Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Fallacy of Patriotism

'My country, right or wrong' is a thing no patriot would ever think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying 'My mother, drunk or sober.'

Chesterton said a lot when he said that. To most people, all that it means is that patriotism cannot be taken to an illogical extreme. I would take that one step further and say that GKC actually said that if you let rationality govern your judgement, then patriotism is not something you can subscribe to. This post probably seems apposite (or otherwise) given that we are less than a week away from India's Independence Day.

Frankly, I never did care who ruled over me. Khushwant Singh wrote this interesting article about how the days of the Raj were not necessarily bad. Actually, most of us don't care about who rules over us. I haven't heard of one Indian who packed his bag and left India because the party he didn't vote for came to power. If you are going to use the "Democracy" card, then bear with me while I laugh. When I say, I don't care who rules over me, I mean, I don't care who rules over me as long as s/he has a sense of Rightness, Goodness, Fairness (which is not the same as equality or uniformity) and Honesty. All need to be in uppercase, because we have come to a world where words are abused to the extent that they need differentiators. Tomorrow, when Honesty is abused, I will use hOnEsty. Till then, read with least strain. I couldn't care a damn if I was living in a country run by the Brits if only they could be good people. Unfortunately, they are human beings, like the Indians. I would love to be ruled by Scandinavians as this will bring in some blondes to this rather monochrome population! Yes, blue eyes too. Anyway, my point is made. I don't think Independence helps unless I am being released from evil and brought to good.

India, has been released from evil and paraded naked through a bunch of parties and governments with every single person stripping a pound of flesh as India walks by. To consider this Independence, is short of stupidity. We think we have achieved so much and become an IT superpower and so on. I can debate each and every point in there, but will leave that to a later date. We are only independent in our capacity to have our own flag and constitution (which is skewed in so many places). I think if we had sensible rulers, we could have been granted the privilege to have as many flags as we wanted and in wonderful colours.

But this post is not about Independence. It is about this wasted industry called patriotism. It features in everyone's speech and is something everyone has to vote for. From the Sachin Tendulkars to Asha Bhonsles to every Bollywood actor and actress to every person whom NDTV gets on screen for their sentimental advertisements about the nation's unity in some matter, everyone has to be patriotic in order to score some brownie points. No matter what, no Indian (or AnyCountrian) can stand up and say, I do not feel patriotic. It is unacceptable. It is like saying "I do not like my mother", perhaps worse (since the number of people charging at you would be more in the former case, most people not caring about your mother).

Patriotism is stupid and pointless in the light of intelligence and wisdom. When the citizens are intelligent and wise, they will know how to take care of the place they reside in. No matter where they go. To fragment the world into ego-centric plots of land with imaginary borders and even more imaginary sense of belonging, is ridiculous and highly unnatural. But we still do it. Go up in the air and you will see no border dividing a country from another (except in the cases like that of Sri Lanka, etc.). Then why do we insist on setting these lines? Would you spit on the floor in the house of your neighbour? If you wouldn't, then doesn't it make sense that you wouldn't rape or pillage in Pakistan or Nepal? Then why can't I walk into these countries and engage in work that makes me useful and benefits people? Because I am Indian! I wish I wasn't. I wish I had a global citizenship.

Why do I need to be patriotic? How many people claim to be patriotic towards their own house? I like JK's words:

"Identification with the rag called the national flag is an emotional and sentimental factor and for that factor you are willing to kill another - and that is called, the love of your country, love of the neighbor . . .? One can see that where sentiment and emotion come in, love is not."
If caste based distinctions is an evil in a country, then so is nationality based divisions in this world. In which case, patriotism is a highly unnecessary "virtue".

