31 July 2006

Reflections on an Unpatriotic Subject

I came across the following interesting reflection on patriotic zeal over at Larval Subjects :

Last weekend I went to a party. The people were terrific company in a down to earth sort of way, and the homemade bbq was outstanding, but I found myself highly disturbed by their home. Everywhere I looked there were decorations and wallpaintings depicting either the Texas states flag or the American flag.

I also find this sort of thing disturbing since these symbols of identification are placed where virtually all who see them have the same legal status. This being the case, they don't play their obvious role as marking disputed territory. Their redundancy points to a subtle ideological message.

This is not the first time I've come across this. When I was searching for my home, I came across a number of homes that were filled with this overtly patriotic decor. For every discourse Lacan suggests that we should ask what jouissance is involved?, why do people get so worked up?

Excellent question.

The question that I've been revolving about ever since is what is it that leads people to so heavily identify with something as abstract as a piece of land in this way? I've been a nomad all my life, moving from place to place, so I've never had a firm sense of place. I like the idea of the cosmopolitan in its literal Greek signification as "citizen of the world". The only place I've ever been strongly identified with is Boston. So what is it that leads one to have such a strong sense of place?

I strongly disagree with the author at this point. We all identify with places (as we remember them) or with past memories. I feel a fondness for my childhood, not yours. But I suspect that many who are patriotic don't in fact identify strongly with a place. Patriotism is, after all, an extremely abstract and nebulous notion. The same people who are said to "have a strong sense of place" tend to be open to the idea of destroying such places in order to give energy companies (owned by wealthy people from far away) access to resources.

What sorts of desires are evinced in surrounding oneself with these sorts of images? What is a person trying to remind themselves of? And what ontological consistency do these sorts of icons provide? If we think of patriotism as being something one gets "in" to like anything else, how does a person get "in" to this as one of the primary meanings of their life?

Patriotism, more than many other group identities (the PTA, weightwatchers), requires virtually no effort. You get to be one notch higher than most of humanity simply as a result of having been born with a set of borders.

I'm probably not much better as my home is filled with images of figures like Freud, Goethe, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Deleuze, along with lots of framed leaves and impressionistic art... But all the same, I was a bit creeped out.

No, you are much better. The art in your room doesn't represent some elite club whose membership derives from a bloodline or a passport. Everyone in the world can appreciate noble ideas and great art.


Pisces Iscariot said...

I believe patriotism is cultivated by various method by those in power - chiefly by fear of loss; religious bigotry and by xenophobia.
The deeper reasons however can only be laziness in the individual, the herd mentality: to be unpatriotic is to question the legitimacy of national pride (and vice versa); it makes you stand out and you then have to defend your views with strong arguement - who needs that?

rama said...

My best wishes to you for the project to help transform your friends into more thinking people, and I've no dobt you will be able to do that, with your head + heart! Best, rama