Patriotism – the real pride and prejudice
Warning: This might be seen as a rather contentious post. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from living as a human is that one should never question anyones patriotic feelings. And I certainly don’t want to offend my small but faithful audience by being seen to mock their home country.
But (you knew there would be a ‘but’, didn’t you? Yes, I had ‘but’-face; I always do) here’s the thing: patriotism isn’t a nice thing. It’s used as a tool to blind us from logical thought. It’s used to stir up hate, start wars and persecute minorities. It’s the most potent enabler of truly horrible acts. Not money. Not religion. Patriotism.
Ok. That was not so much a warning as a sample of what’s to come. Sorry. Please read on at your own discretion.
We see patriotism expressed daily. In supermarkets, where our own country’s produce is naturally of a much higher quality than those of a neighbouring country. In law making and policing, where the country’s own citizens are always seen as much more civilised and less prone to crime than those dirty foreigners (I’ve mentioned this in more detail in my post Why it is time to kill off nationalism). And of course in sports, where the whole country gets so high on patriotism that after the game has ended people don’t really know what to do with themselves.
I’m not saying that I don’t get patriotism. Of course I do. It’s that sense of pride of belonging to a group of people who all share a similar outlook on life. It’s about belonging. It’s about that warm glowy feeling you get from being part of a family, a tribe. And that’s good. We should all feel like we belong somewhere; that we’re all worth something.
However, as we bask in that fuzzy glow, we might cast a glance across the borders to other nations and other people and find them also feeling all proud and glowy about their silly little countries. That fills us with a mixed sense of amusement and disdain. “What do they think they’re so proud of? Everyone knows ours is the best country in the world!”
Male aggression syndrome
And here’s where it gets ugly. Politicians soon realised that in order to get their own agenda through, they could distract the populus from the (usually unpopular) topics at hand by waving flags and banners. And by fueling our patriotic feelings, they could make us forget about all the details of all the boring technical issues and focus solely on the simple matter of ‘them’ and ‘us’.
Add to this the violent behaviour called Male aggression syndrome, where male primates tend to work themselves up to a frenzy before heading out to raid neighbouring groups, and you’ve basically got a war on your hands. Sort of an insta-war: Just add patriotism, stir it up and serve whilst hot.
Pride and prejudice
Patriotism isn’t limited to nation states either. In every country, there’s rivalry between different parts of the country. In Sweden, the Northerners despise the Southerners for their boasting and arrogant behaviour. And the Southerners look down on the quiet and withdrawn Northerners. And the Stockholmers look down on everyone outside their great city, and everyone in the country hates the Stockholmers. And on and on. No matter how much you split up a group of people there will always be one group against another, right down to people on one side of the street not really trusting the people from the other side of the street. “Those stuck-up even-numbered pricks!”*
So what’s the deal then? If patriotism is all hate and prejudice, should we stop feeling proud of who we are and the society to which we belong? Of course not. I myself get a weird tingly feeling of pride whenever someone mentions the vikings, or the warrior king Carl XII of Sweden‘s raids across Europe or the Finnish sisu during the fight against the overwhelming Soviet forces during World War II. I see that as only natural.
But I believe it imperative that we all remember that this is a feeling, not a truth. Just because we feel proud of our country, our culture and our people it doesn’t automatically follow that we’re the best. Or always right. We still neet to stop and think. Otherwise we’re nothing but emotional puppets, dancing away as someone else is pulling the strings behind the curtains. And who wants to be a puppet really?
* This is of course a quote from the very funny comedian Dara O’Briain’s show ‘Dara O’Briain talks funny’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3POHnxUX6w
** As it happens the Finnish Swastika is not related to the Nazi symbol of the Third Reich, but rather the old emblem of the Finnish airforce, which was founded with the help of the Swedish aristocrat Eric von Rosen whose family crest was the old viking symbol of a blue swastika. But since the Finnish airforce abandoned the swastika in 1945, I still find it rather inconsiderate to proudly display banners like this in today’s Finland.