Afternoon InquisitionSkepticism

Afternoon Inquisition, 3.20

Hello everyone! Today, I’d like to talk about patriotism:

Is patriotism logical? Does it make sense to have strong support and pride in a country simply because you were born (or have a passport from) there? And, since patriotism is often the harbinger of more dangerous ‘-isms’ like nationalism and even jingoism, should we, as skeptics, encourage patriotism? Show your work, please! :)


Maria D'Souza grew up in different countries around the world, including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Kenya and it shows. She currently lives in the Bay Area and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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  1. Being proud of where you come from and/or live is natural for humans. I think it probably stems from back in the day when loyality was important in protecting the castle or whatever. You know what I mean, right? Because I’m half asleep here.

    Still, I wonder if we even need patriotism anymore? I could see how it was once useful, but our world is so different now — do we really need such strict lines any longer?

  2. Ehh, patriotism in and of itself is fine. But it has some really narly side effects…

    Now, let me say that logically, no, patriotism is not logical. But, in reality, are any emotions logical? Think Spock.

    Now, it does have good parts. I have a connection to the south, I’m Arkansan. I feel a connection to the Clintions, Little Rock, Mike Huckabee, and all things Arkansan. This means that I want Arkansas to do better. I support it. I want Arkansas represented properly. I hate hearing bad things coming out of AR, such as the leader of the Arkansas Democratic Committe got shot in his office, or the anchor got beaten to death in LR, or the babysitter who gave kids windshield wiper fluid.

    Now, the really narly side effects. I don’t particularly care for Missourians. If Arkansas and Mississippi went to war, I’d totally support AR, and here locally, I might have to go after MS supporters. Put this on a national scale, and you create organized discrimination, genocide, and wars. I firmly believe this comes from mob mentality.

    You being patriotic is fine. Y’all being patriotic is a problem.

  3. Why do you throw in, “just because you were born there”? I think some countries are more worth supporting than others, regardless where you were born. I dread the day when all peoples agglomerate into one political system, because governments too often go bad. Then, where do we run to?

  4. I think Pride in your home country is important, but maybe not simply because of an “accident of birth.”

    I think of Babylon 5, and Londo’s plot with Vir to overthrow what he saw as a corrupt leader as an fictional example of country before individual leader. In real life, our freedom to call George W. Bush a Ding-Dong, or incompetent president is something that makes me proud to be in this country. The freedom to redress the government, democracy, other ideals make this country great.

    Taking a stand to improve your country, say in one where the Taliban is active, a feminist fighting against that repressive dogma is taking a brave stand for the improvement of her/his country. Blindly following the Taliban, giving up on ideals, just because they are in power may keep her “safe” but that is not patriotic.

  5. Patriotism makes sense logically and evolutionarily. If your clan hangs together each member of your clan has a better chance of passing along their genes. Attitudes such as patriotism help with the clan cohesion. Country is just clan scaled up.

  6. To borrow a phrase, skepticism and patriotism have about as much to do with each other as a fish and a bicycle.
    We have senses, feelings, and thoughts.
    Senses are how we perceive the world.
    Feelings are how we experience the world.
    Thoughts are how we understand the world.

    Skepticism is a subset of thoughts, wherin we try to build our understanding to be consistent with independent objective observations, rather than with our feelings of how things should be.

  7. I have no problem with being proud of certain aspects of what a nation stands for or what a nation has done as long as there is an allowance for the not so good things in the discussion. I think the US constitution is an amazing document with great governing principles which has been a very positive thing more often than not.

    Patriotism without honest reflection is a pathetic endeavor however.

  8. It might be a product of evolution. People (and animals) naturally feel protective, to varying degrees, of those that are: in their immediate family, in their extended family, in their village, from the same region, of the same species, look similar, speak similarly, etc. Protect your genes, right?

    So an this kind of instinctual way, at the species or clan level, maybe it is logical.

    In the modern world? Maybe also.

    Do you believe that everyone should pull their own weight? Should we watch out for our own families and pitch in to help our neighbors? Or should we ignore our family (let the government support them), pull up root and follow the money around the globe to the latest boom town? There is plenty of middle ground, but I think patriotism comes from the place where you try to help your own.

    That’s when patriotism is good.

  9. No Patriotism makes no logical sense whatsoever. Here’s why:

    1. All opinions are subjective. If you say I’m proud of my country’s stance on, say women’s rights, what you’re really saying is “I think my country is succeeding in the goals that the current culture of my country has set for itself”.

    I’m sure a Talib, if asked, would explain that he was proud of the achievements of the Taliban. It’s all relative from one country to the next as to what each local culture has decided as important. I’m sure, had things turned out differently, Himmer et al would have felt pride at Die Endlosung.

    So you can’t be proud of anything you’re country has done, in effect you’re just saying “Yeah us, we’re the best”

    All the stuff people say about Democracy and FreeSpeech only applies if you believe in external eternal truths (and if you believe they are those), which is fine and dandy, however the “immutable truths” view of the world out you in the same class of thinking as religious people, you’ve just chosen a different immutable truth to them.

    2. How can you be proud of “your country”? For most people it’s just an accident of birth. If someone said they were proud to 6’2” or proud to have blue eyes you’d think they were barking mad, since they had no control or say in the matter. It isn’t like you had list of comparitive factors of all the different countries and eras to choose from is it?

    How can you say “I’m proud of the Constitution”? You didn’t write it. You didn’t amend it. You weren’t even asked to give input on it! All your doing is spouting propaganda you’ve heard so many times you’re saying it without thinking-Duckspeak

    Rather say “I’m pleased to be English”

    If you have any national pride at all, it’s simply luck that you happened to be born where and when you were with a splash of “Aren’t we great?” that all countries have.

