Tuesday, May 17, 2005


by Skald

Good American citizens wave the flag and cheer the troops. Good Christians spew hate towards muslims, gays, liberals, feminists. In the name of patriotism, torture is condoned. In the name of religion, murder is justified.

Few in America question the propaganda: “America is the best country in the world”, “America is the freest country in the world”, “America has the highest standard of living in the world”.

Most people who profess these things have never been abroad... or their travel experiences are limited to short package tours. They have no frame of reference for comparison, yet are steadfastly sure of the superiority of their country.

This reminds me of a quote from Bertrand Russell I recently came across. To paraphrase: “The problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are so sure of themselves, while wiser people are so full of doubts”.

Patriots and Christian fanatics run rampant in the country of my birth. Despite their lack of knowledge of the world, they are very confident-- completely sure of themselves. They entertain no doubts. FAITH (ie blind acceptance of dogma and propaganda) is their favorite word.

But doubts are not necessarily bad. Doubts lead to questions. And questions lead to greater wisdom. Likewise, cocksure arrogance leads to hubris.... and hubris has a way of striking down the overconfident (witness the slow motion unravelling of the American Empire).

A huge benefit,... perhaps THE BIG BENEFIT of travelling and living abroad-- is that this process creates doubt. The longer you travel, the more you doubt the trite propaganda you were raised on.

Travel to a muslim country, and soon you start doubting that muslims are horrible people. You start doubting the official Christian doctrine that they are going to hell. You start doubting that they hold blind hatred for Americans. If you are particularly sensitive, you may begin to understand their anger-- to see its justification.

Travel to another country and you may soon doubt the statement, “America has the highest standard of living in the world”. Maybe you experience the satisfaction of a slower and more relaxed life (as seen in many tropical countries). Maybe you see the benefits of public welfare, public transportation, public healthcare, and public infrastructure... of a commitment to the public good in general (as seen in Japan, Europe, Canada, and others).

The longer you travel, the more you doubt. Eventually, you may begin to doubt the whole concept of nationalism... this ridiculous division of nation-states.... the idiocy of obedience to a particular government or religious institution.

Those doubts may lead you to accept a wider sense of belonging. You may begin to see yourself more as a human being, a world citizen, and less as a rabid American supremacist.

To my mind, doubt is a very very good thing. Christians and Patriots are terrified of doubt.

But zen masters say, “Simply cease to cherish opinions”.

The world could use more of that kind of doubt.


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