Patriotism has come to mean rivalry against other countries, a sense of I-am-better-than-you. Patriotism means that I do not trust people enough thus wanting to have a military force to "protect" me. Patriotism means that only I care about my country and others are out to ruin it and exploit it. Patriotism means that I should turn a blind eye to the wrong that happens within my society. Patriotism gives us sanction to wage war on other countries. Patriotism means that if the entire world burns, we must only concern ourselves with saving our countrymen. Patriotism means that collateral damage in a war is unavoidable and ok as long as it happens in another country. Patriotism means that I have to be proud for something I haven't been part of. I need to be proud of the art and architecture of a place although I haven't chipped a rock. I have to be proud of the ancient scriptures and literature even though I have never read them or understood them. Any proliferating group of human beings can produce something good (technologically, artistically, philosophically, etc.). Patriotism tells me that I should feel indebted to my country and hence, obliged to do it favours. Patriotism expects me to enlist when the country goes to war. Patriotism expects me to love the county's soil, flora, fauna, natural entities, etc. I do, but I also love the Alps and the Amazon. Patriotism is also this sense of belonging which is the refuge of a hollow person. Patriotism is the sentiment people appeal to in order to make their pointless statements find some followers. As Samuel Johnson said, 'Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.'

One of the things I would like to see is the dismantling of the entire military. In the land that coined the word "Ahimsa" (and it has nothing to do with Mr. M.K.Gandhi) having a military unit is rather contrary. Or we agree that we never cared about "Ahimsa" and we were just glad that Mr. Gandhi's stunt got the Brits out of India and we are happy for that. The military is our continuing affirmation of patriotism. It is our knee jerk reaction to every situation of conflict. It is what we think we should deploy the minute something goes wrong and "threatens our freedom". I think we would be better off investing that in making life in India worth living and hence, creating an army of understanding citizens versus a small battalion. Having interacted with a few people in the army, I only feel sorry when they speak with great pride about India. I am yet to understand how someone can pride themselves for an act or phenomenon that had nothing to do with them. I think the day the military is dismantled and all we have is internal security for law enforcement and managing petty crimes like thefts and riots (I wish we could even do away with that but that requires everyone to be sensible), that day we can bury patriotism and be a sensible nation/world.

A lot of rather strange people would respond with "What do you mean? Aren't you grateful that your country has given you good roads, hospitals, educational institutions, industries, electricity, transport, food, etc.?" My response to that is "What do you mean? Isn't the country grateful that I pay my taxes, pay my school fees, paid money at all shops, paid my electricity bills and bought medical insurance and paid all the hospital bills on time?" Subsidies are in place to make it attractive for people to stay on in a country and not out of a sense of patriotism. I don't think I will be patriotic towards Big Bazaar though now it would be called brand loyalty! The country is doing us no great favour. Make it difficult for people and the country loses their best minds and hands and hence, their place in the market and economy. The country will move Earth and heavens to ensure that the big MNCs and super-big IT companies of India get all the privileges but not your little cobbler joint. Loans for houses are packaged with all kinds of deals while farmers in Maharashtra die because they cannot repay loans taken from shrewd moneylenders. India, and for that matter any country, doesn't care for you because you are an Indian. They care about you because that might improve their image (as a political party or institution or market for FDIs) or because you resemble a chest of gold for them. This is not a cynical take on things. Why else would I (the government and the people) act to the effect of widening the rich-poor divide? If patriotism must be, then it should be a two way traffic and since the land will not care a damn to produce golden apples for you, the people demanding me to be patriotic must do something which is selfless and overwhelming for me. Better still, we all relate and connect at a level of Fairness, Goodness and Honesty. No need for sentiments and faith.

A true patriot cares so much about his country that he will disallow anything wrong being done to and in his country. He will fight against all liars and cheats and exploiters of natural resources and fellow countrymen. He will be honest and work to his best abilities in order to ensure that his country prospers. He will work every single day to the improvement of living conditions in his country. He will be honest, fair and genuinely good, wishing the best for the country he lives in. He will ensure that there is no corruption in his country. He will ensure that the laws of the land and the policies are well formed and are not favouring just one segment of the population or one geographical sub-zone. The country's good mirrors his own good and hence, he strives to be morally good. And in a while, he and you, my dear reader, recognise that he is simply being a good human being who recognises how to live Consciously in a world which needs Honest, Fair and Good citizens. He then ceases to be restricted to a country and expands to become a global citizen. By this measure, no one is a patriot.

