Friday, April 1, 2016

Why I am not a Patriot


“A world full of patriots may be a world full of strife,” wrote Bertrand Russell in his book Why Men Fight.  Patriotism assumes that one’s own country is superior to others.  Patriotism is like religion, Russell goes on to say.  Apart from the sense of superiority, it is also founded on a sense of self-righteousness.  The patriot believes that his country possesses the ultimate truths.  There are a few bloggers who have shot to prominence in the last few months – after nationalism became a pet theme in India – who vindicate Russell’s arguments.  There is no truth outside the Gita, there is no epic greater than the Mahabharata, and there is no greater religion than the Hindu dharma, according to these blogger-patriots.

My primary opposition to patriotism is precisely the blinkered vision on which it is founded.  It prevents one from seeing the bigger picture.  It withholds one from admiring what is good in other countries.  How terrible a loser I would be if I were to shut my eyes to the whole treasure that lies in European literature!  Yes, my best friends are books and I have found the best of them coming from countries other than my own.  I’m not saying that there are no good writers in India.  I’m saying that I have found my favourite writers outside the country.  Do I cease to be a patriot when I say that?

The kind of patriotism that today’s nationalists uphold would withhold a lot of treasures apart from books too.  There’s a whole world of music, films, arts, and so on that lies out there beyond my country’s borders and is fabulously charming.  Do I cease to be a patriot because I admire those great works?

Russell argues that patriotism is no different from the tribal feeling of “loyalty to the sovereign.”  Art, music, literature, and all similar creative processes lie far beyond the tribal feeling of loyalty.  That is why patriots find it hard to accept writers and artists who question certain loyalties.  And yet art and literature cannot be loyal to narrow concepts.  Creative thinking is essentially subversive, Russell says towards the end of the book mentioned above. 

Albert Einstein subverted Isaac Newton though the latter’s genius is still valid in science.  Socrates was killed because his philosophy was subversive.  The Buddha had to face opposition from the aristocrats of his time whose system he subverted.  Jesus was a subversive.  The most serious problem with patriotism is that it prevents free thinking.  Like religion, it makes fetishes out of national symbols and motifs.  It prevents us from questioning ourselves, our beliefs, our ideas, our smugness.  It prevents us from growing.  That is why I don’t want to be a patriot.  I want to be open to whatever is good wherever it may come from. 

I admire the Gita, the Mahabharata and the profundity of the Indian philosophies.  But I also admire Spinoza and Kafka.  Kazuo Ishiguro inspires me as much the Katha Upanishad. That is why I find it difficult to embrace the kind of patriotism peddled copiously these days.


12 comments:

  1. I 100% agree and ditto your views!

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    1. Happy to have solid support like you, Amit ji.

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  2. Russell said it so well. And you have made your point too. This needs to be said. I particularly liked your line ' Art, music, literature, and all similar creative processes lie far beyond the tribal feeling of loyalty.'

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    1. Those who can produce art, music, etc, or at least appreciate them, won't take refuge in patriotism!

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  3. Well said. A creative mind is a way beyond all trivial feelings. Be it fake patriotism or religion. I agree with all your points. Very nicely portrayed.

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    1. Unfortunately, now many writers are also taking political stands and thus losing objectivity. Gaining certain temporary victories has become the goal of many writers!

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  4. What is being commercialized as patriotism is sham. The feeling of pride for one's nation taking the form of ridiculous worship can only be a recipe for disaster.

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    1. Patriotism is another weapon, Sunaina. They are using it for subordinating certain sections of people.

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  5. Finally! A sane voice! Love the way you said it all sir :) I have been lucky to have been brought up in a family where everyone's opinions are respected. Even though my parents belong to different religions as well as always vote for different political parties,they have never created a toxic environment in our family based on religion or politics and I grew up thinking that this must be so in every family in our society *sigh* I have no issues with people having different opinions or even blogging about it, but the tendency to brand someone who doesn't share THEIR particular opinions as 'traitor' or 'anti India' is disturbing. I mean, why can't we sit down calmly and talk about our problems, why must we always blame, point fingers, curse and abuse? Especially on social media, so much of abuse and constant bickering and a rush to prove oneself as 'ultimate patriot', My gosh, look at me babble on and on :D Thanks Sir for a sane voice!

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