Sunday, November 21, 2010

On Patriotism

There are those who say that many of the really good ideas have been thought of already.
Since I *mostly agree with this statement, but mostly because you will probably think he is smarter than most other people, I figured I would start by seeing what Albert Einstein has to say on the subject:

[Note: The following comes from the book "The World As I See It" by Albert Einstein.  He had personal and direct experience with extreme patriotism having escaped Nazi Germany.]

"This topic brings me to that worst outcropping of the herd nature, the military system, which I abhor. .. This Plague-spot of civilization ought to be abolished with all possible speed. Heroism by order, senseless violence, and all the pestilent nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism--how I hate them. .. And yet so high, in spite of everything, is my opinion of the human race that I believe this bogey would have disappeared long ago, had the sound sense of the nations not been systematically corrupted by commercial and political interests acting through the schools and the Press." ~Albert Einstein

He goes on to say that the advancement of human civilization, from the discovery of fire and agriculture, to the invention of the steam engine, along with advances in morality, have come from creative free thinking individuals. Yet in modern times there seems an absence of great minds in proper proportion to the population. (He proposes a theory about the cause for this, and I myself have my own which I will undoubtedly go into at another time.) A consequence of this is that:

"In two weeks the sheep-like masses can be worked up by the newspapers into such a state of excited fury that the men are prepared to put on uniform and kill and be killed, for the sake of the worthless aims of a few interested parties." ~Albert Einstein

And later quoting Emil Fischer he says:  " 'It's no use, Gentlemen, science is and remains international.'  The really great scientists have always known this and felt it passionately" ~Albert Einstein

Elsewhere I recall him saying (although I can't find it at present) something along the lines that: internationally scientists, doctors, lawyers and other such professionals often have immediate understanding with one another over and above that shared with many of their countrymen.


Now I am an American.  Since a large portion of Americans claim (falsely) that American is a Christian nation (as opposed to one of religious freedom), and because he is viewed as a moral authority by a notable percentage of earths citizens, I think it would be useful to appeal to what Jesus taught on this subject.

[For the sake of honesty I wish to make it known that much of the following comes from, or is based on Leo Tolstoy's "What I believe" and I did not think of it myself.]

Tolstoy points out that 'neighbor' as used in the New Testament is more accurately translated as 'kinsmen' or 'countrymen'.  So when considering Christs famous parable: 'The Good Samaritan', it becomes immediately obvious that Jesus claimed that a foreigner of a different religion IS your kin or countryman, and in some cases is to be considered more so than your actual 'kin' and 'countrymen' based upon their actions.

The irony of modern biblical literalism is a topic which knows no bounds, but for the moment I want to point out one specific irony related to Patriotism which I also picked up from Tolstoy:

Christ taught that one should not swear oaths.  This is quite important if you think about it.  It means one cannot swear to obey a human chain of command, eliminating traditional military service, or take any position that is 'sworn in', including public office.

[Note: Tolstoy also mentioned Christs: "do not judge" is not "don't be judgmental" as taught by churches.  He restricted one from serving as judge jury or executioner.  Christ stood by his teaching here by refusing to condemn the adulterous woman to death as was the law in the famous "let he without sin cast the first stone" case.  In a court of law society distributes and hides guilt for violence across judge jury and executioner.  Similarly in the military it is within the chain of command.  The wealthy sleep easy giving commands to enrich themselves.  Officers train soldiers to override their conscience and 'just following orders.'  Soldiers enforce the will of the humans at the top.]

When I was in Rome this past summer I was talking with an Archeologist staying in my hostel.  She confirmed Tolstoy's insight and that this was the original interpretation of Christianity.  Rome was extremely open and adopted all religions it came across.  The reason for the famous 'lions eating Christians' persecution was not for religious but political crimes:

1) They refused to recognize Caesar as a god or swear allegiance to a human government or military.

2) They also considered 'Gods law', or the 'Natural law' as higher than 'Mans law' and therefore chose socialistic ideals and the 'good of all' in the community over obeying the laws of the nation.

[Note: This Civil disobedience was the example Mahatma Gandhi followed to create his life work after reading, among other things: Tolstoy.]

So originally, Christians were committing treason and disrupting society, and were therefore considered unpatriotic traitors of Rome.  Contrast this with modern political views.

Ironically the acceptance of Christianity in Rome was spread largely by returning soldiers who related to the willingness to die for higher principles, and who were disgusted by the ways that the wealthy were abusing their sacrifices in war merely for personal pleasures.


Someone might ask me: Don't you love your country?

I am grateful and lucky to have been born in America.  Undoubtedly I have been the recipient of many tangible benefits for the fact.  But why should I wish to prevent others from attaining the same benefits (and more) regardless of their nationality or religion?  Such results are those of nationalism: a superiority complex, and a degradation of the humanity of 'outsiders'.

Most everyone in the modern world is taught to hate the Nazis, and for good reason.  Their evil carried out under national pride is well know.  What is truly dangerous though is to fail to see that the Nazi's are not some unrelatable alien 'other'.  The same pride exist within each of us, even if to a lesser degree.  If we are not wary of Nationalism and Patriotism then we have learned nothing from history.

At the present moment I feel the danger to my fellow Americans and many others in the world, is more from within my country than from without it.  Right is right.  Fair is fair.  Justice is justice.  Peace is peace.  These know no nationality (or religion).

