Pride and sacrifice

Whether it is Modi’s “Gujarati asmita”, or Raj Thackeray’s “Marathi asmita”, or Obama’s “American asmita”, or the McCain version of the same (‘asmita’ is pride) – such nationalism, or subnationalism, or patriotism (call it what you will) is based on the collectivist notion that the nation or state (the people and the culture, as opposed to the government) is something that deserves respect on its own merit; you can agree or disagree about the government’s policies, but you cannot “not be proud” of the nation.

Modi and Thackeray don’t try to hide behind semantics – Gujarati or Marathi language, culture and history, and thereby the state “needs” to be respected; to the best of my knowledge, McCain subscribes to a similar ideology. And they have no problems enforcing such “pride” – the American (if elected) will use the government to do it; the Indians will do it any which way – through the government if they are in power, through street violence and threats if they are not.

Obama, on the other hand, tries his best to confuse the issue through his oratorical skills. I don’t follow American politics too closely, but in this speech, he begins with how patriotism is something that is connected to “a larger idea. The idea of liberty. The idea of God-given, inalienable rights,” and then, well, read on-

For me, as for most Americans, patriotism starts as a gut instinct, a loyalty and love for country rooted in my earliest memories. I’m not just talking about the recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance or the Thanksgiving pageants at school or the fireworks on the Fourth of July, as wonderful as those things may be.
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[T]hat we could have the right to pursue our individual dreams but the obligation to help our fellow citizens pursue theirs.
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That is why, for me, patriotism is always more than just loyalty to a place on a map or a certain kind of people. Instead, it is also loyalty to America’s ideals – ideals for which anyone can sacrifice, or defend, or give their last full measure of devotion.
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[P]atriotism can never be defined as loyalty to any particular leader or government or policy. As Mark Twain, that greatest of American satirists and proud son of Missouri, once wrote, “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” We may hope that our leaders and our government stand up for our ideals, and there are many times in our history when that’s occurred. But when our laws, our leaders or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expression of patriotism.
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Beyond a loyalty to America’s ideals, beyond a willingness to dissent on behalf of those ideals, I also believe that patriotism must, if it is to mean anything, involve the willingness to sacrifice – to give up something we value on behalf of a larger cause. For those who have fought under the flag of this nation – for the young veterans I meet when I visit Walter Reed; for those like John McCain who have endured physical torment in service to our country – no further proof of such sacrifice is necessary.
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We must always express our profound gratitude for the service of our men and women in uniform. Period. Indeed, one of the good things to emerge from the current conflict in Iraq has been the widespread recognition that whether you support this war or oppose it, the sacrifice of our troops is always worthy of honor.

For the rest of us – for those of us not in uniform or without loved ones in the military – the call to sacrifice for the country’s greater good remains an imperative of citizenship. Sadly, in recent years, in the midst of war on two fronts, this call to service never came. After 9/11, we were asked to shop.
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In spite of this absence of leadership from Washington, I have seen a new generation of Americans begin to take up the call. I meet them everywhere I go, young people involved in the project of American renewal; not only those who have signed up to fight for our country in distant lands, but those who are fighting for a better America here at home, by teaching in underserved schools, or caring for the sick in understaffed hospitals, or promoting more sustainable energy policies in their local communities.

I believe one of the tasks of the next Administration is to ensure that this movement towards service grows and sustains itself in the years to come. We should expand AmeriCorps and grow the Peace Corps. We should encourage national service by making it part of the requirement for a new college assistance program, even as we strengthen the benefits for those whose sense of duty has already led them to serve in our military.

We must remember, though, that true patriotism cannot be forced or legislated with a mere set of government programs. Instead, it must reside in the hearts of our people, and be cultivated in the heart of our culture, and nurtured in the hearts of our children.
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Just as patriotism involves each of us making a commitment to this nation that extends beyond our own immediate self-interest, so must that commitment extends beyond our own time here on earth.
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In the end, it may be this quality that best describes patriotism in my mind – not just a love of America in the abstract, but a very particular love for, and faith in, the American people. That is why our heart swells with pride at the sight of our flag; why we shed a tear as the lonely notes of Taps sound. For we know that the greatness of this country – its victories in war, its enormous wealth, its scientific and cultural achievements – all result from the energy and imagination of the American people; their toil, drive, struggle, restlessness, humor and quiet heroism.

