Notes to a Young Progressive

Hola mi Gente,

Did I mention of my commitment to post at least one blog post every day for a year? LOL I will be away upstate (Elmira Correctional Facility) on a prison monitoring visit for the rest of the week. So this commitment should get interesting…

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 Nationalism_ 2016_ 002

Nationalism vs. Patriotism

I call him a patriot who rebukes his country for its sins and does not excuse them.

— Frederick Douglas

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.

— Sidney J. Harris


Many years ago, George Orwell wrote a prescient essay on the differences between nationalism and patriotism Orwell’s Notes on Nationalism, has as much relevance today as it did when it was written right before the lead up to WWII as nationalistic fervor fed the flames of Nazism and fascism.

Too many people– in every country — confuse nationalism for patriotism. When I listen to the nationalistic fervor stoked by the GOP clown car, especially Trumpf and Palin, for example, it is concerning because theirs is an appeal to fear to a white demographic feeling betrayed — a population looking for any excuse to explode. The Trumpf/ GOP’s campaign strategy is to create “the other” as different and unpatriotic. It’s been a one-note effort mostly because U.S. conservatives apparently do not know any other strategy.

Another reason conservatives use this tactic because it works: tar and feather a candidate by coming up with the scary face of a black killer. At one time that face was the face of Willie Horton. Today, it is any black kid with a hood. Dismiss people who dare question the wisdom of our current foreign policies as “unpatriotic.” Paint the opposition as effeminate and ineffectual and deride them for having the courage to speak out against wars that kill tens of thousands of innocent women and children. Tar and feather Obama as an uppity nigger (the nerve of a Harvard education!) who “pals around with “terrists.” While the preferred outcome is the same, the tactics are numerous.

And it continues to work. It is working partly because the failures of decades of lunatic conservative economic policies have created global financial meltdowns and eroded the middle class. It is working mostly because for the first time in a long time, a candidate with admittedly major flaws, has had the audacity to call rule by corporate proxy to be the moral question of the era.

Like Orwell, I view nationalism as patriotism’s ugly stepsister. Orwell defined patriotism as “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force upon other people.” I have no argument with this definition.

According to Orwell, nationalism is the tendency of identifying oneself with a single nation or an idea, and “placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests.” In other words, nationalism doesn’t have to be based on an allegiance to a particular nation. This same fanaticism can be applied to any “ism”: neo-conservatism and fundamentalism of any kind (religious or otherwise), for example. Whether it’s based on a country or an “ism,” nationalism always contains that dangerous combination of blind fanaticism and a lack of concern for reality.

In nationalism, thoughts “always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations… Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception.” Moreover, that self-deception leads to catastrophic miscalculations based on delusions rather than facts. Orwell stated:

“Political and military commentators, like astrologers, can survive almost any mistake, because their more devoted followers do not look to them for an appraisal of the facts but for the stimulation of nationalistic loyalties.”

In other words, whatever happened to the widely held neocon assertion that the Iraqis would’ve greeted us as liberators and showered us with rose petals?

But to really appreciate Orwell and understand how he had our current foreign policy down pat you only need to read this:

“All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labor, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral color when committed by ‘our’ side.… The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”

It was Georges Santayana who said “… those who refuse to remember the past, are condemned to relive it.”

Any of this sounds familiar?

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…


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