot of Christian ideas that are impossible to square with this American body of ideas. Hey, if your biggest Big Guy is a king, you ain’t living in any democratic republic I ever heard of. You’re LESS of an American than I am.
Legally, I’m a citizen of the United States. But ethically, and rationally, my allegiance is to this body of ideas – ideas of equality, justice, reason, individual freedom, fairness, strength, friendliness, community, generosity, charity, education, peace, privacy, intelligence, curiosity, a caring for nature, and a great deal more.
To the extent those ideas or ideals are at the foundation of the United States, I’m wholly on board. But to the extent they aren’t – which, lately, we seem to be diverging from rather radically – I’m less a supporter of the NATION and more a supporter of the IDEAS.
I’ve been headed this way since Vietnam, I suppose. I didn’t support that war, and I still think it was a catastrophe for all concerned.
The Iraq War of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney was not only a catastrophe but an vicious betrayal of some of the deepest ideals of Americans. It was not just a war in the middle East, it was a war right here in the U.S., a manipulative war on U.S. citizens, a campaign of blatant, casual lying and brainwashing, which has yet to end and probably never will.
I can’t be a part of that. If the U.S. is redefining itself to be THIS – a corporate-military-media (and religious) machine that cares about profits and power more than the lives of people – my allegiance necessarily diminishes. I’m a citizen of something larger and better, I like to think.
My fellow citizens are not the people who just happen to live next door, but those who share my ideals.
I have more in common with the man who crosses a border in hopes of a better life than some of the “citizen militia” thugs who patrol that border. More in common with the people in other nations who protect women’s rights to reproductive health than the screaming fools who block access to Planned Parenthood doors here in the U.S. More in common with environmental activists on the Sea Shepherd than with American big game hunters who pose with dead African wildlife. More in common with the conscientious objectors of the Vietnam era than loudmouthed idiot hyperpatriots like Ted Nugent. More in common with foreign scientists than American creationists.
And more in common with the people who share my idea of a citizenship in something bigger and more inclusive, something that ignores and supercedes national boundaries and tribal identifications … than with the flag-waving “patriots” who think their country can do no wrong.
I’m A Citizen of Earth.
I know I’m not alone in this. I hope there are more and more of us as we move into our difficult future.
This is the kind of society, the kind of culture, I want to help build. I think it’s the only survivable one.