That is the liberty we defend – the liberty of each of us to pursue our own dreams. That is the equality we seek – not an equality of results, but the chance of every single one of us to make it if we try. That is the community we strive to build – one in which we trust in this sometimes messy democracy of ours, one in which we continue to insist that there is nothing we cannot do when we put our mind to it, one in which we see ourselves as part of a larger story, our own fates wrapped up in the fates of those who share allegiance to America’s happy and singular creed.

Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

As I have said above, Modi, Thackeray and McCain don’t have time for such long winded descriptions of patriotism – theirs is the “enforced” kind. What about Obama? He knows how America came into being; the “first patriots” fought for an ideal – liberty, and America was a result of such a war. In my book, this is what patriotism (if that word is used at all) should be – pride for the ideals that a country stands for; not for its territory, or people, or “culture”, or government. But after briefly touching upon the ideals in a historical context, Obama moves right ahead. For him, patriotism begins as a “gut instinct” – a love and loyalty for his country. This is what patriotism primarily is for him. Then it becomes “more than just loyalty to a place on a map or a certain kind of people” – patriotism is loyalty “also” for America’s ideals, and dissent is patriotism when governments work against these ideals. He then adds another dimension to patriotism – “willingness to sacrifice – to give up something we value on behalf of a larger cause” (more on “sacrifice” later). Finally, he comes back to where he began – patriotism is “not just a love of America in the abstract, but a very particular love for, and faith in, the American people.” So Obama’s definition of patriotism or pride for the nation is not very different from the other three. The only difference is the way he might go about “enforcing” the same.

Now “sacrifice”. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “an act of giving up something of value for the sake of something that is of greater value or importance,” (to whom?). And Obama uses the word in this context. But is this the correct definition of sacrifice? Consider an example – I have ten dollars in hand. I “give it up” for “something that is of greater value or importance” (to me) – a car. So I have sacrificed ten dollars for a car. Sounds right? Not to me; it is more like a bargain than a sacrifice; the only way that can happen is if we concede that both bargain and sacrifice refer to the same thing. I never thought about this till I read Rand’s book – The Virtue of Selfishness (It did not hit me when I read Atlas Shrugged). This is how Rand defines the word – “‘Sacrifice’ is the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or of a nonvalue.” And now it makes perfect sense. It also answers the question “to whom?” – to the beneficiary of the sacrifice. And that is why Rand says

It stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there’s someone collecting sacrificial offerings. Where there’s service, there’s someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be the master.

So, if a country is true to its ideals and you are proud of those ideals, fighting for its survival is not a sacrifice; if its not true to its ideals, fighting for it is a sacrifice. Keeping this in mind, I don’t agree with the view that “whether you support [the Iraq] war or oppose it, the sacrifice of our troops is always worthy of honor.” In any war, in the case of a voluntary army, those doing the fighting should not fight if they don’t feel that the war is just – they should not sacrifice themselves (and sacrifice is the right word here). They should become conscientious objectors instead, but not because they are afraid of death (here the Gandhian philosophy of “violence is better than cowardice” applies). This is the only correct thing to do. That said, there is nothing more perverse than sending young men and women into battle in an unnecessary and unjust war, and letting them die in the process. Those who give such orders don’t deserve any respect; they are not human.

There is something seriously wrong in a world where patriotism and sacrifice are spoken of in the same sentence. Its not just Obama, everybody misses the connection (I won’t comment on whether its a deliberate act). Even this Time Magazine article

When it comes to patriotism, conservatives and liberals need each other, because love of country requires both affirmation and criticism. It’s a good thing that Americans fly the flag on July 4. In a country as diverse as ours, patriotic symbols are a powerful balm. And if people stopped flying the flag every time the government did something they didn’t like, it would become an emblem not of national unity but of political division. On the other hand, waving a flag, like holding a Bible, is supposed to be a spur to action. When it becomes an end in itself, America needs people willing to follow in the footsteps of the prophets and remind us that complacent ritual can be the enemy of true devotion.

Patriotism should be proud but not blind, critical yet loving. And liberals and conservatives should agree that if patriotism entails no sacrifice, if it is all faith and no works, then something has gone wrong. The American who volunteers to fight in Iraq and the American who protests the war both express a truer patriotism than the American who treats it as a distant spectacle with no claim on his talents or conscience.

