Saturday, May 20, 2017

What Is Patriotism?

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- First, I want to read you something about our new president by Timothy Snyder, historian of Central Europe and the Holocaust:
What is patriotism? Let us begin with what patriotism is not. It is not patriotic to dodge the draft and to mock war heroes and their families. It is not patriotic to discriminate against active-duty members of the armed forces in one’s companies, or to campaign to keep disabled veterans away from one’s property. It is not patriotic to compare one’s search for sexual partners in New York with the military service in Vietnam that one has dodged. It is not patriotic to avoid paying taxes, especially when American working families do pay. It is not patriotic to ask those working, taxpaying American families to finance one’s own presidential campaign, and then to spend their contributions in one’s own companies. It is not patriotic to admire foreign dictators. It is not patriotic to cultivate a relationship with Muammar Gaddafi; or to say that Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin are superior leaders. It is not patriotic to call upon Russia to intervene in an American presidential election. It is not patriotic to cite Russian propaganda at rallies. It is not patriotic to share an adviser with Russian oligarchs. It is not patriotic to solicit foreign policy advice from someone who owns shares in a Russian energy company. It is not patriotic to read a foreign policy speech written by someone on the payroll of a Russian energy company. It is not patriotic to appoint a national security adviser who has taken money from a Russian propaganda organ. It is not patriotic to appoint as secretary of state an oilman with Russian financial interests who is the director of a Russian-American energy company and has received the “Order of Friendship” from Putin. The point is not that Russia and America must be enemies. The point is that patriotism involves serving your own country.  (From: On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, 2016)
- Our president is a bad guy and likely a traitor. What else is new?
- He might try a Fascist take-over. He spouts the Fascist program: the people are weakened, they suffer the incursions of a evil enemy, but he, not afraid to use violence, is the one the lead the the nation back to greatness. Hitler promised a government that would improve the material lives of his people, but his real goal was to embark on a race war in which Germans could purify themselves of the corruptions of ideas of sympathy, kindness, and cooperation the Jews had contaminated the whole world with. Our new president also claims to be interested in the well-being of his people, but he may have intentions similar to Hitler's of taking control of the entire government and ending the rule of law; and then, on the occasion of a terror attack, real or fake, embark on a program of conquest.
- And you worry Americans might become mass murderers like the Germans?
- I do! What's to stop Americans from becoming agents of terror to each other inside the country and mass murderers outside? Snyder has collected evidence that most of the Jews killed in the Holocaust were killed in the countries east of Germany invaded first by the Soviet Union then by Germany. Natives of the invaded countries were employed as killers, first in the name of protecting communism from its enemies and then in the name of protecting the Nazis from their communist enemies, the Jews. Mass killing doesn't seem to require belief, only requires willingness to use violence, identification with one's role in one's group, and characterization of the enemy as dangerously alien.
- The killers didn't have to be anti-Semitic?
- Not at all. Some were, but belief was not required. Any story could be told. What cannot be done without, is essential, is loyalty to one's place in the group, indulgence in violence, and discovery of enemy infiltration. The social psychologist James Waller argues* that situations satisfying those conditions can produce a mass murderer out of anyone, though some individuals are able to hold out longer than others.
- Then he excuses everyone.
- He says he doesn't excuse, that he is only speaking of probabilities. He explains the conditions under which mass murder can be expected, but individuals are still responsible. It's like he's looking out a window at people pass by: when this man is seen, this woman usually is too. He doesn't know the relation between, the reason for, the two observations being associated, which is perhaps that the man and woman are married. All that he has to suggest is that if we are authentic and responsible we might be able to better resist the demands of the group. But does this get us anywhere? Are we saying anything more than someone who can resist a group's demand that he mass murder is someone who resists demands of a group? We need to know how this linkage between character and deed comes about, the cause, not just the probability. We need to know what allows some but not others to resist the demands of the group. Do you have any idea?
- I have what it pleases you to make to fun of calling it my system or computer: types of behavior identified as either ethical or vain, based on Yes or No answers to whether there is awareness of self and world in action and rest.


