Monday, 21 October 2013

Patriotism on Twitter

I recently ended up in a protracted twitter exchange with Sarah Kendzior and a guy named Peter Niswander (@BaronPeterN) about patriotism.  Niswander has since deleted the whole of his side of the exchange apart from the first tweet he posted.

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 open
I 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.

58 comments:

  1. Patriotism doesn't involve an arbitrary assumption that one country is better than another, though of course a nationalist may believe that; it just means attachment to your own nationality -because it's yours-.

    You don't feel your heart swelling with love of country and people because your country has better sanitary standards or a better health insurance system or wins wars. It works the other way 'round: you want your people to have the best and to win -because- you love them.

    It's essentially an emotion, a commitment of the heart, an identity, not a "belief" in the sense that one believes in electrons or the inverse-square law.

    My blood, my tribe, "mi barrio" as we say around here; the origins in evolutionary psychology are obvious.

    You don't have to think something is in some abstract way "superior" to like it or feel an attachment to it. Virtually everyone values the interests of their children and relatives more than those of non-kin, for example. I certainly do. Ethnicity is a projection of familial relationships on a larger scale; a matter of fictive kinship, to get technical. That doesn't mean ethnicity isn't "real", it just means it's socially constructed. It's real because people believe it is, and that makes it quite as real as a rock.

    I might add that saying some value judgement is "rational" or "irrational" invariably contains some hidden assumption or bias. It's much more honest to say you prefer one set of values to another "just because" that's what your mother or some mentor taught you when you were at the appropriate age.

    Eg., Bentham identified suffering or pain with evil and pleasure with good. This, of course, begs the question of why you should consider -someone else's- pain bad or their pleasure good. Your own, certainly -- you feel it directly.

    But the assumption that you should sympathize with someone else's suffering (and whose suffering you should regard as bad) is completely arbitrary in terms of reason; you can't justify it without a circular argument that assumes its conclusions, as even Rorty ultimately admits.

    It's not really subject to rational discussion at all; because again, it's something you feel or don't, not something you think. It derives from a mixture of genetic predispositions and early experience, operating at a subconscious level.

    Sociopaths are generally far more "rational" than other people. That's why the really intelligent ones are often so successful at manipulating others.

    In other words, you can argue -from- a moral assumption/moral intuition, but you can't reason -to- one.

    And by the way, on the subject of Nazis, note that National Socialism wasn't, in any real sense, based on patriotism -- though it used the patriotic emotions of Germans in an opportunistic sense. It was a supra-national ideology based on a concept of "race", much as Marxist-Leninism was on "class"; both had the stated intention of superseding and replacing nationalism and nation-states.

    By Nazi standards, Norwegians were superior to Germans; it didn't classify people as German and non-German, but as Aryan/Nordic vs. those who weren't. Its leader wasn't even a German citizen until after WWI, and he pointedly denied any commitment to a particular territorial state. The fact that its categories were bizarrely non-falsifiable didn't prevent perfectly intelligent people from believing them, of course. It never does.

    And the Nazis were not defeated by rational individualism or any other weak-tea-and-toast belief system; they were beaten by the patriotic citizen-soldiers of nation states, fighting for America or Britain or Mother Russia.

    Even the Stalinist regime largely abandoned appeals based on its supranational Marxist ideology for the duration of the war, and fell back on appeals to the love of the 'rodina' and hatred for its enemies.

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  2. Patriotism doubtless has strong evolutionary origins. But as I said, the argument that that makes patriotism good or correct is based on the naturalistic fallacy, the idea that what is natural is the same as what is good. It appears, on the basis of the existing evidence, that men tend towards promiscuity, because that's a good way to spread your genes around and incurs no penalty in men (women, by contrast, can get pregnant, which they can't do all the time). It is natural for men to want multiple sexual partners, and even for some men to want to rape women, under certain conditions, in much the same way that it is natural to be patriotic. Does that make these things good? Of course not.

    " It's much more honest to say you prefer one set of values to another "just because" that's what your mother or some mentor taught you when you were at the appropriate age."

    No. I was never taught not to be patriotic, ever. In fact, most of my experience and education should dictate that I be patriotic. I decided to reject the idea of patriotism when it couldn't be put on any rational basis, and when I discovered that I didn't see a meaningful difference between the land and people of the UK and the land and people of everywhere else. All I saw was a cline of humans and soil types, and a diversity of individuals more or less arbitrary sorted into categories based on where they came from.

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    1. "The argument that that makes patriotism good or correct" -- define "good" or "correct" in this circumstance.

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  3. I also saw, and see, in history, that all of the states and groups people devote so much emotion and attention to are recent and transient phenomena. The Third Dynasty of Ur doubtless had its patriots. I have no doubt that they would feel small, stupid, and silly in our world, where the Third Dynasty of Ur is known only to academics and interested amateurs, forgotten to the world for nearly four thousand years. These Sumerian patriots would certainly object to the fact that Arabic is now the spoken language of their homeland. I similarly have no doubt that at some point, all of the states we know and take for granted today will end. All existing languages will change beyond recognition in their spoken form, and their written forms will eventually be used only in certain contexts, just as has happened to Latin, Greek, and Akkadian.

    To put so much stock in something so transient, to live your life, the only one you have, in pursuit of patriotic objectives instead of humanistic or scientific ones - it just seems bizarre, given what we know about the age and size of the universe, the extent of human history, the transience of ethnic groups and races, the changing and flexible nature of language, the arbitrariness of borders, the fact that birth on one side of a border rather than another is due to a series of accidents of history...

