Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Patriotism: Our biggest strength or weakness?

Our station Graphics Designer Michelle Clement posted a new picture atop the WNBZ website today. It's a really nice shot of the American Flag flying outside of the Tupper Lake LP Quinn Elementary School with Adirondack peaks in the background.

Emboldened with a recent re-read of Bertrand Russell's Political Ideals, in my opinion one of the finest mental exercises of the 20th century, I exclaimed, "Patriotism is the mother of tyranny."

Surely, patriotism has been regularly employed by the autocratic class to rouse the fury of the masses, to drive them into a predefined action that only furthers the agenda of the power-laden elite.

A quick look back at the rise of Nazi Germany stands alone as a clear example of this. No one understood the power of patriotic fervor, especially in a time of economic strife, as a means to rally and control the mob like the Nazis.

No one could put on a nationalistic show like Hitler.

But on the flip side, patriotism also gave the United States the ability to overcome the Nazis. Patriotism fed the American industrial machine that eventually overwhelmed the Axis powers -- it allowed us to conquer tyranny.

The WWII example is but one of scores of similar instances where patriotism can in one instance disenfranchise and in another empower the masses.

Every night, local town boards stand up and pledge allegiance to the American Flag.

Flags no longer serve the original functional purpose of identifying military columns on a battle field or conveying instructions of troop movements.

Instead, they serve only to create a sense of unity, of sameness -- a collective identity.

In recent years, patriotism has once again been employed to nudge the masses into fighting the wars that primarily benefit the ruling class. But without it, the fragile collection of states that we call the U.S would likely fall.

Patriotism and its close cousin nationalism, it seems, are the ultimate paradox outlined so well by Frederich Nietzsche.

It seems humanity needs some rallying cry to define our similarities. Otherwise, what would keep us from robbing or killing our neighbors for our own benefit?

So here's the question: Is patriotism ultimately good and necessary? If so, when does it become dangerous or antithetical to the pursuits of freedom?

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