Think about it. You can either cease to be patriotic or bring ruin to this country. Either way, Happy Independence Day.

[Epilogue] I thought I was singular in my conviction regarding patriotism although I quoted a few big names. Before hitting the publish button I decided to search a bit and was delighted to find fellow mad-men! Some are shared below:


The mark of a true patriot

11 comments:

  1. Parvati4:51 PM

    As in all environmental issues, unless and until all do everything environmentally friendly all the time, violence too cannot be abdicated only by a section of the population while all the rest subscribe to it, be it in the name of patriotism or any other of the million valid/invalid reasons offered.

    # Though universal attitudes seem to be politically correct nowadays, certain vibrations of certain nations may be intimate to certain people and they could profess and in all genuine honesty a partiality or patriotism for that country. And as I said, unless violence is absent all over the world, I would do all to protect my home or country that I feel is my place on Earth.

    # Great post. Interesting way to see patriotism.

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  2. I disagree with your assertion on dismantling the military. Freedom and peace are meaningless unless you have the ability to defend them when they're under threat.
    A small country like Israel, for example, is surrounded by hostile neighbors who would love to see it destroyed-which is why they have a compulsory draft for all citizens.
    The British-who were few in number-managed to rule over us only by the strength of the Indian Army that was loyal to them. Thousands of Indians died in the 2 World Wars as part of the British Indian Army.
    And the final reason for their leaving us was again because of the mutiny by the Royal Indian Navy sailors in 1946- which led to spreading unrest among the Indian Army, and could possibly trigger a repeat of 1857.

    If we define a country as a political territory of people bound together by common ideals - then strong military forces are essential to uphold and defend those ideals. With neighbors such as we have today, where would we be without our armed forces?

    To summarize- your freedom as a nation can only be guaranteed by your ability to fight to defend it.
    (By this token Tibet is already a lost cause, no amount of non violent protests is going to drive out the Chinese).

    Finally, here's another quote on the topic :)

    "Patriotism is often an arbitrary veneration of real estate above principles." - George Bernard Shaw

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  3. Dear P,
    I agree. Most things require societal/environmental cooperation. Even honesty is stupid if everyone is going to be dishonest except me. I would be thoroughly exploited and stand to lose. Glad you found it interesting...

    Dear R,
    Defend them from whom? This ties in with what Parvati-ji says. Unless everyone dismantles their military, it would probably be impractical. Nevertheless, your belief that freedom is ridiculous without the ability to protect it is wrongly formed. You probably equate the ability to defend it with the presence of an army. There are several countries without an army. India too managed a significant portion of its freedom without an army. What you cite about the last straw of the freedom movement is not entirely correct. Britian did not clash with the Indian Army (INA was not the Indian army)! They had included several Indians in their army. So it is a case of revolt/mutinies within the British army and not of India's army fighting the British army. I agree that is probably just pedantic differentiation but the truth remains that the very need to mark their (the kings') territory over and above an expansive togetherness which allowed the British to occupy India in the first place. Thereafter it was a case of the bigger bully winning which doesn't mean patriotism makes sense or having an army is vital. Even with an army we can't protect our freedom against, say, the onslaught of USA or China (as was demonstrated). If that is ok because "we atleast tried" then why not have a 4 member army and "try with them"? Other than the stupidity of patriotism, I also believe that the expenditure on military can be re-routed to better infrastructure, better education and creating employment for nearly all of India. Food management and alleviating hunger is definitely something that can be realised if we didn't burn money in coming up with newer missiles. Sign an agreement with China, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, England, Russia, USA, France and a few others that by dismantling the army you declare that you will never attack anyone on earth and hence, if someone threatened to attack India, they should help for which every citizen of their country will be provided free chaat when they visit India.
    By transforming our approach towards living, we can nevertheless create an example by which others can live and infect goodness the world over. Having said that, I know that this will never happen because people and governments are obsessed with security and the military but it brings me great comfort to let people know that they are stupid before they continue with their stupidity!! :-D

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  4. Have to say that, it is an interesting take on patriotism,freedom..etc.

