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Introducing Patriotism 2.0

Happy 4th of July, everyone, live from the Russian Federation, en route to the new Republic of Moldova. I’ll tell you more about this part of the world soon, but for now I thought I’d say a few things about my homeland, the much-loved and much-hated United States of America.

International readers, the 4th of July is America’s independence day. We usually celebrate it at home by drinking beer and eating large cupcakes with frosted flags on them. In the evening we watch fireworks and drink more beer—it’s not a bad day, all in all.

Even though I enjoy the beer and cupcakes, I’m not a big fan of the 4th of July holiday. For the past five years, I’ve managed to be out of the U.S. and in the following countries instead:

    2007 – Montenegro
    2006 – Lesotho
    2005 – South Africa
    2004 – Tenerife (Spain)
    2003 – Holland
    2002 – China

I have quite a streak going there, so I decided I’ll keep it up as long as I can. More importantly, I’ve found that thinking about America from the unique perspective of being an American who spends a lot of time around the world has helped me gain a balanced perspective on my own country. Yes, perhaps it’s clichéd, but the more you travel, the more you learn.

In case this essay is going to offend anyone, I might as well give you a quick summary of my views on patriotism in the beginning:

  • I don’t really think that my country is the greatest country in the world (I don’t really think any country is)
  • Like many others of all political persuasions, I am embarrassed at the unilateral actions of the U.S. in the Iraq war and virtually everything related to the Bush administration
  • At the same time, I don’t hate America either, because there are a lot of cool things about our country

You can probably see why I don’t get invited to many political rallies. Anyway, since we’ve started down this road, we’ll continue. After all, it is the 4th of July, and I can’t find any cupcakes here in Russia.

Let’s Do the Bad News First

Looking from the outside in, America can seem like a truly awful place. The United States has more people in prison than any country in the world, and regularly puts some of those prisoners to death while holding others without trial.

The U.S. leads the world in obesity rates, and fails to provide healthcare coverage for at least 16% of its citizens. Mentally ill people can easily buy guns, and then when they use them to kill people, the gun industry claims that the problem is not the guns.

Due to how our electoral college works (read a summary here), one person’s vote doesn’t usually count for much of anything. A candidate for president can even win the popular vote and still lose the election, as infamously happened in 2000.

Anyway, there’s more that could be said about all of that, and it can be depressing. But focusing on only the negative misses the point– just because America can be a crazy place doesn’t mean it’s all bad.

I am grateful for the chance to live there, and I’m thankful that I have a U.S. passport to travel with. There are a few countries that are hard for me to get into (Libya, Iran, Sudan, etc.), but the majority of places in the world are remarkably open to the idea of an American coming around to say hello for a few days. My friends from Africa and the Mid-East often remind me of how privileged this kind of welcoming is, and they are right.

Having It Both Ways

Thanks to the exports of Hollywood, I regularly meet people around the world who think that every U.S. city is run by drug lords and that we are in the midst of a gang-led civil war.

Dear international readers, please let me assure you that while Grand Theft Auto can be fun to play, it is not a realistic video game. As a matter of protocol, we do not usually shoot each other on the streets to settle disputes. If you are ever visiting the U.S. and find yourself without transport, please do not steal a police car and take it to a bank robbery.

Hang on, it gets better. A friend of mine who works in Korea likes to tell the story of the ironic anti-American sentiment in the university where he teaches. In polls, a large majority of Korean students say they have an unfavorable opinion of the U.S. A common after-school activity involves going to demonstrations where American capitalism is denounced with much chanting and fist-pumping.

That’s pretty serious, right? But wait—

After the demonstration, everyone heads over to Starbucks so they can sip espresso while exchanging songs on iPods. Business is booming at the Gap store next door. Nike and Reebok are the most popular shoe brands, and the dream of every upper-middle class Korean family is that their brilliant son or daughter will win a scholarship to a U.S. university.

Good Things About America

You could tell a similar story about a lot of places in the world these days. America is much-loved and much-hated at the same time, but here are a few good things about America that I hope we can all agree on.