    "It's not really subject to rational discussion at all; because again, it's something you feel or don't, not something you think. It derives from a mixture of genetic predispositions and early experience, operating at a subconscious level."

    And you should be able, as a human being, to confront what you feel and what you've learnt and decide whether you think it is sensible or not. Children in Nazi Germany were taught a load of garbage about race and nation that they no longer believe as adults despite the indoctrination and the indubitable emotional appeal of believing that you are a member of the master race. It is possible to reconsider what you believe and feel and reject it. And that's exactly what you should do.

    It is perfectly suited to rational discussion. Is it right to invest emotion and time into loving your country? Is your citizenship more than an accident of birth? Is it good to separate humans into groups based on their birthplace and citizenship? A rational person would have to say no to all three. Unless you can show me a good reason to endorse patriotism, that is how it stands: patriotism is irrational.

    Also, I didn't say that Nazism was based on patriotism. It helps to read what is actually there.

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    1. "To put so much stock in something so transient, to live your life, the only one you have, in pursuit of patriotic objectives instead of humanistic or scientific ones..."

      Excuse me, but what makes you think that humanism or the scientific project are immortal? Because they aren't, you know.

      A Persian king once asked his wise men to come up with a saying that would be valid in all times and places. They thought for a while, then replied:

      "This, too, shall pass."

      Individual human beings don't live in historic time; they live in the present, in which a year is quite a while, ten years is a long time, a hundred years is a very long time, and a thousand years is close enough to "forever" for government work.

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    2. "Children in Nazi Germany were taught a load of garbage about race and nation that they no longer believe as adults..."

      -- which has something to do with how the war turned out. If they'd won, you'd be singing a different tune.

      Nazi Germany was not destroyed because people convinced by superior reason turned against National Socialism; it was destroyed by war. And collective loyalties, tribalism/nationalism, are the emotional fuel that makes war possible.

      Groups with a weak sense of collective loyalty get devoured by those with a stronger one, other things being equal; lacking committment to the group is a form of memetic unilateral disarmament. The lion may lie down with the lamb, but it's the feline that gets up again, well-fed.

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    3. "Is your citizenship more than an accident of birth?"

      -- is your status as a son, father, uncle, or nephew more than an accident of birth?

      No, it's completely accidental. So what? Why should that affect how you -feel-?

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    4. The results of science are not supposed to be immortal (we make progress, you know, and scientists don't love current theories in the way patriots love their countries), and humanism is about treating people well regardless of origin, and isn't predicated on any beliefs in the transcendence or immortality of what it's about. Scientific results that stand the test of time are transcendent in a way nothing else is; the size and age of the universe and the nature of life as evolved through natural selection are amazing, inspiring, world-changing facts. Science is worth it, in every sense, because it not only materially improves our lives, it also tells us incredible things that make existence worthwhile and interesting, showing us that the world we live in is just a tiny part of the vast and inscrutable universe.

      Patriotism, by contrast, is about investing emotion in the continued existence of things that definitely will not last and which are also defiantly parochial and narrow-minded. Patriotism is about treating people differently based on where they come from, and about being proud of something you had no control over whatsoever. If you truly believed in the Persian pablum you cited, you wouldn't be a patriot.

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    5. Hatred of evil things is enough fuel for war. I'd be perfectly willing to fight against the Nazis; I think their evil acts and ideas were sufficient to warrant violence against them. I don't think patriotism is needed to add anything to the motivation of wanting to fight evil. I really don't think you bothered to read my post. Or have you not heard of Euthyphro?

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    6. More generally, there's no "rational" reason for doing anything at all, including living.

      The fact that you fear death is simply the result of evolutionary imperatives operating at an instinctual level -- it's a DNA molecule's way of making more DNA molecules.

      Reason is just a tool. It enables you to get what you want more effectively. But what you want... ah, that's a different matter.

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    7. "Groups with a weak sense of collective loyalty get devoured by those with a stronger one, other things being equal; lacking committment to the group is a form of memetic unilateral disarmament. The lion may lie down with the lamb, but it's the feline that gets up again, well-fed."

      What an appalling argument - that we should surrender our ability to think because it might harm the group.

      Besides, what you said is not an inevitability. Strong people do not always overwhelm weak ones. Estonia has not been mobbed by the USA. Why? Because it would be wrong to do so. And the USA and UK were much less uniform than Nazi Germany; they tolerated Quakers and pacifists, even communist movements, and didn't massacre conscientious objectors as the Nazis would. They managed to defeat the Nazis despite their internal diversity.

      Science and reason make people able to fight against evil as well as group solidarity, by the way.

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    8. You think that because one basic human desire is the certain result of natural selection, ergo reason is optional, and we shouldn't question the beliefs and desires we have? Such a bizarre argument, and one you could only make if you believed that the thing you're arguing for is good a priori.

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    9. Due, you're missing my point about science. Science -itself-, like all human creations, and for that matter the universe itself, is mortal.

      Some day all the information found will be lost, dissipated into the wash of entropy.

      Nobody will know it, if only because ultimately there will be nobody. It will be one with the Third Dynasty of Ur.

      Your attachment to the scientific project is not one iota more "rational" than a patriot's flutter at the sight of the flag.

      And while it may make -your- existence more worthwhile and interesting, other people disagree, and find -other- things perform that function better.

