If I have a political philosophy, I suppose it is to dislike the mainstream, the middle of the road and the conservative. And even the timid. Not a very robust or constructive view of life I grant you, but in general if the Daily Mail, the Tory party or Middle England like it, I hate it. And vice versa. On principle. One of those concepts I have always hated is patriotism.
But I have had some scary thoughts of late. I think I may be patriotic. There, I’ve said it.
Now the dictionaries seem to suggest that patriotism is about devotion to your county and suggest that true patriots will die for their country. I want to consider this for a while as it’s been bugging me. Let’s look at the UK – a very culturally diverse, vibrant and dynamic society. It seems to me that those who would typically call themselves patriotic are devoted to a version of the UK that has not existed for many years or indeed a vision that has never existed. Warm beer, capital punishment, white faces, heterosexuality and national service spring to my mind. So it may be fair to say that the devotion bit of patriotism in many cases is devotion to something that doesn’t really exist. Funny though, I do like warm beer, but I digress.
What about the dying for your country bit? Tricky territory, as there is always the risk of being accused of denigrating the soldiers currently dying in Afghanistan. Just to put that matter straight, I have huge sympathy for the families of those who lose their loved ones in military action and am angry for their losses. I also assume that they are as confused as I am as to why these men or women had to die. Do these soldiers die for their country? Is it an act of patriotism? I cannot see for one moment how some poor 18 year old squaddy being blown up in the sand is an act of patriotism. We do not need these guys to die and their deaths do not make us safer in our beds in the UK or improve our well being in some other way. These are simply lives burned on the bonfire of our politicians’ vanities. The soldiers are, to paraphrase a famous piece of graffiti in Belfast “ the unwilling, sent by the unqualified, to do the unnecessary for the ungrateful”. The Taliban do not pose a threat to our safety in the UK like Mr Hitler did, and it is devotion to the country that makes you a patriot. Not to the politicians of the day.
So where does this leave me? Well I have never considered myself to be patriotic, far from it in fact. But I am a bit worried as I really like the fact that in the UK
generally we are pretty tolerant of sexual, racial and linguistic diversity – you can be who you want to be
as a society we are aware that there is much more work to be done for real gender equality to exist
on balance the police and other organs of the state leave you alone most of the time
there is a high degree of freedom of speech and enough good people who will defend it
we have a functioning civil society with great traditions of volunteering and hands that go deep into pockets when there is a global natural catastrophe
we have a highly effective and free universal healthcare system.
In fact I feel bloody proud of these things. I am not being too rose-tinted about all this, I know the UK is not without faults, but my observations are based on years of travel and observation in countries where few, if any, of the above are a given.
So does being proud of these things make me a patriot? Maybe it does and in fact the recent attacks on so many of the UK’s freedoms, health provisions and liberal traditions are in my view unpatriotic. Attacks led by people who I am certain would consider themselves patriots. Confused? Me too. Would I die for it? Yes I suppose if it came to it, some of our values would be worth dying for. Not yet I hope as I fancy a warm beer.