The last sentence is the only one which I agree with completely. I wanted to write about collectivism, but then some of the highlighted parts in Obama’s speech should be self-explanatory.

If patriotism is pride in a nation’s ideals, it has meaning. If it simply means loving a country and its people because one was born there, Schopenhauer has something to say on that subject.

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Comments

  • wordguise  On October 24, 2008 at 4:34 am

    Nice to see something long and thoughtful. Good job.
    Kenn Amdahl

  • you12  On October 24, 2008 at 10:29 am

    Patriotism is also a psychological pheonomenon. A cover up for a wounded self esteem.

    Regarding us indians,it is a lot like a Sheep in a herd mentality. In India you CAN NOT not be proud of India and its recent borrowed culture.That is why I dislike patriotism. It makes the individual a tool to keep a concept alive,without examining the concept first.The individual is nothing but a part of a concept that is country. And country is greater than individual despite the fact that individual is the country.

    The thing that is dangerous about patriotism and the thing that I never understood is that why is it a
    Exclusive pheonemenon. The “you are with us or against us” mindset! So,How does patriotism differ from Ideas like Racism,class discrimination? In my POV it doesn’t.

    And where do you draw morality in being a patriot? Hitler was a patriot. He was also proud of German ideals and its History.

    From my personal point of view, We need to take pride in the eternal truth that is Humanity not fleeting ,self serving concepts like Country and Religion.

  • Undercover Indian  On October 24, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    Great post.

    In my opinion Patriotism as is understood and practiced by most people (not by Ayn Rand fans who will be drop in ocean) is nothing but driven by Group (herd) behaviour. It is extension of man’s inherent need to belong to a group (herd) which man has carried from his ancient days of Hunter gatherer. Call it tribal instinct in us. We simple have to belong to a group and defend it against outsiders.We are also territorial by nature. Desmond Morris in his book called Naked Ape describes this very wll and I believe that it is one of best books which has analysed a man from evolutionary perspective, sepcially his tribal nature and how he behaves in a group. Today’s nation states are nothing but extenion of tribes.

    http://www.undercoverindian.com/2007/03/shiv-sena-politics-and-anatomy-of.html

  • yet_another_hindu_infidel  On October 25, 2008 at 11:43 am

    patriotism is important. especially in india which is just another continent with little countries. but it is also a lie. i.e., if you confuse it with fascism. the day we stop criticizing about ourselves is the day we stop progressing. i bow down to it’s diversity. and i agree that my bharat is mahan, but i also know it is corrupt.

  • Aristotle The Geek  On October 25, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    I don’t like the force feeding that goes on in India in the name of patriotism – compulsory singing of national anthem, the stupid Flag Code; the government decides how patriotic you can be. Sad to say that the only time I feel “Mera Bharat Mahaan” or even “Mera Maharashtra Mahaan” is when things are going to the dogs in the rest of the subcontinent, or the rest of India.

    But we are talking about educated idiots here – ignorance is bliss; and unquestioned devotion the rule.

  • yet_another_hindu_infidel  On October 25, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    yup, ignorance is a b!tch but hope and will power is also important. i don’t want to be the one telling our indians brothers that our country has hypocrisy and ignorance written all over it. that would be wrong. we should encourage them and engage in constructive criticism and not insults. without hope, will power and self criticism, there will be nothing left. look at pakistan.

    i like the fact that indians are the biggest criticizers of india. we have the balls to blame ourselves rather than blame pakistan for diverting all our funds to war torn regions instead of poverty alleviations and such. you cannot say that all indians are ignorant. look at the internet and you’ll find millions of articles on problems of india on various grounds written mostly by indians themselves. i challenge you to try finding articles on the internet about the political and social problems of china, pakistan or bangladesh. fact is, you won’t find much on it written by the citizens of those countries.

  • Aristotle The Geek  On October 25, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    you12 and Undercover Indian,
    Definition wise, there is a small difference between patriotism and nationalism, although you can argue otherwise – I club them together; patriotism means love for country – it can be non competitive; nationalism can lead to us vs. them.

    And yes, at the root of it lies the mentality of the herd. That’s why I linked to the quote by Arthur Schopenhauer.

