Is patriotism good for survival?

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Pablo Edronkin

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In this regard we will have to become a little Macchiavellian because when the topic of patriotism is usually considered, it is done from an emotional perspective; but in order to find out if patriotism helps or doesn't do so for your survival, particularly in urban or combat scenarios, we will have to get rid for a moment of our feelings to try to see the matter objectively.

We have demonstrated in other essay (see the Suggested Readings section of this page) that a given government may turn against its own people and does not necessarily act in interest for the common good. In some cases, governments put in motion policies that are of such nature that turn the state in an enemy of the people and vice-versa. This is not a minor detain because if in a war another country would eventually act in a way oriented towards causing harm to the people, a government that turns against its citizens ends up being qualitatively the same or similar to a foreign enemy willing and capable of causing suffering and even death to the inhabitants of the state in which it governs. Seeing this from another spot, a government may use the genuine and noble patriotic feelings to attain ignoble goals; in other words, governments may use patriots as "useful idiots."

Thus, far from suggesting that patriotism is an inherently bad thing, in order to save it, it is indispensable to question what it is and how is used. Is it genuine? What is it being used for? Patriotism is not necessarily to follow government leaders but to follow a nation. Thus, if a government turns against its nation, it becomes patriotic and necessary to turn against that government. A good example of this leadership dynamic is given to us by history; During the second world war, as the situation became clear in 1944 and German strategist already knew that they would be eventually defeated, Erwin Rommel, several officers and other people conspired to assassinate Adolf Hitler by putting a bomb in his "Wolfschanze." Rommel as well as those military officers, some of which had been seriously wounded in combat, fighting for Germany, were doubtlessly very patriotic but evidently, not blind followers of Hitler. Marshall Rommel thought that with Hitler out of the scene, Germany could avoid unconditional capitulation and further death and destruction.

The problem of patriotism is that it is a feeling and that implies that there is a good proportion of irrationality in any patriotic feeling. In this regard it can be put at the same level as an ideology or religious belief without even making any qualitative analysis of is meaning. So, since there are religious people that believe but do not go to church, then you have those that go to church and also religious fanatics, there are patriots that express their feelings in a fanatical way. That's not good; this form of patriotism is blatantly counterproductive.

Seen from the point of view of survival, patriotism as understood in our culture implies the possibility of immolation for the sake of the nation. In other cultures it implies the certainty of immolation, a sort of commandment to die in battle like it existed in the culture of imperial Japan. So, it is conceivable that one person can also be patriotic but with no desire or intention for immolation at all, and while the idea may sound awful for some, it is as legitimate logically speaking gas maybe commit immolation or surely do so, like the Japanese and our classic western culture dictated at least in the past.

We could now say that the patriotism that implies the possible, probable or sure death of the patriot for the sake of his country is a lethal sort of patriotism, while there is a non lethal sort of it that is equally valid and even justifiable in some cases despite common conventions on the matter: It would be for very little use for humanity to transform a genius in the arts or sciences into a suicide bomber no matter what the nature of the earthly conflict may be. Someone like Einstein is far more valuable alive than dead, not only for his country but to the whole planet and even if his death in battle would mean achieving victory. The reason is that after every battle, including those lost, there is still life and anybody else could do what this Einstein-turned-suicide-pilot could achieve in combat, while almost no one could achieve what the genius eventually would in peacetime. Thus, patriotism should be of the non lethal sort at least in some cases with a lot of moral justification behind the idea. This should happen at least when the value of the patriot exceeds a nation because in the end such self-sacrifice would be counterproductive for far more people than the nation that. Of course, would suffer the loss as well.

Besides this, survival as a concept implies getting out alive of difficult situations; maybe it doesn't come out to be possible and in such cases self-sacrifice may be the best choice for all in the group or tribe involved, like it happens when a pilot fins himself unable of bailing out of a terminally damaged aircraft in combat and decides to dive on top of the enemy. This happened even among U.S. pilots during the battle of Midway. The norm, however, should be that there is and there cannot be any sort of suicidal commandment because it is contradictory with the idea of surviving.

Combining these ideas we could say that a government may put the country it represents into a messy situation that is not justifiable, but by abusing the good will of people by propaganda means, patriotic people might get deceived for quite a while, and believing that they are serving their country they end parching up things for faulty leaders. Such is a moment in which thee nature of patriotism may be changed for good if survival is desirable, because no matter what is being said, dying for others is in vain unless the act by itself would serve to end some sort of genuine apocalypse but it is hard to honestly imagine one. A good patriot usually follows his government because it is his legitimate representative and the lawful administrator of the nation, but once the government turns against that nation it would be suicidal and totally contrary to both the individual as well as social survival to continue following. Moreover, it would be anti-patriotic.

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