Friday, August 22, 2008


"The fact that America is off course in the 21st century remains unchanged."

Flag Waving
The Olympics are ostensibly about athletics, about young sports and related amateurs competing in a gathering of the world's best. Each person competes to be the best in the world at their particular specialty, and the emphasis is allegedly on the sports and the competitors, not their home countries.

Yet, from the opening ceremonies where each nation parades its athletes in special costumes with their flag to the national anthem played when the gold medal is awarded, the national identity of each athlete is inescapable. Add to that the media keeping track of "medal counts" and even more egregious examples such as most recently China's cheating with gymnast ages and the effort for each country to shine and be impressive through these young people is even more exaggerated.

In 1980 the United States set the pace with thunderous chants of USA! USA! As the US hockey team defeated the Soviet team. From then on national identity has mattered more than ever, and for some it denigrates the entire concept of the Olympics.

For others, it is simply embarrassing or disturbing. Daily Kos blogger kameraDSM expressed this viewpoint recently:
As we continue to celebrate the Olympics with profound pride and patriotism , I wanted to share some disheartening rankings that reflect our country's stark decline relative to the rest of the world. I list these fully knowing this community's cognizance of such issues, but sometimes numbers yield a haunting, and thus effective, reminder. For anyone truly proud to be American, these numbers should anger, motivate, and prompt action.
Following this is a set of numbers intended to show that the US isn't the greatest nation on earth in every possible category by every conceivable metric, so people should stop being so proud.
Of course, if we were to measure our greatness by military might and financial wealth, we'd be No. 1 - no doubt. But what makes a nation truly "great" is its leadership and devotion to social/moral issues. Take seriously the numbers above, and you'll have a hard time finding the tenacity to say we're the "greatest." (To be honest, one should be wary of any person, government or institution that self-proclaims "greatness")
A similar perspective can be found in the UK with Cath Elliott at the Guardian:
In fact, in any Olympic event where a British athlete has been involved, there I've been, on the edge of my seat, bellowing. I even did a little dance of victory around my front-room when Chris Hoy picked up his third gold medal of the games. Is there a feelgood factor to Britain's fantastic success in Beijing? I'm not sure about the rest of the country, but it seems to be working for me.

Of course I'm far too cynical and far too much of a Guardianista to think that this success indicates anything more than that this year Britain's athletes have done really well. I'm not about to announce for example that I think everything in the garden is now rosy, and that after this things can surely only get better, especially the dire economic situation and the desperate state of British politics. But at the same time I've got to disagree with Stephen Moss in Tuesday's Guardian, who responded to the question: "Doesn't it all make you proud to be British?" with: "No, in a nutshell."
The principles being expressed here are similar and odd: patriotism is shameful and unless everything is absolutely perfect, one ought to be ashamed of and worried for one's country, not proud and patriotic.

The closest analogy I can think of is to have a man and wife discussing matters, and the man explaining why he doesn't seem proud of her or loving toward her.

Well, you're only 75% as pretty as your friend Molly, and in overall tests, your cooking is only 15% as good as my mother's and studies show that you have 45% more fat in your thighs than Shawndra down the street. So I can't really be proud of you, you just don't measure up.

It is the fool's metric which declares that unless you are perfect, you aren't good. That if there is any place which anyone could find any flaws, then it's just wrong to be proud of your country. That patriotism is at best suspect and probably dangerous, stupid, and filled with nationalistic fervor that leads to fascism. You wouldn't want to be one of those flag waving NASCAR types, would you? How gauche. Consider Cath Elliot's statement "God knows I'm certainly no patriot, I've made it clear in the past that I don't go in for any of that jingoistic nonsense... The strange thing is that it's only while watching sports that I come over all patriotic and scarily nationalistic. Not enough to make me want to install a flagpole outside the house you understand"

Naturally. Can't have that, people might get the wrong idea and think you aren't constantly miserable and embittered toward where you live.

The Kos piece starts with the presumption that everyone is proud of America and all stirred up by Olympic victories (I haven't watched much and don't care particularly who wins the gold - its like the Little League World Series, I like all the little guys and consider them all winners for just being there). Yet this is tempered with a continual downplaying of America (or in Cath's instance, Britain). Sure, the gold medals are fine and all but look at this horror and that bad thing and these statistics. Just shameful, how can you be so proud?

The overall tone of the Kos piece is in general upbeat but the statistics are uniformly negative - the point of the article to be "lets fix this!" Yet the thrust is "things are terribly wrong and you're an idiot if you think the country is great." It's boilerplate leftist stuff, we're spending too much on war, we should spend it on making sure everyone feels equal, this hate-Bush writer says the country is horrific and these activist organizations say that women's rights are trampled, etc.

The problem is that patriotism isn't about glassy-eyed thinking that your home is perfect and refusing to consider improvement. It is that you love where you live despite its flaws, just like you love your children or your mother or your spouse despite their flaws. Patriotism isn't an ugly or wrong thing, although wrong and ugliness can come from it - like all things. Loving where you live is natural and proper: its your home. It is this fear of or shame for being patriotic that is deeply imbedded into the left which causes such confusion and dismay on the right: what's wrong with you? Why can you not say something positive about your home without feeling compelled to bring up nine bad things?

If the Olympics make you feel good about your country, good for you. You should, at least sometimes, feel good about your home - else why on earth are you living there? Even China should feel good about their nation and people, and those athletes, even the little underage gymnasts who did so well. The governments and policies and failures of a nation don't negate the good it does, this isn't a spreadsheet where you balance things out. The good is still good even if there's a lot more bad out there.

For once, if you are on the left, try saying something unqualified good about your nation. Give it a shot, wave a flag once. Try not to feel guilty, try not to worry about what other leftists walking by will think of you. Just once.

And be honest: when has the nation not been off course, according to you? Will it ever do enough right to be properly on course?
[technorati icon]


Blogger lance said...

The nation will be back on course when everyone across the land has,

An apple pie on the window sill.

A puppy, two cats, and a turtle in the yard.

And has installed me as their new leader for life. Then only then will the nation be back on course. I will bring happiness to the people and I will dismantle the IRS and replace it with the GFI (Government Funding Institute)

10:56 AM, August 22, 2008  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home