    Believe it or not, some Americans think they have the “best” army in the world when every Brit/Frenchman/German/Russian knows that the British/French/German/Russian army is clearly the best

    Long story short. There are no “Platonic” truths to measure your country against, so everyone thinks there country is the best, and they can’t all be right

  10. I have double citizenship, so if Italy and America ever go to to war and both draft me, they’d have to split me down the middle pit the halves against each other. Patriotism!

  11. It’s perfectly logical to feel pride in the achievements of any group to which I belong, whether that’s my family, school, company or country. I can be patriotic while still acknowledging everything that is good in other nations and recognising that my own countrymen commit injustices in my country’s name. Blind, unthinking patrotism is a not patriotism but bigotry.

  12. It’s fine to be proud of your country, about what it has achieved and what it stands for.
    But being proud of your nationality I never understood – as you said most of the time it just signifies the place you or your parents were born at.
    But maybe that’s just me as a German, where national pride is very much frowned upon….

  13. To me patriotism can be exemplified by the hackneyed phrase, “My country, right or wrong.” Now before some of you get your knickers in a knot, it says right or WRONG.

    Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we don’t. It is still my country. Don’t any of you feel even a little proud when the Coast Guard makes a dangerous and daring rescue. Or how many of felt a swelling of pride for the firefighters, cops, etc. who braved the burning Twin Towers.

    Pride in one’s country doesn’t have to come from one’s own personal accomplishments but also from our collective ones.

    When our country is wrong? Centuries of racial and gender discrimination…the war in Iraq…the internment of Japanese Americans! No, these are not things to elicit pride. But, dammit, it is still my country and I share in our collective shame as well. It behooves us to work like the dickens to correct the situation when we get it wrong.

    Is patriotism logical? I dunno…but maybe necessary.

  14. Mark Twain once said that patriotism should always be for your country, and your government when it deserves it. Too many people do not see the different between a country and a government. Pretty much every country in existence today has gone through a period of terrible government.

    I do love my country because of what it stands for. I love my country because we set these incredible lofty goals and try so hard to reach them. We often fail (slavery), but by God sometimes we succeed (the Abolishment Movement). But certainly, like anything, patriotism is an emotion that can be mis-used.

  15. @russellsugden: So if you live in a country governed by nasty, cruel, despotic, and oppressive jerks it would be fine to not like that country and want something better for your fellow citizens who share your oppression. If said oppressed citizen were to rise up and help form a reasonable governance and model that governance after the principles of another country then all following generations could not be proud of this ‘new’ form of government because they did not take an active part in it’s formation as their birth was only a genetic accident ?

    If by patriotism we say we like the country we live in (subjective assessment or not) then that is illogical. Then the other side of the coin must be equally illogical and disliking the country one lives in must be just as illogical.

    Or did I miss something ?

  16. @russellsugden:

    1. All opinions are subjective.
    Emmmm, and experiences are subjective as well. So what? The photons impacting my eyes are different from those impacting your eyes, which means that patriotism is wrong? I don’t see how! :-D One thing is what is right, another thing what you consider to be right, and yet another thing what you do. When you belong to a country which does what is objectively right by the highest standards of knowledge available (i.e. science), then you indeed can be proud of it beyond subjectivity. That’s just as good as you can get. Some countries don’t do that, so you can feel proud that your country has chosen reason instead of fanaticism. If, as the success of civilization shows quite inevitably, Freedom of speech, for instance, is good for a society (regardless of whether Taliban think the opposite, you have proof that you’re right just by looking at the relative success of your respective societies -I hope nobody thinks Taliban societies are a model to follow!-), then you have reasons to be proud and be patriotic about a country endorsing that value. Even objectively speaking. It’s not about “immutable truths”, as you put it, but about the facts. No need to be platonic (though it’s better if you are ;-), you need only to be an empiricist.

    2. “””How can you be proud of “your country”? For most people it’s just an accident of birth.””” Come on, that’s a strawman and you know it: you’re not patriotic about the hospital or house you are born at, but about the higher values associated with a given country/company/brand/school. I am also a Ford Mustang patriot.

    3. “””How can you say “I’m proud of the Constitution”? You didn’t write it. You didn’t amend it.”””
    Because of the same reason you can be proud of your son’s success: even if you haven’t won the match, you are happy for someone you live with and to whose success you have also most probably contributed somehow. So you’re proud about chains of events, which can go as far back as they happen to have originated. But you definitely can.

    4. “””Believe it or not, some Americans think they have the “best” army in the world when every Brit/Frenchman/German/Russian knows that the British/French/German/Russian army is clearly the best”””
    Yes man, but when the time comes to do some actual fighting you have USA saving the asses of European countries in WWII and Bosnia, fighting terrorism in Afghanistan, helping Israel and battling also on Iraq. How many French troops are there in any of those scenarios? There are many things not to like about USA, but USA’s army is, objectively speaking, the best (as far as I know, of course).

  17. I don’t want to engage in the etymological fallacy, but I think part of the problem people have with “patriotism” is the patria, “the fatherland.” Patriotism implies that the citizen (or subject) is the child, and the country is the father.

    Patriotism, in this sense, is a relic of the age of sovereigns. (“L’Etat, c’est Moi!,” as some Louis or other put it.) I think it is dulce et decorum to love one’s country, but as citizens of democracies, we should love our country as we love our children, not as we love our parents. That is, we should show our love of country by being responsible for its well-being, and for trying to shape it into something better than ourselves. (But then, go reread Philip Larkin’s This Be the Verse in this context, to figure out how we got here.)

    I once tried to come up with a term to describe this, and how it differs from patriotism, and the best I could come up with was “filiotism.” The problem is, if you say, “I’m not a patriot, I’m a filiot,” it sounds like you’re saying “I’m affiliate,” which is just wrong.

    (This is quite possibly the smarty-pantsiest comment I’ve written on a blog, and this isn’t even Crooked Timber.)

