Sunday, July 4, 2010

Famous Last Refuges

E___ is one of a handful of my social networking "friends" who
PLEDGE[S] ALLEGIANCE TO THE FLAG OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND TO THE REPUBLIC FOR WHICH IT STANDS ONE NATION UNDER GOD, INDIVISIBLE, WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL.
And on Independence Day, no less -- suck it, Britain! Or maybe that should be: SUCK IT, BRITAIN, because patriotic bluster seems badly served by anything less than the ALL CAPS method of emphasis. E___ goes on, and I quote this verbatim:
(I grew up saying this every morning in school - it's a terrible shame we no longer do that ,for fear of ...offending someone). NOW..LET'S SEE HOW MANY AMERICANS WILL REPOST THIS OUT OF RESPECT FOR OUR COUNTRY
It's true that E__ grew up saying this every morning in school; I know this to be true because I grew up at the same time, in the same place, and under the standards of the same public school system.

I disagree that it's a terrible shame we no longer do that because (a) we still do that, as is shown in comments to E__'s own post by current public school teachers from Oklahoma and the reports of my own son here in sunny Oregon; and (b) insofar as controversy exists over reciting the "under god" portion of the pledge in public schools, it has little to do with "offending someone" but rather with producing government-sanctioned in-groups and out-groups based on religious views; and, most importantly, (c) teaching children to ape a pledge day after day seems like an extremely effective way to drain all meaning out of the pledge, if not to drain all meaning out of the very idea of making pledges.

This is how it worked for me, anyway. I continued aping the words of the pledge right up until the day, some time in high school, when I bothered to think about the meaning of the words, whereupon I realized that I do not, in fact, pledge allegiance to the flag of the USA, not least because it is patently absurd to pledge anything to a piece of colored cloth.

Even substituting the symbolism of the flag, it remains a weighty and consequential thing to pledge one's allegiance. What is the limit of "allegiance," and to what does one commit oneself when one pledges it -- what concrete, specific differences should be expected between the life-course of hypothetical person A, who pledges allegiance in this way, and person B, who declines to do so?

Here's an easy one: military service. I am not a veteran. Whatever patriotism I can claim does not extend to that mark. Going back to the instance of E___ and my other "friends" who have repeated the same update, I note that none of them has served in the military. Whatever their pro-pledge enthusiasm amounts to, it is evidently not that.

These are not frivolous questions and objections: pledging, allegiance, and citizenship should not be trivialized. Encouraging people (not just kids) to reflect on their relationship with their country and fellow citizens seems reasonable, even laudable -- the social contract is an evolving work-in-progress whether we want it to be or not, and demands the effort and attention of engaged people. Habitually aping lines written by others is an antithesis of this, not a fulfillment of it.

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