  • Aristotle The Geek  On October 25, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    y.a.h.i
    Some people do write it – its more difficult in China than in Pakistan and Bangladesh (they have inherited the Indian virtue of complaining, and it is a virtue). But there is no shortage of ignorant and lunatic uber-patriots anywhere in the world, India included; it just seems that Pakistan has a greater share of them; Bangladesh, I don’t have a clue.

  • yet_another_hindu_infidel  On October 25, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    lol i wonder if what your saying is true. from what i understand, pakistan and bangladesh hardly write anything about the problems in there neighbourhood. every time i argue with a pakistani they beat me down with 20 article’s from TOI and other websites about poverty and communal violence etc etc of india. while i struggle to find anything concrete to get back at them in there websites. frankly, i don’t think they write much about themselves. even with dawn – it’s the usual RAW hand behind mariot hotel and balochistan, we want our nuclear deal too blah blah.

  • Aristotle The Geek  On October 25, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    Simply looking at Indo-Pak or Indo-Bangladesh equations won’t do. We too (and our media) keeps harping about the Chinese origins of the Pakistani BMP (I think there is an Indian researcher who has argued to the contrary), or how bad their political situation is. Its but natural that they will do likewise (try to beat India down).

    The question is, are there any Pakistani or Bangladeshi blogs that look at situations within Pakistan, or do their news channels highlight such issues? I don’t go looking out for them, but one fellow from Bangladesh did link to one of my posts 7-8 months ago, and he was writing against the political situation in Bangladesh.

  • Vincent Vega  On February 27, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    I do want to bring up one thing that I think might be helpful: The Oxford American Dictionary describes sacrifice as the act of giving up something valued for something of greater regarded as more important or worthy. This implies that while “value” can be exchanged for something of “importance”, but something of “importance” cannot be exchanged for any amount of “value.”

    For example, I engage in my local community and purchase goods–particularly at the local food cooperative–at a fairly significant premium. I am, in essence, sacrificing something of value (my money) to inspire something of importance (a stronger community, successful local farmers, and a culture of low-impact living). These things are important to me and have some value in the abstract, but I have no way of “cashing out” the value I’ve personally invested.

    Another example is of [Sullivan Ballou], a major in the Union Army in the first year of the Civil War. He wrote a stunningly eloquent letter to his wife on the eve of the first battle of Bull Run, in which he was mortally wounded. He tries to reconcile his love of life, his dearest wife, and children with his deep-seated obligation to his state. His feeling was that he owed a debt to the society that fostered him and allowed him and his progeny to flourish, a debt that could only be repaid in defense against the existential threat to what he called “American Civilization” that was the Confederacy.

    My point is that not all things of value are interchangable. Globally-accepted standards for money, and the things we attach monetary value to, represents a bizarre deviation from the norm of human history. Both Karl Marx and Ayn Rand wrongly equated all things of value: Marx made a comparison between labor and money, while Rand seems to think that anything can be had for the right amount of money. This is simply not the case, many things that are immensely valuable can be had for free (sunlight, for example) while many things that are worthless from a sufficiently long viewpoint (e.g. an iPod) are appended many sets of percieved value.

    • Aristotle The Geek  On February 28, 2009 at 2:20 am

      # “This implies that while ‘value’ can be exchanged for something of ‘importance’, but something of ‘importance’ cannot be exchanged for any amount of ‘value.'”
      Value and importance two words that refer to the same thing – something that you don’t value cannot be important to you; some thing that is important to you will always have a value.

      # “I engage in my local community and purchase goods–particularly at the local food cooperative–at a fairly significant premium. I am, in essence, sacrificing something of value (my money) to inspire something of importance (a stronger community, successful local farmers, and a culture of low-impact living).”
      Consider your example on the basis of my above statement. The money you earned is of value to you. Does “a stronger community, successful local farmers…” have any value as far as you are concerned? In other words, why are they important? In still more words, why do you care about the strength of the community, or whether the farmers are successful or about a low-impact lifestyle? You will find that if you don’t value them, there is no way they can be important to you, and there is no way you might want to help them unless you have a selfish interest – motive – involvement.

      If you use an external standard of value, however – any deontological standard, then you could assign importance to a particular object without valuing it. But then that won’t be you who is doing the assigning – the external standard is.

