Monday, January 31, 2005

My Patriotism Can Beat Your Nationalism Into the Ground Any Day of the Week

Lauren told me I should write a manifesto about competition. Ha. As manifesti go, this is awfully short. Make it longer.

It needs to be clarified, first, that from kindergarten to twelfth grade I attended a school that gave no grades, and I think that's had tremendous influence on the way I perceive competition. While certain instances of nastiness cropped up--it was a small school, so surrounding high school admissions, SATs and so forth. But for the most part, since our accomplishments in relationship to one another were treated with the subjectivity that--to me--is obviously more honest than the pretended objectivity of grades, we didn't spend a lot of time measuring our work against one another's. As Mel articulates it, when a decently intelligent person is getting grades, she will figure out soon enough how much work an A+ requires. Since it's impossible to do better than an A+, it would be hard for said decently intelligent person to see why she should go further than the amount of work that takes, even if she's capable of doing that work and might be interested in it. We do depend on the acknowledgement of other people. But when you don't have grades, when your limit is not set out in advance, you will keep working until you feel satisfied with yourself. It requires you to figure out your own top.

Obviously, that doesn't work for absolutely everyone; you have to go in somewhat self-motivated. I did see several people fall through the cracks of Saint Ann's. However, I think the system would work for far more people than it's given credit for. I've taught enough in schools with rigid grading systems now to say that with confidence.

Competition's a human instinct. Heather's referred to it as "a dick thing," which I don't think is the truth; I think it applies to both and all genders and must have done so for a long time. Even competing against one another directly must be fairly natural. What I don't think is natural, or helpful, is measuring yourself solely in terms of what others do or don't do. If you're not satisfied with what you're doing, it becomes irrelevant whether it's better than anyone else's or not. But that's the way I think--there are many others that don't think that way, foremost among them our president.

This distinction is manifest in how Orwell defined the dichotomy of patriotism and nationalism. Before September 11, I deeply valued patriotism. I didn't think the US was perfect, especially after we placed the Monkey Overlord in office (wow, it's been a long time since I used that name--right before the 2000 election, a guy in my dorm created a Sunday night film series called "Monkey versus Robot," and thus the Monkey Overlord became a dorm name for Bush), but I used to take a great deal of pleasure, for example, in the Fourth of July, in wearing red, white and blue and in understanding myself as part of a community--I am united with these next-to-arbitrary people that surround me, we all belong to this place and therefore share some common denominator of experience (yes, there's a lot to be challenged in that statement, but there's also some truth), and that makes me feel more comfortable about being a social being, encased in this world. Nationalism, however, is purely a process of comparison, and mostly what Bush does. We can't be satisfied with having the incredible balloon raised in 1798 that's still floating, we can't be content with how well our system has operated, for the most part--yes, there are glaring exceptions, and I might not feel this way if I were of another race--for the last two hundred years, but we have to assert that not only does it work incredibly well for us, it's better than everyone else's and therefore we should compel as many people as possible to do it exactly as we do.

I don't think it works for government, and I don't really think it works for most people, and yet the process of comparison, I'll admit it here as anywhere, is inherent to me and, I think, to all of us. And if we do it, why shouldn't we be open about it? Because creating systems for running a group of people, from a play to a government to a world, are made of compromise. If we acknowledge that all of us are competitive and it's impossible to run a society with all of us winning, we should hypothetically be skilled enough at the art of compromise to be honestly patriotic, which would consist of making the community--nation, global city, gated community, university, whatever--as workable for everyone as possible.

Bloody utopian, don't you think? And of course, patriotism is better than nationalism. It's also good on its own, is patriotism, but it's better than nationalism, clearly.


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