10 September 2009

Other people's patriotism

Poster in the Moscow Metro quoting Francis Bacon: "Love of the
motherland starts within the family." (Source.)
This tribute to Elektrostal is a product of the municipal center for
patriotic education (www.egcpv.ru).
Although I spent my first years in Norway and Germany, I did most of my growing up in the USA. So my patriotism is American-flavored. In school, we learned American patriotic songs, pledged allegiance to the flag "and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Throughout the raging discontent of the '60, and the succeeding waves of malaise, greed, and fractious globalization, I've always cherished our founding ideals--especially "equal justice under law."

My five years in Canada--four years at Carleton University and one more year working for Friends and for the Anglican Book Society--were my first experiences as an adult living outside the USA. I still remember how startling it was, looking out our window in Manotick, Ontario, or walking down Bank Street in Ottawa, and seeing Canadian flags on the flagpoles. Sometimes I stared at those flags, trying to understand exactly what it meant that I was living under a different flag. During those years at Carleton, Canadian identity was much discussed, especially in connection with three controversies: the English and French components of the country; the increasing assertiveness of First Nations; and "Canadian content" in the media--part of a more general concern to keep the USA on its own side of the border.

Canadian patriotism was distinguishable from American patriotism in several ways. First, it was more restrained, sometimes tinged with a bit of irony or self-deprecation. Second, in celebrating their own merits, Canadians by implication pointed out some American shortcomings. Pride in the Canadians' frequent participation in global peacemaking provided a contrast with the USA's tendency to intervene and control. My Canadian relatives told me straight out: "You may be stronger, but we're more civilised!" Finally, Canada's ongoing connections with the British Commonwealth and the Francophone world provided its national identity with two major international reference points.

Now we're living under yet another flag: the Russian Federation's. Probably few countries have a more complex relationship with concepts of patriotism and national identity. Slavic and pan-Slavic feelings are an important component of some people's patriotism, but as the country's leaders remind us, Russia is a multinational, multi-ethnic, and multi-racial federation. The breakup of the Soviet Union left a huge part of Russian history on the other side of the nation's border with Ukraine--it was after all in Kiev, the capital of present-day Ukraine, that Russia was baptized in 988. It's no wonder that, for several years after the end of the USSR, there was a sort of patriotism vacuum among some of the people and groups I knew in Russia. Things seem more normal now. Of course, as in any country, there are cynics at one end and super-patriots at the other. But in between I seem to detect a more positive, if wry and pragmatic, national self-esteem. The Western press, when it notices anything at all here, sometimes picks up evidences of national bombast, and it's certainly there to be found, but the kind of patriotism I usually encounter here has much more to do with nature and culture than with national swagger.

Nations and national boundaries are totally a human invention (or convention), a way of seeing things that reinforces group mechanisms of mutual obligation and social control. There is nothing real about a national boundary beyond the reality that human minds have agreed on (or acquiesced to). But without a healthy patriotism, an ability to form collective self-esteem and recognize attachments close at hand, it's hard for me to imagine a healthy internationalism. A poster in the Moscow Metro says, "Love for the motherland begins within the family." I agree. That love doesn't need to stop at the boundaries of my nation, but neither should it only start there.

During the World Wars, the USA distinguished itself from its enemies by emphasizing their militarism, a quality which was assumed to be distinctly un-American. Question: Is it just me, or is there truly a creeping militarism in U.S. culture nowadays, an acceptance that a military establishment that dwarfs any conceivable combination of rivals, hundreds of overseas bases, and threats to "take no option off the table" in every crisis du jour, are permanently with us? Perhaps the unfolding agony of our involvement with Afghanistan and Pakistan will finally provoke a sober conversation among Americans about the sustainability of this approach, and of the superpower model generally, in the long term.

Righteous links:

Yesterday, Judy and I attended the opening of the Sergei Andriaka State School of Watercolor Painting's 10th anniversary exhibition. Much of the art is very conventional, but I love how Andriaka and his colleagues travel all over Russia, teaching everyone who's interested, with a special concern to awaken the creative potential in every child. Before I had encountered Andriaka's watercolor education movement, I somehow hadn't realized how vivid and versatile watercolor painting could be. Here's the school's Web site (note English link at top) and its gallery page (English).

The Pew Forum's report on perception of Muslims among Christians and others in the USA.

Christian Peacemakers document destruction of Palestinian water cisterns. And here's a description of a recent documentary on CPT's work in Iraq early on in the present war/occupation.

Bitterlemons commentators on "Palestinian unilateralism."

Eric Miller on what he learned from watching pagans (his term) on vacation. "To put it sharply: If there is a new paganism pervading America, we American Protestants have had a hand in preparing the way for it. In cultivating a spirituality that neglected the human, the earthy, the sensual, we fostered—in diabolical irony—a conceit that taught us to see ourselves as superior to our bodies, as well as the earth, regarding them as at best a species of a finitude that will, gratefully, some day pass."

The Trinity Foundation and their case against Benny Hinn in the Wittenburg Door: "Why Benny Hinn Became Our Wacky Neighbor."

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency site with news of today's launch of a new high-power launch vehicle and International Space Station freighter.

Friday PS: Rules for liars.

Floyd Lee in a deleted scene from Full Moon Lightnin', at Po Monkey's Lounge, Merigold, Mississippi.

Po Monkey's Deleted Scene - Full Moon Lightnin' from John Gardiner on Vimeo.

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