Saturday, November 07, 2015

The accidental patriot

GBS in the old days meant only one thing: George Bernard Shaw.  From the little bit of his works that I have read, of course I liked them.  I even owe the title of this blog to GBS.

But then even that little bit that I read was back when I was a commie sympathizer.  A socialist.  Those days I was even a fan of Fidel Castro!  So, naturally, I came to know about Shaw's involvement with the Fabian Society, to which Jawaharlal Nehru too belonged.  I now shudder when I think about Castro and India's planning commissions!

Shaw did articulate ideas clearly enough, like in the following, which is another favorite of mine:
Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it
That's what patriotism is almost always about, and in Shaw's time that was all it was.  In the contemporary world, even my own case is an example of a nationality that is different from the country in which I was born.  For the most part, people do not exit the countries where they were born and, therefore, patriotism arises from that freakish accident of birth in one country versus anywhere else.

Life as we live it is nothing but a series of accidents.  To be born in a certain geography and in a certain family, to attend the schools that we did, to work at a place, the people we meet, the ones we marry ... it is all a series of accidents.

The Hindu faith conveniently packages all these into a fate that was all pre-destined by the creator.  But that is a grossly misleading narrative.  That narrative is the one that then easily convinces people that they are born into a low caste, for instance, because it is all fate and that they have to put up with the atrocities in life.

Instead, we need to understand that it is all one remarkable set of accidents that have brought us to where we are and, for that matter, even our cyber-gathering at this blog is through those fortuitous occurrences.

If we understood life as the coming together of lucky (or unlucky) events, then we will also be that much more humble about our achievements.  As Warren Buffett noted, he won the ovarian lottery and was born here in the US.  His life story would have been different otherwise.  By the same token, we will then be a lot more empathetic towards those whose lives did not turn out well.  A kid who was born into a black family in South Central Los Angeles in the 1980s would not have experienced a good life enjoyed by a kid whose white parents lived in the comfortable suburbs of Seattle.

Life is so chancy.

We forget all those.  We choose to forget all those.  Or, worse, we even develop narratives on why the lucky few get those lucky breaks--the rewards of good deeds in the past lives, or because one skin color is superior to another, or whatever.

Imagine if any of the presidential contenders were to engage with the citizens about such issues.  Instead, each one will brag about how much more patriotic they are and will even rush to allege that the other is not patriotic and is even a traitor.

Such is life!

next to of course god america i
by e.e. cummings

"next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country 'tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water


Ramesh said...

Lets get the most important thing out of the way - GBS is an ass. Anybody who says such things as he did about cricket is a royal ass !!

Now to serious business. What's your grouse against patriotism. Humans need affiliation, for after all we are a social species. We affiliate because of family, because of neighbourhood, and yes, because of country. It may have been an accident, but we are where we are. We affiliate and feel good about it. Come patriotism. That's fine in my book.

Mike Hoth said...

I must also disagree, but mine is simply on the fact that you said who we marry is an accident. I'm obligated as a newlywed to inform you that my wife is the best wife.

Sriram Khé said...

Patriotism may be fine and dandy, Ramesh ... but it does promote a great deal of us-versus-them that is based merely on an accident of having been born in a certain place. For the social animals that humans are, we can always choose to belong to groups that are not such a dramatic result of an accident. Right?
Enjoy the moments, Mike ;)

Most read this past month