  • The underdog can still win. See Barack Obama and John McCain. I think it’s amazing that both of our presidential candidates came from far behind to defeat the establishment candidates in their own parties.
    (I am also pleased that both candidates have pledged to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center and end any ambiguous practices of torture.)
  • Human rights are now universal for everyone except Muslims and homosexuals. America has made great strides in civil rights, and opportunities are widely available to all. This does not mean that there is no discrimination; it just means that, more or less, the protection of human rights and civil liberties is the norm.
    (If you are Muslim or homosexual, sorry—human rights have not yet arrived in full for you. Perhaps in Patriotism 3.0 you’ll get your chance.)
  • Just like men, women can now get paid millions of dollars for bad leadership. Equal rights for incompetence have finally arrived, and being a woman is no longer an obstacle to destroying the value of a great company. See Carly Fiorina.
  • When politicians get caught committing crimes, they are usually punished. The importance of this can not be overstated, because in most places around the world, politicians are effectively exempt from the criminal justice process.
    (Note that lying, for the most part, is not a crime. If it was, then perhaps all politicians would be in jail.)
  • It is now acceptable, and even trendy, to show concern for the environment. You can drive a Prius (or even take the bus… shudder), order tap water in a restaurant, recycle your paper products, and generally be concerned about the world outside your door. A South African I recently met told me that she never thought she would see the day when average Americans cared about their individual impact on the whole environment. But yet, here we are.

***

Those are a few short things I thought of while taking the ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki the other day here in the Baltics. If you have some more, feel free to contribute to this essay’s comments section.

I Pledge Allegiance to a Country without Borders

Because I am neither a warmonger nor an anarchist, I’ve decided to believe in a new patriotism. This kind of patriotism is proud of the country we are citizens of (in my case, America) while also strongly respecting other countries and cultures. A more understated patriotism, in other words, that understands its role in a broader world.

Winston Churchill once said, “The Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other alternatives.”

That’s a good quote for Patriotism 2.0. Our countries, whether the U.S. or others, have done a lot of things wrong, but if we believe in them and try to make them better, they’ll eventually get it right.

With that in mind, here’s to America. And here’s to all of you, readers and friends, from downtown St. Petersburg in the real-life Russian Federation. Funny, they have a Starbucks and a Nike store here too.

###

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24 Comments

  • Brandon W says:

    In America, we preach democracy and capitalism, but practice plutocracy and consumerism. We’ve allowed our economic and political system to be manipulated so that the vast majority are helots – slaves to debt. We’re arrogant, selfish, self-righteous, short-sighted, lazy and destructive. We don’t care about the rest of the world except as it suits our vision of power and gluttony. We don’t care about our neighbor unless we can profit off them. The America I am patriotic to hasn’t existed since at-least 1949. It isn’t the America we grew up being taught to believe in.

    Happy 4th of July… and may we have the courage to change dramatically, and become the nation we once dreamed of being.

  • Derek says:

    Well said that man!
    Americans as a breed seem to be very insular and many are paranoid about “johnny foreigner”. As Brit “looking in” I feel that this is probably because the country is so vast.
    Bush is a classic insular American. If he knew the wider world existed and had been existing for far longer than America itself has been in existence, using a wide range of different governmental styles he wouldn’t have caused the death of thousands in Iraq.
    However what’s done is done and the silver lining is many more Americans are now outward looking which has to be a good thing.

  • Charles Tutt says:

    Sick game of “Ain’t it awful” above.

    However, you Chris Guillebeau, with a little more practice and polish, could be the next George Carlin.

  • I recognize the duality that a broader sense of patriotism demands. I think I mentioned in my first ever comment on your site. To me it’s a better way to go.

    I don’t want to debate the war in Iraq, or Bush policy, but I do want to say this: Why does it rarely come up that Sadam was murdering countless Iraqi citizens during his regime at his own whim for his own agendas. I never understood how so many Jews were murdered and the world stood by for so long looking the other way. It is happening in Darfur and probably many other places too. So I wondered early on why people were more concerned about WMD than the internal genocide that was rampant.

    I have lived out of this country as well. travelled just a little. That American passport has huge amounts of freedom attached to it. With that freedom comes an obligation to represent well in my opinion. It has been my experience that on a one to one basis, things can go rather well.

