Patriotism Is Not Zero Sum

My degree is in Political Science. To get that degree I had to be educated in game theory which includes the concept of “zero sum.” Zero Sum is defined by Wikipedia as “a situation in which a participant’s gain or loss is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the other participant(s). It is so named because when the total gains of the participants are added up, and the total losses are subtracted, they will sum to zero.” Most games are zero-sum with winners and losers. So is war.

Many things are not zero-sum. Take for example, shopping. When you finally pull the trigger on that nice 50” 1080p Panasonic you’ve had your eye on to watch the big game, you feel good trucking it home and even better when you get it set up and watch your favorite team on it. So does the retailer, who made a big sale, the distributors that shipped that TV and Matsushita aka Panasonic, the firm that made it. Consequently trade is thought to be win-win and not zero-sum.

In my writing it’s clear that I consider myself patriotic. I love my country, for all its triumphs and tragedies, it’s failures and successes. I feel humbled to have been born in America at this particular time in history, and a deep sense of pride whenever I see the flag or meet the young men and women who serve our nation and bear it on their shoulders.

Yet in this online journal and at Dean’s World where I am a guest commentator and you will often find me writing about other countries that I care deeply about. I have a deep love of Israel even though I’ve never been there. I love Tanzania, a poor country filled with bright, hardworking people who are trying to make a better future for their children. I even love Japan – a country that pushed me to my cultural limits and in doing so taught me what it meant to be Japanese and for me, American. I’m worried over Kenya, and frustrated that I am powerless to halt the violence that simmers beneath the surface there. And of course there is Iraq – a nation whose bloodied past is receding ever too slowly but receding nevertheless.

But there is China, a nation whose language and culture I studied in detail which stands at the threshold of a new century that is its for the taking. I even have hope for Iran that someday its people will be free and its government an agent of stability and good in the world.

I want to see these nations succeed, yet I do not feel that their success undermines my patriotism. Why? Because I believe that patriotism is not zero sum. The Chinese have every right to take pride in their country, and doing so does not mean that I am lessened somehow. Sure there are disputes and serious disagreements which remain valid between my country and others. However patriotism does not mean that I want China, or Japan, or even Canada to become a state of the union. Patriotism means more than that.

The word has been sullied by the Left who almost spit it as an insult, and abused by the Right who wield it like a cudgel. However I deeply believe that I can love my country and at the same time want to see others succeed.

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