  18. @russellsugden: Oh, and another thing: you say patriotism is illogical because being patriotic would mean one thing for Americans and something very different for Talibans. That’s true, but that’s not illogical (actually, it’s the opposite which would be illogical: Americans who defend their values are patriots, while Talibans who defend theirs are not? Nonsense! Patriotism is abstract for the particular values about which you’re patriotic, since these are determined independently by the relative level of development. The question patriotism asks is: do you like those values? And, well, of course! :-D)

    So, your objection as to the illogical character of patriotism seems to me to be inaccurate. Patriotism is not illogical, it’s tautological, which is precisely always logical (e.g. rains, ergo rains. The same for patriotism: you’re an American, ergo you like being an American. Pure logic, I would say, at least if your point was precisely the necessity associated with the subjectivity of the concept of patriotism.

  19. a skeptic is not a patriot. A patriot cannot be a skeptic.
    We can love ideals– the constitution – the ideals, but far be it from me to think our founding fathers, who allowed slavery, are to be held on a pedistal. Far be it from me that the son of a former President who wasn’t elected became a president (oh, and his dad was also head of CIA – our KGB) — and we can be a shining light. That same President who allowed torture,
    No – I’ll be a skeptic first, and love the ideal, and hold the country to that standard.

  20. The “right or wrong” idea you present is taken out of context. The full quote: “My country. May she be always right. But my country, right or wrong” spoken by spoken by American naval hero Stephen Decatur meant “I would prefer to fight for my country when it is right but I will also fight for it when it is wrong”.
    That is, in my humble opinion, nuts. If my country is wrong, I, too, would fight. I’d fight my country until it was right again.
    Disclaimer: Not “fight” as in “take up arms”. As a general rule, I don’t kill people. It’s just this hangup I have.

  21. Patriotism. What a very poignant subject and something that I have thought long and hard about. What is patriotism? I mean, it sounds silly to even ask the question, but it’s valid. I think we all kind of have our own understanding of patriotism, don’t we? I think, however, that it boils down to love, support, and devotion to one’s own country in some way or another. I know how trite it sounds, but for those of us that identify as American, think back to September 11th, 2001. Remember how you felt right then? When the gravity of what happened sank in? I certainly can’t speak for everyone or anyone here, but I felt like I had been personally wronged even though the people killed were complete strangers to me. That is what I identify as patriotism, my country was attacked in the most sinister, evil way I could imagine and it struck me very personally.

    Flash forward 3 years and we’re mired into two wars, one of which was initiated under false pretenses. Our civil liberties have been shredded by our own congress which passed and renewed a bill called the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act” which makes the convenient acronym of the USA PATRIOT Act. We are holding prisoners indefinitely, justified because they are “enemy combatants” and not prisoners of war. If one of those guys doesn’t give up the goods, we have a word for what we do then as well – Rendition. We ship them off to a country where torture is OK in order to get the information that we suspect they hold. The President was taking more and more liberties under the guise of Executive Privilege. And there I was, a soldier in Iraq. In fact I was in Kuwait awaiting to move north into Iraq when Rumsfeld gave his famous “you go to war with the army you have” comment. I didn’t feel very patriotic. In fact, I felt pretty goddamn hypocritical and more than a little sickened.

    See, when you enter the service you take an oath, and the very first line is to solemnly swear to uphold the constitution of the United States, from all enemies foreign or domestic. It became apparent to me that the biggest enemy to the constitution was the Commander in Chief and a significant portion of congress. But even THEN, many of my fellow soldiers were fiercely patriotic, believing that what they were doing was righteous.

    So now I see a system where patriotism has been abused and used as a means to an end. Certainly, I think our new Commander in Chief is a great deal more honorable, but the face of congress is essentially the same, as is the Supreme Court. It’s hard to be patriotic when you are truly disgusted by your country’s leadership and recent abuses of power.

    So no, I don’t think of patriotism as logical. It may very well be human nature, but I see no logic in it. Do I love my country? Sometimes I fucking hate it, but I will still defend it with my life. How logical is that?

  22. Sorry – didn’t actually answer the question.

    Patriotism is not logical because it asks individuals to value something which has no intrinsic value (an arbitrary set of borders). Everything within the border is “us”; everything outside the border is “them”. There is no logical reason to assume “they” differ from “us” in any significant way. In fact, I’m a boring middle-class WASP living in SE Michigan with sizable black and middle-eastern populations. Another 10 miles is Windsor, Canada. Which population is more like me?
    Patriotism, racism, facism… they all push our “I’m afraid of things that are different” buttons.

  23. Taking pride in something doesn’t mean that you worship at it’s alter or never question it. It can also mean that you hold it to high standards and that it’s capable of meeting those standards.
    I think my condemnation of torture is US military prisons is patriotic.
    I don’t think it has much to do with “logic” but it makes sense to take pride in where you’re from.

  24. @SkepLit: Yes it was taken out of context but merely because that is the popular expression. However, as you rightly say Decatur was indeed a naval officer and hero. And in that context his statement is 1000% true.

    As a naval officer he had to do his duty as a member of the armed services whether or not he agreed his country was right or wrong.

    If you were in a similar situation and, decided to “fight my country until it was right again.” you’d be spending a long, long time at Portsmouth Naval Prison if not swinging from a rope.

  25. I believe a certain amount of patriotism is culturally determined. We tend to look on slightly bemused as Americans, hand on heart, tears in their eyes , stand immediately and in unison at evert given opportunity to sing the National Anthem. We’re patriotic too, but it tends to be more of a laid back sort of excersise, a motley giggle about “wide brown lands” and something about “girt by sea”. The down side to serious U.S. patriotism, from an outsider’s perspective, is the isolationism it engenders. Skeptical thinkers may not see it, but how many average Americans on the street could find Melbourne ( or Australia) on a map?