    It is nuts how the movies and TV are sometimes what we have of another culture. All the more reason to get out there a bit.

  • Brian Holiman says:

    I love the premise of this blog. I’ve often thought we’d all be better off if we lived a little more like this.

    I am in love with this country. Not it’s dark side, but the fact that we are allowed to have a dark side without fear of reprisal.

    The author laments that Muslims and homosexuals have no rights here in a America. Thats too bad because the author should also note homosexuals are routinely murdered in Muslim countries without fear of prosecution. Christians and other non Muslims are persecuted, murdered and otherwise forced to live underground in Muslim countries while the openly Muslim population in America are given a voice and platform to express their views, even ones that are anti American or anti any other religion besides Islam. Yes, Muslims need to be careful, but the fact they can speak up at all is something that the reverse would result in death and often does in Muslim countries. Lets be more careful about making blanket statements about certain groups lack of rights.

    Our boys are fighting to preserve the rights of Christians, Muslims, Buddhist and any other religion in Iraq and elsewhere before that fight must be fought on our soil. I assure you that the radical Islamics would love to bring that fight to our soil if they could.

    I argue that Muslims and homosexuals have more rights here than in any other country. I have travelled somewhat and find that views not consistent with the local government are often suppressed violently.

    I too wonder why no one mentions the hundreds of thousands of American lives given to secure the lives and liberty of countless millions around the world. When peoples are oppressed, it is often our boys sent to free them. Yes, we sometimes seem to be selective about who we should rescue….witness our current ambivalence to Darfur ward and Myanmar, but nonetheless, we have sent our men and women into battle to save Jews, Buddhists and even Muslims in Bosnia. Most of the time with no hope of reciprocation. No one says thanks for this sacrifice we make but we consider human freedom to important to allow tyrants and extremist suppress and oppress their people even if we lose American lives to do so. Funny thing is this, the lives of Americans lost in battle are all volunteer. They have made a choice to defend freedom. Contrast this with forced military service in almost all other nations of the world. Even countries like Sweden with its tradition of neutrality has forced military service.

    In all my travels, every single person I’ve asked the question; What is your dream?” Everyone of of them have answered, “to go to America”. I ask them why….the reply, “because anything is possible there!”

    This notion that is no longer good to be openly patriotic will lead us to surrender our national soverignity and while I realize there are many who think that would be a good thing, in fact, it will surely lead to the suspension of the rights that allow us to openly say what we think on blogs like this and in the public forum. Patriotism is the life blood of freedom. One of my favorite quotes from our founding father is this:

    “The tree of liberty must from time to time, be watered with the blood of patriots and tyrants”. Let us never forget that liberty and freedom is a rare and precious commodity. We must be vigilant in preserving its roots. Patriotism is one of those roots.

    The 4th of July is celebrated with beer and fireworks today, but remember that 232 years ago, real people with the desire to be free from oppression sacrificed their property, their resources and many, in the pursuit and defense of freedom.

    Chris, I’ll keep reading your blog because I like the basic premise. Be an ambassador for the real America. The one that values life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The one where people are free to speak their mind, where they are free to pursue their dreams free from the threat of physical violence by the very government charged with protecting them.

  • Silmanja says:

    I´m coming from Europe (Austria) where the “bad news” (how you called them) are seen similarly and widely discussed. The “good news” are quite in similar in Europe – I think. For me America accounts for a vivid entrepreneurship and an “anything goes”mentality. Both can be positive and/or negative.

    Your post reminded me an old song from the German singer-songwriter Franz-Josef Degenhardt (Yes, it´s the language of the murderers/ Ja, es ist die Sprache der Mörder) – showing two sides of America. I tried to translate it in English and hope it´s understandable.

    Yes,
    It´s the language of the murderers
    who, speak about their girls
    in flying fortresses
    drinking Cola and coffee and
    listening to country and rockmusic
    over Haiphong
    or somewhere over Laos
    Cambodia
    and who knows – where else
    in near future
    pushing the button
    and saying OK
    But it is also the language
    Of Angela Davis
    and Charlie Parker
    and Luther King
    and of Millions
    who yell
    and remain voiceless silent
    the language of the songs
    we like to hear
    Considering all rage
    Don´t forget that

    Ja,
    das ist die Sprache der Mörder,
    die in fliegenden Festungen
    bei Kaffee
    Coca
    Country- und Rockmusik
    von ihren Mädchen sprechen
    über Haiphong
    oder irgendwo über Laos,
    Kambodscha
    und wer weiß wo noch bald
    den Knopf drücken,
    okay sagen.
    Aber es ist auch die Sprache
    von Angela Davis
    und Charlie Parker
    und Luther King
    und von Millionen,
    die schreien
    und sprachlos schweigen,
    die Sprache der Lieder,
    die wir gern hören.
    Bei aller Wut –
    Vergeßt das nicht.

  • Mik says:

    My guess is that the patriotism you are talking about already exists in Europe… European Union was formed after we had almost managed to kill ourselves fighting each other in the Second World War. Europeans usually like their countries, but EU gives us this notion that we have common rules and things that bond us together – that we can live somewhat peacefully on this continent.

    Maybe one day Russia and US form some sort of not-so-loose alliance with EU, I for one would hope to see such a development…so that the little people over the northern hemisphere would have a secure and safe area to live their lives and go about their businesses.

  • solomon says:

    Man am really liking and relating to your posts in a big way.I agree with everything you wrote in this post( i cant remember the last time i entirely agreed with what someone had said or wrote).

    I am from Zimbabwe and can confirm that America (as we call the US here) is most the hated and the most loved country. And the irony as you mentioned from S Korea stories, is very evident in Zimbabwe, the most vocal haters of America love American stuff, the iPod obviously topping the least among youths.

    I think the reason its hated and loved is its got a lot of really caring people and a lot of evil people as well. For example if the caring people feel terrorism is a threat they openly speak about it and the opportunists like George Bush and other politicians and business people hijack this good cause and use it to start wars for self interests. Am going to refer to this excellent article they next time i have an argument supporting America, because i believe the country is really a great just like every other country on this planet.

  • Soloman- One of the great good things about the internet is that I can hear what Solomon in Zimbabwe thinks and experiences in his life.

    Countries, like people, have that duality within. When I read Chris’ post on Zimbabwe, I immediately empathized with the human beings living there. Scarcity coupled with oppression leads to no good path. We enjoy enormous freedom of speech here in America. So it is no surprise that some of the loudest, squeakiest noisemakers are the impression outsiders get. And we are indeed a capitalist country. So people get that too.

    We just hope that at the end of the day, those two facets of ourselves are channeled in good ways.

    Many best wishes to you.

  • Sorry- that would be Solomon.

  • michael says:

    It’s either incredibly ironic, or just down right sad that someone from Zimbabwe (“lead” by Robert Mugabe) calls President Bush and opportunist.

  • Rick says:

    This was an unusually poor post from you. I had come to expect much more.

    Did you get up on the wrong side of the earth?

    I’ve been attracted to your generally positive outlook in your posts – but this was a load of cement for me.

    I used to think you were really worldly and had a great perspective, especially for someone so young. In this post you sounded very naïve.

    I’m glad this was not the first post of yours I read… I wouldn’t have come back. I hope you are back on your game quickly.

    peace,

    Rick

  • Chris says:

    Hello everyone, greetings from Vienna. The first week of the trip went very well, and I’ll be reporting on the visit to Russia, Moldova, etc. tomorrow.

    I stand by my comments in the patriotism essay, but of course I realize not everyone will agree. Some other bloggers are linking to the post with their own thoughts, and I’m glad I’ve got you all thinking about America or wherever you are from. 🙂

  • Nomadic Matt says:

    Moscow to Vienna in 2 days? your a fast traveler huh? slow travel is the way to go! 🙂

    I agree with your essay so will only add this: the electoral college is good. It keeps people campaigning in small states. Otherwise, if it was all up to popular vote, you’d only need to campaign on the coasts. It keeps places like nebraska and montana or even hawaii relevant in the voting process.