      Why is your viewpoint to be privileged? You still haven't addressed that issue.

      Tell me again why your emotional reaction to a transient human institution is more objectively valid than someone else's emotional reaction to a transient human institution?

      Look, everyone "knows" in their heart that their own moral intuitions, the things in which they believe strongly, are objectively true. Sub specie aeternitatis, they're all wrong.

      You just as much as the guy willing to break heads for a football team.

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    10. "one you could only make if you believed that the thing you're arguing for is good a priori"

      -- no, my argument is more radical than that: I'm saying that -all- value judgments are, objectively considered, merely abitrary preferences. Yours, mine, Osama bin Laden's.

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    11. "Tell me again why your emotional reaction to a transient human institution is more objectively valid than someone else's emotional reaction to a transient human institution?"

      Duh - science is an institution that is about something other than the institution. Science is worthwhile because it tells us about the universe for the time that we're alive. It's about something. I don't not give a single fuck about the institution itself. By contrast, patriotism is about loving an institution as an institution, which is moronic.

      "Your attachment to the scientific project is not one iota more "rational" than a patriot's flutter at the sight of the flag."

      Of course it is. Like I said, I don't really care about the 'project' or the 'institution' of science; I care about the results, and the project/institution is merely necessary for the continued reaping of accurate results.

      The fact that you can't see the difference says a lot. It appears you're willing to do anything to defend your patriotism.

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    12. "-- no, my argument is more radical than that: I'm saying that -all- value judgments are, objectively considered, merely abitrary preferences. Yours, mine, Osama bin Laden's."

      Oooh, so radical. I agree with you that value judgements are ultimately arbitrary and that the universe doesn't care about any of them. But some make life better and some make life worse. Some are rationally defensible given the available information we have and some are not. Some can make sense and some can't. And I notice that despite your claimed moral scepticism, you haven't decided to endorse Bin Laden's or Hitler's values. Why not?

      If values are all arbitrary, why not?

      Anyway, objectively it's all just elementary particles doing their thing, and objectively nothing is worth anything, and objectively states don't exist. States exist inter-subjectively; in your first comment, you said that this is sufficient to make states as real as rocks. Why does this not also apply to morality and values?

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    13. "What an appalling argument -- that we should surrender our ability to think because it might harm the group".

      -- dude, you are consistently confusing descriptive with normative here. And note the "appalling" -- an emotional reaction. Not really very scientific!

      Also note the "surrender our ability to think": this statement contains an assumption that if people -do- think, they must necessarily think the way you do.

      As the lady said to Eric the Viking, "well, that's a circular argument, then".

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    14. You are arguing in favour of patriotism; what you are saying isn't merely descriptive. You are saying that patriotism is good, and one of the things you said was that groups that are more solid and patriotic will be stronger and more triumphant than those who aren't. So if I was confusing the normative and descriptive, it's hardly my fault, is it?

      I notice, also, that you didn't bother to address the argument there. You simply said that because I react emotionally, as humans do, ergo what I'm saying is not rational. That doesn't follow as an argument.

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    15. "Also note the "surrender our ability to think": this statement contains an assumption that if people -do- think, they must necessarily think the way you do."

      Does it? No, not at all. I'm just assuming that when people think, they often disagree, and do not always come to a consensus about states and patriotism and the direction and structure of society. Quakers, for instance, do not agree with what I'm saying, fundamentally, but they aren't exactly in favour of patriotism and wouldn't be strongly in favour of group-think.

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    16. "Estonia has not been mobbed by the USA. Why? Because it would be wrong to do so."

      -- Jesus, that sound you hear in the background is Mexicans and Indians laughing... 8-). Or Australian Aboriginies, or Tibetans or Uighurs.

      Incidentally, -why- would it be wrong to do so? You still haven't gotten to that. You're assuming your conclusions again.

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    17. "But some [value judgments] make life better and some make life worse."

      -- define "better" and "worse". And better and worse for who? If it's not me, personally, why should I give a toss?

      See if you can reply to that without circular arguments, a priori assumptions, appeals to emotions, attempted framing, or any of that stuff.

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    18. Ah, I see. You're one of those: the kind of person who flits from argument to argument in place of addressing counter-arguments. You're not even bothering to defend patriotism anymore. Why are you here?

      The point is, strength is not the only virtue a state can have, and your claim that states need internal solidarity to survive is simply not true.

      You are correct that the US does not always act morally. But of course, it could invade and plunder countless nations that it doesn't and hasn't. This isn't because of their strength, but because people are not in favour of invading the weak anymore. You can only get away with it a couple of times.

      As for why it would be wrong to invade another country and kill its citizens: that's because killing people is wrong. I'm not interested in justifying that, actually. It's a value. You are correct that it has no real prior basis. You seem to think that this is an amazing thing, and that you're alone in having discovered it, 'dude'. But you're not.

      I don't think it needs a foundation. Given that value, though - which I assume you also share, or else you'd find it hard to function in the modern world - everything else falls into place. Morality may not have an absolute foundation, but it can be formed into coherent systems.

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    19. "-- define "better" and "worse". And better and worse for who? If it's not me, personally, why should I give a toss?

      See if you can reply to that without circular arguments, a priori assumptions, appeals to emotions, attempted framing, or any of that stuff."

      First, I want to say: this no longer relates to patriotism or your defense of it, and as I'm also, in a certain sense, a moral sceptic, I'm not that interested in arguing about it.