      # “He tries to reconcile his love of life, his dearest wife, and children with his deep-seated obligation to his state. His feeling was that he owed a debt to the society that fostered him and allowed him and his progeny to flourish, a debt that could only be repaid in defense against the existential threat to what he called “American Civilization” that was the Confederacy.”
      Would you fight for your life if someone attacked you? Would you do it if someone attacked your family? Why? The same goes for a “free society.”

      I wrote – “[I]f a country is true to its ideals and you are proud of those ideals, fighting for its survival is not a sacrifice.” A society that jealously guards its freedom and independence will always find people who are willing to fight to defend it. Not everyone needs to pick up arms; a war has many parts to it – armaments, production, finance, medicine, planning, engineering etc etc. If there existed a free society that faced a battle for life and death, its citizens will contribute to the effort voluntarily – each in his own way. But remember this – they won’t do it if the war is unjust, or irrelevant, or unnecessary. People are not willing to die for trifles, and that’s why they won’t “volunteer” for a Vietnam.

      You are talking about this man. I read the letter. It is quite clear that he valued his debt to society more than he did his wife and children – there always exists a hierarchy of values; he wanted the Government to prevail thinking he was fighting for the same freedom as the original Revolution. Not getting into the debate over the merits of slavery and the position of the South, if I am not mistaken, the Civil War was one of the events that tilted the balance of power from the states towards the Centre.

      # “My point is that not all things of value are interchangable. Globally-accepted standards for money, and the things we attach monetary value to, represents a bizarre deviation from the norm of human history.”
      Anything of value can be interchanged for any other thing as long as the trade leaves you with a “profit”/ benefit – monetary or otherwise. All values are subjective in nature in the sense that the valuer is the only person who can set a value on something – whatever it may be. I can’t tell you what should be of value to you. There is one value which is chosen by default however – your life; without the valuer, there can be no values and it is only in the context of this value that all other values are possible.

      # “Rand seems to think that anything can be had for the right amount of money. This is simply not the case, many things that are immensely valuable can be had for free (sunlight, for example)…”
      No she didn’t. She did say, however, that money is a good measure of things; that a society’s value system is reflected by how people treat or value money; that “money is the barometer of a society’s virtues.”

      Since you are now referring to the economic theory of value, let me point you towards an interesting critique of Adam Smith, where the solution to your paradox of value is available-

      Adam Smith’s doctrine on value was an unmitigated disaster, and it deepens the mystery in explaining Smith. For in this case, not only was Smith’s theory of value a degeneration from his teacher Hutcheson and indeed from centuries of developed economic thought, but it was also a similar degeneration from Smith’s own previous unpublished lectures. In Hutcheson and for centuries, from the late scholastics onward, the value and price of a product were determined first by its subjective utility in the minds of the consumers, and second, by the relative scarcity or abundance of the good being evaluated. The more abundant any given good, the lower its value; the scarcer the good, the higher its value. All that this tradition needed to complete its explanation was the marginal principle of the 1 870s, a focus on a given unit of the good, the unit actually chosen or not chosen on the market. But the rest of the explanation was in place.

      In his lectures, furthermore, Smith had solved the value paradox neatly, in much the same way as had Hutcheson and other economists for centuries. Why is water so useful and yet so cheap, while a frippery like diamonds is so expensive? The difference, said Smith in his lectures, was their relative scarcity: ‘It is only on account of the plenty of water that it is so cheap as to be got for the lifting, and on account of the scarcity of diamonds…that they are so dear’. Furthermore, with different supply conditions, the value and price of a product would differ drastically. Thus Smith points out in his lectures that a rich merchant lost in the Arabian desert would value water very highly, and so its price would be very high. Similarly, if the quantity of diamonds could ‘by industry…be multiplied’, the price of diamonds on the market would fall rapidly.

      That is the solution to sunlight vs. iPod.

      As to whether an iPod is really valuable (not talking about economic value here), or sunlight for that matter – my (nearly) deaf grandmother would have no use for an iPod even if someone gave it to her for free, and someone with a delicate skin would take pains to stay away from sunlight even if it is available in plenty and is free. All values are “perceived” or as I call it “subjective.”

  • raveler  On February 28, 2009 at 5:47 am

    Very nice, keep educating the people.

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