  • Louise Pool says:

    I don’t think you sound naive at all. In fact, it was really refreshing to read your post after all the sentimental patriotism I’ve been coming across the web these last few days. I’m not an American, nor am I a patriot to any country. I was born in Japan, to parents of different nationalities who both spent much time outside of their birth countries, lived for a long time in Switzerland (where patriotism is practically unknown) and am now in the Seychelles. For obvious reasons, it’s hard for me to understand patriotism.

    The way people in the world are moving around now, I feel it’s far more important to be a citizen of the world. Yes “like” your country by all means (as Miko pointed out the Europeans do), but don’t forget there are other people out there with existences that are as valid as one’s own, however different they may be.

    I have nothing against Americans or America and have been known to enjoy the occasional Starbucks and Big Mac. There are aspects of the American way of life that I don’t like and there are others that I like. Individuals I have met have usually been very pleasant just as most people in the world are once you get talking to them.

    I honestly think excessive blind patriotism is a dangerous sentiment and can lead to a lot of violence and intolerence (witness 20th century history and, no, I don’t just mean Nazi Germany).

    Understated patriotism as you outline it in this article… why not?

    From one citizen of the world to another, cheers!

  • Dorie says:

    I just subscribed to your feed after seeing your guest post in “Get Rich Slowly” which is also subscribe to. This is my first post to read, and now I want to sit here and read them all. Looking forward to seeing your posts in my friends’ list.

  • Kaila says:

    I just added your blog today to my RSS feeds (I found it from another blog that linked to your guide to world domination). And I just deleted your blog from my RSS feeds. The first post I read was Introducing Patriotism 2.0… and I will read no further. I cannot read a blog written by a mainstream, “I got all my news from the New York Times” liberal.

    The US fails to provide health care for 16% of it’s population? Ideally, the government would focus on governing, not mothering, and would provide zero health care for 100% of the population.

    Guns are a problem? They were certainly a problem for the British during the Revolutionary war.

  • Chris says:

    @ Matt,

    Interesting thoughts on the electoral college. I have never considered that before.

    BTW – it was about four days from Russia to Vienna. I didn’t make it to Moscow, just St. Petersburg. But yes, I’m an increasingly quick traveler these days. I’ll write more about that at some point.

    @ Kaila,

    I agree that it’s probably best for us to part ways. Good luck with everything.

  • Chris says:

    Oh, and @ everyone else –

    I’ll read your comments soon; life is hectic over here but I should be in the land of good internet on Wednesday.

  • April says:

    Chris, it seems to me that what you are suggesting is that the country with some of the greatest social, intellectual, political and spiritual resources in the history of the world should … conform and become mediocre.

  • Chris says:

    @ April,

    No, not really… I don’t really think the U.S. “should” or “shouldn’t” do anything. I’m just pointing out that there are good things and bad things about any country, including the U.S., and I’m generally skeptical of hyper-nationalism anywhere.

    As noted, I’m also skeptical of other Americans who criticize the U.S. all the time without realizing the freedom we have. It truly is a great privilege and not something to take for granted. But patriotism does not mean that citizens are supposed to believe we are better than everyone else, or that we should be silent when our government takes a course of action we do not agree with.

    OK, off to Warsaw — see you all later!

  • Brian you have, as do most past and present practitioners of Patriotism, misconstrued the truths that lay before you. The quote you remind us of came from the truest patriot of all, Thomas Jefferson. He did, indeed, state that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time by the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

    That is where your hijacking of that famous phrase withers. Jefferson was not talking about noble sacrifice against enemies of freedom. You know, the kind we’ve been engaged in with our “fight ’em over there” philosophy?

    He was speaking of the people’s right, and duty, to rebel; to dissent; to question authority; to make a basic statement that might does not make right and that the people will – with violence, if need be – do what is necessary to preserve their freedoms. Just prior that most famous quote, Jefferson also said this: “… what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?”

    Take the “my country: right or wrong” blinders off and see that pointing out our obvious flaws and hypocricies does not seek to destroy America or its embrace of freedom. It is, in fact, the true “lifeblood of freedom.”