      But you don't seem to be aware that other people might have prefigured what you're saying, like J. L. Mackie. And that didn't make them want to overturn morality and endorse stupid ideas, or act on the basis of, say, Nazism, because all value judgements are objectively meaningless.

      You're not even bothering to relate what you're saying to patriotism anymore, and I don't see how you could. All you're arguing is that emotion trumps reason in the sphere of values, because ultimately values have no basis. Which is a really, really, really, really, really, really fucking stupid argument.

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    20. "You're not even bothering to defend patriotism anymore"

      -- as I said, I hadn't gotten around to that yet.

      In point of fact, I'm not saying (and never did) that patriotism is "good" in the sense that you're using the term.

      I've said it has a -function- in terms of memetic evolution, but that's an entirely different thing.

      Essentially, I don't think -anything- is "good" (or for that matter, evil) in the absolutist sense that you're employing. I don't think that way of describing things is either coherent, or useful.

      I feel patriotic emotions; why should I need to justify them, any more than the fact that I'm fond of my nieces and nephews?

      I feel them because I feel them.

      When the self-referential flourishes are stripped away, exactly the same is true of your emotional committments.

      You just don't admit it to yourself.

      "You are correct that the US does not always act morally."

      -- excuse me, this statement contains an assumption that there is an objective and universally applicable, or at least uncontested, "moral" code.

      Dude, what arrogance! As the Father of History said, "Nomos [local custom] is king".

      "that's because killing people is wrong"

      -- OK, arbitrary assertion here.

      Show me a reason why I should believe it; which, incidentally, I don't, taken at face value.

      Extending a trembling finger and saying: "You are a BAD person!" doesn't count as "showing" in this context. That's merely a statement of your own emotions and beliefs.

      Killing isn't something a sane person (one not driven to it by faults in their wiring) does all the time, simply because it's usually quite risky and too much like hard unpleasant work -- something I know by personal experience. It's like digging a ditch; worthwhile if I need a ditch. If not, not.

      Now, show me some reason (beyond your own emotional reactions), why this is in some larger sense "bad".

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    21. "Killing isn't something a sane person (one not driven to it by faults in their wiring) does all the time, simply because it's usually quite risky and too much like hard unpleasant work -- something I know by personal experience. It's like digging a ditch; worthwhile if I need a ditch. If not, not."

      So the reason that you don't kill people is because it might inconvenience you? And the reason you endorse patriotism is because it is functionally beneficial (in what sense? group selection? It's certainly not beneficial for the individual who subsumes their identity in it)?

      "Now, show me some reason (beyond your own emotional reactions), why this is in some larger sense "bad"."

      It's not, and you won't go to hell. But your sense of moral philosophy, even moral scepticism, is so poor that I'm tempted to tell you to fuck off completely. There's no point arguing with someone so poorly-informed.

      You appear to believe that because morality lacks a metaphysical foundation, anything goes. But in reality you act in the world, and you do so on the basis of judgements about it. As you are acting in the same world I am, and as your actions have some effect on me, I expect you to take that into account, and to work out a coherent, if metaphysically baseless, set of ideas about how to live. The fact that you don't want to isn't some superior philosophical position. It's just that you are, at heart, a bit of an idiot. You think you have a slam-dunk argument that obviously sinks your own beliefs as well.

      "
      -- excuse me, this statement contains an assumption that there is an objective and universally applicable, or at least uncontested, "moral" code. "

      No, it doesn't. You're just very bad at understanding implication and argument. The assumption is merely that I have a set of moral beliefs that I believe the US violates, not that morality pervades the cosmos. The fact that you can't separate these two plausible implications only draws further attention to your ignorance and poor thought.

      Here's what you need to answer, and I want to treat it like the sledgehammer it is: Why don't you have another set of morals? Why not adopt Nazism, or a variation of it that suits whatever race or group you feel you're a member of? Do you really believe that your morals come from your emotions, and not from any kind of reasoning?

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    22. Well, if you're a moral skeptic, then you have to admit that ultimately your arguments -against- patriotism just boil down to "I don't like it".

      That's cool and perfectly valid, since it's the mirror-image of my own argument.

      But spare us the pretensions to objective validity. Make your assumptions clear.

      "All you're saying is that emotion trumps reason in the sphere of values"

      -- not quite; what I'm saying is that fundamental moral intuitions -are- emotions, more or less.

      Not beliefs (in the sense that we believe the world is round) but feelings.

      That is, you can reason from them but not to them. No connection between "is" and "ought".

      And fundamentally, you've agreed with me.

      "because ultimately values have no basis"

      -- oh, I never said that.

      I said they have no -objective- basis (in the way that the inverse square law does), which you conceeded was true when you were finally backed into a corner.

      Values certainly -exist-. They exist inside human heads, as emotional patterns. That's what they -are-.

      Now, -that- can be rationally demonstrated. It's so easy to do that it was done as far back as the Classical era.

      This is, of course, absolutely no "reason" whatsoever to subscribe to any particular set of values. That's something you do by emotional induction. Arguments for or against are either -derived- from a shared moral assumption, or are lawyerly-propagandistic in nature.

      Not being a sociopath (which is an organically based psychological disorder) I certainly have values and make value judgments.

      I just don't confuse them with scientific laws.

      You shouldn't either, if you -actually- attach the value to reason and science that you claim.

