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National Identity

From: "andrew cooke" <andrew@...>

Date: Fri, 17 Aug 2007 08:57:22 -0400 (CLT)

http://ask.metafilter.com/69516/Why-are-you-American#1038351

"What does it mean to you (yes, YOU there, reading this) to be an American?
... I'm 21, I see what's going on in the world, and I become upset when
someone tells me that "I should be outraged."..."

IANA, but two related points:

1 - Your question includes some items - why you should be "outraged", for
example - that, to my eyes, have nothing to do with being American. There
are certain things happening in the world and one reaction to them is to
be outraged, of course, but that seems to me to be a moral question and
not one related to nationality. The fact that you do relate it to
nationality suggests that you are being manipulated - that you are
responding to people saying "because you are American you should feel xyz"
when facing a moral problem. I say "manipulated" because I don't think
nationality (more generally, cultural identity) should be strongly
connected with morality - that is one of the more obvious lessons of
history.

I mention this because it seems so common in American politics. Americans
seem to think it is OK to use spy satellites on other people, but not on
themselves; that Americans deserve a fair trial, but not "foreigners".
And, incidentally, to an outsider, that attitude is decidedly American.

2 - Nationality tends to be connected with other ways in which we group
socially. There are obvious connections with ethnicity, for example. It is
also a political construct - a nation typically has some type of
government at a national level - and the efficient functioning of a
national government requires a certain amount of consensus /
participation.

In larger countries, or those whose political borders don't coincide with
social boundaries, there is the risk that fragmentation will occur - that
people will stop identifying with the common good and instead divide into
competing factions along social / ethnic lines. to counteract this I
believe that such governments (and I think this particularly applies to
America, which is geographically large and has traditionally absorbed many
immigrant groups) actively construct and maintain a national identity. So
to some extent all of us - and particularly Americans - believe in an
ideal of "who we are" which is a story, chosen to encourage us to behave
in a certain way. anyone can see this in recent American politics.

Andrew

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