Before fighting abroad, does it not make more sense to help those exploited or abandoned in the wake of Katrina?

We blamed the Germans for not acting but claiming ignorance of the death camps.  They showed our Torture chambers at Guantanamo on the nightly news.  What have we done of this?  We don't even have their ignorance defense.  So I ask you: are we really any better?


Thanks to Wikipedia for the following quotes (if you never donated money to Wikipedia, please do):

"My country is the world, all men are my brethren and my religion is to do good." ~Thomas Paine (Founding Father of the United States)

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin." ~Kaniyan Poongundran (Tamil poet)

"I am not an Athenian, or a Greek, but a citizen of the world." ~Socrates



  1. I had made notes to write a post about the numbing effect of information overload, which is what I think America is afflicted with today. Not only that, but with coffee, the media, reality TV, and access to global crises around the world, we are always in a state of anxiety and drama. It's our bread and butter. :P In our attempt to simplify our lives, we've made it so much more complex.

    To respond to a few of your thoughts though:

    The Bible is a historical account (and honestly, a rather fictional historical account on many counts). It disturbs me that people are taking it as literal as they are; it's like taking Aesop's fables and saying that foxes can really speak (they may, but that's a different discussion). While several of the morals learned from that material are applicable today, most of them are in response to a society that no longer exists and hasn't for millennia. Much of it is now irrelevant (and I don't say that in a mean way).

    The Roman Empire did accept all religions and people. That is how it became one of the strongest and longest surviving civilizations. The Empire allowed captured cultures to keep their ways and continue living their lives as they always have. To the common folk, nothing changed. Taxes just went to some other final destination. In point of fact, Christianity has survived this long because it assimilated itself into existing religions. It only takes a few generations to completely change the perceived history of something.

    Today's perception of patriotism is a truly disturbing one. Over the past decade it has come to mean blind faith in the government. Usually in all the wrong ways. Patriotism shouldn't breed followers though, it should breed leaders. People who question right and wrong and make the country a better place. Too many people put their faith in a corrupt and drama-driven media and don't interpret the facts (or even the simple truth) on their own. Drives me crazy to no end!

    In another decade or two, the idea will morph again, hopefully into something more proactive. Societies fluctuate between change and tradition, and with those changes come new meanings to the same words. :-)

  2. Conversations with History: Howard Zinn

  3. Wow, what a great post. Now I want to find the time to read Tolstoy and Einstein. Amy, on the subject of information overload in America, I recommend reading 'Amusing Ourselves to Death', by Neil Postman.

    Whenever I see ideas like these I wonder why we live in a world that has a hard time with philosophical change. I wonder how frighteningly high the percentage of people in the world that don't know or don't care. How many of the people in charge of the world today put this type of thinking on their list of priorities. Finally, where is the Secretary of Philosophy seat in the US Cabinet.

    It seems like of our philosophers today are middle class workers who are busy paying bills. Maybe this is a consequence that these are the people who are most chained to government ideals.

    One of the greatest ironies is that when people think of Einstein they think of science. Many of those people equate science to the production of military weapons. For others only the word heathen comes to mind. Why is it we can't put Einstein and Tolstoy in office. Maybe it's because they would have gone completely crazy trying to get anything done.

  4. Amy said: "Christianity has survived this long because it assimilated itself into existing religions"

    Me: One might argue that Rome never fell but merely transformed its system of rule. Your observation here points out Christianity's Roman influence. If you read Machiavelli it is readily apparent that the church and papacy was essentially just another middle ages faction competing for power using the methods he was describing. In fact many of his examples of 'Machiavellian' strategy are about Popes. And of course the eventual power to crown the kings in Europe effectively put them above everyone. Additionally, the Archeologist I mentioned told me directly that the hierarchy of the Church was basically the same power structure that existed in Rome prior to Christianity.

    Andrew said: "Whenever I see ideas like these I wonder why we live in a world that has a hard time with philosophical change. I wonder how frighteningly high the percentage of people in the world that don't know or don't care."

    Me: I believe I know those reasons and I aim to help change it with this blog. Simplified my response is that most people don't know enough to make the decisions they need to to effect change, and they think they would make no difference if they tried. This is were the great works and minds of history can light the way. Alone we cannot change much, but together we could accomplish a lot. Look at civil rights. =D

    Andrew said: "It seems like of our philosophers today are middle class workers who are busy paying bills. Maybe this is a consequence that these are the people who are most chained to government ideals."

    Me: We are essentially the Orwellian 'outer party.' The average person is not educated enough, or in line of sight of the top to see what is really going on first hand. They often don't want to believe it if told, and are systematically brainwashed by our current culture and education besides.

  5. I would just like to add that even our own ideals are just opposing philosophies to the rest of society no matter how right we think we are. There can be a few martyrs trying to change the system but they are also part of the system. Our ideals which might seem to go against society at present might actually be the norm in the future (after a revolution or after an evolution because of a martyr). Then, the cycle will repeat itself again and that's how society progresses. It is and has always been part of the system.

  6. Excellent point Sherman. I think a good example of this is John Locke whose 'Two Treaties of Government' eventually became a heavy influence in the design of the United States Government.

    I suspect that the world will turn over again soon. If any of my ideas or insights, or my spread of the memes of others can help make the present or future world better, I will have served my purpose in the great cycle. I think aspiring to the likes of John Locke's legacy is a worthy endeavor.