My mum has a high school reunion coming up, and got some copies of her old school magazines so she could write some articles. As it turns out she wrote a fair chunk of articles for them, one of which was a glowing review entitled “Australia!” Interestingly, it came from the assumption that the reader would think Australia was a fairly boring, backwards, inconsequential sort of place — and as you can guess from the exclmation mark, went on in rapturous, euphoric tones to convince you of quite the opposite.

What’s fascinating, to me anyway, is that I can recall the same kind of “Pfft. Australia.” or “Australia? That’s some snowy country in Europe, right?” attitude not all that long ago — you’d really think that people living in a thriving state capital on the turn of the millenium might have developed a more optimistic view of the country than a young lady stuck in a tiny country town had *mumble* decades ago.

But, on the other hand, I also think that’s started to change over the past few years; things like the Sydney Olympics, the intervention in East Timor and the Solomons, and even divisive things like the close relationship with the US on the War on Terror and the involvement in the Iraq War, have made us start to think that, well, maybe we aren’t Britain’s forgotten step-child and we do have some contribution to make. And hey, Ricky was even kind enough to give me some evidence that people really are coming to a different view.

Of course, he explains it somewhat differently:

This year’s Australia Day got me thinking about patriotism and the role it plays in the modern world. I have often believed patriotism to be one of the greatest scourges afflicting the globe. […] Yet, I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that patriotism plays an important positive role in the world today. Patriotism, it seems, is the guardian of cultural diversity.

Patriotism – in its wider connotation – is the love of one’s country, region or culture. […]

Personally, I’d go further, and say that it’s also the love of one’s family, one’s friends and one’s neighbours. It’s also an expression of happiness and acceptance of the environment you find yourself in — that you think the rivers, and the climate and the mountains and the sights are wonderful and don’t want to change them or lose them; that you’re grateful for the homes and businesses and society your parents and their parents have created and built up.

And if you define patriotism that way, it’s a good thing in and of itself. It’s respect, and admiration, and conservation, and friendship, and family, and peace, love and goodwill all rolled into one.

But that’s not the only way to define it. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of patriotism is actually this song:

And did I hear you say
My country right or wrong
My country oh so strong
My country going wrong
My country right or wrong

It came out in the early 90’s by the look, back when I was an impressionable youth, a few short years after leaving primary school and hence no longer singing the national anthem every week at assembly, or standing to watch the flag be raised every morning.

Anyway, the lyrics sung by the Labor member for Kingsford-Smith make an interesting contrast to these comments from the government Minister for Health, Tony Abbott:

[…] [Howard] has been much mocked for saying that he wanted an Australia that was “relaxed and comfortable” but this attitude has actually been at the core of his success.


A very significant part of Howard’s achievement has been to massage away the pessimistic and narrow-minded aspects of Australian conservatism. Fear of Asia, mistrust of difference, obsessive concern with whether people are getting more than their share are much less part of our national make-up than they were. Australians’ capacity to be self-critical has not changed since 1996 but we’ve largely lost the adolescent agonising about who we are and where we belong.

[…] [Australians] no longer feel threatened by diversity and think that the extended family is a good metaphor for contemporary Australia.

Almost unnoticed, the Howard Government has started to create a new story for Australia, not as the plucky ally, certainly not as anyone’s deputy sheriff, but as a force for good in our own right.

Maybe it’s that the jingoistic singing and flag raising got to me when I was even more youthful and impressionable, but I definitely know which view I prefer to hold.

Anyway, Ricky’s thesis doesn’t really work, to my mind. Apart from the knee jerk anti-capitalism (“But ironically, it is capitalism and the free market economy that is threatening to swallow our multifarious cultures and replacing them with a McDonald’s or Starbucks on every corner.” — but it’s also capitalism and free market economies that give American’s hundres of channels of locally produced content, while government regulations keep us stuck to a handful of channels that can only afford to run proven successes; likewise it’s capitalism and the free market that gives you half a dozen food courts in the mall where you can get cheap quick food inspired from countries on every continent except Antarctica)…

Err, I kinda got distracted there, hey? Let me try again. Ricky’s thesis doesn’t work anyway, to my mind — if you’re going to use patriotism to defend yourself from the iniquities McDonalds and Starbucks, presumably you’re worried about succumbing to the borg-like empire of the United States. But at least as far as I can see, it’s actually far more diverse than Australia — the difference between Brisbane on the east coast, Perth on the west coast, and Adelaide on the Great Australian Bight is pretty much one of environment — the people are pretty much the same either way. But the differences between the culture of, say, New York, Los Angeles, and New Orleans is quite a bit more notable. Now, maybe I chose my cities a bit unfairly: how about Salt Lake City, Utah; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Austin, Texas instead? Add in Seattle and Honolulu, and you’ve pretty much used up all your Australian capitals already, with no two of their US counterparts being alike. And there’s still another three-dozen to go.

Of course, you could argue that of course America’s more diverse — it’s been more patriotic than Australia for decades! But in that case, is patriotism good for protecting diversity, or for creating it?

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