  26. I dunno, I’m proud of things like being “Scottish”… a long time ago! In fact the family got our butts kicked out of Scotland. We landed in the US and had to be indentured servants. I guess I have an unusual hatred for the British Royal Family (which is oddly German? I can’t follow it all) and am supportive of Scottish rights (yes I’ve donated money). In our family there is a diary of a relative that served in the Civil War where he recounts the family having been indentured servants and coming to America against their will, which is why he was proud to serve with the North in the Civil War. He felt a real kinship with the slaves of the South. Another relative was a physician (talk about woo, I think all doctors were pretty woo in those days) with General Washingtons staff. Once again, the family story is he was glad to kill as many British as possible.

    So even down to today, with our family donating money to a few reputable Scottish nationalist groups, and perhaps in a good way influencing our choices (like being against slavery and you know kicking British ass), we still feel in some small way “Scottish”. I’ve got the old clan badges up in the hallway, and even know the stories of the rivalries (Campbells were a bad lot). I even convinced my French ancestry husband to learn Scottish country dancing with me. (He liked it and it’s traditional for the French and Scots to intermarry).

    All good fun these days though, but if I had a chance to push Prince Charles in the Thames I would. Talk about woo!

  27. @marilove: Still, I wonder if we even need patriotism anymore? I could see how it was once useful, but our world is so different now

    I think it’s a common form of optimism to believe we’re evolving past our less virtuous ways.
    But I doubt it’s true. We’re still the same human beings. Modern men are still capable of being tribal and superstitious just as cavemen were probably capable of compassion , invention and imagination.
    Evolution endowed us with these traits in the first place. I wouldn’t assume it’s about the take them away.

  28. As much as we gripe about how our nation is being run, we gripe because we live here, and it affects not only us but also our neighbors. For this reason, we love it enough to gripe and not give up or leave.

    Wanting to protect something close to you is a good idea. Eve if we stop calling it patriotism, it’ll pick up another term that means the same thing.

    Also, I don’t think patriotism gateways to nationalism, I think they’re two completely different things. Sadly, nationalism gets branded as “patriotism” by some very crummy people in this country. It’s a long read, but George Orwell did a much better job than I ever could in capturing the difference of patriotism and nationalism:

    Good question.


  29. I’m kind of split on the patriotism thing. I like being an American. Many of the ideals that the FFs put forth as moral, even though they severely limited their application, were a huge leap for the world. That being said, I have been very disgusted with my country at many times during my life. During the first Gulf War, I would taunt my coworker with a lighter under his flag. I wanted to print my own bumper sticker with an upside down flag that said “Proud…Not yet!” For more than a year after 9/11 I would show my respect for flag wavers by seig-heiling every American flag that I came across. It was hard because I was constantly giving the Nazi salute, wherever I went. My friends were very confused. My wife and I even talked about moving to Canada. I couldn’t seriously make such a move, though. Despite the problems with this country, I don’t think I could live any other place.

  30. I don’t understand patriotism. To me its too much like saying you agree with everything your country does, or infering you’ve “earnt” to be born a particular place.
    I think you should be proud of who you are, so long as you act like someone you should be proud of. Who really cares where you were born, what ethnicity you are, or what your phenotype is. Its not like you did anything to choose or earn those bits, so to me those things seem irrelevant.

  31. I disagree with almost all of you and partially agree with davew.

    From a historical, evolutionary, and genetic standpoint, patriotism is entirely logical. It provides a mode for extended clan bonding other than direct relation, (eg. it allows for group cohesion even in population groups in which everyone is no longer related but is likely to have strong genetic similarities), it encourages cooperation amongst members of the bonded group against threats from ‘other’, and it therefore leads to a greater likelihood of ‘success’ for the group overall. This success then provides for a higher likelihood of any individual member of the group being able to successfully propagate his/her genetic seed forwards into another generation.

    A more pertinent question is, “is continued patriotism logical in the modern world”?

    For this question, I think there are actually two answer modes. One is a ‘at the individual level’ answer, and the other is a ‘at the species level’ answer. My personal feeling is that at the individual level, patriotism no longer makes logical sense. If I’m born in Cuba but am given the chance to take my family and go live and work in Germany; well I’d be mad to not take that opportunity. However, I have known people who have turned down that exact opportunity because of a misplaced sense of patriotic obligation to their home country. He made this decision even though his, and his families, situation would have been demonstrably better in Germany than it was in Cuba.

    At the species level I’m not so sure though. In support of patriotism is the fact that it does seem to foster increased competition between clans/nations, (and competition of a sort that can create actual selection pressures, like war, or economic driven food shortages and such). An argument could certainly be made that this helps make the species stronger. On the other hand one has to wonder if we are getting into a ‘crabs in the bucket’ scenario where the constant infighting of our species, (often driven by things like patriotism), is more detrimental to us than not.

  32. Patriotism is simply the latest extension of our expanding idea of family. Mankind started out with a biological imperative to care about our family. From an evolutionary standpoint it makes sense to give a crap about the success of a family member, even when they drop the ball. Since then, we have taken this very pragmatic emotion, and started to expand it. The extended family. The clan. The first nation of clans. The city. And now the most common large group people care about is the nation. In the end, these are important because they are steps on the way to caring about humanity as a whole. When everybody on Earth is part of your family. Short of some catastrophe blasting us back to the stone age, or even wiping humanity out, we will eventually get there. And then think about the possibilities when we don’t have to spend all the time and effort and money and wisdom that we currently waste on international conflict.

    Besides, patriotism will never be logical. It’s not about logic. It’s not about reason. It’s about love. When you succedd, you are proud. When they stumble, you want to help them up. When they screw up you want to help set them right, no matter how disappointed you are in them.

    Howard mentioned the etymological root of patriotism is “patria”, but he mistranslated. It’s not “fatherland”, it’s “father”. And this is appropriate. We are the children of the nation’s past. And we are the parents of the nation’s future. To feel pride in the legacy we inherit means that we’ll care what happens to the legacy we leave behind us after we are gone. And caring is never a bad thing in the long run.