      Note that you're the one getting upset, here. Could it be confirmation bias and the pain of congnitive dissonance? Surely not -- far too irrational... 8-).

      Delete
    23. As to how different sets of moral assumptions -actually- interact, I like the case of Sir Charles Napier and the Brahmins.

      While Sir Charles (a great Victorian "character") was a provincial governor in India in the 19th century, a delegation of Brahmins came to him to protest that making suttee (widow-burning) illegal was a violation of their religion and national customs.

      Sir Charles replied: "Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs."

      I wholeheartedly approve of Sir Charles' moral assumptions here -- but he demonstrated their "superiority" in the only way you really can.

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    24. "I just don't confuse them with scientific laws."

      Neither do I. You are the one who is confused; you seem to think that because I have strong moral beliefs, I believe that they are immutable or that I think they're scientific laws. That's because you're actually an incredibly philosophically unsophisticated dilletante trying to push something that doesn't work at all: morally sceptical patriotism (absurd!).

      "Not beliefs (in the sense that we believe the world is round) but feelings."

      Actually, most moral beliefs can be induced from the world, with feelings as a basis (as Hume showed) but not as sole determinants. For instance: I believe that killing other people is bad because I wouldn't like to be killed and because other people are just like me, as far as I can tell. The golden rule is found everywhere precisely because it takes such a small logical leap from the belief that my pain is bad to the belief that your pain is bad, too. And once you've accepted that, it really can fall into place and we really can make arguments for it.

      Whereas what you're trying to do, even though you think you aren't, is argue in favour of patriotism on the basis that no moral arguments are worthwhile or purposeful, because all morality is based on simplistic emotional responses to stimuli. But that argument invalidates itself.

      "Values certainly -exist-. They exist inside human heads, as emotional patterns. That's what they -are-. "

      Yes, values exist in people's heads, and fortunately, people can communicate such that they can share their beliefs and values with one another and develop ones that are mutually beneficial rather than merely punitive. But apparently that isn't sufficient for you, and the reason that you don't murder is because of punishment, as you said above.

      "Not being a sociopath"

      Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

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    25. "So the reason you don't kill people is that it might inconvenience you?"

      -- for a broad value of "inconvenience" (loaded term alert!), and assuming I had some good -reason- to kill them (self-defense, war, things like that), yeah, pretty much.

      According to -my- value system, whether killing someone is "wrong" depends on the circumstances and who they are. Killing me would be very, very wrong, for example... 8-).

      Delete
    26. All you're arguing, still, is that morality doesn't have a metaphysical foundation. Which is quite right, and is actually so obvious that I didn't even think to concede it. Of course it doesn't; only religious people believe it does, really. But morality can be logical, and we can all share, inter-subjectively, beliefs about the world that shape our individual values. We are all capable, as well, of identifying flaws in poorly constructed arguments, and the idea that patriotism is worthy, noble, good, or in any way positive for people is based on a series of poorly constructed assumptions.

      If you accept that it is wrong to kill or harm people - and if you don't, then you have to have another belief in its place, which I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to justify - or that it is wrong to hold ideas are incorrect and act on their basis, then there are moral implications of that that you cannot simply ignore with a wave of your unsophisticated moral scepticism.

      Delete
    27. "And the reason you endorse patriotism is because it is functionally beneficial"

      -- no, I -feel patriotic emotions- because I was rasied that way. Again, it's like feeling emotional attachment to my relatives.

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    28. "According to -my- value system, whether killing someone is "wrong" depends on the circumstances and who they are"

      Well, yes - I think that's true for most people. Killing someone currently in the act of killing many other people is justified, precisely because killing people is bad. But killing people is still bad, because people are like me, and I wouldn't like to be killed. #goldenrule

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    29. "As you are acting in the same world I am, and as your actions have some effect on me, I expect you to take that into account".

      -- why? I'm genuinely puzzled. I -don't- take the effects on you into account; I'm genuinely indifferent to whether you live long and prosper or get run over by a taxi. I wouldn't go out of my way to harm you, since I don't consider your disagreement with me a "harm" inflicted on me.

      However, I'm also indifferent to any harm that may result to you. You're not my kin, my friend or my countryman; I don't need or want your approval; I have nothing to fear from your hosility.

      Why -should- I care about you?

      Delete
    30. "-- no, I -feel patriotic emotions- because I was rasied that way. Again, it's like feeling emotional attachment to my relatives."

      And what if you found out that your relatives were never real, but were instead figments of your drug-addled mind? Would that not change things?

      You can overcome the simple emotional responses that have become engrained in you if you want to. Emotion isn't a justification. It's just a lazy person's stupid response to the problem of living in a world with lots of other people. By your standard, neo-Nazis raised to be neo-Nazis are doing nothing wrong if they scream at Jewish kids in the street. They're doing what they've been raised to do, after all.

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    31. "Why don't you have another set of morals?"

      -- because I was raised in a specific time and place.

      If I'd been raised in another time and place, I WOULD have another set of morals.

      And so would you.

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    32. Didn't you just say that you're not a sociopath?

      The reason you should care about me and everyone else, in some sense, is that we are all people just like you, and we'd all have much better lives if we cared about each other, or at least developed moral and legal principles that ensured that we acted as if we do even if we don't.

      You're still arguing for moral scepticism, which I accept (morals don't have a metaphysical basis, yadda yadda), and you haven't shown any way to link it up to patriotism. Unless you do that soon, I'll assume you're just on here because you are a sociopath and simply like messing with normals.

