As a Brit that has spent some years living and working in the States, the one thing that always strikes me about America is how unapologetically patriotic the people are. I saw the national flag every single day I was in America. I worked at summer camps where the pledge of allegiance was recited every morning. I’d go to sporting events where stadiums would erupt into the Star-Spangled banner.
Don’t get me wrong, America is a darn good country to live in and I love it dearly. Nevertheless I never fail to cringe a little when I hear certain American people (mainly in the media and crazy commenters on YouTube) openly proclaim that their country is the best country in the entire world. Firstly, I don’t believe any country can objectively claim to be the best country in the world. And secondly, if there was a best country, I’d like to hope the residents of it would be more humble about how brilliant they are.
I find this type of patriotism can often become blurred with arrogance. Obviously this is not unique to America. The UK is just as bad in terms of arrogance. I am merely using the US as an example as it is the place I have spent the most time in as a foreigner.
I have had countless interactions with Americans who boast about ‘beating the British in the revolution’ or ‘saving our ass in World War II’. This is normally said in good humour (or ‘humor’ in this case) and these conversations normally end in laughs and playful mocking. However, in many cases, there is always a part of them that earnestly believes what they are saying. This is something I have never understood.
Predisposed beliefs and ideologies shouldn’t solely define you as a person/or society. Most of us had nothing to do with the construction of our countries and it just seems rather egotistical to take credit for other peoples achievements who happen to have the same nationality. I am British, but I was not responsible for the Industrial Revolution, discovering penicillin, The Beatles, or any other thing that other “British People” did. I was just born on the same bit of land, have a passport from there and speak the same language. The comparisons end there.
Also, if you want to boast and take credit for other peoples past achievements, then you also need to own up to the horrible things people in your country have done. Slavery, mass inequality, capital punishment etc. I’m sure the terrible list is a lot longer than the positives list. You can’t pick and choose.
Nationalism has its place and is great for helping people find their sense of belonging. People need to connect and identify themselves to ideas and causes that makes them feel apart of something bigger. However it becomes a real problem when these ideas stand in the way of positive change. Traditions and customs are just concepts somebody at sometime in the past made up. They are not set in stone and can be altered if they are no longer a good thing.
I am very lucky to have been born into first-world conditions. But that is all it is, complete luck. I am British purely because my ancestors ended up there, it’s not something I’ve achieved or worked at. I am the product of prior causes which I didn’t choose and had absolutely no hand in creating. I never choose to be born where I was. Just like you never choose to be where you’re from. Being British isn’t part of human DNA. No baby has ever popped out of the womb gagging for a cup of tea saying ‘God save the queen!’. Nationality is something we learn and is a very subjective construction.
Astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell said about his experience viewing the Earth from the moon:
“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.'”
Astronaut Frank Borman similarly said:
“When you’re finally up at the moon looking back on earth, all those differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend, and you’re going to get a concept that maybe this really is one world and why the hell can’t we learn to live together like decent people.”
I feel these quotes beautifully complement what I was trying to articulate. I find it interesting that among the small number of people who have seen our planet from space, how common this sense of enlightenment is. We are all one family, and when you look at the earth from such a distance, it becomes very clear.
Recently I prefer to consider myself a global citizen. I believe one’s identity should transcend geography or political borders and that you shouldn’t be defined by the arbitrary bit of land you were born in. I know this sounds rather ‘New Agey’, but I think people need to start thinking of themselves as ‘Human’ before ‘British’, ‘French’, ‘American’, etc. Only by supporting the development of global citizens, can we foster a more peaceful, sustainable and prosperous world for everyone.
I would love to hear your thoughts and whether you agree or disagree.