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On July 4, 1776, the fathers of the United States of America formally declared our
independence from British rule. Lacking a stable government and financial resources, our
predecessors marched on an endless grid of bloody battle fields with the vision of a new
nation—a nation in which they shared a love not for what it was, but for what it had the
potential to be. This was an era of absolute allegiance, when little boys paid homage to
our politicians and hoped to one day be a leader in a free and equal nation. Such
love–such nationalism–has never been so potent as that critical moment in history.
Unfortunately, our nation has seen a regression in patriotic deeds. Politics are
disregarded and, likewise, politicians are deemed as fools. Paul Goodman addresses this
issue in the excerpt, Patriotism , from the novel, Growing Up Absurd. In this piece,
Goodman attempts to identify some of the key factors which have contributed to the
decline of patriotism, ultimately placing the responsibility on many of society s affluent
institutions and beliefs.
Goodman first places the responsibility on parental guidance within the home.
….patriotism is the culture of childhood and adolescence. Without this first culture, we
come with a fatal emptiness to the humane culture of science, art, humanity, and God…
(Goodman, 1962). Here, Goodman molds a comparison between patriotism and the
subjective aspects of adult society. He implies that, if as a child, one cannot build a
faithful relationship with his own country, he will not be able to form more complex
relationships nor gain appreciation for commodities such as art, science or religion. This
idea supports the framework of our modern educational system. We teach entering
students the essentials. We create songs, play games, dress up, all in attempts to stimulate
the chills learning capabilities as well as expand the use of imagination, while maintaining
an environment that is of interest to the child. This technique allows room for growth, in
which the child will gradually build more knowledge upon the base of wisdom in which he
has previously acquired. Thus, the child may grasp more elaborate concepts with time.
The lack of this foundation–or idea of patriotism in this case–within the childhood
developmental stages, does not allow those in the adolescent stage to make the complete
transition into adulthood due to the fact that they are unable to understand more complex
ideas. In this manner, Goodman is able to mark patriotism as the new religion .
Next, Goodman attracts the idea of censorship in America. He does this by first
recalling the Russian protests against the banning of Pasternak s Dr. Zhivago and the
spring theatre festival. The very framework of our country lies on the belief in freedom of
speech, press, religion, and thought, yet, the major news source at that time, The New
York Times, choose not to give any recognition to these patriotic deeds. News was again
withheld from the American people with the secret nuclear testing and the withholding of
a wavelength of a satellite for strategic reasons (Goodman, 1962). What does it say about
a nation when its people are misinformed? The purpose of the government is to represent
the people, yet, the people are unaware. Here, Goodman implies a very important point.
How can we expect patriotism to thrive when the legislators of our society are not giving
us anything to have faith in? Goodman also questions the irresponsible competition that
existed within space exploration. The Americans became so overwhelmed with the task of
beating the Russians in space technology, they were unable to truly appreciate the
advances of mankind . In addition, the United States placed limitations as to who could
participate in the space agenda, ultimately encouraging the idea of conformity.
