Fourth of July: I’m Doin’ It Wrong

Happy Independence Day, Americans! Aren’t you glad you live in the USA, and not in, say, Iraq? Boy, I’d sure hate to be living in Iraq right now. Or in Chile under Pinochet; hoorah for living in a country where the football stadium doesn’t double as a concentration camp!

Wait. I don’t think this post is supposed to be quite so sarcastic. Let me try again. Did I mention my love of cat macros? My love of cat macros is strong enough to overcome even my allergy to over-the-top flag-waving, maybe that will help.

Kitteh: I can has country back nau plz? Bush: NOT YOURS
I can’t take full credit (or blame) for this one. It was originally Cala’s idea, I’m just acting as the faceless servant of the Spirit of the Internets to bring it into lolbeing. And of course, I wouldn’t’ve seen the idea in the first place were it not for Bitch Ph.D.’s post:

Picnics! Fireworks! Hangin’ out! Celebratin’ all those ideals we learned in our 1970’s childhoods about how We Can Work to Make Our Country Live Up to Its Promise! Equality for everyone! Free speech! The huddled masses, yearning to breathe free! The separation of church and state! Freedom of conscience! Promoting the general welfare! Establishing justice!

Only, this year makes it just a wee bit dificil to be patriotic and all. I wanna carry a sign or wear a tshirt to tomorrow’s 4th of July fair / fireworks extravaganza. Not something all in-your-face and partisan, b/c that’s not the point. Something mournful, or poignant

Now usually when I am feeling in-your-face and partisan, I like to make at least a token nod at “hey they started it!” – but not on the 4th of July. Today I feel an urge to be not just open-when-asked or open-on-a-blog about my politics, but bring-it-up-at-the-BBQ-to-everyone’s-annoyance open. Though I am aware of the problems of being OMG that pinko hippie chick and don’t plan to actually harangue anyone, this holiday mostly leaves me cold and/or grouchy. (Except the fireworks. I like fireworks. Except the fireworks that someone in my neighborhood was playing with last night.)

But why is that? Part of it, clearly, is the way the right wing has such a stranglehold on the concept of patriotism. Not just on the level of “shut up and support the President”, but a deeper association between flags and militarism, and particularly the American flag and American exceptionalism. (NB it is possible that by “right wing” here I mean “everyone outside my leftist bubble”.)

On other days, patriotic narratives typically have, if not quite a partisan goal, at least a clear political purpose. On the 4th of July, though, everyone tries to come together and recite a consensus patriotic narrative we can all feel good about. In the process, we expose larger narratives about who we are as a democratic nation, which are of course still political. However, they are much more difficult to talk about, because they are more abstract and/or we aren’t really in the habit of debating them.

I suspect that my gut response to Independence Day is really an objection to one of these underlying stories. For example, I’m all for the ideals of the Enlightenment, but I’m not so sure that the nation-state was a very good idea. If I had to guess, I’d guess that I’m really responding to some flavor of American exceptionalism, but that doesn’t satisfy all the voices in the back of my head. However, I’ve got a barbecue to go to, and fireworks to watch from a friend’s deck overlooking the Bay, so an unsatisfying guess will just have to do.

Happy 4th, everybody.


  1. Brian wrote:

    I share some of your sentiments…personally, I think it’s important for citizens to have some national pride but the trick is to not let it grow into rabid nationalism. There’s a fine line between the two…or maybe it’s a wide diffuse line.

    I think one of the biggest differences between the end-member partisan sides is that one thinks criticizing your own nation is the citizen’s duty because that keeps it in check and makes it better (hopefully)….whereas the other end-member thinks it’s a citizen’s duty to support the country no matter what.

    There are huge problems w/ what our country is up to these days, but I also think it’s important to step back and look at the big picture once in a while. When I do that, I still am proud. And a lot of the pride is about how we can and continue to criticize our own nation.

  2. yami wrote:

    What function do you think national pride serves, Brian? I can see how it’s useful for international soccer matches, but I’m not sure the World Cup would be such a huge loss to the planet that we need to carefully cultivate patriotism for it.

  3. Brian wrote:

    I don’t think my comment can be translated into me wanting to “carefully cultivate patriotism”….I’m not really sure what you mean by that. I don’t think national pride is something that’s cultivated in that proactive sense. I think it is more of a reactive thing.

    Anyhow…I would hope some national pride would serve to keep the citizens aware, involved, and active in what is happening with their country. Perhaps the pride isn’t for their country per say, but for their home and for how they want to live. I think a little pride in this way makes people do something about it instead of just pissin’ and moaning or emigrating.

    When I meet people from other nations and they speak about their pride for their country, what they like about it, what they don’t, I think that’s great. It’s a sense of community, but at a larger scale.

    But let’s not fall into the ubiquitous all-or-nothing discourse…of course when simple pride morphs into dangerous fanaticism, whether it be for a nation, a religion, a leader, etc., this leads down a dangerous path. And that’s where some of the most shrill right-wingers are.

    Do you think it’s possible to be both proud and disgusted at the same time? Do you think it has to be all or nothing? That if I express any level of pride, then i’m a fascist? Or, if I express any level of criticism, then I’m a traitor? This is where i’m afraid political discourse has gone.

    What’s the practical alternative to the democratic nation-state?

  4. yami wrote:

    Sorry, Brian, didn’t mean to attribute “cultivation” to you – I was just riffing on the idea that if it’s important, would we ever need to prevent ourselves from losing it? Perhaps that margarita lasted longer than I realized ;)

    I’m not trying to say that patriotism or national pride is necessarily bad, it’s just not something I’ve ever felt very attached to (I’ve even felt it now and then, but those feelings have never been important to me, if that makes any sense). Lack of national pride has never stopped me from caring about what is happening, though – and pride for home is certainly something I can understand. It’s the link between “home” and “nation” that eludes me.

    Multi-ethnic empires, and politically divided cultural territories, have both worked OK historically as alternatives to the nation-state (NB: I’m using nation-state in a somewhat technical sense here).

  5. Sabine wrote:

    I’ve never felt attached to that ideal either. I guess being raised in Indian Country by an Indian mother, that typical sense of Patriotism just wasn’t instilled in me. I grew up with ear fulls of stories of ancestors dying on the Trail of Tears, and hiding from American soldiers in swamps. I’m glad I live here, it’s just a little different from my perspective.

    That lolcat was priceless. :)

  6. Brian wrote:

    Speaking idealistically, it would be great to have a global ‘patriotism’ or pride. I wonder what it would take for that? My pessimistic side thinks it would have to be an unfolding disaster (natural or otherwise) of truly global proportions.

    I would agree w/ you Yami regarding the “attachment” aspect…that is a good point.

  7. Sabine wrote:

    Alien invasion. That’s what it would take. Just like in “Independance Day”. (j/k)

  8. Andrew Ironwood wrote:

    I’d go with Sabine’s idea, but more like in the graphic novel Watchmen or the episode “The Architects of Fear” from the old Outer Limits series (if I should disappear suddenly, you’ll know I’ve gotten too close to someone’s nefarious plans…)

  9. Ron Schott wrote:

    Eschewing politics in favor of geology, have you seen the cat macro I CAN HAS FAULTLINE?

  10. Ron Schott wrote:

    Oops… just realized it’s probably not a cat macro if it lacks a cat. (Does that make it a fault macro?) Anyhow, I hope you still enjoy the humor of it.

  11. yami wrote:

    Hee hee, yes, those are utterly genius.

    I actually started a LiveJournal community called lolscience expressly for that sort of thing, though it hasn’t gotten many posts lately.

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