Divagation on anthems, flags, patriotism, and identity

Surfing the zeitgeist in pursuit of a cheap and easy blog post, I came across this Guardian article about Cyndi Lauper fluffing a line in the US national anthem, at a 9/11 memorial service yesterday.

It brought to mind the Rutland Isles’ national anthem, which must surely be the subtext for them all.  Here’s Eric Idle, leading a motley crew of performers on the Bill Maher show, just before the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In the matter of national anthems, I’m all for giving it the Full Monty, so people know where you stand, as it were.  No other anthem surpasses the French in full-throated patriotic fervour.  I give you my personal favourite, La Marseillaise.

Now, while we’re in the mood, where are those bankers…?

Rather than end on a cheap political joke, I’m going to suggest that each of us inhabits a different country, although we might agree on certain broad ideas that seem to bind us together.  Any one flag is guaranteed to be partial or incomplete.  An ideal, individual flag would bear some resemblance to the Buddhist idea of a mandala, an object of individual focus and meditation.

Kurt Vonnegut, in his novel, Cat’s Cradle, invented the religion of Bokononism.  It suggests that we “live by the foma (harmless untruths) that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.”  All religion is a lie and so, by extension, are all notions of national identity.  Problem is, where do you find a foma that’s truly harmless?

There’s one term in Bokononism, a granfalloon, which I particularly like.  As much for the sound of the word as for its meaning.  It means “a group of people who outwardly choose or claim to have a shared identity or purpose, but whose mutual association is actually meaningless.”  I think a lot of us inhabit granfalloons of various kinds.  Rank-and-file Teabaggers spring readily to mind, claiming kinship with the very economic forces that rob them blind.  The mutual association is actually destructive in this case.

I suppose this is my response to the 9/11 anniversary.  I want to choose my own friends and enemies, not be bound together in a granfalloon dictated by patriotism.

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