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November 22, 2017

I Was Born Here, So What


Photo by Joaquín Martínez | CC BY 2.0

I’m not a patriotic person. I am of the belief that the geographical location of my birth was pure circumstance. Therefore, any feelings I have for said place lie in the fact that it is where my parents happened to bring me into existence. The topography, scenery and beauty I find in the land of my birth has to do with those attributes and nothing to do with the people who govern it, the military they tell me defends it or the flag they say represents it. If I had been born in Russia, China, Guatemala or any other place on the planet, my affinity for that place would be the same. In other words, it would be primarily related to the nature of the land itself, not the nation the territory happened to be named. Just as the map is not the territory, neither is the nation the land.

Does this mean I have no use for the history of the nation I live in—the United States? Or that the politics and culture of that nation have not helped shape my worldview? Of course not. Simultaneously, those aspects of this place I was born have also not made me blind to its faults. Nor have they led me to believe this particular land and nation are any better than any other. I admit when I was younger I believed in many of the myths the nation maintains. Indeed, they informed the way I stood when the national anthem was played before a ball game and the hand I placed over my heart when I said the pledge of allegiance. It wasn’t that I necessarily thought what I called my country was better than the others I knew about. It was more like I did not think it was bad in any way, shape or form.

Then, I started reading the newspapers. The US president was murdered in Dallas. There was a US invasion of an island in the Caribbean in 1965 to depose a guy who had been freely elected. There was a growing war in some country called Vietnam with aerial bombing and more troops killing women and children. There were riots in Los Angeles and other cities by Black citizens that were brutally put down by angry policemen with guns and tanks. Men fighting for the rights of Black citizens were gunned down. The murdered president’s brother was murdered. People were holding large protests against the war in Vietnam and the cops were attacking them too. The mythology of this nation I lived in that was so carefully taught to me and my fellows was shown to be just that—a mythology. It was a mythology that was not holding up to the reality I perceived. The cognitive dissonance was not mine alone. It was shared by millions. The guardians of the myth struggled to reverse the dissonance. Their power depended on such a reversal.

The crisis known as Watergate furthered the crisis. Faith in the myths that make up the nation, and the nation itself, was plummeting even among those whose belief in both was as deep as the faith in their gods. The mythkeepers went into overtime working on the means to stop the bleeding.

Watergate and its aftermath was manipulated into proof that the system worked. Richard Nixon, one of the American nation myth’s most fervent believers—and a man who subverted the system to preserve it—was deservedly sacrificed for the sake of the myth and the nation it maintains. A certain malaise ensued only to be replaced with a miserable media creation they called Reagan’s Morning in America. The rebuilding began. There was an invasion of a small island in the Caribbean to replace a popular leader and a series of conflicts in Central America that claimed to be fighting Soviet communism. Black people were once again cajoled and coerced into their assigned roles, albeit in a less despicable manner. Hollywood and the rest of the mythmaking machinery went into overdrive telling this nation’s white people how wonderful and free they were. Life was wonderful for those in the loop. The political party of the Leader was tangential to their role as national cheerleader.

Still, too many citizens felt a disconnect. The patriotic fervor was not at the desired pitch. A war against another bad guy was launched and tens of thousands were killed in the unfortunate land that was its target. Iraq, being easier than its neighbors to abuse, was abused.

Then came the events they call 9-11. All bets were off. Patriotic bleating became nationalistic braying. It was backed up by an angry attack on a war-ravaged nation in the Himalayas. Freedoms we were told are what separates from the other nations were abridged and destroyed in the name of freedom. Fear became the dominant emotion in politics and diplomacy. Fear of the other; the other religion, the other skin tone, the other political philosophy. The merchants of fear celebrated by creating more fear.

I still felt no connection to the pathos of this nation I resided in. For me, the myths it uses to maintain its collective ego were no longer part of my perception of how things are. I felt no anger at the perpetrators of the carnage in New York and Virginia on September 11, 2001. I still have no anger, only sorrow for all the lives wasted in its wake. For them, it doesn’t matter what they killed and died for. To them, nation is meaningless.

So yeah, I was born here.

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