Considering Patriotism

Considering Patriotism
As I walked home from my Fourth of July celebrations through Seattle’s gayborhood, Capitol Hill, I saw multitudes of queers and hipsters celebrating this problematic holiday much the same way as my friends and I did. I saw them embroil themselves in the most stereotypical modes of celebration known to this nation: drunkenness, BBQs, fireworks, patriotic iconography, national songs, and shouts of patriotic fervor.

Yet the way they threw themselves into these celebrations showed a quintessentially hipsteresque level of irony and sarcasm. As social progressives, they are well apprised of the past and present sins of our nation; as queers, they know quite well that they are not even fully-equal citizens. They are conflicted about their relationship to their country, as am I. We know there are worse places on this earth, but we can’t escape the knowledge that there are some things that are fundamentally wrong with America.

We of the gayborhood eschew the unexamined, unquestioned nationalism, xenophobia, and jingoism that usually accompany Independence Day festivities. We ride dangerously close to the edge, almost replicating these expressions of narrow-mindedness, but staying just this side of informed mockery.

Massive, official displays of American patriotism are absurd. Our country has made war, enslaved, extorted and exploited. We are founded on the genocide of the people who were here before the white man came. We continue to struggle under endemic domestic social ills, and we continue to be a petulant bully in the outside world. To celebrate the purified, sanitized version of our history that we learned in schools and that we know is deliberately falsified, is to celebrate white supremacy and open lies.

The Fourth of July is absurd. Human nature has, fortunately, developed a mechanism for handling the absurd. It’s called humor, and it is a survival mechanism. The queers and the hipsters of Capitol Hill kicked into full survival mode this 4th by recognizing the absurdity of the day that lay before them and found their typical means of solace worthy to the task. They fell back on sarcasm and irony, and went through the empty motions of self-congratulatory nationalism to wallow in them, to handle this confusing day the best they could.

I joined them. I was one of them. I lit off fireworks, drank the champagne of beers, grilled hotdogs, shouted USA! USA! while pumping my fist in the air, and sang America the Beautiful. My friends and I all silently thought about genocide, slavery and war. We drank until we could no longer consider such complex topics, and then we wandered home to the sporadic sounds of firecrakers like gunfire in the night. Hell, it could have been real gunfire for all I know.

(c) 7/7/08 idyllicmollusk

UPDATE 11/28/08: Check out this super post about learning eurocentric history at stuff white people do.

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9 thoughts on “Considering Patriotism

  1. question – is it morally acceptable to celebrate someone or something that isn’t perfect? is it morally acceptable to to celebrate someone or something that has many faults?

    while there is no denying America’s atrocities (and there are many), it would be intellectual dishonest to ignore the many achievements of America. I wonder, will The Fourth Of July hold new meaning for people left of center now that we have an African American president? Can we not, just for one moment, be proud of a country that elected a minority to the highest office? An electoral collage landslide victory no less.

    “We ride dangerously close to the edge, almost replicating these expressions of narrow-mindedness, but staying just this side of informed mockery.”

    A very acute observation… unfortunately not everyone stays just on the side of informed mockery. Living in the epicenter of hipsterdom in the world, I encounter irony on a daily basis, and i often struggle to find any real value in it. Perhaps it is as simple as you say, it’s merely a way of finding humor in the absurd. But is the Fourth Of July holiday really THAT absurd? I mean, sure, you can disagree with the underpinnings of what it stands for. But remember that it signifies the declaration of America’s Independence from England; in essence creating the first modern democracy. I think that is something that should be celebrated as it had profound influence on people throughout Europe and inspired similar revolutions in oppressive monarchist states. It’s monumental really. John Adams wrote

    “The second day of July, 1776 [there was confusion over the exact day], will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

    To some, The Fourth Of July IS an absurd patriotic celebration of all the ills of America. The George Bush version of America as i will call it. The oil loving, gun totting, cowboy diplomacy, close minded, bigoted version of American. Or as you say, the “purified, sanitized version of our history that we learned in schools and that we know is deliberately falsified, is to celebrate white supremacy and open lies.”

    But if there is one thing that the last election proved, is that the George Bush version of America is not the prevailing version, in fact it’s the minority. We shouldn’t let other people tell us what America is, or color how we view it. America is one of the most diverse, free countries in the world. It is what we make it, and the last election is incredibly inspiring. We can never undue the ills of our past, but we can strive to do better. We can all find our own reasons to celebrate the Fourth Of The July, i for one will celebrate Barrack’s Obama’s presidency on July 4, 2009. I will drink beer and watch fireworks. And for the first time in my life, i will feel a small sense of irony free pride for being an American. Maybe other people will too.

    P.

  2. Thanks for the extremely well-thought-out comment. We are actually in agreement for the most part. I was in a certain mood this past Fourth, perhaps fueled by alcohol, and this post really conveys my emotional state at the time- we of course had not elected our first black president in July, a collective action which has improved my feelings towards America overall.

