Monday, October 6, 2008

Meet Sam

I'd like to introduce you to this guy I know. His name is Sam. He's really rich, but he's one of those rich people who makes a ton of money and yet can't live within his means. He spends way more than he makes and is in debt up to his eyeballs.

Not only is Sam rich, but he's also the biggest, strongest guy on the block. He's made of muscle, knows martial arts, streetfighting, you name it. He's handsome too. He's a smart dresser and a salesman at heart. He can sweet talk with the best of them.

So Sam's got a lot going for him. He's rich, good looking and strong. He knows it too. As a matter of fact, Sam likes to talk about how strong he his. He likes to talk about how all the girls want to be his girl and how all the guys want to be him. He's always boasting about how he's the richest, strongest, smartest guy on the block. He talks about how great he is with his family and friends. He talks about how great he is just about everyday at work. Sam thinks there is something seriously wrong with you if you don't think he's great too. In fact, Sam thinks he's so great that he wants everyone to be like him, and he can be a little pushy when he tries to convince people to do it his way. His family often gets dragged along for the ride, but other people can find it rather annoying. Sam doesn't understand that, though. He sees himself as the richest, strongest, smartest guy around. How could he be wrong?

Well, richest and strongest he is, but Sam's not necessarily the smartest guy on the block. He has his moments of genius, to be sure, and he's had a lot of really great ideas in his time. Sam used to spend lots of energy learning about science and politics and technology. When he was younger, he always had the best science projects and the smartest answers to the teacher's questions. Now, though, Sam doesn't have a lot of time for science. In fact, he's not sure he believes most of it, since it conflicts with his religious beliefs. And while he still likes to learn about technology, he's gotten behind on the latest advancements. Every once in a while, he'll crack a book about history or politics or economics, but it's just not important to him anymore. Nor is it important to Sam to learn about what's going on outside his own neighborhood. If the economy in another neighborhood were bad, Sam wouldn't know it. If the neighborhood crosstown had been taken over by warring gangs who were killing innocent bystanders in the crossfire, Sam wouldn't know it. And even if he did, he wouldn't really care, as long as it didn't impact him.

Don't get me wrong, there are people in Sam's life that are important to him. He's got some siblings that matter to him, though he doesn't pay too much attention to their personal lives. He's got a mom who dotes on him, though he doesn't pay her much mind, but his relationship with his father is strained. He tries desparately to be nothing like his father, and his father is often dissapointed or flat out fed-up with his antics. He's always been there to help his family, though, and he'd be there in a flash if they ever needed him again.

Sam's got some friends that matter to him, too, though usually it's because they have something to offer him. Sam's definitely the sort of person who will become friends with you because you have a big screen T.V., even if he doesn't really like you. As soon as he's got his own T.V., though, he'll drop you like a bad habit. He does have one really special girl in his life - Izzie. And when I say special, I mean really special. Sam gives Izzie practically anything she wants. Fancy dinners, nice clothes, spending money. You name it. Any guy so much as glances at Izzie the wrong way, and Sam will launch into a tirade of threats and insults. He's not beyond handing out a severe beating on her behalf.

In fact, Sam's not shy about using violence for any number of reasons. Sometimes it's called for, but sometimes it's not. One time, a guy he didn't like moved in next door to his parents, and so Sam marched right over and got into really nasty fight with him. Surprisingly, he didn't win. I guess that happens when you take on someone who's not strong, but has a ton of endurance. Eventually, the fight isn't worth it anymore, especially when you're wailing on someone because you don't like their proximity to your parents. This other time, some jerk who didn't like Sam very much vandalized his house. So Sam found him and beat him up and then he beat up another guy who was just an innocent bystander. Even when he's not beating people up, Sam will often threaten violence to get his way. He's not beyond a bribe, though, either, if that'll get you to go along with him.

Now that you've met Sam, let me ask you something. What do you think of him? Do you think he's the greatest guy in town? Think about how other people might react to someone like Sam. How do people view someone who constantly blows their own horn? How do people react to someone who uses their size to push people around? How would you feel about Sam if you didn't like Izzie?

Have you figured out who Sam is? When I took international relations in college, we were often helped along in our studies by thinking of countries as individual people. I had a habit of taking this metaphor too far, envisioning the U.K as our Mama and France as our Papa, with the U.K's old colonies being our sisters and brothers. Now that the election looms, and the bells of nationalism are tolling, the metaphor returned to me. Heather Wilson's recent comments about Barak Obama (video below) got me thinking even more. What if U.S. were a person? How would other people view it? Not too well, it seems to me. No one likes an arrogant bully.

Now, of course I understand that the U.S. is not a person. But why should people be held to higher standards than countries? And why should we expect people in other countries to view us any differently than they would view an individual who thought and behaved in the same way? Why shouldn't people in the U.S. question the character that their country is displaying in the same way that we think someone like Sam should examine his own character?

In her comments, Wilson implies that liberals, including Obama, think that it is the U.S., and only the U.S., that is the problem. That is a strawman. No one is saying that the problems of the world all rest on American shoulders, and no one is claiming that it is only the behavior of the U.S. that is problematic. Such a view is obviously false. But it is just as false to hold, as Wilson seems to, that the U.S. isn't doing anything wrong at all. That position is not one of patriotism; it's one of blind nationalism.

Wilson insinuates that when people like Obama criticize certain aspects of their country, that makes them unpatriotic. But it's not unpatriotic to question the direction your country is heading. It's not unpatriotic to note that your country has faults. It's not unpatriotic to want your country to be better. In fact, it seems to me that one of the most patriotic sentiments you can have is the desire to make your country better, and one of the most patriotic things you can do is work to improve your country. But you can't improve what you won't recognize as imperfect.

I don't think that the U.S. is a force for good in the world at the moment. Our collapsing economy is going to drag the economies of other nations down with us. We're involved in two wars. One of those wars was completely unjustified and has resulted in destabilizing an already volitile area of the world. The other war could have ended in the capture of Osama Bin Laden after the initial fall of the Taliban had it not been for a pissing contest between Donald Rumsfeld and George Tenet. Instead we're now killing civilians in air raids (and, contrary to what Sarah Palin says, it's not irresponsible to tell the truth). We're fretting terribly over Iran, not because they are anywhere near close enough to nukes to be a serious threat to us, but because Isreal is scared now that our decimation of Iraq has handed regional hegemony to the Iranians. The one place where we should have boots on the ground, or at least diplomats at a table - Darfur - is almost completely off our radar screen. How can we be a force for good in the world when we can't even send a few planes to Africa to help stop a genocide? How can we be a force for good when we have broken our word, violated the Geneva Convention and have taken to torture and extraordinary rendition? How can we be a force for good when we refuse to fund family planning programs that actually work to stem the tide of the African AIDS epidemic?

I am a patriot, not because I think my country is a force for good, but because I want my country to be a force for good. I am a patriot, not because I think my country is great, but because I want it to be great. Wilson's attack on the patriotism of liberals in general, and Obama in particular, misses the mark. True patriotism isn't expressed in hollow platitudes about pride in country or blanket statements about how great we are. Loving your country isn't enough to make you a patriot. True patriotism finds expression in those who can see how great their country could be, and love it enough to try and make it that way.

Wilson Attacking Obama's Patriotism


Tea said...

I went out with Sam once. I dumped him. Now he thinks I'm a commie.

ShinyObject said...

Sounds like Sam could use a little psychotherapy.