Kendzior initially tweeted about patriotism, saying:
Patriotism is not blind adoration of a nation, nor is it averting your gaze from its problems. Patriotism is addressing them, eyes wide openI replied:
Patriotism is arbitrary pride in where you come from, not something else. It isn't noble in any way.
I believe this to be true. Peter Niswander saw my tweet and replied to me several times, and I retorted several times. Niswander said that all feelings are 'arbitrary' responses to natural phenomena, which they are not (they are usually based on some set of beliefs about the world, and are not, therefore, arbitrary). He said that feelings, even the arbitrary ones, should be interpreted and acted on, which could easily be used to defend all kinds of absurdities.
I said that patriotism is indefensible and irrational, as it is predicated on accident of birth; that however natural it is, that doesn't make it good, because what is natural is not always what is good; that patriotism is evil in inspiring people to arbitrarily differentiate themselves from one another based on where they were born or grew up, which is not rational and can cause suspicion and violence; that some ideas are simply wrong and need to be discarded, including patriotism.
Niswander's feeble response was that patriotism can involve 'fluid' in-group membership, and that patriotism - which he defined as 'meta community pride' (note that he didn't mention the idea of the nation state, which is important to patriotism) - doesn't necessarily create adversarial relationships with other countries.
There was a bit of back-and-forth. Kendzior quoted James Baldwin, saying that patriotism meant loving your country more than any other and therefore criticising it (which is a spurious argument in itself; are you not free to criticise anything even if you aren't a member of it? If not, why not?). I said that that was feel-good rubbish, that it preserved the naturally appealling idea of patriotism without the bad connotation of 'my country, right or wrong'. Ultimately, no concept of patriotism is valid or noble, because they all rest on the idiotic foundational belief that one country is arbitrarily better than another. Not that some countries, say, have better healthcare or more beautiful vistas (something we would be able to recognise even while having no emotional investment in the matter), but that the country as a whole is without needing justification better than others, even if it deserves criticism, simply because the subject was born there or lives there.
Niswander then said that forming arbitrary geographical groupings is necessary for administrative purposes - which it certainly seems to be - and that patriotism is an 'outgrowth' of that. This is an argument for patriotism based on the idea that what is natural is good, that because humans naturally develop in-group pride when put into an arbitrary set, it is therefore good that they do so. This is quite clearly a logical fallacy, and one Niswander didn't bother to defend when challenged.
I'm happy that there are arbitrary groups for the purposes of administration; such state mechanisms have undoubtedly made my life easier and better than it otherwise would have been. But that does not mean that I should go around investing emotionally in these arbitrary groups or believing in in-group/out-group nonsense about them. I do not believe that Britons and French people are fundamentally different, or that people from Portsmouth are fundamentally inferior to people from Southampton. Besides, that would create all sorts of absurdities, like 'Vale of the White Horse pride'. The fact is, most people don't have patriotic thoughts about real administrative zones, but rather about idealised ones, ceremonial ones, and irredentist ones. Saying that we need arbitrary administrative zones is rather beside the point, and the idea that it supports patriotism is in any case predicated on the naturalistic fallacy.
Kendzior gave up at this point; she hadn't bothered to defend the idea she apparently believed strongly in anyway.
Niswander also said that all human ideas can be corrupted or improved, which is self-evidently untrue. Nazism is not an idea that can be improved, and moral corruption is in the idea's DNA. It is an evil set of sub-standard and irrational ideas, and improving it would ultimately mean discarding everything about it. I replied saying this - that Nazism disproves the idea that all human ideas can be improved. I didn't actually compare patriotism to Nazism except in that sense, and instead said that patriotism is like Nazism in being an incorrigibly stupid idea, and one that can and should be discarded. Niswander called Godwin, and used this as an excuse to stop the discussion. He subsequently deleted his tweets.
It seems quite clear to me that neither of them believes that patriotism has a rational basis or else they would have provided it. They advanced weak arguments based on previously refuted ideas, like the naturalistic fallacy. They accused me of absolutism and dogmatism, which is what usually happens when you argue forcefully against cherished ideas with people who don't like to be challenged. If I believe that patriotism is a malign force, why wouldn't I say so? And if you believe it isn't, and are truly willing to defend it, why not provide a reason as to why I'm wrong instead of saying that arguing against 'absolutists' is so difficult? (Of course it's going to be difficult to argue in favour of a dumb idea. Arguing in favour of them is one of the ways we find out that our ideas are dumb. If you don't argue for them, you might never find that out.)
I realise that there are people out there who think that forceful argument must necessarily equate to absolutism, but those people are wrong. Arguing forcefully for something means that you think you're right, not that you're unwilling to change your mind or that you believe all ideas require some kind of Cartesian foundation.
Patriotism is not a rationally defensible belief or set of beliefs. It amounts to a kind of faith in the inherent goodness of something arbitrary, ideal, and non-existent. It can do no good in the world, and any good it inspires in people - like the idea that it is good to pick up litter to 'improve the country' - can be motivated by something more rational and less base. Moreover, the claim that patriotism inspires good acts is essentially subject to the Euthyphro problem. If you believe it is good to do, then why do you need patriotism to do it? Does patriotism cause you to do things you believe are good that you wouldn't otherwise do?
If you believe a state needs to be criticised for its human rights abuses, what does patriotism add to this belief?
In any case, patriotism, like religion, can cause otherwise good people to do bad things, and it is therefore a malign force as well as an irrational one. It causes people to think that closing borders and allowing no cultural change are good ideas. And please don't No True Scotsman me here: people are certainly capable of doing stupid things because of their patriotic beliefs, not just 'in their name'.
I received a tweet, following the conversation, asking,
And what the hell is so great about rationalism?I do sometimes wonder whether people who think like this are capable of operating a microwave or tying their shoes.
Ultimately, I hope for an earth on which territorial divisions are not the subject of strife and conflict, and on which all governments respect the rights of their citizens and respect science, learning, exploration, and the arts, such that whichever government you live under, the effect of it on your life is essentially the same. That, I think, is a good world, one worth arguing for. Parochial patriots disagree, and they do so on silly, irrational grounds.