Updated: Aug 11
If nothing else is self-evident about us humans, it’s that we have a need, a desire to belong to something greater than ourselves. Our history is full of examples of people fighting and dying for causes which they could barely define, yet conceptualize. The world we inhabit today is no different. Individuals join the armed forces knowing full well it could mean their deaths; yet, the idea of dying for one’s country is held up as an honor. There are also individuals willing to die for causes not so noble, such as mass murderers of people, because their very existence within the same nation is perceived as being threatening. Accordingly, the idea of acting out of an idea of fidelity or loyalty to something which transcends us is not something which is a universal good. And with the ever-increasing phenomenon of individual alienation, the reality of individuals feeling like they have no attachments, that they are truly alone in a world of no consequence is becoming more and more pervasive. Traditionally, it was religion and family that filled this void. However, with the discrediting of these institutions by the modern world alternatives have appeared which, while seeming to emulate traditional loyalty, have perverted it into a shell of its former self. The question then is, "how do we differentiate between bad and good loyalty?"; This is the task ahead of us, to create a model from which we can become self-conscious of what we’re loyal to and what we should be loyal to.
When people think of loyalty the first impression which comes to mind is something obvious, such as parents, spouses, and friends, objects readily identifiable, close by and known by the individual concerned. Most of us think of ourselves as having the same loyalties; we’d be willing to sacrifice ourselves for friends and family. But upon reflection, do we really? Is it friends and family that we’re loyal to? Or is it something much deeper? When we go out of your way to help a loved one and in the process create a significant burden for ourselves, are we helping our relatives or friends because they are our relatives or friends? Contemporary society puts too much emphasis on words at the expense of the meanings behind those words. Consequently, an act of sacrifice too often takes on the appearance of an act directed towards individuals in themselves. Let me elaborate. At the heart of any connection between one or more individuals is an idea. A parent is someone who in your youth was willing to sacrifice their time and money to take care of you to give up much of their existence for your own. Our definition of parents is constructed from this idea. Biology is only one aspect amongst many which go into the idea of parenthood. In reality, the biological basis of parenting, unless accompanied by the ideal of parenthood, can be looked upon as an anchor. As the individual fails to approach the ideal, the knowledge that one of the components is there (the biological) creates an expectation that the other components of parenthood should also exist, and when they don’t, disappointment and resentment are the results. The same idea holds for friendships as well. The idea of a friend is an individual who shares the same likes and experiences and where there exists a history of interactions between two or more personalities. Through sacrifice - the expression of loyalty - what are we exactly being loyal to, the vessel or the idea? The answer is more important than it may seem at first glance, as it has repercussions for much larger social units, such as the Nation and the State.
Most of what we do throughout our lives has to do with the fulfillment of ideas, from the way we dress and talk to the music we listen to. There are exceptions, such as the biological need for food and drink, but even these are at times more of a reflection of an idea as we prefer a certain brand of food and drink over another due to name recognition. The purely biological aspect of our existence makes up a relatively small portion of who we are. The inner need to transcend ordinary existence and self-express ourselves through vessels and material objects is readily apparent. The cult of blood is nothing more than an abstraction with no basis in human history. The individual who goes out of his way to defend loved ones is defending the idea of love as represented through the vessel of the one being loved. Take away that idea and the defense of these individuals becomes the defense of empty shells, a meaningless gesture meant to live up to a standard represented by words with no meaning. Extrapolate from this foundation and people become dedicated to these words and not the substance behind them.
This is precisely what happens when two modes of life collide: the material, which is an attempt to impose something false and artificial upon individuals and the ideal which is the self-expression of the individual. Materialism is fidelity to an object in itself; it’s giving value to a thing because it is a thing and not the representation of an idea. While materialism runs contrary to human nature its adoption into a political/economic system can alter our views of life and make us conduct ourselves contrary to our natural inclinations. Hence the high incarceration rates, drug abuse, and the frequency of suicides, which have come to define contemporary society.
It's only natural that the little tidbits of materialism which are picked up in youth transfer to larger social units such as the Nation and State once we’ve grown and moved on from our birth families. Including the thought processes which go into how and to what we place our loyalty in. Despite the inroads materialism continues to make culturally, the desire of individuals to transcend themselves has proven resistant to change. However, what can now be seen is the desire for self-expression undermined by a thought process devoted to attributing value to a thing in itself. Nowhere can this be seen more visibly than in the political realm.
