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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

What Patriotism/Nationalism Can Become

The tragic slaughter of 3 Israeli teens along with the cruel reprisals serve as a reminder of the destination for all who passionately embrace patriotism. Noting that patriotism is a kind of tribalism. And tribalism occurs when group loyalty is so high that it becomes more important than commitment to principles and morals. The end effect is that people who have such loyalty define good and evil by who does what to whom. And patriotism can be a form of tribalism where the group being paid such allegiance to is one's own nation. 

Thus Israeli patriotism can cause Israelis to be untouched by the suffering their government forces on others, we should note that Palestinians are not the only targets of Israeli aggression, in their name. Yet, let one of their own be a victim of reprisal then vengeance not only becomes the righteous demand of the day, it covers a multitude of sins. Why? Because what is right and wrong depends on who does what to whom. This is survival and all's fair when one is only trying to survive. However, such an ethic becomes the poisoned apple to the soul of a nation.

Palestinian patriotism can work just the same. After all, because of the disparity in military strength between the two groups, haven't they suffered far more at the hands of their enemies than the Israelis have. Statistics from the B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, clearly show the translation of the military disparity into the number of those who suffer from each side (click here). The Palestinian thinking, which is if we strike back, perhaps they will understand how we live, makes the Israeli government with its military and Palestinian armed resistance groups mirror images of each other. 

We also have to add the mentality of the settlers regarding the land in the Occupied territories, which can be summed up by what one settler told me. He said that they view that land as their inheritance. In other words, they feel entitled to the land regardless of whether it is inhabited or not, regardless of the families they are displacing. And their, not the military's, raced based treatment of Palestinians can rival any bigotry seen in the U.S. prior to the Civil Rights movement. One Palestinian born again Christian told me that the settlers posed a greater threat to his safety than Hamas does.

What explains the mentality of becoming enraged when one's own group is attacked while exhibiting either joy or no human concern at the suffering of the other. Perhaps we can list some other traits that also have been observed by those paying attention.


  • an unrealistic sense of self-importance
  • preoccupied with the idea of success, power, and such
  • a belief that one is special
  • requires an inordinate amount of praise
  • has a sense of entitlement
  • tends to exploit others
  • has little to no empathy for others
  • believes that others are jealous of them
  • is arrogant
  • strongly objects to criticism
  • can exhibit a greater than normal self-righteousness
  • can explode at opposing viewpoints
  • projects their faults on others
  • has a poor sense of boundaries with others
Note that, according to Dr. Leon Seltzer, if at least 5 of the first 9 characteristics are present, then one is suffering from narcissism (click here). The latter five characteristics summarizes the behaviors Seltzer has observed in narcissists. We should note that narcissism can be suffered by groups as well as individuals. And group narcissism does not require the presence of individuals who are narcissistic. We should also note that the groups mentioned here do not have a monopoly on group or "collective narcissism." And we should note the relationship between "collective narcissism" and aggression (click here). Can we now begin to understand some of the costs to our souls which unchecked patriotism/nationalism might extract?

But there is another problem that looms more ominously over our future. Just as there is a tipping point with our environment where we can reach a point of no return with regards to the damage we have caused, there is a tipping point where the violence practiced by two groups against each other extracts, such an emotional toll, that humanity and rationality will be thrown away when dealing with the other side for a prolonged period of time. An example of such a tipping point being crossed can be found in WW II's Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. When one looks at the treatment of the Germans by the invading Russians, such as the raping of millions of German women by invading Soviet soldiers, by itself, we get a different picture of the Soviet soldiers than we would get if we study closely the brutal inhumanity which the Germans first visited on Soviet citizens when they were invading the Soviet Union.

As Israelis and Palestinians practice one cruel attack after another on each other, they make it more and more likely that the cruelty practiced by the other side will spiral out of control which could result in a physical or spiritual total devastation. We should note here that once the tipping point is reached, this could very well be natural. The more one feels threatened, the more one clings to one's own group. And the more one clings to one's own group, the more one practice the kind of tribalism that ensures one's own demise on a soul and/or physical levels. 

We should also note the dilemma that that rest of us find ourselves in. For conflict is not needed to spur one to a kind of self-destructive patriotism. The cultural values of our society sometimes rewards this kind of patriotism. Our culture will tell us that the more patriotic we are, the more noble we are because we are giving ourselves to a cause greater than ourselves. But what we could end up lending ourselves to, when following this siren call, a very unhealthy state of mind for most, if not all, involved.




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