Loyal, Not Patriotic
I watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics, with all its talk of patriotism and pride and it left me wondering why it is I don’t feel patriotic at all about the country in which I was born and raised. Suddenly it was mentioned how multi-cultural London is, how there are over 300 languages spoken in various communities and how the many peoples of London on the whole live well together. I thought about my decision to move to London, to go to University, and I remembered what it was that most attracted me. It was that cultural diversity, that openness, the constant chance to meet and meld and learn. The myriad countries and counties, states and faiths, non-faiths and ideas, that live and work and sleep and dream in London are what made me want to move.
I feel very loyal to the country in which I live. I feel a responsibility to my environment and to the people I share my space with. That means paying taxes, not avoiding them. That means discussing how the borough, the town, the county, the country and the world I live in can become a better place for everyone who breathes the air in our atmosphere.
I do feel pride. I am proud of the athletes, of the volunteers and of the workers whose hard graft has earned them a place at the Olympics and whose tireless efforts have helped create the arenas in which the 204 countries will compete on equal footing. There is too much wrong with the organisation of the Olympics such as the ticketing, the funding, the imposition in every way on the ordinary citizen, for me to feel proud of the Olympics without question.
I can’t relate to feeling patriotic. To me, patriotism is a form of blind faith. It blinds people to the problems in the country and silences any meaningful dialogue with regard to reform and social progress. That doesn’t mean I am not proud of the history of the country into which I happened to be arbitrarily born. I am proud of our inclusiveness and very long history of multi-culturism, but not of the discrimination and prejudice that goes along with it. I am proud of the innovation and intelligence, but not of the class and economic systems which stifle those not lucky enough to be born into families which could nurture their innovation and intelligence. I am proud of the tradition of rebellion and protest which has formulated our country, but not of the oppression and suppression of the voices of dispute which deny democracy (such as it is).
I’m proud of some, because I am born into the country in which ‘some’ occurs. I am ashamed of other, because I am born into the country in which ‘other’ occurs. Some and other are defined by individuals, and will vary. To feel pride and shame in anything my country did not and does not have a hand in would feel as if I was appropriating cultural and historical experience and understanding that I, as a person born in England and of partial Scottish heritage, could not lay claim to. My pride in the achievements of others not of my culture is there, but is different. It is a pride in the work of other people and groups, of the striving and strength of the human condition and of the creativity in achievement that is incredible and admirable I should say, at this point, that I believe that anyone living in the same country as me is of the same country as me, although our culture, heritage and traditions may be different.
I am extremely proud of those of my country of birth who have created, achieved and striven for the advancement of society. But then again, the definition of what constitutes advancement is subjective. What I may feel proud of will not be what others feel proud of, what I feel is advancement will definitely not be what others state has advanced society.
I’m proud of the tangible. I’m not proud of simply being English or British, as that is a meaningless term to me, requiring definition and clarity. What is ‘English’? What is ‘British’? Why is it that in defining such ideals there is often exclusion of people who don’t fit? Why is it used as an excuse for racism? Why does it mean privilege and prejudice, rather than simply being historical and cultural information with no value judgement placed on it?
The English have a reputation for the stiff upper lip, for having a propensity to be inclusive and yet, conversely, being introspective and humourless. We have a reputation for irony and sarcasm. Apparently we have bad teeth and don’t wash often, and have appalling national cuisine. This is our stereotype, and like all stereotypes has some basis in historical truth but is so far distorted as to be a fiction.
British/English is always confused in our own minds let alone that of the world, to the understandable annoyance of the Welsh and Scottish. The United Kingdom is that which includes Northern Ireland, not Britain – again this is often confused; it is hard to know when one states one is patriotic where exactly it is that one is patriotic for.
I’m not patriotic to my country, which I choose to define as England rather than Britain although I am both English and British. I am loyal to the people with whom I live, work, love, socialise, politicise, and breathe the same air. This doesn’t change, hasn’t changed and I feel quite confident won’t ever change. Patriotism is unquestioning, and I am not. That is what patriotism means, to me, and that is why I choose to say I am not patriotic, but loyal.