Apr 25 2010

On Being a Patriot / Political Ecology

This is a post I started writing–at least in my head–several years ago, when we had a different administration and different issues to argue about.  However, in spite of the stark differences between Bush and Obama, some things haven’t changed. For one, we still have a president who is operating on his own private agenda, in opposition to the wishes of the majority of Americans. Second, we have an administration whose spending has run amuck and is–to quote Savoy Brown–“goin’ down the road, like a hell-bound train.” Of course to be fair, Obama has out-spent Bush several times over, and to quote another famous train song by Jethro Tull, “… he stole the handle and the train, it won’t stop going, no way to slow down.”

And no, there will be no more musical train references in this post.

I have never been a flag-waver. I am a product of the sixties: I was very much against the Vietnam War, and was a confirmed pacifist until a few years ago, when I decided that yes, I would indeed shoot an intruder to protect my family (provided I had a gun–one of these days I’m going to buy a Glock 9mm and get a concealed weapons license, just because I still can). Until a few years ago, I thought it was uncool to be patriotic and somewhat sophisticated to be critical of the United States, especially in terms of foreign policy. However, I now understand that it is one thing to look at the U.S. critically and another to be actually anti-American, although admittedly is is often hard to tell the difference.

Political Ecology

While I continue to believe that the world is our neighbor and that we are global citizens, I also believe that we have a responsibility to our country, our state, our city, and our neighborhood imposed upon us by the sheer fact that we were born and/or have chosen to live here. As people tend to move around quite often these days, I can see being less committed to a neighborhood or even a state; but, most of us will continue to live in the U.S. for the remainder of our earthly days, by choice–and that brings with it a responsibility.

While some would argue that the mere chance of being born here creates a duty to the U.S.; however, we usually have no issues with obligations to families we are born into, and the majority of Americans believe we have a duty to protect our environment. Our country is, in a manner of speaking, another facet of our environment. Especially with our form of government–which I consider a major blessing, compared to other governments I know of–we have an opportunity to participate, to either help make things better or worse. This is what I am calling Political Ecology.

A friend of mine likes to point out that we are the government (especially when I criticize those in D.C.); to a point, this is indeed true. However, after the elections, we lose control for a time–until the next election rolls along. In between elections, we have out voices (and of course, our blogs and Facebook pages). We have been granted by our forefathers the right of free speech; a brilliant, yet brave move. Like our natural resources, this is a resource that we can choose to either use or ignore. Some prefer to pollute it, and I would argue we have the right and obligation to work to clean it up, just like our rivers and the air we breathe.

The Constitution – Rule, or “more of the guideline”?

Whatever our political views, I think most of us would agree that our Constitution is a great gift; I don’t claim that it is God-inspired, but at the very least, it’s a brilliant piece of work, and shows the evidence that those who drafted it were not ignorant of truth. There are those who believe it is “more of a guideline than a rule”–and that we have the obligation to amend it to match contemporary thinking (or else simply ignore it).

I would argue that to change it in any substantial way would be folly; the fact that we can even argue this point shows the great value of the Constitution. The discussion is one thing–however, that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be foolish to change it.  As GK Chesterton said, “To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.” To morph into socialism or other forms of government–as evidenced by any number of countries–would be to lose some of the basic freedoms we take for granted.  (Of course, we’ve already lost some of these freedoms in the Patriot Act and Obamacare that I’d like to see given back.)

The natural state of things is that they deteriorate, thanks to the Law of Entropy. That doesn’t mean we should let the earth go to hell; and neither does it mean we should let the political Crazy Train keep on going (okay, I’m sorry, 3rd train song reference…). For those of us who are Christians, this doesn’t mean that we have to vote Republican; it does mean that we should support those things which are good for the country and which don’t run contrary to Christian morality.

Legislating Morality

Why “Christian” morality? The answer, of course, is simply because we are Christians and believe that things that flow from the fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Gal. 5:22,23).” One major problem with trying to legislate Christian morality is that many Christians believe it is rooted in the Mosaic Law; in looking here, however, it is quite easy to get all law and no Spirit–a traditional problem for legalists everywhere.

The interesting thing is that most atheists (as well as liberals) I know would probably agree that a country that lived with patience, kindness, goodness, etc. as goals would be a good thing; and in fact, that is what they seem to say most of the time. The difference between conservatives and liberals is often not in what their goals are, but rather, how to achieve them. A conservative, it seems, wants to be compassionate, but do so in terms of a larger set of principles. For example, “If a man won’t work, he shouldn’t eat.”–meaning that teaching a man to fish is always better than giving him a fish. Liberals, it seems, would rather bend principles to conform to the immediate situation. (There are those, however who are opposed to the Fruit of the Spirit, and see that giving a man a fish creates a dependence on the giver, and suddenly an apparent generosity becomes an evil action.)

This is why I am a conservative; I believe that the principles of the Constitution as intended by the founding fathers saw a more encompassing storyline than what we typically see in the moment. Sometimes an apparently generous act is the perfectly wrong thing to do. Only in holding to larger principles can we guarantee that evil intentions do not subvert our goals.

Patriotism

Over the last several years, there have been some rather foolish statements made on both sides of the aisle about how is or is not a patriot. Hilary Clinton famously proclaimed during the Bush administration that to speak in opposition to the administration was not unpatriotic–and I would agree with her. However, now that the shoe is on the other foot, it seems it is a noble thing to try to silence the voices of dissension. But neither conservatives nor liberals have a monopoly on patriotism. However, when someone–no matter who–begins to speak or act in ways that would weaken the country, I think it is fair game to question his or her patriotism. It is not an ad hominem attack to challenge someone’s statements or position.

I think that regardless of our political leanings, we who are committed to living in the U.S. have an obligation to be patriotic–not in a “my country, right or wrong” kind of way (Chesterton also said, “‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.'”), but in an ecologically responsible way.  Then, we also have an obligation to help the country make wise choices about how to act in the world, because we, too, are global citizens.

Being patriotic is not because “the US of A is the greatest country that ever existed” or “God is on our side,” but merely because this is where we are. However, I am also very glad to live here. I’ve been in a few other countries–not many, but a few–and yes, I like it here.  I would like the economy to thrive, I’d like my kids to thrive, and I’d like to retire in relative peace. I like our religious freedom, I like the free market economy, and I like many, many other things. I also want us to be good, responsible world citizens, also living according to the above-mentioned fruit of the Spirit.

This also means that when I think that someone is acting contrary to these principles, I can be critical, just like Hilary said. In fact, speaking up is actually a part of patriotism. I can say that I think Bush took advantage of the post-9-11 fear when he created the so-called Patriot Act (which is not patriotic at all and should be repealed) and shouldn’t have invaded Iraq, and I can say that I think Obama is a socialist and a liar who is also taking advantage of economic fears to take away even more of our freedom (and money).  I not only can be critical, I feel obligated to be, by nature of my citizenship.

Whether liberal, conservative, or simply confused, I propose that we have an obligation to take care of what we have been given; to me, that is the foundation of patriotism.