    This country was not founded true-believers, rather it was founded by skeptics. Skeptics of a system that gave too much power to the thrown. Skeptics of a system that did not allow dissent. Skeptics of a system that bled the patriotism of Rule Britannia. They broke away from a rigid, top-down imposition of government rule and created a republican democracy that holds to the belief that the power of government is given with the consent of the governed.

    In that light, dissent is necessary. Otherwise, a country and its people may be led astray by leaders who place themselves above the constitution they swore an oath to protect. When the people are too busy wrapping themselves in the flag, they are incapable of seeing the misdeeds that are carried out in their names.

  • Phil Goss says:

    @Chris I really like a lot of your philosophy. The spirit of nonconformity is what has made America such a great country and the lack of that spirit is what is causing it to decline. The reason why I believe America is the greatest country in the world is because this country has allowed the greatest amount of opportunity for non-conformists to do their thing and to succeed on a grand scale – no matter who you are or where you come from.
    It seems to be the hip thing nowadays to focus on the imperfections of this country. The main reasoning for that seems to be that people in other countries “don’t like us”. To be honest that bothers me too. I don’t understand how easy it is for so many to forget all the tremendous contributions the U.S. makes to the world. It’s certainly not perfect, but neither is any other country. Out of all of them, I think America offers the greatest example of what this “world community” should aspire to.

    I don’t know where the idea came from that patriotism means “my country right or wrong” and that the existence of Americans is more valid than that of citizens of other countries. There are probably quite a few Americans that exhibit that kind of nationalism, but I think the world view is that pretty much all of us feel that way. I think that misconception is reinforced by all the “hip Americans” apologizing for our President, claiming to be Canadian, and other nonsense.

    I love my country, but I don’t feel that being an American citizen makes me any better than anybody from any other country – but I do feel that I am blessed and I’m really happy that I was born here and am able to live here. I believe with total conviction that I can be proud of the principles that this country was founded on and continues to be guided by (kinda) without feeling superior or being arrogant.

    Chris I think the way you live your life and conduct yourself – with total responsibility for your well being and the course of your life- is inspiring. I just wish you had a more positive view of the United States and I wish a lot more Americans lived their life with that same sense of self reliance that you have instead of relying on the government to take care of them from cradle to grave.

    I like your blog. People like you make me proud to be an American. I can agree to disagree with you – I just wanted to throw in my two cents.

    @ Brian Holiman – I’m down with pretty much everything you had to say. I can definitely cosign that.

    @Nomadic Matt – You are spot on about the electoral college. I bring that up every time people cry about the popular vote. Makes plenty of sense when you think about it. Checks and balances are a great thing.

    @Teddy Carrol – Although I probably disagree with you about a great many things – you have make a great point. Of course it seems to me you believe that myself, Brian Holiman, and others who are proud to focus on the many virtues of America – are “true believers” drinkin’ the kool-aid and all that. It is possible to occupy some middle ground. It doesn’t have to be one extreme or the other. I don’t have any problem with skepticism about the government or dissent of it. I think many peoples attitudes and motivations for dissent are not quite as pure or warranted as they were back in the days of the American revolution…well anyway Teddy – You make a good point and a valid point and it is well taken.

  • Brian Holiman says:

    @Teddy Carrol – Oddly enough, you make some good points, however, I must point out Pax Britannia was in fact, the enemy of freedom. Its policies of taxation without representation was a yoke that stifled the creative freedom the founding fathers and their forerunners craved. Man of the founding fathers were true blue believers in the crown. Many served with distinction and honor the throne of England. But in the end, freedom won them over.

    We are required to fight the enemies of freedom everywhere if we are to preserve our own. To do less invites tyranny. I agree that Thomas Jefferson was speaking of throwing off their own oppressive government and not liberating someone else. But the principal is the same. If it were not, then France would have not come to our aid in the War for Independence. They were aiding the enemy of their enemy and promoting freedom in the process.

    May we project the America I love around the world. The one of peace through strength which is the only method that works by the way and the freedom of the individual to work, to strive, to hope for a better future for him and his family. As Eddie Murphy says in “Coming to America”…..”Only in America!”

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