Friday, 29 July 2011

Call me Quisling: Why I am no patriot

“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” ~ Samuel Johnson.

Those of you who have been reading me for a while will know that I often call myself (not entirely in jest) a card-carrying traitor. I’ve adopted this epithet quite deliberately, since I’ve been accused of being a traitor so often as to have become inured to it.

At the same time, I’d rather be a traitor than a patriot.

A few years ago, when people were still celebrating India’s “economic revolution” (before that phrase became a sick joke which nobody now cares to repeat), and the stock market index (Sensex) crossed the 20000 mark (meaning the average price of a share in certain listed companies crossed twenty thousand rupees, I assume), people were asked by the media to “feel good” about it – though well over 90% Indians don’t own stocks. Similarly, when an Indian corporate house acquired a foreign steel company, we were all asked to “celebrate” the thing, as though it did any of us any good or changed anything at all.

In other words, patriotism is tokenism – but while most tokenism is meaningless to harmless, patriotism is an actively malignant force.

Those of us with a sense of history might remember the days of August 1914 – not even a hundred years ago – when the youth of Europe were cheered on to war by patriotic crowds, absolutely forced into uniform by social pressure whether they liked it or not, in the name of “doing their bit for King and Country”. Those young men went on to scream out their lives disembowelled in collapsed trenches and gassed in shellholes, which was all fine with the patriotic crowds back home. They kept cheering anyway, and handing out white feathers to anyone with enough sense not to get into uniform. And at the end of the carnage, the empires those patriotic people cheered for were all either destroyed or so weakened that they were doomed. That’s what patriotism gets you.

There’s this argument that patriotism is a good thing – it keeps the social fabric intact, and reinforces the sense of nationality. In response, I’d say that’s like saying religion is necessary to keep society descending to anarchy and immorality. There’s nothing inherently sacrosanct about attitudes like territoriality, herd mentality and tribalism: and patriotism is all too likely to degenerate to nationalism and thence to xenophobia and jingoism.

At what point can a “patriot” claim that “this is how far I take my patriotism, and no further?” At what point does “I love my country” turn to “My country, right or wrong”?

What’s so pernicious about patriotism is that it’s so easily subverted by politicians.  As someone said (at the moment I forget who), it’s the easiest thing in the world to disarm your opponent by questioning his patriotism. Anyone who’s got doubts on that issue need only look at the US in the aftermath of 11/9 and the run-up to the Iraq war, when political and media personalities critical of the Empire’s designs were ruthlessly silenced by questioning their patriotism. Even today, when those lies are acknowledged officially to have been lies, you can bet that when the Empire finally decides to invade Iran, opponents will be called unpatriotic.

Then, in India, even the fact that a drug-resistant bacterium was named after Delhi was made into a “patriotic” issue, with people blowing their tops at this “insult to the nation” – rather than figuring out the reasons why drug resistance would emerge in India, a country rife with unregulated and wanton antibiotic use. Patriotism kills in myriad forms, it appears.

It seems to me that patriotism might be effective only in one circumstance – where one still has a hope of improving a nation, and finds the means to go and try to do it. However, I’ve become convinced that nations by and large are incapable of improvement; they are so firmly in the grasp of ruling cabals whose only loyalty is to themselves that individuals can not, however heartily they wish real change for the better, bring said change about. Even if they manage a revolution, the new power elite will capture it. Remember Animal Farm.

But screw all that, and get to the real issue. I refuse to be “patriotic” in support of a country that’s mine only by the accident of birth, and whose government does not represent me in any way. I refuse to be stamped with the duty of blind obedience that “patriotism” brings in its wake.

If that means I have to be a traitor, so be it. I accept the sobriquet with pride.   


  1. The existence of the ND-1 virus was also totally denied by the Indian govt! Claiming that outside forces were trying to defame India and keep it under some sort of pressure!
    It is pathetic.. and outrageous at the same time, fuckin cheapskates.. Its not as if these same men have anything to gain by suppressing this news either.

  2. The nation-state is now an antiquated notion - originally intended to allow local warlords to hook into the familial/tribal instict/imprint for its own advantage.

    That's a fancy way of saying we should ALL be traitors!


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