Playing on the winning team - Ed Brock

I am not proud to be an American.

I'm happy to be an American. I consider myself lucky to be American.

But I'm not proud of that fact because it is not a personal achievement, and for me the emotion of pride is only stirred by something I actually did.

Thus the concept of "pride of place" seems, shall we say, odd to me. The tendency of many people to pin a whole bunch of their sense of self on where they and their family happen to be from puzzles me.

I'm not proud to be from Alabama. But I'm not ashamed of it even if so many of my older relatives never fail to draw humor from the old retort to the question "What stinks."

"Your upper lip," is the invariable supply.

Essentially pride of place is a very common form of social brainwashing that belongs to the ancient "team-forming instinct."

Teams are an important social unit because they represent the most primal group beyond the family. Many animals work together as teams, from ants to chimpanzees. A team can move a tree or, particularly these days, a mountain.

So, nations are just giant teams. We realize that in our continued and universal fascination with sports because they speak to us of dramas of yore and gut-level politics. It's why capitalism rules the world, because capitalists are major team formers.

States are also teams working with and against other teams in the big game of human endeavor, and since the driving force of capitalism is competition, the pitting of one team against another for resources, prestige or secondary political gain.

So using terms like "I'm proud to be an American" is a way to rally the team, to toss a pebble into subterranean pools in our psyche with the intent of stirring up emotional ripples. Belonging to a winning team is a need so deeply rooted that it often overwhelms reason and causes people to follow whoever has the power of leading the herd.

Well, sometimes you have to play with the team and when you do you play to win, but there are also times when you have to break away from the team and act independently. There is no "I" in team but there is a "me."

There's an "at" too, but I've yet to find a use for it.

So, one must look at the little tricks the coach uses to keep his players intact and on target in order to know when you are participating willingly in society or just being manipulated. Because personal pride is often in short supply, anybody who offers an easy way to make people feel worthwhile is often followed and appeased.

But pride only applies to achievement, to something that is accomplished by a person or a group. You can be proud of what the team does or what you do to assist the team, but when being on the team is determined by an accident of birth you can't be proud of your position on the team.

Some may say that the accomplishment of the team is the accomplishment of all within the team, but if that's so it's not enough to generate what I would call pride.

I'm proud of graduating from college. I'm proud of the work I do for this paper.

I'm happy and fortunate to be an American from Alabama who lives in Georgia.

Ed Brock covers public safety for the News Daily. His column appears on Tuesdays. He may be reached by e-mail at ebrock@news-daily.com or by phone at (770) 478-5753 ext. 254.