How to act like an American

I had a conversation last night with a friend that got me thinking about citizenship and acting in the American interest. It started with the nature of hyphenated American status and what it meant, but evolved into a larger discussion on what allegiance really means.

For instance.....

For a person with dual or conflicting loyalties, where does one's obligation to one begin and the other end? For example, if a particular foreign policy action of the United States runs contrary to the interests of your particular ethnicity (eg: an Arab American witnessing the bombing of Arabs), where does the individual need to draw his moral and ethical lines in order to remain American?

If a particular ethnicity or extra-American national interest enjoys a special status (eg: Israel), is it "American" to pressure the American government to pursue a policy beneficial to that lobby or interest at the expense of America as a whole?

If a person holds allegiance to an ideology or religious philosophy that runs contrary to the principles of the American democratic republic (eg: Christian theocracy, communism, or racial supremacy), can they be American and pursue agendas that are clearly against the interests of the principles outlined in our Constitution?

Thoughts?

Paleocon wrote:

If a person holds allegiance to an ideology or religious philosophy that runs contrary to the principles of the American democratic republic (eg: Christian theocracy, communism, or racial supremacy), can they be American and pursue agendas that are clearly against the interests of the principles outlined in our Constitution?

I would argue that no, they cannot be American. But I don't mean that in an insulting way.

It's the classic dilemma, and one of the reasons that I find stories like George R. R. Martin's continuing Song of Ice and Fire so engrossing: what is more important to you? What allegiance is your most cherished, and when you're forced to pick between two things you are loyal to and love, which do you choose?

Me? I choose my beliefs and ethics. They just so happen to coincide with the intent behind the Constitution. Sadly, the current direction our nation and government is taking is leading us away from the Constitution and into something different (what that will be remains to be seen).

Paleocon wrote:

If a person holds allegiance to an ideology or religious philosophy that runs contrary to the principles of the American democratic republic (eg: Christian theocracy, communism, or racial supremacy), can they be American and pursue agendas that are clearly against the interests of the principles outlined in our Constitution?

Of course they can. In fact, if they can convince everybody else that their agenda is the superior that whatever the Constitution says, they can even change the Constitution to match their agenda. Win freakin' win baby!

Good questions Paleo. However, before they can be answered I have some questions of my own!

Why do you want to claim allegience to a state? Are these obligations that you speak of the result of a contract that was entered into freely by both parties? If not, do we automatically acquire duties and obligations by being born within the borders claimed by a state? If that is the case, what justifies such duties and obligations?

I think that these normative questions need to be answered first. But more broadly we can ask: what to we do with conflicting obligations? Well, I think that it depends on what normative ethics view that you subscribe to. Depending on your views, certain obligations will be stronger than others. When they come into conflict you must follow the stronger obligation.

Basically, I see my duties based on my ethics, like Farscry. Although, mine don't line up so nicely with the intent behind the constitution or the reality of it!

As part of becoming an American citized, the naturalization process requires you to "renounce all other allegiances" (www.uscis.gov, "Guide to Naturalization" publication, page 28). The answer seems pretty clear-cut here:

The Oath of Allegiance

I hereby declare, on oath,
that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all
allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince,
potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I
have heretofore been a subject or citizen;
that I will support and defend the Constitution and
laws of the United States of America against all
enemies, foreign and domestic;
that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;
that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States
when required by the law;
that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed
Forces of the United States when required by the
law;
that I will perform work of national importance under
civilian direction when required by the law; and
that I take this obligation freely, without any
mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help
me God.

For me, my allegiance is to my family, and my own sense of ethical values, whether or not they agree with the constitution (though, probably all do). Does that make me less "American"? Dunno. Do I care? Not really.

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

As part of becoming an American citized, the naturalization process requires you to "renounce all other allegiances" (www.uscis.gov, "Guide to Naturalization" publication, page 28). The answer seems pretty clear-cut here:

The Oath of Allegiance

I hereby declare, on oath,
that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all
allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince,
potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I
have heretofore been a subject or citizen;
that I will support and defend the Constitution and
laws of the United States of America against all
enemies, foreign and domestic;
that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;
that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States
when required by the law;
that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed
Forces of the United States when required by the
law;
that I will perform work of national importance under
civilian direction when required by the law; and
that I take this obligation freely, without any
mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help
me God.

And as a naturalized citizen, I am more acutely aware of these responsibilities than most birthright citizens in the US. I would argue that that is largely the division between immigrants and those born here. Immigrants are far more likely to appreciate what it means to be American and less likely to make up crap about it being about flags, Christian Identity, or similar bs.

I agree that those who have to earn the right to be American are probably more appreciative of it than those of us who were born into it but there are so many different variants involved in your initial question that it's tough to answer. I don't think you have to draw any lines to remain an American in regards to citizenship or your relationship to the common man but it becomes tricky when you put people's beliefs against the interests of the state machine which drives the nation. I may not be as vested as someone who was born in the Middle East but I am still horrified and outraged by the bombing of innocent Arabs by our government. I don't think that by questioning the morality of our elected officials it goes against the Constitutional framework that the country was built upon but I may be missing your point. In summary, I definitely think that the pissed off Arab-American is just as much (if not more so) American as a predating Revolutionary War generation citizen like myself is. My opinion is that a large part of the problem we are seeing today is because native born Americans don't appreciate or even know what it truly means to be an American so it is easy for outside influences like the church or political machine to mold a perception. I'm beginning to forget the inital question here ...