    The day I wrote that post I was feeling anger towards the way American history was taught to me- from the “Great Man” perspective, and almost completely blotting out the existence of Natives, people of color, women and queers. It was incredibly disillusioning to intentionally go back, as an adult, and learn the hidden histories of those groups.

    In the end, I am not ashamed of my American citizenship. I am still awed by the fact that America is a nation of immigrants, who really have a viable and stable society under a flawed though semi-effective government. No other nation is quite like us in this way.

  3. Allow me to pile on with Pistole on this one..

    While I do share all your outrage (ok, most of your outrage :D) at our past history, current actions, and future prospects as a country, I don’t think there’s anything ignoble about celebrating the 4th at all. I actually think it’s one of the best holidays – makes much more sense to me than Thanksgiving or Easter.. but I digress.

    The 4th of July celebrates a tangible day of progress in the history of societal evolution. The first modern Democracy was born on this day, carried by the peculiar will of the pioneers who sailed across the sea to get here. A day brought about by men whose greatness is hard to reduce no matter how much irony I apply; my postmodern sneer dries right up when I read about someone like Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin.

    I’m aware of the flip side of that coin: religious persecution, genocidal conflict, mass disease, slavery, and more on the part of European settlers, and enormous character flaws on the part of the “Great Men” we call Founding Fathers. Sadly, these are common features of every rising power in the world, and of all ‘Great Leaders.’ On the 4th we celebrate what was a collective step by humankind away from all that. The only day more appropriate to celebrate in America would be the day of the Emancipation Proclomation.

    I still jeer and ironically sing Lee Greenwood every year, just cause the mass of our Jingoistic populace gives me fits, but behind my ironic mask on the 4th I’m not nurturing grievances, I’m looking to the past for hope that we can make the next step in my liftetime.

    — yes we can !(?)

  4. Scorn:

    character flaws on the part of the “Great Men” we call Founding Fathers. Sadly, these are common features of every rising power in the world, and of all ‘Great Leaders.

    Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s right. I think it is important not to sweep things under the rug in order to craft an inspiring narrative to tell to school children. With one hand Jefferson giveth, with the other he taketh away. DNA evidence has confirmed that he was having sex with a slave child in his possession, who got pregnant. While giving rights to white men, he had no problem obliterating rights and visiting humiliations upon blacks. It is incredibly important for a factual, true grasping of our history that both sides of Jefferson be taught. Otherwise we end up with people like those who would show up at Palin rallies, who really don’t get the plight of blacks in America. We idolize a man who enslaved and raped children! Jesus Christ, that’s important to teach. What happened to those children is just as important as what happened to whites during Jefferson’s time. Yet we don’t hear their story because it fucks up the narrative.

  5. Dude.

    Your post is about whether or not to celebrate the 4th of July, and that is what I was defending.

    Of course schools should teach the good and the bad of our past; neither the 50’s Old Glory textbook nor Howard Zinn paint the full picture of our country.

    How much does it contribute to the richness of our history that a Founding Father like Jefferson is so full of conflict and apparent contradictions? Yes, he fathered an illegitimate black child (there is confirmation that he raped the woman he slept with??) while championing univeral liberties that are still not realized today.

    The good is as legitimate as the bad, and to leave either one out gives you an unbalanced view of history.

  6. We agree on that last statement.

    I say that Jefferson raped the girl because she was a minor, and I don’t believe minors can give consent to adults, when the age difference is so great. Can you imagine any scenario where sex between an adult slavemaster and a slave, child or not, is truly consensual? It was all rape.

  7. So you would classify the majority of marriages before, say, 1800 as Rape? Women got married younger then across the board, the concept of a ‘minor’ as such didn’t really exist, did it?
    There are obvious problems with that whole tradition, but by classifying it as “IT WAS ALL RAPE”, are you not diluting the word rape just a bit?

  8. Well, you bring up a valid problem. Can we extend modern ideas of consent to other historical times, or other societies/cultures?

    Rape is sexual contact without consent. So where true consent is absent, we have rape.

    Statutory rape is when a much older individual has sexual contact with a minor. A minor does not yet have full legal control of their person because they are thought to not yet have the maturity to fully understand the consequences of their actions. Since a minor does not have adult decision-making skills or complete knowledge of the consequences of sex, and because an older person holds a position of power over the minor, true consent is absent in all sexual contact.

    The situation is similar when the individuals involved are a mentally or developmentally challenged person, and someone who is, shall we say, able-minded.

    I believe that the concept of Age of Majority existed before 1800, but I haven’t been able to find information on the internet. I’m curious, so I’ll let you know if I find anything. Age of majority, age of consent, and marriageable age can differ from state to state, country to country, and throughout historical periods.

    In conclusion, yes, I would define almost all sexual contact between slave masters and slaves, especially slave children, as rape. Because of the enormous power-differential between slaveholder and slave, no slave had the option to say no and suffer no harm. Therefore, true consent was impossible.

    Thoughts?

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