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    33. "-- because I was raised in a specific time and place.

      If I'd been raised in another time and place, I WOULD have another set of morals.

      And so would you."

      Which assumes that humans don't think about their morals and change them accordingly, and that all of human behaviour is dictated by events in childhood, which is self-evidently not the case. You can think about your beliefs and change them, but you've simply decided not to, and now you're trying to justify it with a pseudo-philosophical garbage argument about moral foundationalism, which I don't even adhere to.

      I was raised to be Catholic and reasonably patriotic. I certainly have not encountered many people, if any, who share my views. They are my own, and I came to them through reason. The fact that you are unwilling to change your moral position based on reason, and justify this by saying that all of morality is bullshit anyway and can never be based on reason even in principle, is an insult to humankind. But of course, you don't care. You think you're living in a different world to mine, in which your actions have no effect on others - a world in which it is okay to believe and act on anything you like, regardless of the effect on other people.

      That's a sociopathic world.

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    34. Hume stepped on a semantic banana-peel; he was operating on philosophical and moral left-overs from Christianity. He wanted the smoke without the fire.

      Eg., (as you sum up reasonably accurately) he sated that killing other people was wrong because

      a) he wouldn't like to be killed,
      b) other people were like him and shared this sentiment,
      c) therefore killing people is bad.

      But while a) and b) are quite true, c) has no connection to and cannot be logically derived from a) and b).

      I freely admit that your pain is real and just like my pain. However, this only makes your pain morally significant if I feel some connection to you. Note the "feel". Since I don't...

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    35. "But morality can be logical"

      -- you can make logical deductions from your morality, but that isn't at all the same thing.

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    36. "But while a) and b) are quite true, c) has no connection to and cannot be logically derived from a) and b)."

      Nonsense. What absolute nonsense. Of course c) can be derived logically from a) and b). If I think it would be bad to kill me, and other people are equivalent to me in this regard, then I am forced by logic to believe that it would be bad to kill other people, because other people = me.

      It's not 'therefore killing people is bad'. It's 'if I think killing me is bad, then I also have to accept that killing other people is bad, too, because other people are equivalent to me'. Hume was not known for his moral foundationalism, which is what you're trying to ascribe to him, in your own amateurish way.

      Delete
    37. "-- you can make logical deductions from your morality, but that isn't at all the same thing."

      Then you have a big problem when it comes to understanding how morality changes. How did people come to believe that killing people was bad in general if they received all of their morality from their upbringing and logical argument plays no part in developing moral beliefs?


      Also, seriously: if you found out that all of your relatives were figments of your imagination, wouldn't that change how you think about them, and act in the world? Wouldn't it change your moral position? Of course it would, as you have to admit. Changes late in life are just as important in developing morality as experience in childhood, and those changes can come from logical deductions just as much as early exposure to flags and bullshit.

      You haven't thought enough about this; you've thought just enough to justify retaining your emotionally held beliefs, but no further.

      Delete
    38. "You think you're living in a different world to mine, in which your actions have no effect on others..."

      -- excuse me, where did you get that odd idea?

      Of course we're in the same world and of course my actions affect you and many others.

      What we're taking about is why I should care how my actions affect you, and of course vice versa. Not whether my actions affect others, but my -attitude- towards those effects. See the difference?

      You're assuming that, given the effect, the attitude must follow inevitably. It ain't so. Again, you're making an assumption -- I detect the scent of Jeremey Bentham here. And I'm certainly not any sort of utilitarian.

      "That's a socipathic world."

      -- no, sociopaths don't care about others -- any others.

      I care about -some- other people; for that matter, I care about my cat, and considerably more about her than I care about many human beings.

      To bring it back to the original context, things like tribal identity are a matter of -who- you care about.

      Personally, I regard statements or claims that one loves all humanity equally with deep sardonic skepticism.

      My own experience is that people usually say that because they don't really love anyone in particular and in fact want to get out of the usual obligations to family, neighbors and fellow-citizens, who they often actively dislike. By appealing to a "higher" standard, don'tchaknow. Conveniently, the people far away can make few demands.

      I call it "Mrs. Jellyby Syndrome" after the telescopic philanthropist in Dickens' "Bleak House", who was obsessed with bettering the inhabitants of the upper Niger, while all around her fell to wrack and ruin.

      Empathy/loyalty is like oil: the amount in any well/person is finite. If you give more of it to X, you're depriving Y.

      That's why trying to stretch it too far is a bad idea; the concentration in any one place gets vanishingly thin.

      One of the more unfortunate legacies of Christianity is the impossibly broad demands it makes on empathy.

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    39. I do not claim to love humanity, and I certainly love some people more than others. There are lots of people I don't love, at all, and most people it is impossible to even consider loving. Because you base your barbarous ethics on emotion, you assume that everyone else does the same, which is not the case; I don't have all that much love for humans, but life and society are better for everyone if we treat moral principles, like human rights, as if they are absolutes and put them into effect as law. It's not about love, and it's not about punishment. It's about reasoning out what the best way to live is. The 'golden rule' is not an objective law of the universe, but a guiding principle that humans have consistently reasoned out from experience that helps them live better, more productive, more interesting, more truthful lives.

      Your personal experience is not a guide to reality. It is probable that you simply know a lot of assholes. Not surprising, given your attitude, I suppose.

      "What we're taking about is why I should care how my actions affect you, and of course vice versa. Not whether my actions affect others, but my -attitude- towards those effects. See the difference?"

