Wednesday, July 4, 2007

July 4th

Happy July 4th! God Bless America!

I say that not because of any particular political position, rather because I love this country. I realize that a country is an imaginary object, well, perhaps imaginary is the wrong word, but it is a mental object. Countries do not have any physical reality beyond what people are willing to enforce them with. And they only enforce these realities because the country exists in their mind. It's all in the head. But that doesn't mean that a country doesn't matter.

The United States of America is a country, a mental object and not a physical one, and yet it still matters to me. I am not mystical about countries or ethnicities, I do not believe that they have a special spiritual essence of their own that requires protecting. But the term United States of America is not meaningless to me. It is a community, it is a collection of sometimes inexpressible associations, it is a jumble of ideas and concepts, that all come together to form something beautiful. A country is like a novel or a movie, it is an imaginary object, but that doesn't stop it from being loved. But there is also the community aspect, the aspect of how this imaginary object, although interpreted differently by everyone (sometimes slightly differently, sometimes radically differently) binds us to other people through our common love of it, and it encourages us to love each other. Those two aspects, the beauty of the imaginary object, and the encouragement to love the community are why I am proud to be patriotic and in love with America.

I know how easily though, this beautiful idea of love of country can be twisted into something horrific, monsterous, inhuman. Afterall nationalism fueled Nazism, nationalism launched a million failed economic, political and social experiments that left millions upon millions dead, nationalism has blinded people to the excesses and war crimes of their leaders, it has prompted people to murder their brothers without mercy. I am a student of history and I know of the burden of history borne by the word country.

Yet, I think much of that has to do with the twisting of passion. Previously I wrote about how religion has been used to justify horrors but that this is really due not inherintly to religion, but rather to passion in general. I'd apply the same rule to nationalism. Afterall, the most murderous (although perhaps not most horrific) ideology of the last century was Communism, an explicitly non-religious, and supposedly non-nationalistic ideology. When we are passionate enough, it is easy to use that passion to justify our worse insticts, but moreover, it is easy to say, well, the idea that I'm so passionate about is so important that it is worth killing for. From there the road to murder is easy and from murder mass murder can flow. Nationalism can be twisted into great evil, great hatred, but at its heart is love. The love an idea, the love of a community.

The key is to use that love inclusively, not exclusively. Love the country, love the community, but do not hate other countries or other communities. Instead of treating nationalism as a matter of choosing one country to adore and others to detest, make it a gift that you give to one idea, one community. But even that is not enough, sometimes what is good for the country (although given that a country is a hard-to-define, ever-shifting, abstract concept with an ever-shifting, ever-changing community attached to it, what is good for a country is often very, very difficult to find and define) and what is good in general conflict. In such a case, it is imperative that we remember that while country might be a matter of affection and belonging, our core beliefs of right and wrong must come first. We must always remember to choose what is right even when it opposes what is good for our country.

As I wrote previously, I think of myself as Christian first then American, and that is a representation of the fact that while I love America dearly, Christianity is at the core of my beliefs, the core of my conception of right and wrong and so it must always come first before my nation. That's why for all those Muslims who say they are Muslim first, then their nationality, hey good for them. In the end, nationalism I think, when properly used, when properly embraced can be a great positive, but when it opposes what we know according to our core values is right, we must fight for what is good, even if it is against our country.

So take it to your head, take it to your heart, and remember Rand rocks. Goodnight Folks!

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