  33. Patriotism is logical in the sense “I understand why it exists” but it is a dangerous sentiment. Fortunately here in Canada (come join us, fatherdaddy!) patriotism is generally seen as kind of embarrassing, like enthusing too much over Battlestar Galactica in public.

    Most of the “patriotism” you see here is really anti-immigrant racism of the “why can’t they just learn to speak English?!!!!!” kind.

  34. I’m opposed to patriotism in the same way s I was opposed to the idea of rooting for my high school’s sports teams and other teams. One’s nationality is usually just an accident of birth, and few of us get to choose it, so it makes no sense to take pride in it any more than it makes sense to be proud of being blond and blue-eyed. I think immigrants might be allowed a little patriotism because they have chosen their nationality and actually have a basis for a claim that their adopted country is better (for them) than any other.

  35. I don’t really understand patriotism, but here are a couple of things I will just say anyway:

    @Skepthink: You’re proud of your country but not the hospital you were born in? It’s a matter of context. If you found a list of people who’d risen to prominence and the hospitals they were born in, and you matched the most celebrated, there would be an association there, a basking-in-reflected-glory pride.

    @others: Is anyone proud of crocodiles?
    What if aliens invaded and brought their crocodiloids and ours could beat them up? Proud now?

    @last: I can’t believe that in a thread like this, with supposedly rational people, there are actually comments about who has the better army. From my perspective, I think all armies are basically crap, but can’t think of many criteria which would raise the US army to anywhere near the top. Come on.

  36. Patriotism as simplistically defined in with the question “strong support and pride just by accident of birth” is pretty much all bad.

    You should care about your country and be willing to work to keep what’s good and change what’s bad, but encouraging unreflected worship of perceived ideals is bad.

  37. @

    All opinions are subjective.

    I’m not sure what to make of this. In more than a simply trivial sense of course it isn’t the case. Many more than a single person may hold the same opinion and the opinion’s truth value may be true or false.

    If you say I’m proud of my country’s stance on, say women’s rights, what you’re really saying is “I think my country is succeeding in the goals that the current culture of my country has set for itself”.

    I don’t think that’s true either. It’s not merely an epsitemically subjective fact that, say, equal rights for women is a Good.

    A car is a car because we agree it’ a car – we fill it with gas and drive it on roads. You wouldn’t dream to wander around claiming that it’s a matter of subjective opinion that the object is a car.

    Similarly, there are be institutional social facts that spring out of a social intentionality and are not merely subjective opinions.

    I’m sure a Talib, if asked, would explain that he was proud of the achievements of the Taliban.

    And a thousand lunatics might decalre a banana to be an apple and they’d be wrong.

    I’m sure women practising female genital mutilation on their daughters in Somalia might claim they were doing the right thing according to their culture but the thing they are doing is still wrong

    I’m put in mind of General Napier’s response to the argument that suttee (burning to death the widows of dead husbands on funerly pyres in India) was normal cultural practice. He said:

    You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours

    Cultural reltivism is a curse of Western liberals.

    So you can’t be proud of anything you’re country has done

    Yes you can.

  38. I see you have simply swapped “God” for “Truthm, Justice and the American Way” in your thinking. You’re a hairs bredth away from talking about “evil”

    There are no external truths, no right and wrong, it’s all relative. If such a thing as “Goodness” exsists then why have some many people had so many different interpretations of “Good” across the ages and in different places?

    Belief in “good” and “evil” is a hang-over from the middle ages

  39. @russellsugden:

    Truthm, Justice and the American Way

    As I’m British that’s a tad unlikely but don’t let the facts get in te way of the possibility of making a reasoned response, will you…

    There are no external truths, no right and wrong, it’s all relative

    Ahem. Attend one class on Feyerabend did you? Here’s an instant refutation for you. Step out in front of the next speeding car you see. I have a prediction as to what will happen.

    If such a thing as “Goodness” exsists then why have some many people had so many different interpretations of “Good” across the ages and in different places

    If such a thing as cars exist how come cars have changed so much over time and place?

    You’re completely missing my point about institutional social facts not being merely epistemically subjective.

  40. @James Fox: If you think them bad then you could be justified and of course it depends on what you think to be the best form of government.

    The Saudi royals think they have the best form of government for saudi (if they thought democracy was better they’d have introduced it!)

    Being proud of events you took no part in, is being proud of your football team winning the cup when you were a mere spectator. Now with historical events that you had no hand in, you’re merely a different kind of spectator (albeit in a far removed part of the stadium)

    Thats not to say you can’t be pleased that something happened or took place. I’m pleased the French Revolution took place, I’m pleased Newton discovered The Calculus, I’m pleased Britain abolished slavery in 1808.

    I’m not proud that those things happend, I had no input nor impact on them. I can be no more proud of them than I am of the weather today. My only logical recourse is to be either pleased, neutral, or not-pleased. Anything else is bluster

    I agree with you about it being as illogical to feel anti-pride in your country as pride. Of course you can feel “not-pleased” with the history of your country or the current governments actions. E.g. I’m not pleased that Britian (the country I was born into in an immgrant family was a slave trading nation, but I’m not ashamed of it. I didn’t do, I didn’t profit from it, it had nothing to do with me. I’m not-pleased it happened and it would have been better if it hadn’t, but to be ashamed? I might as well be ashamed it rains 9 months a year in Britain.

    Of course I am ashamed that when I was 12 I punched my sister, I am proud of any papers I write that get published, I’m proud of my batting average, I’m ashamed of my bowling average.

