Chris Uggen's Blog: flagging personal patriotism

Saturday, July 01, 2006

flagging personal patriotism

i'll carefully raise a flag this tuesday and display it in front of my house. in a statistical sense, at least, this constitutes deviant behavior within several of my salient reference groups. surely few other american sociologists will be flying the stars and stripes this year.

events strike each of us differently, but my decision to display the flag got a little easier after the salim ahmed hamdan decision came down this week. like many americans who cherish civil rights and civil liberties, my personal patriotism has been, errrr, flagging of late. i see the decision -- and an independent judiciary more generally -- as a strong check on the sort of tyranny to which jefferson and madison (remember this one?) devoted so much attention.

i was never much for flag-waving chest-thumping nationalism, but have always appreciated the nation's founding principles -- and the truth and beauty of those grand documents. this is usually the point at which friends chide me for my naiveté and others scold me for my ignorance or complicity in all manner of ugly american atrocities.

as my nation's world image tanks and each day seems to bring a new assault on science and decency, it is tempting to cede inspirational symbols such as flags to the scoundrels and despots. i probably fly the flag for quite different reasons than the ex-marine across the street, but it belongs to both of us (that said, if you're planning to burn one, i wouldn't do it in his yard). for my part, i'm glad to live in a place where my occasionally intemperate speech and behavior enjoy some degree of constitutional protection. more to the point, i'm glad to raise my kids in a place where their occasionally intemperate speech and behavior enjoy some degree of constitutional protection.

as a sociologist, i know that my race and gender have much to do with the effectiveness of such protections in practice. i've never been an activist, though i'm sure my juvenile delinquency, teenage "stop the draft" activities (alongside a then-rassler and budding politician), and expert testimony against the first family would be considered impermissibly subversive in other periods and places. here, the state pays me to do research and writing that often challenge those in power and i make a good living as a state-employed knowledge worker. that's why i'm only half-kidding when i ask: is this a great country, or what?


At 7:46 PM, Anonymous sara wakefield said...

Interesting post, Chris. This is why I like voting -- even in Prospect Park where the outcome is easy to predict even if half of us don't show up. I like the retirees manning the polls, the kids playing while mom and dad vote, even the silly 'I Voted' sticker... Perhaps a little naiveté as well (and I too am appalled at the state of the nation) but the ritual still makes me smile.

At 8:03 PM, Anonymous sarah said...

I was all weepy and blubbery at my precinct (Mpls' 5th Ward) during the 2004 election - it looked like a record turnout and my 15-month-old and I were the only white, middle class folk in the room. Being one who tends to focus on the darker side of history and, well, everything else for that matter, every time I cast a ballot I pause to meditate on the many great, ordinary Americans who gave their life blood and sweat to get the right to vote in generations before me.

I'm still working out my own sense of patriotism with fear and trembling, but I think I've come to believe that, despite this nation's many wrongdoings, its ideals are in the right place, and every now and then we do it right - or at least some approximation of right. Plus, I take some comfort in TJ's words that, "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."

Speaking of activism, the kids are getting started younger these days. Here's a reconstructed conversation with my three-year-old from this very evening:
Micah: What airplane is this (toy)?
Me: Air Force One.
Micah: Who flies in it?
Me: The President.
Micah: Why?
Me: Because he needs a special plane.
Micah: Why?
Me: Because he's a very special person.
Micah: Why?
Me: Because he runs the United States of America.
Micah: And he cuts down trees?
Me: What makes you think he does that?
Micah: Because the preschoolers had to write him a letter telling him not to do that today.
Me: Oh, really!

Apparently, his preschool classroom is takin' it to the streets any day now!

At 10:29 PM, Anonymous chris said...

no-h and h, your voting records put mine to shame, but our views don't seem too far apart.

btw, why are certain presidents so committed to recreational deforestation? both mr. reagan and mr. bush II derived great pleasure from borderline-compulsive brush-clearing, tree-chopping, and log-splitting. i've got a few trees on my li'l ranch, but haven't had much interest in trimming them. i get a lot more joy just cutting little crop circles into my lawn...

At 7:38 AM, Blogger Penn State Punk said...

Why all this blog love? I have voted around 6 times. It is like waiting in line for food at the cafeteria. Most voters are there alone, and are grumpy about the wait.

Kids playing while mom and dad vote…. retirees manning the polls?
I get what you are saying, but come on……….the imagery is over the top.
Never once have I encountered this. Of course it happens somewhere, but that’s not the typical polling station.

I am just saying if we are going to celebrate the ritual, lets keep it real.

Sorry I am such an ass Sara, you’re great!, I think…. I am down on blogs lately….…

At 1:38 PM, Blogger michelle inderbitzin said...

just to add a west coast perspective, i've always thought of voting as a responsibility. it wasn't always a good time, in seattle at least, trudging through the rain and the dark to the local polling place after a long day at work just to wait in line to vote.

and, with the time difference, some national elections are essentially decided before west coast voters make it to their polling booths, which can be a further disincentive to brave the elements.

all that said, now that i live in oregon, where all voting is done by mail, i kind of miss the ceremony of going out to the polling place to cast my vote. it's just not the same putting your ballot in the mail....

At 2:54 PM, Blogger Woz said...

"You're voting/
Which you're hoping/
Will stop the guns from toking/
Is someone f***ing joking?"
--Boots Riley

Sorry for the asterisks, as I know that self-censorship is the worst form of censorship, but I don't know where the sensitivites of this blog lie.

But more to the point, I don't think anyone caught this because city kids usually don't know as many straight-forward racists, but you meant to write stars and stripes. The stars and bars would be slang for the confederate flag, which would show your pride not in our nation's founding ideals, but rather in "states rights" (by which they mean "the right to be murderous racists without the feds interferring")

At 7:28 PM, Anonymous chris said...

ouch, woz, you're absolutely right. thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt -- i must have been thinking of the neil young album. i'll make the change to the post.

At 10:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do you assume "city kids" are the only ones reading the blog?

The country bumpkin thing is played out. I think you live in Minneapolis.

At 10:45 PM, Blogger Woz said...

Ooooo, an anonymous attacker on somone else's weblog? Has my popularity really soared that much?

Chris, if you can forgive my using your blog space for some defense/self-promotion, I'm just giong to quickly respond to anon's comments:

I do indeed live in the Mpls now. But I grew up 18 straight years in the same house on the corner of one of the two one-way streets in the gypsum capital of the world (quick! prove you're not a city kid by figuring out what gypsum is without google), before I moved up to a tiny state college in a town of about 10,000 more people.

But although I could defend my bumkin-ness all day, I will only point out that only a few short months ago an entire class room of graduate students were pointing and laughing at me because not only had I never eaten hummus, I thought it was a Mexican dish.

Incidentally, the home town website advertises the fact that we're located a convenient 3.5 hours from Minneapolis. That's the best we can offer, apparently.


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