Patriotism, hmmmm

As I write, there’s a war in Europe and people are literally dying for their flag.  Sometime soon (sorry Ma’am), we’ll be crowning a new monarch in the UK and the debate about the role of a hereditary monarchy will return.   England recently won the women’s’ European football championship, giving rise to something resembling a national celebration.

The American right, under the banner of MAGA – Make America Great Again – is threatening to return to power at the next elections, both congressional and , subsequently, Presidential.

Patriotism is in the air.

In his twenties, my father had to decide between three jobs – one in America, one in Switzerland and one in Britain.  He chose Britain because he really fancied the job on offer.  That is how I came to be British.  It is literally an accident of birth.

So when people tell me they are proud of Britain or that they are proud to be British, I scratch my head.  At a logical and meaningful level, it makes no sense at all.  They might just as easily be saying they are proud of their brown eyes or their ginger hair and freckles.  If they had happened to be born Chilean, would they be proud of that?  Or Russian?  Identifying with ‘people like me’ may be natural, but is that ‘pride’?  To me it’s more like being a football fan.  It’s about taking sides, recognizing the natural order of ‘us and them’.  Doesn’t really matter what makes us us or them them.

I also find I’m inevitably drawn to the stereotypes which make patriotism hateful.  The England football fans, fighting in the streets, singing about the war.  The American far right with their religious fundamentalist hypocrisy and shameless racism.  So I struggle to treat it with the same dispassionate curiosity as other isms.

Fundamentally, I do believe we have a need to believe in something. It’s almost irrelevant what that something is.  It gives us a community – people like us.  It’s the people we need, and the belonging more than the cause itself.

And the country we were born in is in some ways a natural thing to ‘believe in’ – whatever that means.  It does have a story – literally a history, which makes it rich and complex.  In school, we tend to learn to positive side of that history, ignoring the more shameful or embarrassing parts.


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