Over at the New York Times, David Brooks is paid more per line than you’ll probably see all year to proclaim the dire need for a restoration of patriotism:
“Because you’re online so much you probably saw the Wall Street Journal/NORC poll that came out this week. It found that the share of Americans who say patriotism is very important to them has dropped to 38 percent from 70 percent since 1998. The share who say religion is very important has dropped to 39 percent from 62 percent. The share who say community involvement is very important has dropped to 27 percent from 47 percent. The share who say having children is very important has dropped to 30 percent from 59 percent. . . . [Blah Blah Reagan Blah Clinton Blah Blah Blah] My greatest fear is that the latest renewal will be killed in its crib by the intractable forces of cynicism and withdrawal. [Blah]”
Brooks makes a mishmash of patriotism, trust, community, and all sort of stuff, but patriotism actually has a meaning. It means giving importance and affection to a nation. To any extent that people can identify with the world and with their local communities over and above the disastrous institution of the nation, so much the better. That only 38 percent of people in the United States say patriotism is very important is highly encouraging. National governments, and especially this one, are the primary threat to peace, environmental survival, and actual self-governance. A peace movement, by the way, that thinks it has to wrap peace in national flags in order to not make the absence of mass murder offensive to people, because of something that happened during the destruction of Vietnam, should pay attention to actual public polling.
Of course, one can read a great deal into simple numbers. I don’t know what each person thinks in detail when they think patriotism is not very important. Maybe they passionately believe that if they could consistently get lied to and screwed over by respectable Democrats instead of Trumpish buffoons then patriotism would be glorious. Maybe they only dislike patriotism because they’re generally misanthropic, ignorant, and simply lacking in the acquired wisdom of David Brooks, not having been around long enough to be publicly wrong about so many things for so many years. But it seems more likely to me that they’ve noticed that corrupt and cynical jackasses believe they’ll fall for getting scammed if enough flags are waved, that patriotism is principally a war marketing racket, and that the first refuge of a scoundrel remains patriotism. Brooks thinks they need to stop distrusting institutions and that doing so will revive patriotism. I think institutions need to start earning their trust, and that they’ll be better able to do so without toxic propaganda like patriotism.
Religion has dropped in the U.S. to 39 percent saying it’s very important. As with patriotism, the U.S. is slowly moving in the direction of many other countries, including European countries that have long had more sense of community, more trust in institutions, and much less patriotism and religion. People becoming wise enough to realize a flag doesn’t fix their problems or those of the planet ought darn well to be wise enough to realize that magical make-believe doesn’t help. This may actually be part of a story of greater community and trust; many people between 1998 and now have dropped various forms of bigotry. When that comes to include bigotry toward people from different religious backgrounds, then one is faced with believing that numerous contradictory fairytales are somehow all true or that none are. Of course, not going to church (and not crying during the paid-for patriotism prior to sporting events) can diminish a sense of community, but the same can be rebuilt more solidly outside of the instruments of division and infantile thought habits. Of course, many religious teachings are of basic morality, but the same can be taught by anyone.
The fact that community can be built outside of decrepit relics of colonialism and ignorance doesn’t mean it has been. Sadly, those who say community involvement is very important has dropped to 27 percent. This does not, of course, tell us whether anyone is kind, generous, loving, honest, intelligent, courageous, or anything else. It does tell us that something valuable is being lost. It does not tell us how to change that. One way to change it would be with honesty and kindness, would be telling people that we are in fact facing global crises and need to build global and local communities to address those crises, that we are confronted by rotten governments and oligarchs and need to take them on with the effective tools of nonviolent action, local government, cross-border solidarity, and the ability to see through David Brooks’ bullshit without in any way becoming the pathetic suicidal wrecks he might imagine that would require us to be.
Brooks laments a lack of importance on having children without mentioning that people know the Earth is facing an ever growing likelihood of environmental collapse and/or nuclear apocalypse, and without mentioning that it costs money to raise children, something fewer and fewer people have. This sort of tone deafness is, at least for many people, what drives the cynicism and withdrawal that Brooks fears. But it doesn’t have to. We can confront the cynicism of elected and unelected engineers of the current disaster train rather than becoming like them.