Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day…Recouping Our Independence

When you think about the 4th of July, otherwise in America known as “Independence Day”, there is usually quite a bit of pride, patriotism and celebration involved. You have your parades, your fireworks, the family BBQs and time together…all fun and good. Of course, when you are a closet philosopher, you can’t help but examine some of the deeper issues related to this holiday both on a personal basis and as an American patriot.

Maybe we should start there…”American patriot”…what does that mean? Is it about love of country, flag, our history, our government, democracy, or freedom? To be patriotic, do you have to support your country’s government good or bad? Does it require blind trust in the politicians your country elected and supporting all their bureaus such as the IRS, FDA, ATF, DOD, DOT, Homeland Security and the other 817 agencies of the federal government (just the executive branch)? Do you have to fly a flag or wear a flag pin in your lapel? What does it mean when we “pledge allegiance” and/or sing the national anthem? Those who have fought for our country and lost loved ones in our many wars somehow have a greater sense of attachment to “patriotism”…and its cost.

The dictionary definition of “patriotism” is “devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty”. Based on those words, perhaps it’s time to take a thermometer reading of the USA’s patriot quotient. And we also need to examine if patriotism is a feeling or based on actions…or both. Kind of the same question we ask about “love” sometimes…is it a feeling, an action or both?

I think most of us would suggest that “actions speak louder than words” when it comes to love…and patriotism. It is easier to say “I love you” for some than it is to sacrifice for that which you love. And in other cases, it is hard to say the words, but the quiet consistency and support received from a “loved one” speaks much louder than the words they may never say. Yet, words and actions often go hand in hand. Many wise sayings are based on the power of words to either INSPIRE actions, or to define them. Without words, we are sometimes left with guessing the definitions of actions or getting a grip on our feelings. Such is the challenge faced when confronted with questions about our country and our citizenry…and it is especially challenging to define our sense of patriotism when living in a foreign land and hearing the views and opinions of those who are looking at us Americans from the outside.

Some people think if they or someone else are critical of their country, they are being “unpatriotic”. It seems the history of mass consciousness had been one of “following your leaders”…whether government, religious or otherwise…and trusting the essence of belonging to a certain citizenry or dogma without question. To question the correctness or morality of a President, the theology of a minister or integrigy of a corporate officer is somehow “bad taste” and is a form of personal attack on a whole institution or way of life to do so.

Patriotism is also used as a form of competition in elections it seems. Most politicians running for office pander to images and histories of patriotic sacrifice and even consistently comparing themselves to the images of “patriots of old”. Some people view John McCain as a great patriot because he served in the Navy for 22 years and spent years as a POW in Viet Nam. There are other “Americans” who feel it is un-patriotic and un-constitutional to support war and US intervention outside of our national borders. Some people view Barack Obama as a great patriot for rising to the top of political stature in such a short time from a minority upbringing and laud him for his community activism. Others view him as UN patriotic for not wearing a flag pin in his lapel or crossing his heart during the national anthem. Questioning or defending each candidate’s “patriotism” seems to be one of the core strategies in both political camps in this election year.

In recent years I have found myself living as an “Ex Patriot”, which in and of itself is an interesting label. It would appear to mean that if you don’t live within the USA, you are no longer a “patriot”. Now, I know it simply means “taking up residence in a foreign land” to most of us. But unfortunately to many, it is deemed that we are “renouncing” our native land, or are renouncing our allegiance to our homeland, that somehow we don't love our country of origin.

I think by living outside our homeland it gives a much more objective perspective to what it means to be “American”…a patriot…in our own self definition, and it is meaningful to be able to compare and share notes with those who are not Americans on that theme. At the same time, from afar a rational individual needs to admit that not all of America’s past or current government actions are all moral and just. We Americans sometimes have a “convenient” sense of morality and judgment. It’s hard for us to take responsibility for past atrocities committed against the American Indians, slaves and people “of color”, certain Japanese factions post Pearl Harbor, and the subjugation and basic elimination of whole cultures in a few small countries and some islands around the world which we dominated. And to study the involvement of some of our government agencies such as the CIA, FBI, Department of Defense and others in clandestine operations interfering in and overthrowing foreign political regimes is to find many cases of outright criminal behavior on our county's part. And to sometimes view the “ugly American” syndrome of insensitive “rich” Americans showing no respect for foreign cultures or customs is enough to make some of us “Expats” hang our head in shame to be named with that fellow citizen called “American”.

I am of the opinion that until a person lives for a time outside of their homeland and learns first hand other cultures and even language; it is hard to gauge what it really means to be an “American”. Our way of life, way of government, business methods and all are unique and different from most of the rest of the world. In many ways we are truly blessed with what we have and how we have it in the USA. Yet we take so much of it for granted.

Then again, it can be argued that much of our young 232 year old country is going the way of other previous cultures in history that are now extinct. All the empires of the world have come and gone. The Mayan and Inca civilizations, for their times, were very advanced and “civil”. The Roman, Ottoman, Persian and other ancient empires are all just that, ancient history. And just in the last 200 years you have seen the major decline of what once were the British, French and even Portuguese empires or conquests. Many knowledgeable, literate sources are now crying out warning of America’s danger of destroying itself from overexpansion of world influence, financial demolition, and cultural insignificance. We have successfully exported commercialism and blind consumption, but I’m not as convinced we have successfully sold the world on our culture and values. Our government continues to waste billions per year on fighting its own citizens consumptions of "illicet drugs"...perhaps our costliest losing war. Our families are falling apart, we are taxing to death the middle class and driving global businesses out of our country with taxation and constant litigation and regulation. Every four years or so we switch directions on foreign policies and domestic priorities, confusing the rest of the world and ourselves of what our true direction and intentions are in the world at large. We are losing our focus and identity, and spending ourselves into oblivion both on a personal and governmental level.

Some of us believe we Americans are in a crisis more dangerous and threatening than any we have faced before. We have enemies without and within our borders. The masses in our country are only interested in what their government can do for THEM, not how they can change or shape their government. We have lost any sense of sacrifice and insist that the world sacrifice its resources and cultures in deference to our views and ways of life. Our focus has become how we can control and change the world around us versus change and improve ourselves from within our borders. We would even rather use our enemy’s oil and minerals than use our own…at a huge additional price to our citizenry and lining our enemies pockets to buy more weapons to be used against us…and many companies in the USA manufacture and distribute those very weapons or at least supply the designs. Many of us feel that we are playing right into the hands of our detractors like Al Qaeda and others who have a long term plan to destroy us financially and morally until we implode. And a majority of Americans have started to see their government as a threat instead of a solace, with no sense of leadership, integrity or honesty.

Perhaps THIS “Independence Day” it is time for true patriots to take back their government and their independence from bureaucrats and autocrats who have taken control of every aspect of our individual lives. Perhaps it is time we demanded respect for our privacy as citizens and return to the concept of “no taxation without representation”. Perhaps it is time for patriots to demand that their representatives return to balanced budgets in government and a sustainable plan to pay off our national debt which has continued to spiral out of control no matter which political party is in the White House or in control of the Congress. Perhaps it is time for patriots to take on more personal responsibility and activism to support our veterans of war, the poor, widows and orphans instead of expecting our government to do so. I believe it is time for patriots to vote their conscience and not just for the "popular" candidate or simply accept a two party system of political choice. Maybe it’s time that true patriots demand a return to a constitutionally based government and court systems. If we lose our independence, our voice and our will to control our own destinies, those destinies will be determined for us by the “powers that be”, the holders of our debt…and/or our conquering enemies.

Wake up patriots!

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