 Ethical:
                                     action                       rest

self aware?                     Yes                           No
aware of world?              No                            Yes


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Vain:

                                    action                       rest

self aware?                    No                           Yes
aware of world?             Yes                           No



Ethical action aims towards ethical rest. Vain action aims towards vain rest. In moving from ethical action to ethical rest, we are aware of our self in movement. We can tell that story. In moving from vain action to vain rest, we are not aware of ourselves in movement, consequently we cannot tell a story. We forget the passage, and this forgetting is what allows for the claim to be reborn in ritual. The "combinations" of ethical action leading to vain rest, and vain action leading to ethical rest, are excluded, as the first allows only awareness of self and none of world, the other only awareness of world and none of self.
- Your behavior computer computes them to be insane: we need some knowledge of both self and world to assemble a relation of self to world. Without a consistent relation of self to world we go crazy.
- Yes. Risk of insanity provides a natural barrier to changing from ethical to vain.
- And vain to ethical.
- Yes. If you can stand something so simple applied to something so complicated, I'll go on.
- Go on.
- The mass murderer's behavior fits perfectly into the categories vain action and vain rest. Vain action is intoxicated, a self-unaware rush to change the world back to a form in which we felt more powerful: self unaware, aware of the world acted upon. The vain rest of the mass murderer is spent thinking of himself having recovered security through seeing himself in his power to murder others: self aware, world (outside of others murdered) unaware. Turn this upside down, and we get ethical action and ethical rest. Action: awareness of self in role, but a role played without fixed relation to the world, which is left unaware while it undergoes change caused by our role play. Rest: unaware of ourselves in awareness of being at home and secure in the beauty of the world. The mass murderer loses himself in a world that is defined as the object of his violence. Secure relation in one's role to the role of others in the group is what is important, not at all the world or any truth about it. Meaning is found in achieving that security, not in the truth of a story of one group's danger to another. You see the connection with the way our new president constantly lies and contradicts himself?
- He says what he thinks will give him power in the situation he finds himself in. Truth about the world is no consideration at all.
- Yes.
- Our resistance to becoming mass murderers is not a matter of probability, depending on the temptation of the situation and a vaguely defined authenticity and responsibility, but a question of whether we can maintain a clearly defined ethical character, a question of practice, of how we are in the habit of living. Resistance a not a question of society, of whether there is a rule of law. Mass murder arises in countries that have become stateless, and in one-party states in which the rule of law is absent, such as the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia. But strict obedience to law, if it is done unthinkingly, fits the description of unethical action. It is used in training soldiers to kill. In a state where rule of law reigns, the strictly obedient, when tempted by the fascist program, easily succumb, don't resist while rule of law is dismantled. Far from being a protection against mass murder, rule of law can be a preparation for it. Snyder tells the story of policemen who one day were directing traffic in Munich three days later were in the East marching Jews into the forest by the hundreds and shooting them.
- Avoiding becoming mass murderers is not a question of what kind of society we have, how far away from lawlessness it is. Rule of law will not save us. Avoiding mass murder depends on how individuals are in the habit of living, ethically or not. The question for us then is, How are we Americans living? Ethically? **

Further Reading:
The President's People
The Golden Rule & The Deviant Path
The Mathematics Of Consciousness
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James Waller, 'Becoming Evil, How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing', Oxford University Press, 2002
** Video: Noam Chomsky, On Being Truly Educated. Transcript: "My name is Noam Chomsky, I'm a retired professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where I've been for 65 years. I think I can do no better about answering the question of what it means to be truly educated than to go back to some of the classic views on the subject. For example the views expressed by the founder of the modern higher education system, Wilhelm von Humboldt, leading humanist, a figure of the enlightenment who wrote extensively on education and human development and argued, I think, kind of very plausibly, that the core principle and requirement of a fulfilled human being is the ability to inquire and create constructively independently without external controls. To move to a modern counterpart, a leading physicist who talked right here [at MIT], used to tell his classes it's not important what we cover in the class, it's important what you discover. To be truly educated from this point of view means to be in a position to inquire and to create on the basis of the resources available to you which you've come to appreciate and comprehend. To know where to look, to know how to formulate serious questions, to question a standard doctrine if that's appropriate, to find your own way, to shape the questions that are worth pursuing, and to develop the path to pursue them. That means knowing, understanding many things but also, much more important than what you have stored in your mind, to know where to look, how to look, how to question, how to challenge, how to proceed independently, to deal with the challenges that the world presents to you and that you develop in the course of your self education and inquiry and investigations, in cooperation and solidarity with others. That's what an educational system should cultivate from kindergarten to graduate school, and in the best cases sometimes does, and that leads to people who are, at least by my standards, well educated."