22 March 2010

America the Beautiful

Sorry for the long delay in postings. In the interim, i have moved, nearly been hired at a new job, disappointed at not getting new job, gained more hours at work, and acted as temporary transportation for a girlfriend without a car. No excuses, but it is my life.

So, without further ado, fuss or any other interference, here are more thoughts on language and how we use it:

It goes without saying that citizens are proud of their countries. It should go without saying, but it doesn't seem to.

Yes, there are most certainly times when a government of whatever country acts in a way certain individuals disagree with, even strongly (universal healthcare, for instance). Yet the very heat of their indignation illustrates just exactly how much they care for and hold high their country, even as they are upset at how it is being run.

There is nothing inherently wrong with being proud of your home. It's natural, even healthy. It's common sense to understand that if you don't like where you live, you should move.

Unfortunately, some people take this natural attitude of appreciation and enjoyment to an extreme.

Let me back up a bit.

Words hold tremendous power. How you talk about something, or even use a word, informs people's understanding of that thing. Therefore, if the leaders of a country use language that refers to their country as 'blessed by God' or 'the place the world looks to for guidance' or other such lofty phrases, it places great weight upon the people.

C.S. Lewis wrote briefly about love of one's country in his book The Four Loves. In the book, he talks about how love becomes a demon when we make of it a god. Continuing the thought along the thread of patriotism, he writes, 'Demoniac patriotism in their subjects . . . will make it easier for [rulers] to act wickedly; healthy patriotism may make it harder.' Therefore, Lewis continues, 'they may by propaganda encourage a demoniac condition of our sentiments in order to secure our acquiescence in their wickedness.'

We see this strikingly in the era between the two world wars in Germany. Through propaganda and due to the countries depressed state, Hitler was able to convince and even encourage the citizenry to fall in line with his wicked plans, including the planned extermination of the Jews and other ethnic and people groups.

Yet even the not-so extreme propaganda is harmful.

Take a deeper look at the United States. How often do we, as citizens of that country, refer to it as the United States? Often, we shorthand it to America, even as we are told by the map and by history that America consists of the entire 'new world,' from Alaska and northern Canada down to the tip of Chile, just north of Antarctica; one pole to the other. The way in which we refer to ourselves betrays that, even subconsciously, we consider ourselves to be the standard to which the rest of the hemisphere should and must fall in line behind.

There is nothing wrong, as i said before, of thinking your home, your country, your nation is the best. There is a reason you have chosen to continue to live there, despite its faults. However, setting up your country as the favorite and degrading all others are close neighbors; one can easily hop the fence over to the other yard without much thought.

The more we idealize and idolize our country, the more prone we become to degrading all others. Yes, the United States is a beautiful country, but where is our Black Forest, our Amazon River? Yes, the United States is vast and grandiose, but can we hold a candle to Himalayas or the the congo? Our mountains are not the largest, our rivers the largest, our monuments the grandest.

Yet even how we speak of our fair country, the words we use to describe her, illustrates our nationalist point of view. Therefore, be mindful of the words you use, the phrases. Even so much as to call us 'America,' while acceptable, shoves a message of elitism into the face of the world.