Patriotism, Bias, and Political Apathy: A Dangerous Triad
A public bus careens down a busy highway, terrorist at the wheel. Another terrorist pilots a heavy lift helicopter above the highway, and extends wire hooks to lift the bus from the pavement and into the air. Maneuvering the 'copter erratically through the city, the pilot rams the helplessly tethered bus into skyscrapers, destroying structures and lives while the passengers have no recourse but to succumb... Surreal, isn't it? Or is it?
This is a scene from the explosive-laden action film Swordfish, which follows the pursuits of a powerful terrorist organization.
Swordfish uses dramatic imagery to illustrate a reality -- terrorist organizations can amass a large power base, given enough funds and charismatic leaders, and accomplish the seemingly impossible, like using a helicopter to lift a public bus from a highway and thrust it into skyscrapers. Such a film would remain unreleased had it been conceived after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, since the tyranny of the majority favors "patriotic" films over graphic depictions of possible realities.
Individual opinions and beliefs largely go ignored due to political apathy. Political apathy begins when individuals believe they have absolute rights, but in reality, rights are not absolute. Therefore, political apathy leaves us vulnerable to the formation of a homogenous society that promotes biased or one-sided ideas, because other ideas remain ignored -- people have no obligation or responsibility to voice their own opinion.
Our biased form of patriotism illustrates the effect of political apathy toward individual opinions and beliefs. Biased patriotism limits global thinking and informed debate. Biased patriotism emphasizes isolationism instead of a global view. Biased patriotism squelches certain views, deeming them "unpatriotic".
Media such as newspapers, magazines, television, and major motion pictures promote this biased patriotism. Recently, an episode of television's Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher contained a program segment in which Maher argued "that the American policy of lobbing cruise missiles into the desert from 2,000 miles away and bombing Kosovo from high altitudes was more cowardly" (Brownfield) than the actions of suicide attackers who brought down the World Trade Center. Sponsors of the ABC series deeply criticized Maher for his unpatriotic remarks.
Again spreading biased patriotism, radio broadcasters changed play lists after the September 11 attacks. The revised play lists prohibited certain songs from airplay, due to their titles. Tunes with names like TNT, Jet Airliner, Death Blooms, Ruby Tuesday, Leaving on a Jet Plane, Burning down the house, Crash Into Me, Learning to Fly, and I'm on fire, were replaced with heavy airplay of John Lennon's Imagine, and Pearl Jam's Alive. Song titles were re-named. The alternative rock band Bush's song "Speed Kills" became "The people that we love". Jimmy Eat World's song "Bleed American" became "American". (Appleford)
Many of these song titles do not directly relate to their subject matter. Dave Matthews Band's song Crash into Me is not about self-destruction or destruction at all; it is a song about love. Without discussing the reasons for removing the songs from play lists, radio broadcasters promote political apathy and biased patriotism.
After the September 11 attacks, Jesse Jackson said: "build bridges and relationships, not simply bombs and walls." Joel Beinin, Stanford University professor said: "If Osama bin Laden is confirmed to be behind the attacks, the United States should bring him before an international tribunal on charges of crimes against humanity." Another said: "Ignorance breeds hate." The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a non-profit group, denounced these three opinions and many more in a report titled Defending Civilization: How Our Universities Are Failing America and What Can Be Done About It. The report condemns 117 faculty members as "guilty" for expressing un-patriotic opinions. "The report strongly denounces faculty members for invoking 'tolerance and diversity as antidotes to evil' and pointing 'accusatory fingers, not at the terrorists, but at America itself.'" The report lists Lynne Cheney (Wife of Vice President Dick Cheney) as a founder of the group ("chairman emeritus"). (Eakin)
While Dick Cheney's wife waves an accusatory finger at "unpatriotic" scholars, Karl Rove, a political strategist from Texas, meets with movie industry executives in order to influence Hollywood to create films that mirror "the themes the government...is emphasizing, including...patriotism". (Reuters) It remains to be seen whether Rove, who is regarded as "the architect of George W. Bush's presidential victory", (Reuters) succeeds in replacing original and creative theatrical artwork with forced and dry "politically correct" dogma.
Already well acquainted with the power of the tyranny of the majority and bias, John Stuart Mill, English political philosopher, reformer and writer, wrote On Liberty in 1859. In On Liberty, Mill addresses the importance of originality to curb cultural homogeneity and bias. Mill says, "Society has now fairly got the better of individuality; and the danger which threatens human nature is not the excess, but the deficiency, of personal impulses and preferences." (Mill) Mill believes that allowing individuals to freely express opinions enables a society a richer debate over issues that affect everyone.