    I can be proud of what I do, I can only be pleased with what you do

    I have a sneeking feeling you are suffering from “Everyone wishes they were americans” syndrome which a lot of americans have. Do you think people in Malawi go to bed wishing they’d been born in the USA? (hmm, as an american you probably do, that was a poor question)

  41. @cloudsoup: Well I’m a Chemist and I don’t know who Feyerbend is. But I’m going to look him up now.

    I like the Cars analogy. Of course you’re assuming different relative speeds. At “normal” speeds (ie not near-light speed) if one object impacts another the “felt” impact is relative to their speeds. e.g. a 100mph car hitting a tree is a bigger deal, a 100mph car comming into contact with a 99.99999999mph car is only a slight tap

    Also, the reason cars have changed so much over such a short space of time is because there is no “perfect” car (or if you take a step backward, mode of transport) out there, yes there are some parameters that are optimal for current needs and these are conserved across makes/models/time such as a place to sit (but even that has changed and is likely to be as different again in 100 years), but the fact that virtually no part of a model T-Ford survives unchanged in a modern car suggests that there is no perfect car to be had

    And if you look at modes of transport, then walking, sailing, flying, trains, cars, sedan chair, vans, piggy-back, trucks, horse, rik-shaw, horse drawn cart and so on have all at one time or another been thought to be “the best form of transport” it’s all relative to time, place and conditions.

  42. @russellsugden: I think you’re being quite wilful now, even as you agree there are some objective truths (caluclations to be made about cars travelling at speed, for example).

    There just are institutional facts – for example, our agreement about money, what it is, and the fact I can buy bread with it – that are not ontologically subjective. The fact that a 1 euro coin is a 1 euro coin with all that entails is not a matter of subjective opinion but it’s not a fact inherent in a lump of metal either.

    Social facts are facts that appeal to a collective intentionality and are not merely subjective. Female genital mutilation is wrong, for example.

  43. There are two kinds of patriotism. Patriotism in oppressed nations is a path to national freedom. Contrarily, patriotism in independent nations serves very often to justify oppresive big governments.

  44. @russellsugden: I don’t think relativism denies determinism. Different things can be good given different circumstances (relativism/subjectivity), but only one is the best under the same set of circumstances. As measured according to the criterion of standards of living, USA ranks pretty high, whereas other countries rank lower, and you can be proud of that, definitely.

    Obviously, each country is high or low depending on their circumstances and can be relatively in the same place, but you cannot be possibly denying the fact that the richest person in USA is richest than the richest person in Somalia on “relativistic” grounds, because that is not relative at all (or, for that purpose, that living in USA is better than living in Somalia). No matter how relative to each country, in absolute terms there still exists a difference, and that’s what you usually compare. Otherwise, you couldn’t compare anything! :-D

    For sake of honesty, I must also say I think this time I agree with [email protected]cloudsoup

  45. Patriotism is something I am nervous about as an Australian.

    Australia used to be like Canada in that patriotism was frowned upon. We would mock other nations’ overt displays of flag waving.

    Unfortunately, things are not like that any more. I’m not sure if it started with the “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi” cricket chant or with Howard’s appeal to the ugly elements of society dressed up as ANZAC pride (or something else altogether), but it has gotten ugly here. I don’t know if I am being overly sensitive, but it scares me.

    Flags hung from balconies, the Cronulla riots, Australia Day ugliness, t-shirts admonishing anyone who doesn’t drink beer or speak English to Get the F*** Out of Australia.

    Am I harking back to the good old days too much? Rose coloured glasses? Can a fellow Australian rebuke me if I am?

  46. @russellsugden: I, also, have to agree with cloudsoup. It appears you are just being stubborn and somewhat evasive, (shifting which point you are engaging with tends to get spotted here). Additionally, I’m not sure what you being a chemist has to do with anything.

    I”m an engineer. Yay for me. Back to topic.

    First, your key point,
    “There are no external truths, no right and wrong, it’s all relative. If such a thing as ‘Goodness’ exsists then why have some many people had so many different interpretations of ‘Good’ across the ages and in different places?”

    Cloudsoup has already made some good points relating to this, but I want t address you point directly. I think it is an invalid point of the form ‘conclusion’, supported by, ‘non-evidence provided as evidence’. I’ll demonstrate with an equally silly statement backed up by equivalent support.

    The world is clearly flat and the perception of it’s roundness is a myth perpetuated by the powerful. If the world really is round, then why have so many people throughout the ages believed it was flat?

    See, just asking a stupid question doesn’t provide evidential or logical support for your position.

  47. Addressing the original question – patriotism as logical or not.

    First, I would posit that emotions are never logical. They are part of the internal, biological, punishment and reward system, most of us are hard-wired with thanks to evolution. That said, many of them make clear logical sense from an evolutionary standpoint.

    The evolutionary positioning of patriotism has already been mentioned several times, (and broadly ignored), but I won’t run through that again. The main discussion in the thread, however, seems to be over when it is and is not ‘logical’ to feel pride in particular actions. Pride is then being used as a proxy for determining the validity of patriotism.

    I’m not sure I agree with this approach to addressing the logical soundness of patriotism as I don’t think that ‘pride’ is all that patriotism is about, but I will acknowledge that it is a major component.

    Accepting, for the moment, that it can ever be logical to feel pride, then we are immediately presented with more than just two cases. There is pride in actions performed by self, pride in actions performed by ones family unit, pride in actions performed by ones ‘team’, etc… Effectively, I think all cases can be put into one of three groups: Pride in self, Pride in group, Pride in other. Any question of ‘validity’ for pride must first then determine if any of these cases are valid. The general consensus seems to be that ‘Pride in self’ is valid, and that ‘Pride in other’ is not valid. However no discussion of ‘Pride in group’ has been explicitly made.

    To address patriotism, I think we should be considering ‘Pride in group’. This case is very different from the most commonly presented, ‘Pride in accident/other’ case being presented in this thread, (for instance here by PeteSchult).

