Nearly every person, in every country in the world, is taught to have pride in the nation-state that they happened to be born into. It is seldom considered that countries are just artificial lines drawn on a map. Because I happened to be born in the good ‘ol USA, let me point out some inconsistencies I see with the idea of “American Exceptionalism”.
a) No one actually chooses where they are born. So, how does it make sense to have pride in something you had no control over?
b) It is obviously not possible for every country in the world to be the “best” country, yet we are all taught that ours is.
c) This national pride is based on a completely subjective set of standards that have no basis in universal ethics.
d) If you are an immigrant to a new nation, why should you have pride in the new country, because it is so much “better” than your old one? You likely didn’t have a hand in establishing the new nation either.
e) Nationalism is the same, philosophically, as racism, sexism, bigotry and sectarianism. Yet, somehow we are made to feel that nationalism is a virtue, while these other identical philosophies are shunned.
In the U.S., we are socially ingrained with a fervent love of country. If we question the authenticity of this love, we must be “unpatriotic”. We are either looked upon by our fellow man as ungrateful and spoiled- “You should be thankful you have it so good!” or even considered an enemy- “You’re either with us or against us”, “If you don’t love it- then leave it!”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to be born and living in a place that does not bombard me and my family with barbaric violence and poverty on a daily basis. I’m also fascinated with what the founding fathers were trying to accomplish, and I am grateful for their efforts and sacrifice to advance mankind. But I must be philosophically honest.
I really think this patriotism was the downfall of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. She was genius. Her reasoning was superb and her writing is still a valuable treasure for any thinking person. But once in awhile, her logic would skip tracks and her reasoning would derail. Her thoughts on intellectual property, military and police, and the justice system, were a train wreck, and in my opinion, the obstruction on the tracks was owing to the fact that she had come from an incredibly harsh dictatorship, and moved to the shining beacon on the hill. She was seeking liberty, what she found was America. Right away she recognized that liberty in America was a slippery slope. Her published works were all meant to be a warning to us, the American people, that we had lost our way and we were on the road to serfdom. Yet she romanticized America as would a sentimental child.
Patriotism teaches us not to question. I see this same inconsistency all around me today. Otherwise rational and thoughtful people, will justify heinous actions in the name of national pride. If America is superior, they reason, then her might must be just.
The current events leading us to war with Syria are the catalyst for my writing of this article. I fear that my conservative friends may have a clouded view of war, because of this belief that we are an exceptional nation, and therefore have an obligation to police the world, as if, Manifest Destiny is calling on us to remake other nations in our image. The modern justification to go to war seems to be something along the lines of:
Someone in the world is acting in an unacceptable way
Because we are America, it is our responsibility to show them the error of their ways
In order for the evil person(s) to listen to us, we must posture with a show of violent might
This use of excessive force is a moral and just thing to do because we are exceptional
Keeping our own people safe is no longer the primary justification for our military. All we need is to assume that someone in the world is using a WMD, and it is free reign. That seems to be the only justification we need to rain down death and destruction on other people. Mistakes can be made, the wrong people can die, our own families can be maimed and slaughtered in a far off land that they had never heard of prior to shipping out. None of that matters, because we are an exceptional nation, we must force the rest of the world to see the errors of their ways.
This line of reasoning is being used to lead a patriotic people to slaughter.
There is much controversy right now about Syria. Who used chemical weapons? Were they even used at all? Who are the rebels? Why are they deep in civil war? Who is being killed and who is doing the killing? What other nations are involved and how?
I do not claim to have the answers to any of those questions (although I have my opinions on the matters). My point here is this: It doesn’t matter what any of the answers are to any of those questions. The only way those questions should decide our involvement, is if you believe that we are exceptional and have some moral obligation to police the world.
The only justifiable homicide, is killing in self defense or to save the life of an innocent. The discussion right now is not one of self defence from Syrian attack and our involvement will likely cause the death of many innocent civilians. So regardless of the answers to the above questions, it seems clear to me that we have no right nor reason to go to war with Syria.
“Because we are America” is no reason to go to war.