We all have heard of the famous pronouncement Samuel Johnson was supposed to have made, that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
What then is the meaning of the statement President Trump made in the front of the Capitol when he made his inaugural speech?
“It’s time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.”
Apparently, he wanted to remind his fellow Americans that they were all patriots and they should put America first.
The same is happening here in Australia. Our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull asked new citizens if they seek, “to join our Australian family to join us as Australian Patriots – committed to the values that define us, committed to the values that unite us.”
So, is Trump now one of Samuel Johnson’s scoundrels? Or is he just pulling America back from its international role to its traditional isolationist position?
Being a patriot and “our values” in all their forms has a lot to do with our identity. Where does that identity come from? Our identity more likely comes from our culture and language. This identity is formed by the things that surround us, our family, our neighbourhood, our landscape, the country that is formed by the borders that define the nation, religion, climate etc.
Along come the politicians and ask us to be patriots and defend those national borders. There is no doubt our identity gives us at times comfort and security. At other times it gives us anxiety and we cringe when we are asked, in the name of patriotism, to defend something that does not feel right.
If our language is the framework for our identity then what if we are bilingual and have learnt to love another culture other than the culture of our upbringing? Scientists say our brain is rewired by a second language. Are we then less patriotic? Or can we ask the other way around, are we tied to the circumstance of our upbringing?
Towards the end of the 20th century Europeans, for instance, have grown less nationalistic and have embraced a common European cultural upbringing. Shock horror then when the English people living in other EU countries felt horrified about the negative Brexit vote. They felt more European than British and thousands want to apply for German citizenship as soon as they can. A European identity seems to take over from the old national identities. Suddenly those Britons feel the old border was being re-erected where there wasn’t any anymore. Suddenly the drawbridge is pulled back in and the English Channel becomes a moat again.
For a couple of generations, borders seemed to disappear or at least they became meaningless. Does that mean we were all losing our identities? I have the feeling national borders, often artificial constructs anyway, are not necessarily the cause of our identity.
As the population mix here in Australia changes due to immigration there is a discussion whether we belong to the West or whether we are Asian now. Asian countries become suspicious of us as we are not sufficiently Asian. They are asking whether the old colonial powers have left a Trojan Horse in their backyard. Clearly, their identity tells them we are of a different identity of which they have to be wary.
I’m sure, over the years we will, here in Australia, develop a new identity. Most of the values our Prime Minister speaks about are universal ones anyway and they are easy to understand.
Who am I then? German or Australian? A bit of both? Or am I already forming a new identity? My two languages give me the opportunity to roam the literature of two cultures, albeit they are not too different. It is said that thinking in two languages is like having two souls. It can be very stressful to have “two souls in one’s breast”! Especially when one’s loyalties are being tested one way or another.
In my opinion questioning the policies of our government is not disloyalty at all. It is the opposite! It shows commitment to a better society. They like to speak about fairness but their policies are anything but. My Australian identity is sufficiently challenged by policies that favour the rich and discriminate against the poor.
Is my anger the reflection of some sort of identity? And if our identities are changing over time who will we be in this and the next century? And if ever there is a threat from outer space, will we discover that we have a universal identity here on Earth? It seems an identity is only apparent with an opposing identity.
I think we should ditch all those different identities and declare that we belong to the same humanity in a borderless, global society where we are all siblings of the same family under the natural guidance of Mother Earth.