Goodness and wickedness in the 21st century
Greetings from the west concrete tower at the foot of Mechanic Street. I have been inundated with guests all week, although I cannot fathom why they want to spend time up here among the cement dust and dried seagull feathers. The food is nothing to write home about, either.
In the middle of trying to be being sociable I took a call from a reader who said he generally likes to read my weekly nonsense, but sometimes thinks what I write is very silly. I don’t know why he thought that was an insight, as I have always agreed with this opinion.
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Another reader was offended by last week’s remarks on the way the political right often refuses to try to understand why so many of their fellow humans experience difficulty of all sorts in their lives, and instead puts it all down to personal moral failure. He felt I was talking about Republicans, although I did not use the word. The sordid truth is there is a good deal of Republican in me, just not the sort of Republicanism we see roaring around Congress like a bad conscience trying to talk itself down off the ledge. There is still in the country at large something of a more traditional (dare I say conservative?) kind of Republicanism, although these people rarely get the same attention as their more bitter cousins whose politics seem to express a quality of what can only be called disdain for others, and sometime even hatred.
From time to time, of course, the meaning of what it is to be Republican and Democrat has changed considerably. For example, the Republican Party was organized in 1854 in order to oppose slavery and stand up for a certain degree of civil rights. Lincoln was the first Republican president, and I dare say that Edward Kennedy would have been a Lincoln Republican in that era. Likewise, until somewhere in the middle of the 20th century the Democrats represented a type of rural Southern conservatism of a kind we now associate with more moderate Republicans of later years. How things have changed! How we keep forgetting how things have changed! How we keep forgetting to keep up with the changes!
Another point in my personal philosophy is that I am aware of the enormous difference between patriotism and nationalism, although I admit I was surprised twice lately when I mentioned the difference in conversations with other people who did not seem to have heard of the difference.
Patriots love their country in a reasonable way. They know it is not a perfect place by a long shot, but they see no reason not to love what is naturally good about their home and to put in some effort now and then to try and keep it that way. And because they are motivated by a generally healthy idea of love, patriots can also understand perfectly well that people in other countries can love their countries in the same way too. By contrast, nationalists are frequently motivated by a genuine dislike or even hatred for the other. They often dislike other kinds of people and other countries, whenever they think about them at all. They are even capable of disliking, even hating, people from their own country with whom they do not agree. They seem to seek their own strength from a sort of cocktail of hatred, envy, fear and bitterness, all aimed at making themselves feel good by believing almost all others to be bad.
You will not be surprised, then, to hear me suggest that one of our most severe problems today is that we have a growing tendency toward nationalism, and that the new American nationalists are deceiving themselves into thinking they are patriots. Hitler was a nationalist if you want an example, but I am not so foolish as to think nationalists are only found on the right. There is a manner of left-wing intolerance that amounts to nationalism as well. Like right-wing intolerance it is also a bitter and disdainful sort of creed. Likewise, there are obviously many patriots to be found among Democrats and Republicans.
Love, no matter how we express it, whether though individual relationships or in our social politics, (we all have social politics by the way,) is a constructive and optimistic thing, the sort of substance that nourishes a sane spirit and decent life. Love also leads, normally if not always, to reciprocation, i.e. a return of that love to the person who first expressed it.
Bitterness is a manner of the absence of love, and is filled usually by fear. It, too, is often reciprocated. People who are bitter, as nationalists are often bitter, are nevertheless deceived into thinking they do love. They love themselves, of course, and they also love those who feel bitter like them toward the same objects of hatred. But despite this semblance of love, it is a poisoned love.
This difference between patriotic love and nationalist love can be detected in people at all stages of being. It can be found within marriages or similar relationships. For example a man who beats and otherwise seeks to exercise control over his wife, yet who perversely insists he still loves here, is expressing the poisonous and inverted love of the nationalist.
Just look around you in the world today using this perspective of the two loves — patriotism and nationalism — and ask yourself where each example of the latest news seems to fit best. Then perhaps you will know something slightly useful about the difference between goodness and wickedness in the 21st century.
David Grima is a former editor with Courier Publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.