    Yes, patriotism at the national level as evidenced by the craziest people out there is threatening to those outside the group of the crazies, but that alone doesn’t make it illogical.

    Separately, why is consideration only being given to the nationalistic level of patriotism? What about patriotism for ones state? Ones town? The soccer team one plays on?

    At the smallest level, I posit that patriotism makes absolute sense. If I’m a goalie, then I have every right to feel strongly about my teams successes and failures. I have every right to feel ‘pride’ in its wins even though I’m not scoring any of the goals. In my view, this tends to support the idea that ‘Pride in group’ shares at least the same validity that ‘Pride in self’ has. A valid next question would then be, “When does the group become to large for ‘Pride in group’ to reasonably apply?”

    Similar to a soccer team, a case can be made that if I live in a small town, I have every right to feel ‘proud’ and even a bit patriotic about my town. It succeeds or fails on the combined efforts of all of us who live there, (including me). The case for ‘pride’ in ones state gets more difficult though, even more difficult is the case for pride in ones nation.

    As the size of the group grows, the connection of the individual to the success for failure of the group become more and more tenuous and the positioning of any ‘pride’ one feels slowly shifts from ‘Pride in group’ along the path to ‘Pride in other’.

    I do not, however, think that this necessarily invalidates Patriotism itself.

  48. I love my country and defend it, at least verbally, when others disparage it. According to my dictionary, that makes me patriotic. It seems logical to me to want what’s best for my country. As a citizen of that country, I benefit when it’s doing well, even as someone who may never live in her country again. It also benefits many of my friends and family.

    I don’t think my country is the best ever or that the government is infallable. I have never thought that patriotism required such beliefs, but apparently some of the commentors have that impression.

  49. @MoltenHotMagma: I said i was a chemist because I had no idea who Feyerbend is (I still don’t but I’m going to look him up)

    I didn’t shift my point. I’m pretty sure there is a difference between moral concepts and ‘real’ concepts. The idea of the earth being round is really about how well you understand reality as it exsists.

    Whereas an ‘idea’ such as “good” or “right” does not exsist independent of the human mind. Rival “moralities” cannot be compared like rival scientific theories as they do not describe some exsisting external phenomena.

    Patriotism falls within the sphere of “concepts” whereas celestical mechanics fails withing the sphere of “testable tentitive theories”.

    Are you really saying that in the past cultures’ ideas about “good” that differ from current ones were simply their failure to grasp the what “true good” is and that some people today have, by virtue of having more information, understood the reality of what “good” is? If that were the case then the concept of “good” would never change as we’d have figured it out.

    However, as I’m sure you know, 150 years ago people thought they’d figured out what “true goodness” was and assumed it’d never change!

  50. @cloudsoup: While you and I think FGM is wrong. There are some people in the world who not only think it is not wrong, they think it is right.

    Had you and I been born in the correct circumstances WE might think it was right as well.

    It’s only because of our background and what we have been conditioned to believe is right by the society we have been born into that we believe it to be wrong.

    If aliens landed how could we pursued them of the incorrectness of FGM?

    As for money. Well, plenty of tribes and “primative” peoples had no concept of the value of money until europeans arrived. Money is not intrinsically valuble, we had to learn (as children) what it is and how it “works”, unlike, say, water which does have intrinsic value no one had to teach you how important it is.

    And don’t the values of currencies change relative to one another on a daily basis? Sometimes 1 euro is worth more and sometimes less? And doesn’t the purchasing power of a currency change over time, bread gets cheaper or more expensive? Isn’t then the value of that 1 euro coin subjective? You can sell it to one man who thinks its worth $2 or another who thinks its worth $2.50 can’t you?

  51. @russellsugden:

    Let me try another tack.

    If your pov is correct then each culture can be judged only on its own terms, its mores and norms. So you can’t oppose on moral grounds any practices that are norms in another culture. You might, admittedly, find some practices distasteful in the way you might dislike olives. But you can’t say they’re wrong.

    Now aside from having to dispense with a prefectly good set of words – good, bad, right, wrong – I have a suspicion that you don’t really believe this.

    I have a suspicion, in fact, that you do, when you’re not arguing here, think it’s right that men don’t beat up women and that we don’t stone to death homosexuals.

    Now it might be that your position is actually correct and a consquence of it is that we can’t object on moral grounds to a cultural practice of gassing Jews.

    Myself, I think there’s something wrong with the argument if you find yourself coming to a conclusion that seems so … wrong.

    Then I’d start thinking all over again.

  52. @russellsugden:

    Money is not intrinsically valuble, we had to learn (as children) what it is and how it “works”

    But its value isn’t only a purely subjective matter. In fact, it couldn’t be money if it was.

  53. @russellsugden: “I didn’t shift my point. I’m pretty sure there is a difference between moral concepts and ‘real’ concepts. The idea of the earth being round is really about how well you understand reality as it exsists.”

    Yes, you did. Right here. The fact that you seem to have returned to it in no way nullifies your wasting time trying to invalidate cloudsoup’s analogy instead of addressing the fundamental question that it posed. (By the way, just to keep tabs for later in this post, I have just identified a ‘Red Herring’.)

    “Whereas an ‘idea’ such as “good” or “right” does not exsist independent of the human mind. Rival “moralities” cannot be compared like rival scientific theories as they do not describe some exsisting external phenomena.”

    (Still keeping track here, this one was a ‘Bare assertion Fallacy’ if I remember correctly, though I suppose it could be ‘Begging the question’).

    You keep doing this. You present a conclusion, then you base a position upon it. How did you reach this conclusion. Particularly, I strongly disagree with your statement that, “Rival ‘moralities’ cannot be compared like rival scientific theories as they do not describe some exsisting external phenomena.”

