I’m going to make a shock confession here, something that will make the older generation grimace, the Tories gasp, the Kippers rage and just about anyone else go misty-eyed with astonishment; I don’t consider myself a patriot.
Of course, I love living in the UK, I think it’s a fabulous country and I’m well aware of just how fortunate I am to live here but I still have a problem with blind allegiances to states – mostly because they spread division rather than unity it presumably seeks to.
A patriot is someone who is fiercely proud of their country, whilst it’s not as strong a sentiment here as it is in the US, where patriotic propaganda is an all pervading inevitability, there is still a hearty following in the UK. And really, why is that? There are those who would rather identify as English, Scottish or Welsh rather than British, those that are vehement that their ‘nation’ is better than the others and vicariously, their citizens too. In reality though, a nation is just a line on a map, these borders don’t actually exist in a physical capacity. They are man-made, forged, phony, fictional, and trivial. A person does not suddenly mutate as you cross the border from Chester in to Wrexham. Nations mean nothing – or at least, they’re not worth being haughty, patronising or antagonistic over.
There is then a demand of patriotism to assume that everyone collected under one umbrella of national identity shares an innate commonality; a shared history and a shared future – but we don’t. Just because our experiences of life may be closer to those in the same nation doesn’t mean we’re all the same or even remotely alike. In the UK alone, there are hundreds of different socio-economic demographics, am I to really assume that I share more commonality with Sharon, the fascist homophobe from Sunderland than I do Christophe, the French gay liberal just because both of our mothers happened to give birth in the same imagined outline? Am I to adopt the historic on-goings of the nation I was born in as my own? If I were to visit Buckingham Palace, would I become the King? No, I don’t think so.
I know thus far this article looks like a very asinine gripe with much of the population’s ideals but bear with me, I do have a point. Now, the thing is with patriotism is it’s open to misuse, on one hand it can provide a sound basis for a durable, embracing sense of identity and at the other it can be a highly combustible fuel that sparks a raging fire of jingoism. To me, it makes more sense to actually be proud of your locality, be proud of the area you experience, one you can directly see your contribution to and one you can directly influence rather than a political territory you will experience very little of in your life. I experience my home town but I know nothing of Huddersfield for example, I can’t adopt a faux pride of a place I know nothing about – what if that community’s values are at odds with mine? I can’t shirk them that responsibility just because of the common land mass we share, to make it easier for the nation’s politicians to target us in one fell swoop.
In fact, that’s all patriotism really is, it’s a feel good political tool that gives the nation a camouflaged whiff of bias toward the incumbent government, that’s why there is always so much gusto about ‘British attitudes’, ‘British culture’ etc. Again, this still seems like a very flimsy article until we come to discuss what patriotism can lead to – and that is a misplaced entitlement, a belief that this country belongs to a certain type of person or should be governed or experienced a certain kind of way. This attitude doesn’t stoke unity but division for those not willing, or not able to commit to ‘British values’.
In fact, it’s arguable that my issue is not with patriotism itself but with nationalism. Whilst I don’t think patriotism should be considered a mandatory virtue, that would induce incandescent rage in Little Englanders should anyone deviate from it, nor do I think patriotism should be used as a bargaining piece for electoral success, it’s ugly sister nationalism is what breeds the real hostility. Nationalism in this country has arrived once more in many different forms. Politically, civic nationalists the SNP and regular nationalists UKIP are on the rise as they seek to preserve the autonomy of their imagined lands. Whilst the English Defence League and Britain First adopt a brutally negative approach that disenfranchises anyone who doesn’t physically replicate what is expected of a person born in ‘their’ illusory land, and as a result we leave a sub-section of Britain, young Muslims, very susceptible to powerful propaganda that too offers them a place in the Jihadi ideals of the ‘nation’ of Islamism. That’s what nationalism has caused in this country, evil, fascist, authoritarian brutality on two fronts, on opposing sides, intent on using violent means to purge the other from the land, that’s the cost of being boastful about the mythical expectations and entitlements of one’s ‘nation’.
Simply put, that is the real issue of patriotism, it teaches difference, division and a tribal mentality all based on the simple accident of birth. Sure, go ahead and cheer on England at the next World Cup, go berserk when Team GB scoop gold, silver and bronze in Rio next year but don’t use patriotism as a disguise for something fouler. Perhaps it’s time we focused less on what human inventions divide us and realise that removed from our very own conceptualities that we all belong to one nation of commonality – humanity.