Paleo wrote:

And as a naturalized citizen, I am more acutely aware of these responsibilities than most birthright citizens in the US. I would argue that that is largely the division between immigrants and those born here. Immigrants are far more likely to appreciate what it means to be American and less likely to make up crap about it being about flags, Christian Identity, or similar bs.

The case of naturalized citizens is a bit different because they have acquired their duties in a much different way. Theoretically, you have entered into an agreement with the state freely and therefore, you can justifiably be held to those duties that come along with citizenship. However, in the real world, this is not quite the case as there is a strong element of coercion. Every inch of space on this planet is controlled and claimed by states. We have no choice but to live within the borders of a state and therefore we are forced to live under the rule of one of those states.

Now, if you are a happy statist and can agree to the terms and conditions of citizenship, then there shouldn't be a problem (of course, then you have the very interesting and important question of what should be done when the state does not hold its end of the bargain!). However, if you are not a statist or do not agree to the terms and conditions of citizenship, what justification does the state have for placing those duties and obligations upon you? What grants that institution authority over the people who happen to be born within its borders?

PissedYeti wrote:

My opinion is that a large part of the problem we are seeing today is because native born Americans don't appreciate or even know what it truly means to be an American so it is easy for outside influences like the church or political machine to mold a perception.

I think this gets to the heart of the matter. Who asked them if they even wanted to be Americans?

Dutty,

Interesting questions to be sure.

I think the question of what constitutes an American is particularly interesting in the context of the immigration debate. Birthright citizens, as you have pointed out, are less likely to "enter into the contract" of citizenship willingly. Moreover, they are less likely to understand the terms of the contract. This is particularly ironic considering the tendancy of many to want to keep the franchise exclusive without any regard for the obligations outlined therein.

Traditionally, states have been defined by commonality of culture or ethnicity. This is certainly true in Korea, Japan, China, and most of the states of Europe. The United States, however, has never been so (despite the revisionism of many a monolingual White Supremacist). American, instead, has always been a country governed by principles and laws rather than unified by culture. This then begs the question what are those priniciples and laws that make us "American".

You state that enjoying the extraordinary priviledge of the exclusive franchise of American citizenship does not obligate you to be "a statist" because it is not a contract you entered into voluntarily. I would argue that one always has the option to vote with your feet (as Kim Philby did when he renounced his British citizenship to become a Soviet turncoat), but to continue to reap the benefits of the world's most profitable franchise while rejecting its principles irrespective of one's birth is at the least ingrateful. Participation in the benefits of a society does obligate one to defend it and its principles.

Now that I've established myself as a rabid "America: love it or leave it" jingoist, I return to the question of what it means to love your country. Can one be an American and harbor conflicting loyalties to, say, a theocratic designed "city on the hill"? Can one be an American and advocate subverting our government to favor a foreign power?

These questions are extremely sensitive to me because I have had to wrestle with my identity as an immigrant/naturalized American. I would, for instance, never in a million years pass classified information to a pro-Korean lobby. And I would advocate the death penalty to any Korean-American that did so.

Here's a topic I wish I'd seen while it was still kicking.

When a non-American becomes an American citizen, you're told that you have to renounce all allegiances. No matter how much you want to become an American citizen, I think it might be very difficult to truly sever any feeling you might have had. Take, for an incredibly poor example, the Irish immigration boom during the potato famine. The majority of those who left Ireland did so because they were forced to in order to avoid starvation. I think a number of immigrants have probably done the same over the years; if you left a country you love for America for any reason, I think it's difficult to expect that you'd cut off any connection you might have had to your homeland.

As an immigrant, you swear an oath that says that you renounce all citizenship (and any privileges thereof) in exchange for American citizenship. How is that enforced? If someone is basking in the glow of American citizenship but obviously favors his or her land of origin, do we strip their citizenship and deport them? Do we just slap them on the wrist?

I think it's different arguing national identity vs. citizenship and religious identity vs. citizenship. If a person is a devout Catholic and always follows the decrees of the Vatican, what happens when the Vatican orders faithful Catholics to do something that is against the law in their country?

As has been pointed out, it's also different for natural-born American citizens. We aren't made to choose our nationality, so the majority of us (at least, from my backwater perspective) don't bother and instead find something else to side with, be it religion, social subgroup, fandom for a particular band, etc.

I would be interested to see a survey of some massive amount of people in the United States about what they would choose, given an insurmountable divide between two things to which they'd aligned themselves.

I wonder how different the results would if given several sets of repercussions? For instance, a natural-born citizen might well choose to side with his religion over his country if there were no penalty, but if the country in question were to deport anyone who claimed his particular religion, would he still hold to it?

(Edit: After having read this post, I realize that all I've done is rephrase Paleo's original question, but remove a lot of the elegance. This is why I don't hang out in here.)

Forgive my Canuck ignorance, but can't Americans hold dual citizenship? If so, and an American were also a citizen of Switzerland (and, therefore, required to enlist), it'd put one in a tough situation.

The sticky part of the Oath is "that I will support and defend the Constitution" which is an interesting statement to make considering it's mutable and (sometimes highly) open to interpretation. I wouldn't think that it would be untoward to lobby or even protest for what you believe is right regardless of whether or not it's in the Constitution. Is that not what makes the US a free country? (Aside: Is exercising free speech considered supporting the Constitution?)

To answer the questions, I would think that, so long as one does not directly serve and/or report to a foreign government (ie, serving in another country's armed forces) or other declared enemy of the state (read: terrorists), you're free to do as you please...within the bounds of the law, of course. And if they make bad laws, protest.