Saturday, December 27, 2008

Old Glory's Dark Side

Experiments conducted by Markus Kemmelmeier, at the University of Nevada, show that gazing upon the red, white and blue does very little to stoke feelings of patriotism. But it does make people more individualistic, more materialistic, and -- perhaps most troublingly -- more nationalistic. 

Researchers tend to define patriotism as love of one's country; nationalism, on the other hand, tends to measure feelings of superiority... The paper also notes that 'nationalism has been implicated in aggression, oppression, and warfare.'

'The flag not only prompted participants to think about their own country as superior to and dominant in the world, but also induced a mode of hierarchical thinking...' The flag makes people think that some people and some countries are better than others, a mode of thinking, he said, that makes people 'feel more entitled to express prejudice.'

Glenn Greenwald: If ostensible self-protective motives are now considered mitigating factors in the commission of war crimes -- or worse, if they justify immunity from prosecution -- then there is virtually no such thing any longer as a 'war crime' that merits punishment... But advocates of this view -- 'Oh, American officials only did it to protect us from "The Terrorists" -- can't or won't follow their premise to this logical conclusion because their oh-so-sophisticated and empathetic understanding that political leaders act with complex motives only extends to their own leaders, to Americans.

I wrote that this excuse-making for the Bush torture regime 'isn't really anything more than standard American exceptionalism -- more accurately: blinding American narcissism -- masquerading as a difficult moral struggle.' But that almost gives it too much credit. Really, this is nothing more than stunted adolescence. The definitive adolescent mindset it pure self-centeredness personified; it demands infinite understanding of and sympathy with one's own predicament and choices, and offers none for anyone else's. That's all this is: Americans had good reasons to torture and therefore it shouldn't be punished; others who do it (the ones with foreign, unpronounceable names) have no good reasons and should be treated as criminals...

The reason leaders torture is irrelevant. It's one of those few absolute taboos, and it's almost as immoral to seek to dilute that taboo by offering motive-based mitigations as it is to engage in it in the first place.
Image source here.