    Most people would say that, “Thou shalt not murder”, is a moral position. Same with, “Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet….” and so on. I would say that each and every one of those explicitly addresses an existing, external phenomenon. I’ll even stick my neck out a little and posit that every single ‘Moral’ system out there can be described by the positions it takes on such clear events. These actions exist, the larger societal impact of their group acceptance or rejection results in measurable social dynamics and events, and the results of such differing systems can be directly compared as both a logical exercise and ob served in the ‘real’ world.

    “Patriotism falls within the sphere of ‘concepts’ whereas celestical mechanics fails withing the sphere of ‘testable tentitive theories’.”

    I call bullshit until you present something other than a conclusion statement as your entire argument. Great, you have taken a position… whoopee. Now support it instead of just repeating it over and over again hoping that questions about it will go away.

    “Are you really saying that in the past cultures’ ideas…”

    What is this, are we playing logical fallacy bingo? (and you all wondered why I was keeping track)

    You won’t directly answer challenges to your position with answers that address the challenge, you seem to think that a conclusion doesn’t need logical support of how it was reached, and now you are setting up straw-men in an attempt to show how great your position is and how poor mine is.

    Do I win a prize if you give me a couple more? Do I get to count your ‘Argument from repetition’ fallacy or do I have to stick with the ‘formal’ fallacy’s to get my ‘bingo’?

  54. @cloudsoup: “Myself, I think there’s something wrong with the argument if you find yourself coming to a conclusion that seems so … wrong.”

    First, I want to be clear. I am in no way supporting the positions of russellsugden, he hasn’t presented a case for them yet.

    That said, I question your above statement. When I follow the logical course of something and the resulting conclusion seems ‘wrong’ I do three things. First, I re-examine every step of my logic looking for any errors. Second, I seek outside assessment of my logic. Third, I examine my assumptions, (founding premises upon which my logic is based).

    If my assumptions are determined to be valid, and my logic is demonstrably true, then the resulting position has to be strongly considered, no matter how ‘wrong’ it at first seems.

    I have had this happen multiple times with my calculations for expected dynamic behaviors in mechanical systems and invariably my math was right and my gut was wrong. I am not, therefore, prepared to discount such an approach just because the systems being discussed are social instead of mechanical.

    I do agree in advance, however, that social systems are subject to many things that are not readily quantifiable and as such ones ‘gut’ is often a good indicator of a missed factor in ones logic.

  55. @cloudsoup: Yes, it feels wrong. In the same way that Quantum Physics feels wrong.

    I don’t think it’s right to stone women to death, but I know that I am a product of my upbringing and a million social interactions that have imprinted on me a concept of “right”.

    Had I been born in a different time or place, I would have had a different life and a different outlook. The distance from my own time and place traveled would doubtless increase the distance between the outlooks.

    I might feel something to be right, but I don’t KNOW it to be right, (that is the logic of the religous: “I feel Jesus, therefore he must exsist”) in the same way that I know 1+1=2.

    At some point you have to be honest and admit that while you’d like certainty about the eternal correctness about your beliefs, that, in fact, like all the other shmoes who ever lived you’re just trying to figure it out as well as you can and no one has the monopoly on moral “truths”

  56. @russellsugden: Let’s remember where we began.

    You said that all opinions are subjective.

    Now that’s simply incorrect, isn’t it? In the same way that, say, minted coins have meaning as money that’s institutionally, not subjectively inscribed, so opinions – and values, morals, ethics, whatever – are not merely objective.

    The impetus to describe as only subjective something that very obviously isn’t subjective is a fear of asserting confidence in aspects of your culture; a refusal to admit progress; an unwillingness to describe some values and ways of life as more desirable, better, good.

    I suspect there’s a tremendous liberal terror of being suspected of a sort of racism, a hangover from colonial guilt maybe. Of course, racism is the one Bad thing that liberals will agree is objectively Bad.

  57. @russellsugden: I appreciate your semantic parsing as some agreement on language and meaning is the essential foundation for any reasoned discussion.

    I however remain disappointed in the French Revolution and to a much greater degree the Spanish Inquisition.

  58. @russellsugden: Is it that you are a “hard materialist” who sees any subjective assessment or concept as a fringe derivative of simple and complex chemical reactions? I would essentially agree with this position, but also say that we have to deal with the perceptions of reality we are confronted with, and that assigning meaning and value to these experiences and perceptions is a normative process and essential to the long term survival of the species.

  59. @russellsugden: “@cloudsoup: Yes, it feels wrong. In the same way that Quantum Physics feels wrong.”

    This is a clearly false analogy. Attempting to lend respectability to your position by ‘linking’ it to a known valid position. I’m pretty sure this counts as another logical fallacy, but I can’t remember for sure so I guess I don’t get my ‘Bingo!’ yet.

    You also attempted to shift your point again, but cloudsoup already called you on this.

    Interesting, by the way, that you haven’t attempted to muster any disagreement with my previous post to you though.

  60. Hmmm… I also see that I forgot to mention that Quantum Physics doesn’t ‘feel’ wrong to me. So there is another problem with the unstated assumptions made.

  61. A lot of people confuse patriotism and nationalism. A succinct comparison I like is: “patriotism is the love of one’s country; nationalism is the love of one’s government”.

    With that in mind, I think it’s a very useful thing for people to love the country they live in, and to show that love openly (such as by displaying its flag or national emblems). If we avoid the trap of nationalism, patriotism can drive us to be more involved in making our country a better place to live.

    I consider myself patriotic. My patriotism is a reflection of my belief that the basic principles under which our country was formed are sound and desirable. That patriotism motivates me to speak out when our government attempts to quash free inquiry (one of the bases, IMO, of science), or to torture suspects, or what have you.

    As a side effect of my patriotic display — e.g. properly displaying a flag, and so on — people tend not to dismiss me so quickly when I speak about gay rights, free speech, disestablishment, or other matters of importance. They find it a lot harder to argue that I’m “un-american” (though some assholes do anyhow).

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