While the family is the root and foundation of society and the State is the glue that holds everything together, the nation is the product of the union of these two ideas: Family + State = Nation. Its importance as such is usually expressed through outward signs of fidelity, the singing of the national anthem, the pledge of allegiance, and patriotic displays at international sporting events being just a few amongst many displays of national fidelity. In itself this is a healthy phenomenon, it gives the individual a sense of belonging to something greater than himself. But coupled with materialistic thinking can be destructive to individual and national well-being. The reasons why belong to the nature of the Nation; much like the State and family, it has its material manifestations, but at its roots, its survival is determined upon the degree to which it lives in the minds of the individuals who compose it; its orientation is essentially spiritual. To expand upon the description above Family + State = Nation, where Nation = shared history + common culture + shared feeling of dependence. There are variables that go into the creation of the Nation that in turn go into producing shared feelings and hence the construction of said nation. However, eliminate Family or State or both from the equation and the building blocks of the Nation begin to crumble, but not the need of the individual to belong to it. This is where the dangers of Materialism present itself. Without the building blocks present, the necessity to construct the end product of those blocks disappear and instead, the above equation changes to something resembling this, +? = Nation. The idea, the source of the representation disappears, to be replaced by the thing in itself, the Nation.
America is the land of contradictions; a country that enshrines liberty and freedom in its founding documents but reflects a dearth of diversity in its political and social views. We have the oldest governing document in the world and our politics and discourse have been dominated for the longest time by only two institutions, the Republicans and Democrats. Other countries reflect more legal restraints upon speech, but their institutions and history reflect a wider degree and evolution of political thought. What Americans lack in legal restraints upon speech we make up for with taboos and proscriptions which go much further in pushing conformism than any law could. Any ideas broached of either replacing the Constitution or making significant changes are commonly responded with charges of treason and hostility. Or, the respondent will often engage in moralizing by denouncing the idea as hypocritical, declaring that it’s two-faced to favor replacing something which gives you the right to even voice your opinions, or ignoring the fact that most other countries allow just as much ability to voice an argument without the moralizing condemnations often accompanied by giving such an argument here. The problem is one of over-compensating. Look back at your individual life history. There are times for all of us when through either fear or ignorance we act in an over-protective manner; we’re overcompensating to make up for a lack of confidence in the outcome. It’s no different on the National level. The variables which go into constructing a nation are readily available in other countries but they lack substance here. Most important of all is a lack of shared history, without which the other building blocks can’t even begin to be formed. In its place, an attempt is made to create the Nation without the variables present. Whereas constituents of a nation would revere certain ideas and institutions as being representative of something far greater. What we’ve experienced here is a reverence for ideas and institutions out of a desire to be patriotic, not because they represent an idea, but out of a misplaced sense of duty. There is no thought which goes into the contemporary American sense of loyalty, certain things are taken as a given, that to be a good person fidelity needs to be given and expressed mechanically.
A case in point is the Religious Right, who as an organized group almost universally supports conservative politicians and causes, amongst which is free-market capitalism. This is despite a reality that has become progressively clearer of Capital in an attempt to expand market share working to undermine the very values which Christian Conservatives claim to value. It’s not uncommon to see businesses refuse to do business in States that refuse to give legal protection to homosexual or transgendered individuals. Then literally days later these same Christians celebrate the virtues of capitalism, while denouncing its opponents as evil Reds. The Left is equally guilty when they enshrine unfettered immigration as a moral good while at the same time denouncing businesses which pay sub-standard wages and impose poor working conditions upon their workers, not seeing how the two are interconnected. Both the American Left and Right suffer from the same condition of materialism and the worship of idols.
The above in no way is an incitement to disrespect or tear down the land of your birth. The United States with all its drawbacks is still our home and needs to be treated as such. The very fact of being born in a particular country implies the obligation to obey its laws and make it as livable as possible for your family and other members of the community. The job is to build up, not to tear down. The problem is that materialist thought divides and confers value upon objects in themselves, ignoring their larger social context and history. The lack of variables that go into making a nation, coupled with the materialist philosophy of the founders, has created a unique situation wherein the binds which hold us together are; yet through a strong sense of duty they’re held together with fierce determination. The result is that contemporary we are confronted by a barrier that seems at times insurmountable. Confronting that barrier requires that we think dialectically, that we take nothing as a good in itself, that the reality we’re confronted with daily is always in a state of change and only exists because its opposite also exists, and that it’s through the reconciliation of these opposites that we progress as individuals and as a society. The accusations often thrown around at us in an attempt to infer feelings of guilt would lead to the worship and idolization of dead, empty things. Through embodying and being loyal to the ideals we want to see reflected in the larger society, we can by our very actions be the impetus to the dialectical thought so badly needed.