Contemplation: Why I Am an American

Okay, so here we go, here is the first (well I guess technically the second if you consider yesterday’s introductory post as the “first”) in the series “Why I Am . . .” contemplation posts.

Considering the title of this one, “Why I Am an American,” there is kind of two ways to approach this.   One way is pretty quick, to the point, and objective.  The other way requires a bit more investigation  and it apt to be more subjective in nature. Allow me then to approach both of them.

First, the quick and objective one.  I am an American because I was born in the United States of America which has allotted me American citizenship.  I pay US taxes, I vote in US elections, and overall, I enjoy all the benefits and responsibilities that come with being an American citizen.  As such, in the very objective criteria of what makes anybody any particular nationality, I am very clearly an American.

For some of us this simple objective reasoning for why we are whatever nationality we are is probably perfectly satisfactory and enough to settle the matter.  However, I am willing to bet that a lot of people, indeed most people, take their national identity to a much deeper, personal, and subjective level.  I will attempt to do that now with my American-ness.

I consider myself as an American, beyond the purely objective reasoning provided above, because in a general and broad sense I think that I value and try to uphold the ideals that we, as a nation, tend to value and try and promote.  I believe in things like freedom, equality, democratic governmental processes and will act to encourage them as ideals that are beneficial to humans throughout the world, not just here in the United States.  I accept the idea of civil duties like voting in election process as not just a personal responsibility  but as a right that many people throughout history have not been allotted. Overall, I believe that my nation has, in its history, tried to make the world a better place, and in many matters has succeeded in so much.  Personally I feel lucky to have been born and lived in the USA in this place and time in the history of human kind.  Considering all these factors then, I am happy to call myself an “American.”

All that being said though, I am not without reasonable critiques about what it means to both be an “American” and what the nation of the United States is and has been in the world.  If somebody were to ask me “Are you proud to be an American?” I would probably have to pause and think about it for a moment, not because I am unequivocally “not proud” to be an American, but because the idea of pride in such a thing as ones nationality seems both odd and carries many multitudes of complexity to it.

I do not believe that the United States is now, nor has ever been, a beacon of absolute “good.”  Part of this is because of my own interpretations about what is either “good” or “not good” but part of it, is because, regardless of the numerous claims to success that this nation can make, that does not change the plenty of occasions of failing.  The way I see it, the United States, as a product of human kind, is just as capable and able to make mistakes as any other human institution, and indeed any other human individual, are ever able to make.  Some of these mistakes have, hopefully, become pretty self evident over the course of our nation’s history (see “slavery” and “eradication of the Native Americans” for just two examples).  Other issues, both more proximal to our current place in time, as well as ones of more challenging philosophical natures, likely will need more time of deliberation and debate to determine whether we were in the “right” or not.  For my part, I try to approach both the failings and successes of our nation from a realist’s perspective, trying to understand more about the circumstances and issues that allowed such things to occur or be tolerated.  Overall, this is simply apply a critical eye to my evaluation of this country and what it means to be a citizen of such.

If one was to ask me if I was a “patriot” I’d probably be even more hesitant than if somebody were to ask me if I was “proud” of my country.  This is because I have come to believe that, in essence, patriotism is really just a thinly masked and more socially and rhetorically acceptable version of nationalism, and I further think that nationalism is blind faith that all the actions of ones nations are infallible and deserve utter and unquestionable support.  I think that a lot of bad has come of nationalism, and whenever I hear the drums of “patriotism” I find myself thinking how similar the rhetoric and attitudes are to the worst cases of historical “nationalism.”  It is worth remembering that Nazi Germany considered itself “patriotic” in its ways of handling things (note: this isn’t to say that I think that everybody who currently calls themselves a “patriot” is the same as them being a “Nazi,” far from it.  It is more that I think the cries of patriotism can disrupt a necessary critical analysis of actions and ideas being engaged by a nation as a whole).

Overall, I am grateful that I live in a country that, for the most part, provides relative freedom, has general equality for all citizens (though I think we still have a lot of work to do in this regard), and is prosperous enough that I can live in considerable comfort and ease with the opportunity to pursue my own interests and passions.  There are things I wish we could improve on.  For one thing, as a whole, I think we could use being a bit less aggressive in pretty much every aspect of ourselves (from foreign policy down to personal interests).  I worry that the secular values that have allowed our nation to prosper are always kind of teetering on a fine point.  I think that our political system has gotten itself terribly bogged into a bipolar divide that is both inherently unreasonable as well as being ill equipped to address issues that desperately need addressing.  But most importantly of all, I feel concern that too many of us “Americans” are willing to be apathetic and indifferent to the big challenges the world faces because we are comfortable in our place, here and now.  I think that we all too often take this sense of “comfort” as a given instead of realizing that it is a privilege we only get to enjoy by being diligent and involved in the efforts of making the world an overall better place for humans everywhere.

The United States is the both the most powerful and wealthiest nation in the world.  With that power and wealth a great number of things can be accomplished.  But likewise, with that power and wealth comes a great deal of responsibility.  If we want to be able to claim the moral high ground on world issues, we must assure that our actions are indeed worthy of the praise of being “good” and on the right side of history.  I am glad that I, as a citizen of this country, can take part in the efforts of assuring that this is how things turn out.  I realize that it is an opportunity that throughout history, and indeed in much of the world today, has not been available to many many people.  That can be some heavy sauce, but, as it stands, I don’t think I’d have it any other way.

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~ by Nathaniel on April 11, 2013.

2 Responses to “Contemplation: Why I Am an American”

  1. You have one of the greatest blog titles I’ve seen. I’m still chuckling over it.

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