“That's what they, they start when you're young, y'know. When you're little they, at school they, they Baden-Powell all the boys and they Betty Crocker all the girls and they, then they air condition ya' and put ya' in the Heat N' Bake Oven and ya' can't breathe any more.”
Jerry Fletcher, describing collectivist social conditioning, in Conspiracy Theory.
To understand the critical difference between the commendable impulse called patriotism, and the murderous group psychosis called nationalism, it's useful to think of the contrast between the organic reality called family ties and the silly fiction called “school spirit.”
While the terms patriotism and nationalism can refer to the same thing – the love of one's native country – in practice they have acquired very different meanings. Nationalism, in practice, describes not to the love of a country but rather the veneration of its central government.
Patriotism is not built on zero-sum assumptions: It is quite possible to love one's country ardently, while recognizing and respecting the love that patriots of other countries display for their homelands. I am convinced that one result of a global pandemic of genuine patriotism would be a general abatement of warfare, since people who really love their country would spare it the horrors of war in all but the most exigent of circumstances.
Authentic patriots thrust into combat against each other would be likely to seek the earliest possible end to conflict, as well as to pursue a just and sustainable peace. The objective, after all, would be to preserve what's best for one's own country, not to impose the will of one's government on another country.
As historian John J. Dwyer notes, nationalism is a degenerate impostor of patriotism. “The patriot says, `I love my country,' works for its good, and defends it if necessary – against enemies within and without,” writes Dwyer. “He strives and prays not primarily that God will bless his country, but that his country will bless God. The nationalist, meanwhile, says, `My country is better than yours.' `My country is the greatest there has ever been.' `The greatest nation on God’s green earth.' `They hate my country because it is so good.'”
Nationalism focuses on the State, rather than the community. It is unambiguously based on zero-sum assumptions about power, and nationalists define victory in terms of imposing their will on others.
It takes relatively little prompting to teach an individual to love his country. It requires a considerable investment of time and effort to indoctrinate him into the love of the State that rules him. The former can be taught in the home by parents who have a decent grasp of their country's history and culture. The latter, however, requires the efforts of the state's paid clergy..
Typically, an individual doesn't need prompting to love his family, even if there are some within it he doesn't like very much. Familial affection is not the product of ritualized peer pressure, like pep rallies and similar liturgies.
“School spirit,” by way of contrast, is an entirely synthetic pseudo-emotion. Public schools are about as organic as polystyrene, and the “communities” they create are the product of geographic accidents and arbitrary government decisions. They have those traits in common with the “nations” brought into being by the Power Elite after World War I.
Like those artificial “nations,” public schools compensate for their lack of community authenticity through the cynical propagation of convenient myths and the state-managed manufacture of ersatz enthusiasm.
Last fall (for reasons I'll explain below), my wife and I found it necessary to put our three oldest children into the local government school, whose mascot is the Pirate (an appropriate choice for a government-run institution). As a result we became aware of the school district's incessant efforts to instill “school spirit” in them – through competitions involving the sale of Pirate t-shirts, or classroom participation in “Pirate Fridays” by wearing the school colors.
None of this has anything to do with athletic competition; we're discussing an elementary school here. So why is there such an effort underway to confect “school spirit”?
I suspect that teaching students to revere their school is the first stage of indoctrinating them in the state-worship called nationalism. “Be true to your school” is the first line of a catechism that concludes with some variation on the theme of der staat uber alles.
As Gary North observes, this is nothing new: “Throughout the West after the rise of Napoleon, nationalism became the State's substitute for organized religion. The public schools universally inculcated some form of State-deifying nationalism.” What North describes is Rousseau's Civil Religion, in which the State -- as the instrument of collective human power -- is treated as "God."
Since the State is an abstraction, it is the most visible representative of the central government – in our case, the president – who is deified as the State Incarnate. As in the early Roman empire, our presidents are generally deified after death: Witness, for example, the revoltingly blasphemous depiction of Washington' apotheosis (literally, “ascent to godhood”) in the national Capitol, or the routine depiction of Lincoln as “the martyred Christ in democracy's passion play,” as neocon Walter Berns puts it.
In this, as in so much else having to do with executive despotism, the beady-eyed, slack-jawed, bloody-handed, illiterate little troll in the Oval Office has turned over new ground: He claims to commune with the Shekinah, or divine presence.
Recounting a recent White House lunch with Bush, British commentator Irwin Steltzer reports:
“The president divulged with convincing calm that when it comes to pressure, `I just don’t feel any.' Why? His constituency, he feels, is the divine presence, to whom he must answer. Don’t misunderstand: God didn’t tell him to put troops in harm’s way in Iraq; his belief only goes so far as to inform him that there is good and evil. It is the president who must figure out how to promote the former and destroy the latter. And he is confident that his policies are doing just that.”
How much of this is narcissism, and how much is a serious psychological disorder (I do not say that flippantly), it is difficult to say. The truly terrifying thing is that the purpose of government schools is to catechize the young in an official religion that would make them accept such grandiose claims without so much as a tremor of critical thought.
So the question must be asked: Given what I describe above, why are my children in government schools?
The answer is this: My wife Korrin is seriously and chronically ill. She has been hospitalized four times since last April, and – my soul is grieved to report – she appears to be headed there again. Her condition makes it necessary for me to work at home, in order to care for both her and our children; this severely limits my career options.
"Fairest of form was this queen, glinting and grey of eye; No man could say he had seen A lovelier, but with a lie": Korrin and I on our wedding day, January 10, 1997.
There are other schooling opportunities available, but they were cost-prohibitive, even before I was fired by the, ahem, heroes currently running the John Birch Society for no defensible reason (thereby losing both a steady income and our family's health insurance coverage).
We don't plan on keeping our boys in school for any longer than necessary. I have no idea how long that will be, but – God willing – it won't be much longer.
Please forgive me for bringing up personal matters of this sort. Out of a desire to avoid being a hypocrite, I'd largely avoided writing about the government school system until now.
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