Some say patriotism brings a nation together. Patriotism, they say, is an ideal that creates peace after a time of great tragedy. Without patriotism, people would not feel connected with one another in such a large nation. Without patriotism, citizens would not feel the need to donate blood, donate money, and donate time after a tragedy.
Indeed. Patriotism benefits citizens. It also benefits the U.S. military as a sort of religion to set the soldiers toward a goal -- fighting for something real and righteous, liberty. However, due to political apathy, citizens do not question and debate what patriotism means and in effect, patriotism remains weakly defined. In this way, biased patriotism spreads due to political apathy. The spread of bias and patriotism is not in itself an evil. Biased language and the spread of "patriotic ideals" is the underlying effect of a deeper problem: citizens' disregard for politics, even at a basic day-to-day level. For what - at its basic root - is politics, but "the internally conflicting interrelationships among people in a society". (dictionary.com)
This disregard for politics, or political apathy, is further fortified in the false belief that Americans have absolute rights. In Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse, Mary Ann Glendon describes the rampant legal speech inherent in everyday conversations. Our individual speech is full of legalities and rights talk, says Glendon: (pg. 9) "…in its simple American form, the language of rights is the language of no compromise. The winner takes all and the loser has to get out of town. The conversation is over." (Glendon) Such debates do not render thoughtful solutions.
These conversations only serve to uphold the idea of the absoluteness of our rights. Media would rather ignore such confrontations and change radio play lists on a whim, even when song titles are metaphorical and have no bearing on the actual lyrics to the songs. The government would rather accuse university scholars for unpatriotic ideas, than actually discuss why these ideas came to be. Sponsors of Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect would rather condemn him for his unpatriotic views then actually debate why he holds these views.
Both the United States Constitution and United States citizenship documents portray American rights as absolute. A document explaining "the meaning of citizenship" by the Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization states: When you took the oath of allegiance to the Constitution of the United States, you claimed for yourself the God-given unalienable rights which that sacred document sets forth as the natural right of all men." (Glendon) Notice in this passage the absence of responsibility for these rights and the pronouns like "you", "yourself", and "unalienable". We are not as free as we believe. The court of law obviously curbs rights from being absolute. Yet we continue to claim: "It is a free country. I can do anything I want." In contrast, "Canadian citizenship literature... lays... greater stress on the importance of participation in the political life of a multicultural society." (Glendon) Glendon believes that citizens must change their view of politics. Citizens must take a greater responsibility for their actions and the actions of others. (Glendon)
Glendon says, "A refined rhetoric of rights would promote public conversation about the ends towards which our political life is directed. It would keep competing rights and responsibilities in view, helping to assure that none would achieve undue prominence and that none would be unduly obscured. It would not lend itself to the notion that freedom is being able to do anything you want." (Glendon) Such a system would allow intelligent debate: the questioning of patriotism, and thorough discussion of other political ideas. Eliminating bias in media does not curb the problem, because the problem is not simply bias. The problem is citizens' unwillingness to conclude that rights are not absolute. When citizens believe their rights are absolute, they do not question what patriotism means, because they believe their opinion unimportant, and this spreads political apathy and biased patriotism. So as we change the name of songs, change movies to make them more patriotic, and condemn people for expressing "unpatriotic" ideas, we merely deny ourselves the ability to begin the process of creating this "refined rhetoric of rights".
Alter, Jonathan. "Patriotism." Newsweek.com September 2001
Appleford, Steve. "I Heard the News Today." Rolling Stone Date: October 25,
Brownfield, Paul. "Troubled Timing Takes Maher Beyond 'Politically Incorrect'."
latimes.com September 26, 2001 <http://www.calendarlive.com/top/1,1419,L-LATimes-TV-X!ArticleDetail-44124,00.html>
Calvo, Dana. "Uncle Sam Wants Hollywood, but Hollywood Has Qualms."
calendarlive.com November 19, 2001
Eakin, Emily. "Conservatives keep 'weak link' list." The Burlington Free Press.
November 24, 2001, sec. A: 2.
Glendon, Mary Ann. Rights Talk The Impoverishment of Political Discourse. New York:
The Free Press, 1991.
Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. England: Penguin Books Ltd, 1974.
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Reuters. "White House might seek to influence Hollywood plots." CNN.com. November