    Key statement"Even honesty is stupid if everyone is going to be dishonest except me"...this is very very true.

    I'd like to comment on 2 things..
    1)"Patriotism expects me to love the county's soil, flora, fauna, natural entities, etc. I do, but I also love the Alps and the Amazon"

    We still are living in a democratic country no one is enforcing our choices...now the patriotism you have said in the above line..we are expected to do so because..we have our roots here, our belongings..our family..blood relations...friends..distant relatives..people who know you..now again the exceptions are not enforced by govt ..it is by your own ppl.
    ..you may like alps..but you cant get all of these there..and going by the "key statement"..not everyone will think like a global citizen..ppl attach their emotions with the place n people..the ppl at alps will not readily embrace u into their society..from time immemorial..we ppl have always been craving to be part of some common belonging... you can see this movies like apocalypto..where when ppl from other tribe come..the whole tribe becomes one to fight..so it is animal instinct..and even at this hitech age it will still be there...
    for instance..if you see an Indian in some alien land wouldnt you connect with him..now what is that creating a bond there..now why do you need a reason to bond..or is it the other..you bond becos you have a reason...


    2)the expenditure on military..
    Corruption has rotted the whole system..and defence is no exception to it. But what can we do when our enemies are breathing at our neck ..
    Infra and defence are high investment areas which have to be taken care by government..anyways now it is effectively managed by PPP projects. The other things you said is education and employment..now you are saying we pay tax..and it should happen like a magic..I think..we should also contribute in other ways like..setting up your own firm..provide employment..provide education..impart knowledge..watever..if everyone thinks I am payin tax..I will go work in US..and expect things to happen magically..get down to grass roots level and contribute something to the nation..now if u r lookin for reasons to why I should contribute..then you r contradicting ur self..cos u already have indirectly meant that you are interested..
    The expenditure on military is like buying insurance for ourselves..it is to handle contigencies..again ur 'key statement' is also applicable here

    Well Sir, I just wrote whatever I felt..everything is straight from my heart. I am proud to be Indian..I am proud of the contribution we have done to mankind.. our past..our history..our heritage..the religions,languages,culture,traditions..etc..Having said that I am aware of the corruption..the terrorism..watever..every country has its own share in this front..just that we are democracy..we can shout out loud..

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  5. Dear U,
    To say that no one is enforcing us would be mistaken the minute you walk into a crowd and proclaim that you aren't patriotic! I am not against loving our soil and flora, etc. nor am I against loving our people or belongings. I am against the notion that since I am Indian I am only supposed to love things Indian! When I am in India, I instinctively bond with travelers and artists. When I notice a gourmand, my face lights up. When I am in a different country, my face would light up for the same reason. I have met and seen several Indians when I was abroad, but all we did was smile, which is my same response to the natives of that land. Sure, we would have several things to discuss which I can't discuss with an Austrian or Brazilian or Canadian, like ghazals and ghee on alu paratha, but I can't discuss Bach and varieties of cheese with most Indians. Recently, I was extolling the various things one could do with Gouda and people here brushed me off. I was praying to find someone from Netherlands or surrounding areas to jump in joy with me. I did manage to find a pretty lady from Holland but unfortunately she doesn't like cheese! :-( In short, I prefer connecting with people with whom I can have a conversation, from whom I can learn something and who can bring in new perspectives (intersection of the 1st two traits). If that person is an Indian, then it is merely a piece of information. My roots and my people stay the same and have given me loads of things (including tastes, culture and aesthetics), but so have the Israelis, Americans, Spaniards and (to some extent) the Chinese.
    I agree with your point about most of us (definitely me) expecting that all we had to do was pay taxes and things will happen magically! That is stupid and I keep feeling ashamed of that, but that is like going to a restaurant and expecting that just because I pay a bomb doesn't mean I should get excellent food! Well, yes, I must! I cannot be expected to go into the kitchen and do the cooking (how I wish they would let me). Similarly, I have an area of specialisation and am paying my taxes in order to facilitate others to do their work. If they don't, then I have every right to complain. If my customers complained about my product, I can't ask them to come and code with me. Nevertheless, your point is taken and we should attempt to participate in the spring cleaning. As I had mentioned in response to Rex's comment, there are countries without an army. So it is possible. We can maintain minimal border security and dismantle all our super-missile projects. We can sign up with a few countries and pay them periodically to ensure that no one attacks us. Outsource the military!!! :-D
    I am glad you responded with what you felt. Helps stir a conversation... :-)

