Nationalism is not an ideal I’ve ever adhered to, nor do I think it common among my peers. As far as America goes, for the past twenty-or-so years it’s been out of date. Unnecessary. Ignorant. A symbol of insecurity and misplaced values.
For America, this can be partially attributed to the over-use of national symbols; the flag and the anthem have lost any real meaning as they get waved and sung at every chance. The pledge is so pervasive that it’s nothing but tired phrases. In fact, it would be safe to say that many Americans really just don’t like America. Between inferior social services, a recessive economy, a president we can’t feel proud of, a war we can’t support, there isn’t much to feel good about. At best, it’s home, and many people spend their time admiring other countries, where the grass is obviously greener.
I’ve struggled with how to think about America. Nationality not a part of an American’s identity. It seems nothing more than arbitrary. Why should I care about “my” country, just because I was born here? Why should I serve a country that has not served me, and shows no such potential? At the same time, I recognize that a nation cannot be successful without people that do care about these questions.
As I think about China and Russia, I sort of start to understand why they’ve gone with the military/authoritarian state model. A nation full of critics and complainers produces nothing. They solely consume, and live off the production of others. Silencing the critics frees up a lot of wasted time and resources, even if it means running over a few innocent students with a tank. In a nation fighting tooth and nail to climb up the world ladder, freedom of speech is a small price to pay. Lincoln certainly thought so.
I think often about the state of other people in other countries, and in the past. Modernists love to praise how advanced we are and how far we have come, but I find it hard to believe that on the whole, people are significantly happier than they were 100 years ago or 1000 years ago. Although I don’t think happiness is purely relative, I do wonder at how happy I think I am, or how happy the people around me think they are. On the whole, people don’t seem to know what makes them happy, and I cannot see a long future in store for a nation that is so self-absorbed, trying to figure out what new forms of consumption will make them happier.
Yet still, I value the choice to determine my happiness. Action finds its value through choice. I can’t say there is no meaning in actions we do not choose, though – which is what confuses me about all this. Are Russians as happy as Americans? Do Russians think they are happier than Americans, despite the oppression of the Kremlin? Are the Chinese happy despite the censorship of their government, knowing that their military is invading an innocent and defenseless country?
Looking at it like this, I find it hard to complain about the problems of my own country, but it doesn’t induce pride or security; more like a relief that the problem of unhappy realities is universal. Ignorance of those realities is, of course, bliss – which is what censorship in Russia and China is all about. But if ignorance is what is required to be happy, then I don’t think I want that.
Ultimately, I can only come to the conclusion that happiness is not an end worth pursuing. That is not to say I shouldn’t do what makes me happy, but I don’t think my life should be finding its value in happiness. I can only see that as leading me down a path of ignorance, or a path of futility.
Thus, it makes sense to me that nowhere in Truth, Beauty and Goodness is happiness guaranteed.