Thursday, October 05, 2006

The National Fallacy

One of the most heavily-used rhetorical sleights-of hand is to equate a country’s government with its people. If I criticize the government, therefore, I’m “anti-American.” You may recall the words of the decrepit Jeanne Kirkpatrick: dissenters are the “blame America first crowd.” As if the state itself was America. This is known as totalitarian thinking.
At Crybaby Boosh’s Sept. 16 press conference, the commandant was asked about Colin Powell’s statement that “the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.” This is how he answered: “If there's any comparison between the compassion and decency of the American people and the terrorist tactics of extremists, it's flawed logic.”
Through the magic of totalitarian thinking, the United States government, the subject of Powell’s comments, has been magically transformed into “the American people.” And how dare you make a comparison between their compassion and decency, and terrorists?
We hear this kind of crazy-making rhetoric all the time. In the case of Israel, for instance, if I oppose their government’s military policies, I’m anti-Semitic. Or I’m against the very existence of Israel. The only rationale for such arguments is to avoid discussing any substantive issues, to permanently block meaningful debate, or keep it within “acceptable” parameters.
In The Need for Roots, Simone Weil made a compelling case for the complete separation of patriotism from the concept of nationalism. Patriotism is simple love for one’s land and people, including the people’s language and culture. Nationalism is an artificially created system of obedience to authority in the form of the state. The latter employs extensive symbolism in order to fix the attention of the people on authority, with a flag being perhaps the foremost example. Generally, the degree of reverence for a flag is in inverse ratio to the degree of patriotism, as surprising as this may seem. Flag worshippers are more likely to create enemies out of their fellow citizens, because their loyalty is to state authority, and if that means killing your neighbor, then so be it.
Patriotism is a natural sentiment. Nationalism is an indoctrination. Politicians, therefore, will always try to identify one with the other in order to confuse our minds and stifle dissent.

No comments: