The 4th of July was earlier this week, and if you’re in the US like I am, you probably celebrated with fireworks, hot dogs, burgers, and beer – it is the American way to celebrate. I’ve never been much for dramatic displays of patriotism; in all honesty, I’m not much for patriotism period. While I’m happy I have the freedoms I have, the US is far from perfect. In fact, at the time of writing, many of the freedoms I possess are in imminent danger from the very institution that is supposed to protect them. One of them has already been stripped. Pretending it’s “the greatest nation on earth” strikes me as utterly asinine and, quite frankly, a symptom of brainwashing.
My attitude towards patriotism – as well as school spirit and company loyalty – tends to put me at odds with the people around me. I come from an area where such things are highly valued, and I simply do not share that value. I did not choose to be born in the United States, and, owing to the fact that I was not born into wealth, I do not have the choice to leave on a whim. With the exception of college, I did not choose the schools I attended. I attended public schools, which I was assigned to according to my zip code. At all of the companies I’ve worked for, it has been made abundantly clear that I am replaceable; I will not invest more time and energy than a company is willing to invest in me, and I do not owe loyalty to an entity that can and will drop me for no reason. Living in a “right to work” state, this is especially true.
Things like patriotism, school spirit, and company loyalty hold certain institutions sacred, which is a recipe for disaster. Those “sacred” institutions don’t receive criticism often, so those who lead them don’t take well to it. That leads to fearful suppression amongst their members. “If I say anything bad about the church, they may not throw me out, but they’ll make my attendance of it miserable.” My mother learned that lesson the hard way. She remains a Christian at a different church. “If I dissent to what the country is doing, what might happen to me and my family?” “I don’t think what the current party leader is doing is right, but if I don’t toe the party line, I’ll lose my party’s support.” “If I say anything in this meeting, will they find an excuse to fire me?”
This is how “sacred” institutions control people. Those fears can be crippling and can cause people to do and say things they otherwise wouldn’t to keep themselves and their family safe, or to maintain power and influence. These fears are especially effective against those who are vulnerable. Corporations take advantage of their impoverished workers by paying them the bare minimum – they tell them that by working hard they can prove their worth and move up, but that they’re otherwise replaceable. Often, the bar for promotion is raised to the point that only a select few favorites even have a chance. Workers stay in a cycle of working to the bone for next-to-nothing pay so they can keep the privilege of having a job to support their families. Like my mom, church goers who disagree with their pastors about who they should be helping don’t want to lose their social status or get shouted down in meetings, so they fall in line – my mom is one of the few who doesn’t give a shit, and it genuinely pisses me off to see the way she was treated at her previous church. The Republican Party has been plagued with racists and classists for decades, and that has all come to a head with Donald Trump leading the party. Had critical thought and empathy been a more highly valued trait than party loyalty and money, more Republican politicians and voters might have objected to his takeover than the few who were quickly silenced or forced to convert.
Criticism is essential for a healthy country. People need to not only have the mental ability (usually cultivated by a better education than is budgeted for here in the US) to provide thoughtful criticism of these “sacred” institutions, but they also need to feel comfortable doing it. Holding the United States as sacred allows the country and its people to stagnate and, as has been shown in the last few weeks, regress to a more fearful time when women and minorities were considered second-class citizens.
This Independence Day, I did not celebrate. I committed sacrilege in the cult of patriotism and attended protests. I performed rituals lamenting the loss of my rights and that of others. I wrote essays about my stance on social media (social media activism gets a lot of shit these days, and for good reason, but it is still important to participate in public forums like these) and I donated money to organizations that are fighting back against theocratic intrusion. I also researched the cost of moving to Canada, where people’s rights are more respected and better protected.
It was much more satisfying than fireworks.