It's time for a 'matriotism' debate

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 March, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 March, 2004, 12:00am

The ongoing debate on patriotism can be likened to a carousel ride in an amusement park. We are going round in circles, picking up speed gradually, and the scenery keeps repeating itself. At the beginning, we are fired up about the adventure, but when it suddenly stops, we realise this fleeting experience was nothing special, and it has left us feeling groggy and confused.

It is, of course, no fun-filled fairground where the battle of the patriots is taking place. But, for some curious reason, a few critics have chosen to call some protagonists 'clowns' in this political mudslinging match. The name-calling ritual has unexpectedly provided a rare and much-needed breathing space to contemplate the way forward.

But what we really need now is an evolution, not a revolution. We need to pluck ourselves from this primitive fist-fighting stage and move on to more civilised intellectual challenges.

Revolution usually means fighting among ourselves with outcomes that are often destructive. It also provokes a vicious circle of labelling each other and further entrenching of different positions - good versus evil, right versus wrong and patriot versus traitor. It is like making a 360-degree turn, with the risk that we will end up right where we started.

The late Emma Goldman - anarchist, cultural lecturer and prolific writer - once said that 'conceit, arrogance and egotism are the essentials of patriotism'. Her penetrating insight might still hold some truth, even after more than six decades.

To take her perception further, patriotism and patriarchy are simply two sides of the same authoritarian coin, giving men authority over women. Patriarchy is the ideology that men should rule in society, while patriotism is the worship and glorification of male-dominated states. And because men are still perceived as the ultimate power base, the world is continuing its development in a mode that is tailor-made for males to sate their desire and ambition to dominate.

But, what if the situation were reversed? If matriarchy became the rule of law, would that mean patriotism might have to make way for 'matriotism'? If we could have replaced patriotism with 'matriotism', maybe the whole argument regarding nationalistic sentiments would have taken on a more reasonable, respectful and sensible approach. And maybe there would be fewer threats and taunts, more co-operation, communication and less conflict.

Our male-dominated culture sometimes encourages control and aggression, and discourages individuals from expressing a less-than-assertive or independent deportment. Maybe it is due to the much-referenced differences between men and women when it comes to communication. Men are supposed to prefer the quick joust, a fast and bloody points-scoring exchange with a clear winner, whereas women are meant to prefer deeper, more intellectual communication, which leads to mutual understanding.

Patriotism is being worshipped like a religion the world over. But one might wonder whether this kind of loyalty is more like a superstition created to prop up individual self-esteem and dignity, which then increases conceit, arrogance and egotism.

Being 'matriotic' does not mean loving one's country any less. This matriarchal approach allows room for sensitivity, equality and power sharing among men and women.

The world is changing - we are constantly being challenged, not only in our ability to survive and about our achievements in society, but also on our ethics. Our loyalty is often put to test.

Those who genuinely have strong patriotic sentiments towards their country and people should be able to connect, even if they have personal or political differences. It does not matter what sleek brand of patriotism is being reproduced or how it is being redefined as a result of the recent furore, it is always about loyalty, respect, civic responsibility, understanding and tolerance. It should never be destructive and divisive.

If patriotism has failed to work its magic to unite the people and the nation, 'matriotism' is the way forward.

Ever wondered why 'matriotism' isn't in the dictionary?

Luisa Tam is editor of the Post's opinion pages