      Not really, no. You claim you're not a sociopath, but you're not willing to construct a logical set of moral principles that would create less harm for humans who might be affected by your actions. You refuse to see morality as affected by reason even in principle. Which is, well, sociopathic. You're just trying to excuse your immoral mind from having to obey the normal rules other people impose upon themselves by force of reason.

      And you haven't bothered to respond to any of the arguments I've presented. You're just bumbling along in your moral sceptical bubble, refusing to acknowledge that other people might have been moral sceptics before you and might have figured out a reasoned response about how to act in the world.

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  4. "Sociopaths are generally far more "rational" than other people."

    This is what happens when people confuse meanings of 'rational'. Sociopaths act rationally in the sense that their objectives are rarely concerned with some non-rational motivations that affect other people. They don't care all that much about tenderness and emotional stability, for instance. But they often do care about power, prestige, money, sex, and food, none of which they bother to justify (making them just as non-rational as the desires of other humans). They are swayed less by the idea that people shouldn't suffer; that doesn't mean that they are better at thinking, which is the other meaning of 'rational': well-thought out, set on a reasonable basis that compels you to agree with it through its sheer correctness, an argument that can be supported while taking all the relevant facts into account.

    An action is rational if it results from a reason - a consciously-held combination of beliefs and desires. If I don't want to die or suffer pain, and I'm severely dehydrated, then it would be rational (in this sense) for me to drink water.

    But an idea is rational if it makes the most sense it possibly can, given all the available information. It doesn't need to rest on an immutable, invariable foundation - we don't need a foundational statement like 'cogito ergo sum' or 'there is a god'. It's just that the idea has to make as much sense as it can given the available information (similar to the principle Susan Haack calls 'foundherentism'). Rational beliefs are those ones that conflict with as few well-established data as possible, or that are predicated on reasoned thought and logical argument rather than on appealling but false premises.

    You are right that values cannot be derived directly from facts. There really is a distinction between is and ought. But as a human, you'll find that you can't help facts from interfering in some of your values, and what thinking person would say that they don't want their values to fit the facts? They never say that; instead, they try to change the facts. I'd say that it is better to think and to base all your conclusions, including value judgements, on reasoned arguments proceeding along logical lines, rather than bowing to merely what feels natural or pleasurable. You have the power to reject emotions that you do not believe sit on a rational basis, and I think people should attempt to do this.

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  5. "You are arguing in favor of patriotism"

    -- actually I hadn't really gotten around to that, yet: we're engaging in the negative elenchos.

    As such, I'm merely pointing out that the arguments you use -against- patriotism are either incoherent, or apply equally to your -own- tribal attachments.

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    1. But the arguments aren't incoherent. They're perfectly coherent; they just don't have an absolute metaphysical foundation. And neither do any moral arguments. So I'm not sure what you're saying at this point, other than that you've overturned any possible argument you might have in favour of patriotism.

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  6. If you define patriotism as "arbitrary pride in where you come from", then sure, that's automatically silly. But there's a whole constellation of ideas that people usually consider to constitute patriotism. Some are obviously evil, for example "my country right or wrong". Others are equally obviously good – for example, "defending the people of your homeland against invasion", or "wanting to make your homeland a better place". But the central principle that unifies these notions seems to be loving the community that you identify with – and that, as far as it goes, is a good thing. It's much better to love any community than none, and if you want to love the whole world impartially or fix the whole world impartially (the latter, at least, is certainly not feasible), you still need to start with whatever part of it you actually have personal experience of.

    (A similar argument applies to a much stronger emotional attachment which in large measure is "predicated on accident of birth" – loving your children, or your parents – but that's another story...)

    -- Un-Mohist

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    1. "Others are equally obviously good – for example, "defending the people of your homeland against invasion""

      That isn't obviously good or good in all situations. I'm quite happy that Nazi Germany was invaded and defeated by Allied soldiers at the end of the Second World War. Resistance to the Allies was not a good thing in that scenario. It isn't necessarily good to resist invasion, I don't think, certainly not on the basis of patriotic motives. In Scotland, they think they are part of the UK because of invasion and oppression, which isn't quite true, and they're willing to resist it by voting in favour of independence. This is sometimes justified post-hoc by economic arguments, but the root of it is irrational patriotism - the idea that Scotland's independence and 'rights' as a nation are good on their own. This is irrational because it could easily lead to worse outcomes for all concerned. And as I pointed out in the post above, any claim that patriotism motivates good action is subject to the Euthyphro problem.

      "It's much better to love any community than none"

      I would say that it isn't - that if you're going to hate most of the world, you may as well have no preferences about it. Go the whole hog: be a misanthrope, not a patriot. At least misanthropy is justifiable by data from the world.

      "(A similar argument applies to a much stronger emotional attachment which in large measure is "predicated on accident of birth" – loving your children, or your parents – but that's another story...)"

      And I would agree with anyone who says that you shouldn't defend a parent, sibling, or child if they murder someone or start a genocide or commit some other crime. I love my brother (I can't help but love my brother), but if he killed someone, I wouldn't hide him: I'd turn him in to the police. I do not believe that my love for my brother should override any moral commitments that I have. I'd do the same for anyone, unless there were mitigating circumstances.

