Living Out Loud: : Speak Up!

Defining patriotism

Jan 18, 2006 at 2:06 pm

I was watching the proceedings in Congress on C-SPAN after U.S. Rep. John Murtha said the Bush administration purposely deceived the country into war and recommended a complete withdrawal from Iraq. Don't get me wrong. I'm not the kind of person with nothing better to do than watch congressional proceedings, but it was like the WWF Smackdown. These old white men in suits were yelling and pounding their podiums, and I thought it was going to come to blows. I turned to my husband and said, "It's about time!"

Sometime around the Hurricane Katrina fiasco, the Democrats must have grown a spine, and it's time everyone else on the Left grows one as well. The conservatives have been allowed to decide how American morality and patriotism should be defined, and dissenters are afraid to be labeled immoral or unpatriotic, so they won't speak up.

Patriotism is wanting your country to be right, not self-righteous. If you feel that your country is behaving badly, and you don't speak up, only then are you being truly unpatriotic.

Morality can't be found in a book; it's found in our hearts.

Saddam Hussein was an immoral dictator who killed 15,000 to 20,000 of his own people. No argument there. However, since the first Gulf War in 1991, we're responsible for the deaths of about 100,000 Iraqis. We don't need anyone's Holy Book to tell us that we better have a damn good reason to impose so much pain and sorrow on a population; and judging by the ongoing investigations in Washington, it's looking like we didn't have a good reason at all. If your country is killing thousands of people for no good reason, and you don't speak up, only then are you being immoral.

An even larger problem than current definitions about patriotism and morality, however, is the etiquette of polite conversation. "One must never talk about politics and religion." And why not? Because you might persuade people to think? Do you know why it's so rude to induce thinking? Because deep down, most people would rather not; and left to their own devices, they won't.

Polite Conversation Rule No. 1: Never talk about religion. This rule makes perfect sense. Talking leads to thinking, and religion is incompatible with thinking. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure thinking is a sin. You're supposed to have faith. Don't get me wrong. I tried to be religious for a long time, but I was certain that the things they wanted me to believe had to make sense on some level; and unless you're willing to accept "because the Bible tells me so" as an answer, you will be less than welcome at Sunday school.

Polite Conversation Rule No. 2: Never talk about politics. This is my favorite rule to break, because you'd be amazed how quickly a well-placed political quip can reduce a group of well-behaved grown-ups into an uncivilized howling mob.

My proudest moment was when one of my literature classes was discussing the cultural taboo of glorifying death. (The basic premise behind Death Metal goes back further than you think.) My friend and fellow non-conformist, Mary-Katherine, said that she wouldn't have a problem if her kids got into something like Goth culture because she could at least be satisfied that they were being thinkers instead of followers.

Not to be outdone, I commented that the only thing that would arouse my concern would be if my kids were like some of the kids I knew in high school who wore Confederate flags on their shirts and carved swastikas in their desks. Pleased that I had everyone's attention, I explained, "I'd be afraid they might grow up to be Republicans." The initial cheers were almost as satisfying as the angry roar that followed.

Okay, I'll admit that the basic premise of both these rules is that you shouldn't talk about subjects that upset people. But why are the rules set up to chastise the person who wants to talk? Why is the person who brings up a political issue the one who's being rude?

Why can't we make the rule, "Never get upset when talking about politics?" The premise would be that talking and debating political issues will help everyone think about them in a more meaningful way, and anyone who gets upset is hindering the process of rational thought and being rude.

Let's face it. The rules of polite conversation aren't going to change, so let's resolve to stop being polite. Did our country win its independence by being polite? Did the North ask the South to kindly consider freeing its slaves? Did we win civil rights and women's suffrage by shutting up and getting in line? No! So why bother believing in something to begin with unless you're willing to speak up?