Next, Goodman goes on to discuss the corruption of politics. He accredits this to
the lack of civilian involvement in the political process, If people had the opportunity to
initiate community actions, they would be political; they would know that finally the way
to accomplish something great is to get together with the like-minded and do it directly. (
Goodman, 1962). This dilemma supports the recent issue of voter turn out during
American elections. The results are disappointing when compared to those such as
England. The fact remains that the American people are distanced from their political
leaders and they are unaware of the issues that face our government. People would much
rather turn on the television to view their favorite talk show or soap opera, than tune into
a political affair. Part of this, according to Goodman, is a direct reflection of American
politicians. In the days of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, politicians evolved from
true leaders. They were not men who went to Harvard or Princeton and received a
degree in law or political science, rather, they were men who had a overwhelming concern
for the commonwealth of their peers. Today, society does not acclaim its leaders, it
ridicules them. Scandals such as Watergate in the 1960 s, the Dan Quail vs. Potato
incident, and the most recent Bill Clinton/ Monica Lewinsky sex scandals, are all examples
of the disregard of political purpose. Goodman goes on to support this argument by
quoting, As it is, what must be the effect on a boy when he comes to realize that the
public spokesman up there is not even speaking his own words, but repeating, like a
performer, something written for him by a staff from Madison Avenue? ( Goodman,
Goodman also focuses on the abandonment of the American community. The
decision of the Brown vs. Board of Education to desegregate schools caused a mass
relocation of white Americans to the outer city limits. This migration led to the creation
of what is now known as suburbia . Whereas early American rural and urban
communities where closely knit, the creation of the suburbs led to a decrease in concern
for these areas. Americans became fascinated with the American Dream and adopted a
more self indulged view of the community. Goodman also mentions the fact that children
growing up in these closely knit urban areas were more likely to acquire a local
patriotism , but this was lost once the child entered into the adulthood stage of
conformity. On the contrary, he mentions the positive effects of the post war boom of
young marriages and the increase of the urban birth rate as well as the introduction of
Real Fatherhood –the involvement of men in raising their children–into society.
Goodman illustrates his respect for the suburban ideas and philosophies, but discredits the
lack of emphasis on community development. The revolutionary ideas of child raising that
engulfed the suburban community took on a more liberal approach. The idea of strict,
stern discipline was abandoned along with ideas regarding sexuality. Goodman is in
agreement with this free form of child raising due to the fact that it stimulates and
promotes individuality rather than promote the ideas of conformity which were instilled in
society s dominant institutions. On the contrary, the creation of suburbia leads to the men
of the communities commuting to and from their professions, thus, taking away from the
concept of True Fatherhood and the focus of assimilating youth into the community.
Goodman proceeds to show his concern for the educational institutions during the
height of the communist threat. The investigations of Dies, McCarthy, and Feinberg
instilled fear into the professors to the point in which they were unable to effectively teach
the growing generation. This, according to Goodman, led students to become cynical
about politics. Students are not allowed to freely affirm themselves politically if there are
consequences in regards to their political beliefs. In this sense, Goodman shows a respect
for communists; respecting the ambition and willingness to get involved despite the beliefs
of mainstream society, ……in their lust for control apart from any objective good and,
more deeply, in their use of an organized power-system in order to make the ingenuous
and worthy not exist. Goodman goes on to discuss other factors which mislead the
students of society s universities. First is the atomic bomb scare and the fact that student
were overwhelmed with the thought that the Russians may attack. Next, he discusses the
recruitment of upper class students to the corporate world, one which rewards the idea of
conformity. Likewise, Goodman mentions the recruitment of lower-class boys into the
Finally, Goodman discusses his concern for the exclusion of citizens from the
community. He proceeds to cite an incident from the New York Times, which portrayed
the common view of African-Americans during the period. The article explains a case in
which a Black family attempts to move into a suburb of Chicago. They are restricted due
to concerns of locals that they will have difficulty selling their homes in the future in the
case that they decide to relocate. Goodman challenges the portrayal of the residents in the
article as an attractive young married couple because he feels that it is an attempt to
place a boundary around American culture. This idea of exclusion is again discussed
within the text of the Beatnik movement. Goodman respects the Beat movement s
attempt to form a sense of patriotism within its own subculture, but fears that it takes
away from overall patriotism. The Beats attempt to affirm the outcast of racial
subcultures buy acquiring their own community and system of art, literature, and music.
This, however, according to Goodman, does not allow them to become contributing
members of society because they become ignorant to the outside world.
Throughout his essay, Goodman attempts to pinpoint the key factors which have
led to the decline in patriotism. The concerns that he shares are of a nature that they
continue to exist in today s society. Has American suffered a regression in concerns to the
politics which structured our society? Americans now live in an environment where it is
every man on there own. Children show there respect for television appearances and
share an ignorance for political issues. What does this say about the future of America
collectively? What will happen to the land of the free and will it be able to strive despite
the fact that its citizens do not care?
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