I’m an American. I’m an American because I was born in America and continue to live here. I like where I live and though I do not support a great many of the actions of my government, including a great many of the things that are being done because of popular vote, I still very much like the place. The more I look at most of the rest of the world, the more I thank blind luck that I was born an American.
I see a lot of bumper stickers on cars talking about how proud the driver is to be an American. I know a lot of people who have this view as well. Although everyone, myself included, is prone to group think and following the crowd…doing what’s expected and saying meaningless things because everyone else does, I don’t believe that’s the case here. A great many of the people saying they’re proud to be American I believe actually do believe that they are and hold this belief quite dear. However, I don’t understand it.
I could actually understand it a bit more if they where immigrants. Having to earn the right to be an American is something that would be worthy of a sense of pride in that accomplishment. Hardly any of us is though. We did nothing in particular that made us American except be born to American parents. It’s something we could feel lucky about but what in that can give a person pride?
I am very proud of the accomplishments of those who founded this country. These men and women (mostly men because lets face it, in that respect they where still ignorant pricks) created something new and wonderful at a great price. Not just those who screamed a lot and wrote wonderful prose that we all love to read and believe we live up to; not just those who fought and died in the few wars in our ancient (for America) history that actually WHERE about our freedom; I’m also proud of people like my ancestors who, though partaking in and profiting from many great atrocities, built something really great with their sweat, blood, tears, and all to short and hard lives. My life however, it is nothing like that.
My life is incredibly easy and lacks any great battles. I can pretty much do whatever I want, when I want. I can say what I want. I can fuck who I want how I want. I have all the food I could possibly need and enough to throw huge amounts of it away. If there’s one thing you can say about Americans it’s that we have enough to waste. I’ve got everything I need and then a whole hell of a lot more.
Yes, I worked “hard” for this though not even close to as hard as many. I drove on nice, paved roads to a school that I paid for with funds given to me by the government (some of which I’m still paying off :P). I had to work at school but I had the opportunity, many do not. A lot of what I took, and indeed take, for granted as being available are simply not for a great majority of the world.
So I’m an American. Yes, lucky me. Very lucky me. But what is it that I’m supposed to be proud of? What is it that YOU are proud of?
OK. Many people begin answering this question by talking about sense of community. I have that…to some extent. I care a great deal that people continue to benefit from the very rights and privileges that I find so beneficial. I volunteer time, though not as much these days, trying to improve various aspects of my community and surroundings. I vote. I despair that a lot of what I’ve been taking for granted for years is quickly going away. I care that you have a good life as much as I do. This doesn’t stop or begin for me with being American though….this for me is part of being a human being.
Frankly there’s a great deal about American culture I find quite abhorrent, especially modern culture (though that’s what every aging human feels I tend to think). We have this ingrained sense of entitlement that only seems to be growing. I don’t mean that “entitlement” that people complain about everyone else having when they hope for the government to supply social services. I mean a sense that all of my work should be for my benefit alone, should I decide that’s where I want that benefit to go. I mean the idea that we’re somehow so independent that we can take take take and should not be required to give any in return. I work hard for my xxx millions of dollars, ergo I should not be expected to give back to the community. I’m benefiting from my very own work, right? It’s not like there’s an entire society upon which I depend to be able to succeed like that, so why should I give anything back?
I find I cannot be proud of that and also must accept that it’s very much a part of my culture and identity. Its who we Americans are, which can be directly observed by how we vote…which is all to often in a very short sighted and greedy manner.
The way we tend to consider ourselves the paragon of virtue in the world is also something I can’t be at all proud of. Yes, we where the first modern democracy and that’s a really great accomplishment for those that achieved it. On the other hand, we’re far from the only one now and it’s worth examining how others have done it and recognizing that maybe we don’t know everything. We’re also squandering and ruining our democracy quite rapidly and reversing a great many of those great things we really where so great at and came at such high prices to those who did all the work.
We like to think of ourselves as this great and tolerant culture as well. It must certainly be admitted that when you look at places like the Middle East we look like saints in this regard. On the other hand, it’s always a long and hard fight and we have a very long way to go. There are still a great many areas in our culture of acceptable bigotry. George Bush Sr., ex-President of this country himself said that atheists should not be considered citizens. The admission of atheism by a politician in this country means a death sentence to his career. Atheists are widely held by many Americans as being incapable of morality and are seen as one of the greatest threats to the country. Secularism is seen as a boogyman tearing at the Christian moral framework that supposedly is the basis of our freedoms and government. All this while one of those things that many other countries get quite right is a systematic acceptance of secular morality and identity; countries that do so have the least occurrences of things like teenage pregnancies, abortions, drug abuse, and murders.
We are getting better though, and I suppose that’s something worth being proud of. But for me there’s a difference in being proud of something accomplished and being proud of some feature of identity that to me seems superficial and accidental. There’s no difference between me and someone living in one of those horrible places I’d hate to live in. If they had been American they’d act like someone brought up in American culture. It is said that we’re all only 3 days from total anarchy, meaning 3 days of broken infrastructure and we’d start turning on each other. I don’t know if this is true or not but I do believe it bears consideration and in so considering to think about what that means for places and people who are not as lucky as we.
Not that thinking isn’t pretty much the only thing I’ll do…
One friend of mine at one time tried to convince me that traditional displays of patriotism and pride where worthwhile by comparing being American to being a part of a sports team. We root for our chosen team. I can see and identify greatly with this kind of view though I don’t believe it’s an accurate comparison. I’ll wave a flag at the Olympics. I’ll root for the Americans. I make fun of Canadians and I tease the British. It’s all in good fun really. But is this really what people are talking about when they mention their pride in America and their pride at being Americans? If so, then why do they get so offended when that pride is challenged in even the most minor ways?
My bet is that there will be a great many people reading this that are going to be incensed at the content. How dare I say I am not proud to be American?? How dare I not sing our anthem or salute our flag, promising my heart and mind to a republic rather than to myself and my fellow human being? How dare I compare these acts to trivial displays of religious worship and say they are just as meaningless? I’ve come close to having to defend myself against violence for uttering such things and failing to follow the same standard of behavior that people expect in these matters. I know other cultures take their Soccer this seriously but I’ve never heard of anyone getting beaten up, spit on, yelled at, or even looked at funny for not saluting a Seahawks emblem. I have to seriously doubt that these people mean anything like “rooting for the home team” when they say they are proud to be Americans.
Yes, I feel very lucky to live in this rich and wonderful society. I value the freedoms that I have and the sacrifices of others that they required. I don’t know that I would call it “pride” but I do admire the accomplishments of many people who where Americans. I admire our historical place in the world and hope others follow the example we in many ways failed to live up to. I hope that we all continue to challenge our ideas of what it means to be Americans and what kind of responsibilities we have to those around us. I hope that we don’t destroy what we have out of ignorance and bigotry. I am proud of some of my own accomplishments, and regretful of others and of failures. However, nowhere in this do I see a way to justify pride in the “act” of simply being American. I figure I may as well be proud of being a human being rather that being born a fish or something.
So, what have you to say? Where is your pride coming from? Upon what is it based? How can you justify being proud of an accident of birth that made you one lucky SOB?
I’d be happier with a bumper sticker and slogan that said, “Damn lucky to be American.” I could accept that. I could admire the fact that you recognize it. I have a very hard time understanding, let alone admiring your pride.