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  6. people who run away from India and settle abroad are more or less indirectly saying that they are not patriotic..but is anyone stopping them? no Sir, it is only those narrow minded nehruvian socialists..who said swadesi stuff, imports restriction etc...now people just go for the best..we buy toyota cars,samsung tvs,nike shoes etc..who is stopping us and tellin us to buy indian..love indian stuff..

    I'd agree with you on that point..of Indians shying away other Indians in foreign land..I've experienced..but that behaviour could be attributed to something in our past..this behaviour we dont see among other nationalities..like a american sees another one in diff nation..the next moment..they will be seen in some pub drinkin beer..may be our introversion nature [I dont know..cant explain this]

    yes we all should be open to different perspectives...now being patriotic shouldnt narrow our thoughtprocess ..we may find a fellow indian boring and find some pakistani interesting..now being patriotic doesnt mean u shld hate the pakistani..i have a pakistani blog follower who used to love talkin to me..and i used to help him in studies etc..and used to discuss with him about other matters like religion etc..now in this process i do ignore some other indian friends...now I am still patriotic towards India

    about the restaurant very well said..lemme pick up from the same example...u r right...we cant expect the food to be tasty nor we can ask to let us go and cook.. but if everyone sits on table and asks for food..who will cook and how much can he cook?..glad that u liked the point..right we should participate in the spring cleaning

    last point u said..is interesting..easy said but not done..in game theory we have to make move based on our expectation on what the other one would make [not forgetting that even he is rational and knows the rules of game]

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  8. Hello. I stumbled upon your blog looking for a translation to the song "Ullathil Nalla Ullam".
    Your writing and ideas got me interested and I got all the way to this post.

    I subscribe to the fallacy of patriotism. http://aimlessandabstract.blogspot.com/2007_08_01_archive.html
    However, I think this is where I may have spotted a flaw in the argument.

    "I think the day the military is dismantled and all we have is internal security for law enforcement and managing petty crimes like thefts and riots (I wish we could even do away with that but that requires everyone to be sensible), that day we can bury patriotism and be a sensible nation/world."

    Don't you think it requires a lot more than sensibility (that you say is much needed before internal law enforcement could be done away with), for people to wish to do away with their military.

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  9. Dear DO,
    Not sure where the fallacy is that you are pointing to. Yes we might require more than sensibility. We'd probably require a lot of trust & willingness to let go & not control everything. But how is that a fallacy? :-) Do help me understand.

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  10. Dear DO,
    Ooops! I seem to have lost my manners. Welcome to this blog. Hope you find more words that hold your interest. :-)

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  11. Thanks!

    While you justify the need for internal policing knowing that people can't be expected to be sensible, doesn't the same hold for the need for the military to guard borders? I mean, we need the military precisely because people aren't sensible enough to allow the need for world peace to supersede their territorial instincts.

    Also, while the borders drawn maynot be natural, in the physical sense of the word, I feel it is a human (actually even animal) instinct to socialise, form groups, feel threatened by other groups in the eternal struggle for survival. This feeling can be seen in an individual, then grows on to his/her family and on a larger scale there are culture-based identities- religious identities, caste-based identities, regional identities. Then there is language. I have always thought that the only way the citizens of the world would be sensible enough to feel "one" is when we are threatened by an external race.

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