      I can't help loving my brother - really, I can't. He's a real guy who I really grew up with and who is imprinted on my brain as a sibling (as per the Westermarck effect). By contrast, a nation is essentially imaginary - socially constructed, and therefore existing only as a recursive set of beliefs about others' beliefs - and certainly has no personality of its own because it doesn't have an independent existence. Any properties a nation could be said to have reduce to the properties of the people and things that are held to compose it. The land at its borders is almost always indistinguishable from the land on the other side, the borders were created entirely by essentially arbitrary circumstance and have no absolute validity, and the citizens are always heterogeneous and diverse in beliefs, preferences, and attitudes. It will not persist, but love for it is predicated on the idea that it will, or on the idea that its end will be an awful situation that ought to be fought at all costs. Patriotism is also based on the notion that the nation is a whole entity irreducible to its constituent parts. Love for a sibling is not based on these things, and, while non-rational, doesn't necessarily make for an irrational set of beliefs. Moreover, I do not live in accord with a moral principle that I love my family, in a certain sense: if I had the power to do so, I still wouldn't promote my family members over others unrelated to me or help them unfairly. Nepotism is just as immoral as patriotism, no matter how natural it is to love your siblings. We can decide to ignore the strength of our feelings if we find it immoral, and that is what people should do when it comes to patriotic sentiment, which is love for a figment.

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    2. Apparently, people feel more instinctive empathy for people who look like them than for people who don't. This seems to be something that can only be ameliorated and not destroyed. But I think we can all agree that, whatever your preferences in this regard, it would be wrong to act on them except in situations that only affect you. It would be wrong to form groups based on appearance and exclude people who don't look like each other from doing certain things, like living in certain places or doing certain jobs.

      If you happen to like fish and chips, Elgar, and the Yorkshire dales, and you prefer these things to any dish, composer, or landscape on earth, that's one thing. If you use these preferences as the basis of policy or moral argument, then that's quite another. If you would prefer an Englishman as prime minister simply because of your preferences for supposedly 'English' things, like pie and Elgar, then that's an irrational step, and not one justified in any way by your preferences. Such an argument would also presuppose the idea that 'England' is a whole not reducible to its constituent parts, which is an unsound ontological position.

      That position also denies history. Fish and chips are considered to be English, but they have their origins in pre-Islamic Persia by way of Sephardic Jewish people who came to England in the nineteenth century. Any nation, and any 'culture', is a series of parts like this that get cobbled together and turned into an imaginary whole in the minds of patriots who ignore the real origins of what they celebrate.

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  7. Oh yeah – if you think "Vale of the White Horse pride" is absurd, you should read The Napoleon of Notting Hill sometime :)

    -- Un-Mohist

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  8. Your portrayal of your opponents' arguments is at best misconstrued and at worst ill-intentioned. Either way, I'm not surprised they decided to end the conversation.

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    1. I don't know who you are or whether you observed the exchange ir not, but in fact I misrepresented nothing in the account. The arguments, such as they were, really were that bad. That is presumably because there aren't any good arguments for patriotic beliefs. Unfortunately, most of the tweets were deleted, perhaps out of shame, so apart from my word, there's little for you to go on in claiming that I deliberately misrepresented what was said.

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    2. After perusing your blog, I see you are as block-headed here as you are on Twitter. I stand by my original statement.

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    3. Oh? I'd be interested to find out just what content you've found that you find so objectionable.

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  9. I discovered that I didn't see a meaningful difference between the land and people of the UK and the land and people of everywhere else.
    ===
    This pathological altruism seems peculiar to the peoples of the West. I wonder if it has a genetic basis. If it does, it is spectacularly maladaptive under modern, globalized conditions. Because of this attitude you and many others espouse, the UK is likely to be overrun by third-worlders over the coming century, and the 'indigenous' English will be largely replaced in their own homeland. Your grandchildren will be able to tell if any 'meaningful differences' exist among peoples, when they look at old photographs of England and compare them to their own surroundings which will resemble a combination of Kingston, Lagos, and Karachi. Good luck to them! They will need it.

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    1. Right. Well, obviously English won't be replaced in England in the foreseeable future, and what keeps a place nice and pleasant is good laws, taxation, and democratic institutions, so as long as those still exist, the people living on this island could be the colour of Neptune for all I care.

      'Indigenous English', pshaw.

      Your scaremongering has no place in a civilized world, I don't think.

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  10. People live in groups, that's the kind of animal they are. Their groups don't survive without group loyalty. Loyalty to the group which nurtures you is rational. An anthropologist will be aware of this.

    Your group loyalty is to a social class which regards what it calls "patriotism" as a repulsive characteristic of the despised and inferior "other": Daily Mail readers, white trash, rednecks, American Republicans, The Wrong Kind of Germans, etc.

    You intense emotional reaction to what you call "patriotism" IS patriotism. It is loyalty to your group, expressed as hatred for (perceived) competing groups. Ironic that the shibboleth your group chooses is a pretense at disdain for shibboleths, but life is funny sometimes.

    Nothing wrong with that. You're human.

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    1. "You intense emotional reaction to what you call "patriotism" IS patriotism. It is loyalty to your group, expressed as hatred for (perceived) competing groups"

      This opinion only makes sense if you conceptualise any view or opinion as an expression of group loyalty, and that's not tenable. As your entire argument rests on this flimsy premise, I don't think it's all that necessary to go into detail about why it's wrong. It should be obvious.

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You can post anonymously if you really want to, but I would appreciate it if you could provide some means of identifying who you are, if only for the purpose of knowing who has written what.