September 28, 2016

Not at all a horror story: Stephen King and the virtues of patriotism

Stephen King

Stephen King

By Joe Perez

Patriotism is often taken as the virtue of virtue by conservatives (and by politicians posing as conservatives to win right-wing votes). Mitt Romney, for example, has made patriotism the centerpiece of his book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, his campaign, and his attacks against the president Barack Obama as “apologizer-in-chief” for statements made overseas admitting to the imperfections of the United States.

On the other hand, liberals and progressives have often demonstrated an allergy to patriotism and some of the things associated negatively with it (xenophobia, ethnocentrism, simple-minded acceptance of the ruling party, foreign policy aggression, etc.). It’s almost as if patriotism is a litmus test dividing the ethnocentric from the more worldcentric views of the world.

But this isn’t quite that simple. An Integral approach does not tell us that patriotism is good or bad, more developed or less developed. It tells us to honor all the ways of relating to patriotism that contribute to the greatest good for the greatest number of people. And when talking about patriotism, it is the case that progressives who can honor patriotism often make the best case for its virtues, and conservatives who argue against the downsides of patriotism are often its best critics.

Stephen King, the world famous author of thrillers, horror, science-fiction, and other literature, is also believed to have a net worth of $400 million. Despite being “filthy rich,” as they say, he’s now written an article in The Daily Beast criticizing rich people who don’t want to pay more taxes and the ideologues who reinforce their beliefs and block legislation that would make the rich pay “their fair share” in taxes.

What’s more, in making this courageous and unusual argument, King tells us that it’s patriotism that ought to motivate the rich. He writes:

I guess some of this mad right-wing love comes from the idea that in America, anyone can become a Rich Guy if he just works hard and saves his pennies. Mitt Romney has said, in effect, “I’m rich and I don’t apologize for it.” Nobody wants you to, Mitt. What some of us want—those who aren’t blinded by a lot of bullshit persiflage thrown up to mask the idea that rich folks want to keep their damn money—is for you to acknowledge that you couldn’t have made it in America without America. That you were fortunate enough to be born in a country where upward mobility is possible (a subject upon which Barack Obama can speak with the authority of experience), but where the channels making such upward mobility possible are being increasingly clogged. That it’s not fair to ask the middle class to assume a disproportionate amount of the tax burden. Not fair? It’s un-fucking-American is what it is. I don’t want you to apologize for being rich; I want you to acknowledge that in America, we all should have to pay our fair share. That our civics classes never taught us that being American means that—sorry, kiddies—you’re on your own. That those who have received much must be obligated to pay—not to give, not to “cut a check and shut up,” in Governor Christie’s words, but to pay—in the same proportion. That’s called stepping up and not whining about it. That’s called patriotism, a word the Tea Partiers love to throw around as long as it doesn’t cost their beloved rich folks any money.

This has to happen if America is to remain strong and true to its ideals. It’s a practical necessity and a moral imperative. Last year during the Occupy movement, the conservatives who oppose tax equality saw the first real ripples of discontent. Their response was either Marie Antoinette (“Let them eat cake”) or Ebenezer Scrooge (“Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”). Short-sighted, gentlemen. Very short-sighted. If this situation isn’t fairly addressed, last year’s protests will just be the beginning. Scrooge changed his tune after the ghosts visited him. Marie Antoinette, on the other hand, lost her head.

PatriotWhat I want to highlight here is simply King’s brilliant move of honoring patriotism and making the case that people who say they are patriotic are hypocritical for not being true to its ideals. Although his position might be debatable, it is certainly Integral in the best and widest sense of the term: open to truth wherever it can be found, taking the virtues upheld by “the enemy”  and explaining not how wrong they are, but how the virtues actually demand a more compassionate and loving stance than is being offered. Fairness, King says, is an American virtue, and Americans who are proud of their country ought to stand up for all its ideals, not cherry-pick the ones that make their bank accounts the fattest.

World Spirituality based on Integral principles is not based on dividing people up into “the people who are right” and “the enemy,” which is something that King arguably does in his article, so it isn’t the case that King speaks for a truly authentic World Spirituality. But it is definitely the case, I think, that World Spirituality does not tell people that in order to take a more worldcentric spiritual view they must lose their patriotism. Love your self, love your family, your neighbors, your city, your state, your country, your country’s allies, and ultimately your country’s enemies and the people of every nation on the planet.

Patriotism as a partial identification of the self and the state is not an evil. Like any limited sort of self-identification, it removes us from the True Self, the Ultimate Identity of which of there is truly only one. But it is part of our Unique Self as a station on the way to a wider and ultimately truer identity. Love calls us out of narrow conceptions of self into larger wholes, and it is also love that can lift our nations into larger frameworks that solve global problems.

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