Patriot. The word ain’t what it used to be. From the days of traitors to the empire, to world war heroes, to racists, bigots and backwardness. I sung the national anthem last weekend for a couple of footy grand finals. It was a tense and torrid build up to thirty seconds of performance. Whilst the tension was palpable, and I’m sure many heard it in my voice, I found the experience to be enriching. Or perhaps I’m just saying that because for once I felt like a genuine patriot. I was singing these words that I used to repeat every Monday morning at primary school. They never meant a whole lot to me. I liked some of the lines, but it wasn’t like I was filled with this immense pride that it seems all American folk are whenever they crow call about the home of the brave. The word patriot has been hijacked from something to reach for, something desirous, to something that many of us look upon with scorn.
From pride to prejudiced, the national anthem in nations across the free world has been reduced to an old and weathered vision of how our world is supposed to operate. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. The collapse of the Confederates flag, the quickening pace of quashing politically incorrect terms that were supposedly intrinsically tied to a nation’s history and above and beyond. I’m all for the idea of questioning and fanning through our respective national histories, however there has to be a line somewhere. Revisionism has become the hip new trend of our time. Whilst it is certainly true that we do not want to continue peddling off myths of Simpson and his beloved donkey, the heroics of leaders who were in truth womanising racists and the like, it is hard not to be a bit shattered that everything you’ve learnt in the past is being reduced to little more than fodder for the self-satisfied to gossip about. How self-serving is that? I’m not one to pedal around, latching onto nostalgic reminders of the past in the hope that everything will return to those innocent days of chasing a ball round the yard, but rich and reasoned debate will always outweigh the art of outrage taking control.
I’ve never sought to be a patriot. A patriot to me is a person who puts his nation ahead of everything else, no matter what the consequences. The stereotypical patriot is dead in the water for mine. You’re ready to be manipulated by the system. Used as a figurehead for keeping the country on track, pushing agendas that are often backward and entrenched in great pride that smothers greater vision of a future that will eventually come. If we can’t embrace change, we hold ourselves back. We live in a democracy where ideas come and go, but popular opinion always remains a stronghold. Ignore it, and suffer the wrath of the polls. POLLS! POLLS! POLLS! The five letter word that strikes fear into the hearts of politicians across the country. Tony Abbott suffered a gruesome political death at the hands of Malcolm Turnbull and his cronies last week. One of the key reasons for his political death by hatchet job were his ties to patriotism. He used the tool of fear and the banging of the right wing battle bell to no avail. Many have utilised it in the past and succeeded. George W Bush and Maggie Thatcher to name a couple, but Tony Abbott? No, Australia is tired of the combat. Of constantly walking into conflicts that never end. We are tired of listening to disturbing three word slogans like ‘stop the boats’ and ‘scrap the carbon tax’ (four words but that’s beside the point). We didn’t want a man who falls back on lazy rhetoric and patriotism, we want a leader. Hey, I don’t know much, but I know what we don’t want.
Anyway, I tried to avoid the direct correlation between politics and the patriot but it was unavoidable. They are so intrinsically tied together that to not acknowledge politics would be to ignore the origin of the term ‘patriot’. I’m proud that I am Australian, I’m proud of the place I live. Melbourne brings me much joy. However, it has also brought me much frustration, just as I’m sure those who live on the other side of the grass/sea/map, wherever that may be, would feel. I love spring in Melbourne, as I’ve told everyone I’m surrounded by during this month. It is warm, people have stopped complaining about the weather – well, for at least a few moments – and you know… SPORT! I love the smell of the dew in the morning, the leafy streets, the long drives down the main roads at night, the cafes, the Sunday strolls with the paper, the parks, the space… I love those things and many, many more. I may be moving to London from next year indefinitely, but I couldn’t think of another place to raise my kids, whether they be ten, twenty, perhaps thirty years away, currently. I feel pretty lucky that I am more satisfied than dissatisfied in regard to where I live. I find that is a pretty reasonable way to scale the whole scenario. More satisfaction than dissatisfaction? Sure, let’s call it happiness. We are not meant to be completely satisfied, or completely content with our lives because where would the challenge come from? One should identify those challenges, analyse them, tackle them, shoot them dead, conquer them, however you want to put it! And move forward to the next challenge. That is how one remains alive mentally. To fall into a zone of comfort is to slip into a stage of life where one either becomes obsessed with the minutiae, bored with the stagnation or morphs into Dan Blizerian. And we all know that unless you are a brainless frat boy wannabe, you don’t want to be in that zone… Though for 24 hours, let’s face it, it would be a bit of a laugh.
My point being, outward patriotism is not where I belong. Patriotism doesn’t have to be a dirty word, however it has been corrupted by the need to always back in the decisions of your side, or in the case, your country or be brandished as the unrequired neutral, the nagging opposition or the terrifying enemy of the state. Imagine having to constantly justify the decisions made by parliament, or your state? You’d be heading down shit creek without a paddle. And that’s exactly what has happened with the influx of our toxic bipartisan political system and the extreme elements of rabid conservatism. I don’t consider myself a radical by any means in regard to my political views, however I would much rather be considered to be one than a ‘staunch conservative’. To be a staunch conservative is to associate with the term ‘it’s just UNAUSTRAYAAAN’ or ‘if you don’t like it, you can leave’, and even ‘Ditch the wiiiiiiiiitch!’ Siding with staunch conservatism is like siding with that one great uncle who seems to flay around arguments about how Australia has reached the point of no return, how everything has changed for the worst, and using inclusive terms of ‘we’ and ‘us’ when referring to the notion of excluding ‘them’. It’s entertaining, like watching some poor soul explain himself after a car crash, but it isn’t healthy. Classifying yourself as a patriot is restrictive, closing yourself off to the possibilities of the future. I know that many features of our future look bleak, terrifying and possibly catastrophic, but to turn our backs on progress, whether positive or otherwise, is far more damaging to Australia. Nonetheless, I stand here preaching change and I don’t have any Indian friends minus the fellas who have driven me around in a taxi as we talk about Sachin Tendulkar and argue about Anil Kumble’s legacy. I digress, I’m not here to preach. I’m only here to give my take on the term patriot.
I’m proud of where I’ve been brought up, I love the country I was born into, but I would never class myself as a patriot. Call me uncommitted, call me a lukewarm latte sipping lefty, and make any assumption you wish; however the label no longer fits well. Until it is released from the pressures of ‘Unaustralianism’ and the radical right who mask their racial hatred with a desire to return to the good old (white) days, the term patriot will remain dirtied in Australia, just as it is in other key western nations. The USA has seen the term dirtied by the tasteless antics of Michele Bachmann and other Tea Party patriots, and for some time now so have we. Reclaim Australia is just another element of our injured political system.
I sung the national anthem twice in front of a crowd over the weekend, and dozens of times in my own lounge room during the lead up to the said event. I felt a sense of pride amongst my breathless anxiety, at who I am and what this land means to me. However, I couldn’t help but feel that it was just another lot of words; well arranged, slick and clean, that hid something more sinister. I say that with trepidation because I believe we get so much right… but there is so much more we can do, people we can assist, ideas we can consider, history we can assess and learn from, in order to not view the term patriot as such a dirty, vile thing.