Contingency and solidarity

by Henry Farrell on July 6, 2008

“Matt Yglesias”: on patriotism:

American liberals and American conservatives are both Americans so our American patriotism is very similar. We just have different ideas about politics. Specifically, I would say that liberals do a better job of recognizing that much as we may love America there’s something arbitrary about it — we’re just so happen to be Americans whereas other people are Canadians or Mexicans or French or Russian or what have you. The conservative view is more like those Bill Simmons columns where not only is he extolling the virtues of this or that Boston sports team or moment, but he seems to genuinely not understand why other people don’t see it that way. But of course Simmons is from Boston and others of us aren’t.

By coincidence, this is something I’ve been thinking about the last few days (as I’m not a political theorist, I offer no guarantees whatsoever that my thoughts on the topic are original, or that they haven’t already been comprehensively refuted by someone somewhere). My best guess approximation is that even if we accept that patriotism/loyalty-to-our-sports-team or whatever is in some absolute sense _contingent_ (if we grew up elsewhere, we would be patriotic about a different country, or root for a different sports team) it doesn’t imply that there is something wrong or silly about being patriotic. Here, a good analogy might be with our love for our children. That I have one child, and not another is contingent, given the realities of biology, on a very improbable event – that two particular cells fused together (the odds against a particular combination of cells being chosen are surely in the order of billions to one). Yet once I have a child, my love for that child isn’t in the least invalidated by the contingency of the event, even if I know in some abstract sense that I would equally love another child that might have been conceived if a different pair of cells had combined. Moreover, we would think that there was something very strange about somebody who wanted to revisit that moment of combination and choose a different outcome.

I’m not sure how far the analogy can be pushed, and I am sure that there are other good arguments against patriotism (George Kateb’s book on the topic has been sitting unread on my shelf the last couple of years, causing me occasional moments of guilt). But it gets at a slightly different critique of certain kinds of vainglorious patriotism than the one that Matt presents. Nearly all parents are quietly sure that while all children are wonderful, _their_ children are the most wonderful of all. But equally so, most people find parents who insist on blowing their childrens’ trumpets, insisting on their unique skills, intelligence etc to be both silly and obnoxious. Perhaps we should have the same attitude towards the more overblown forms of braggart patriotism.

Update: “Siva”: has some interesting thoughts on patriotism as a second generation immigrant.

Nerve gas tests

by John Q on July 6, 2008

It doesn’t appear to have been covered yet by any US news sources, so I just thought I’d link to this story reporting that, in the 60s, the US military proposed to test nerve gases (Sarin and VX) on Australian troops, who were to be kept in the dark on what was going on. Amazingly, given our generally supine attitude in such matters, the conservative Australian government of the day refused.