Patriotism is a feeling of pride and love for one's country. Common acts of patriotism include erecting a flag of one's country in the home or yard, decorating one's car with as many flags as possible, and singing national tunes!
However, a deeper look into the "patriotic" mentality reveals something more complex and disturbing then the aforementioned phenomena. Why should anyone feel the need to exalt his own country over another? What is so special about his country that makes it so that he is "proud to be a (insert random nationality here)"? And what exactly is he proud of? Is patriotism being proud of one's heritage? If this is the case, then there should be no need to masquerade symbols of pride, for that is just arrogance! It is analogous to a situation where a man is very proud of his personal accomplishments. The man constantly walks around singing about his accomplishments, wearing clothing representing his accomplishments, and even writing books about his accomplishments! Is this not arrogance? Is this necessary? Rather, the man should be inwardly happy about his personal accomplishments, but should carry on with his business without boasting. Just as, in any country, a person should not become "patriotic," but should rather hold an inward respect for his country, equal to his respect for other countries. Because aren't all men created equal? And accordingly, culture, a creation of man, and religion, though somewhat more dubiously, a creation of man, are all equal. And there is no need for the exaltation of any particular nationality in any way, shape, or form.
Patriotism is perhaps THE single most effective political tool (though arguably less than religion). This concept of patriotism, of being proud of one's country, is used to control and condition the opinions of the general masses. For just one example of many, consider this:
Sympathizing with a little Iraqi child whose entire family was killed during the US invasion is unpatriotic. And if not unpatriotic, it is at least unimportant compared to the death of a US soldier, because God knows that American lives are more important than any other life!
Politicians will use patriotism to breed resentment to other races and nationalities, and to justify certain actions that otherwise would not be tolerated. It is important to understand that patriotism is also frequently used to "bind" a person to his country, and in doing so, stifle dissent, and make it generally unacceptable. Basically patriotism is a tool to make the general populace have a single opinion that is supplementary to the actions (or future actions) of the politicans in power at the time.
"We love America just as much as they do. But in a different way. You see, conservatives love America the way a four-year-old loves her mommy. Liberals love America like grown-ups. To a four-year-old, everything Mommy does is wonderful and anyone who criticizes Mommy is bad. Grown-up love means actually understanding what you love, taking the good with the bad, and helping your loved one grow."
-- al franken, lies and the lying liars that tell them
Patriotism in its true form is merely a pride for being a citizen of one's country. A patriot DOES NOT live by the idea that his country's people are superior than others. True patriots, depsite popular belief, do not believe the government is always right, either. Such people are known as meatheads.
For further information on related terms, see nationalism, prejudice, meathead, hypocritical patriotism, hyperpatriotism and chauvunism.