Loyalty

During my brief lifetime, the US has enjoyed unchallenged dominance on the world stage.  Indeed, the US and patriotism are used together so often that, at least to an American, it sounds weird to hear the word “patriotism” used to refer to any other country.

I’m a patriotic person as well as a veteran and I constantly internally explore the meaning of patriotism, and by extension, loyalty.  Patriotism to me very rarely looks like patriotism does to, say, Trump, or to Obama even.  It doesn’t look like Red State patriotism, and it doesn’t look like non-veteran patriotism.  I’ll generally find more kinship with veterans, but even a lot of the time I’ll disagree with them on what patriotism should mean.

One thing I’m fascinated with is what peoples’ loyalties would look like if the US were not so dominant.  In particular, what would loyalties look like if the US fell far from its leadership position?  I think that most would say they would still love their country and defend it even if it fell in prominence.  But would they?

I’ve been living in DC and NYC for the last 9 years.  Most of my classmates, and probably coworkers, are fairly cosmopolitan.  Most of the Georgetown set are well-off and enjoy gilded lives.  They tend to focus on large-scale issues and organizations whereas a lot of folks in NYC I know have old money too, but they tend not to be as world-minded.

These DC and NYC people are the people on Instagram you always see traveling to exotic countries to help people, by way of fancy hotels and safaris and whatever else.  They’re people who seamlessly transfer from one city-state to another because, if you’re well-off enough, every city provides safety and comfortable living.  These people are politically interested, and activist where it makes sense, and so you might think they would be the most empowered to retain patriotism in the face of adversity.

But I wonder if these people would be the first to leave, the first to flee, the first to criticize how things are and take flight to other places, because they are sad to see how the state of things has deteriorated.  How this place they were patriotic about no longer represents what they believed in.  We didn’t leave the party, the party left us.  Because they have such mobility and freedom, giving up allegiance comes with virtually no disadvantages.  Ex-pat culture is a massive thing now.  What does the Brexit event mean in light of all this, with the city-state of London desiring to stay, while the rest of England wanted to leave?  Toned-down nationalism and the promise of pan-European unity did not reward around half of the population evidently.

Studies of Russian patriotism are perhaps instructive because they already lost a lot of their dominance on the world stage, and while, by geopolitical position, they will always be a significant force, a lot of Russia experts would say one of the defining traits of Russia is its wounded pride.

As a veteran I’m well aware of the fact that for the most part, US military strength overwhelms its opponents.  Sure, we have recently settled with giving up our overwhelming advantages by engaging in costly urban and asymmetric warfare, but for the most part, every military unit has been turned into a force multiplier by nature of training and technology.  What would it feel like to be part of a military that was not the biggest, baddest dog in the pound?  What if your squad or unit literally faced annihilation every day by a superior force?  Would you still be volunteering to serve?  The current calculus of gilding your resume would shift.

Religious faith and fealty to family are also receding.  For the most part I think this is a good thing, especially given the explosive investigations that people in power in the church and popular media exposure of abusive households during my lifetime has flipped the script.

Work for millennials and people my age does not encourage long-term stints with the same employer.  Not only do you generally only enjoy raises and promotions only when you change jobs, employers are also less likely to internally promote unless it’s a specific policy decision they’ve made.

So in no way is one rewarded for being loyal or patriotic these days.  It makes even less sense if you don’t live in the US.  With the Olympics set to begin soon in Rio, it’s often the only time some countries display overt national pride other than, say, World Cup?

I don’t really watch The Walking Dead but my wife does.  What interests me I guess is that communities of like-minded people in these post-apocalyptic worlds form and square off against each other.  Racial ties probably are strongest.  Bandwagoning towards the strongest leader would be the next strongest perhaps.  Religion?  Maybe nationality?

The Walking Dead hints at but doesn’t quite explain fully what its estimate is for how quickly we as a society would devolve from an orderly system to every person for himself.  Would it take you a month before you gave up on any hope for a return of order, before you started to choose a faction?  Just for your own safety until people started to figure out relative strengths between groups?

I know no one else enjoyed the film A.I., but Teddy is perhaps one of my favorite all-time film characters and the betrayal of humans towards the androids they created is just so compelling and painful a subject for what will likely happen to us when we begin co-existing with computers that it’s chilling to me to see the film.

David’s programming and state as a young child is in conflict with his role in his family and so his actions become suspicious and scary to the family, particularly when the real son manipulates David into doing things that alienate their parents.

I enjoyed Fallout’s storyline regarding androids and humans, with the rift generating two different factions, The Brotherhood (those who sought to remove technology from public availability and hoard it for themselves, for everyone’s good) and the Railroad, who sought to smuggle androids to safety.

It’s true that loyalty can lead to cruelty towards outsiders and xenophobia.  But lack of loyalty, or lack of attachment to anything, leads to disengagement, a common complaint for American voting habits and politics at this point.

I’m definitely a hometown sports fan.  I don’t like bandwagoners and I respect sports fans a lot more if they root for teams in cities that they live or lived in.  I once knew a guy — Cowboys fan, Lakers fan, Yankees fan.  Infuriating.  It’s almost though you can’t trust someone who doesn’t even root for his hometown teams.

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Maybe the smell test here is if you’re not loyal to something, or have faith, or take a stand on something or have an opinion, then where can other people decide that you stand on anything.  Seriously, if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for everything, right?

A common trope also is that for those who are loyal, they are seen as weak and predictable — the Joker loves to take advantage of Batman in this way, but where I see it happen the most in real life is in bias committed against veterans.  It’s the idea that people shrug and give lip service to “supporting the troops”, but then if they don’t like a veteran, the person becomes a bona fide PTSD case: on the edge, ready to snap, probably suicidal, a lost cause.  This is where what you’ve stood for and sacrificed for becomes weaponized against you.  Your beliefs and your actions, generally done in service to others, becomes a negative upon you.

The other side is conformity, right?  If you don’t swear fealty, then you must be removed.  If you’re not with us, you’re against us.  It’s such a thin line, loyalty.

All this stuff is interesting to me, and perhaps because it becomes so prominent during election campaigns, that’s why I tend to write about these things every 4 years.

I certainly get why Asian-Americans, of which I consider myself a member, have parents who immigrated to the US and kept a low profile and tried to work hard and stay out of trouble.  If you’ve existed in a world where people turn on each other, question each others’ loyalties, and judge each other based on those sorts of qualities, it would be desirable to leave all that, try to raise your family, and not draw any undue attention to yourself.  As a soon-to-be father I appreciate that more and more, particularly as I also think about my career and what actions I would take in the future.

I guess I don’t have a particular point to make about all this, but these emotions people have are latent, powerful forces.  If a certain set of people no longer displays these emotions or ascribes them to common causes, where will that emotion and loyalty show itself in the future?  Does it put us in danger to just assume that the dampening of nationalism necessarily means a general sense of acceptance to a global common cause?

I doubt it.