Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pledge of Allegiance Etiquette for Anti-PoA Types

O.k., hot on the heels of our mini-discussion of atheist prayer etiquette, here's a semi-related question: I don't say the Pledge of Allegiance. In fact, I think the PoA is more than a little nutty. And, well, unAmerican, actually--though one has to be careful with such judgments since our friends across the aisle are so injudicious and promiscuous with them. I don't think that being anti-PoA is clearly demanded by reason--that is, I think people of good will can disagree about it. But even folks on the other side of this issue pretty much have to be able to recognize how a reasonable person could find the whole thing rather creepy. It ought to at least worry them, and it's clear that it's worth thinking about.

FWIW, here's my position: I absolutely do not pledge any allegiance to any flag, not even ours--and this despite the fact that it often fills me with all sorts of warm and fuzzy and patriotic feelings. Oh: and you can't make me, either. I'd fight to the death for the Constitution; and I'd pledge allegiance to it; and I like our flag just fine--more than fine, actually. But don't ask me to pledge allegiance to it. It's just not going to happen.

Actually, my refusal to say the PoA is actually to some fairly minor extent motivated by the loathsomeness of the flag fetishism that afflicts so much of the more primitive reaches of the right. And to an even lesser extent my position is motivated by the awfulness of the lately tacked-on "under God" bit. I mean, that part really, clearly is unAmerican, as hesitant as I am to use the term. And heck, evangelical atheist though I am, I've got a soft spot for ceremonial Deism. (I didn't say I was a good atheist...just an evangelical one. Though I'm even far less evangelical than I used to be...) But that crap just goes way, way too far. I'm more than happy to endure--and sometimes I'm even moved by--generic references to God at public events. But don't bloody well ask me to pledge my allegiance (whatever that means, exactly) to a piece of cloth and then also have the friggin' gall to try to make me obliquely assent to your religion on top of it. Which is, of course, part of what's going on there.

Ahem. O.k. So what I really meant to ask is this: since I won't engage in the PoA, what should I do while everybody else is doing it? I used to just sit there. And sometimes I'd ostentatiously pull out a book and start reading. Or, more accurately, pretend to read since you can't really even get started in the 20 seconds it takes everybody else to chant their chant. But now I suppose that seems downright disrespectful in some way. Or at least I worry that it might be. So my current theory is this: one should stand up--thus showing what seems to me to be a reasonable degree of respect for the flag--but not join in. If you think that the Pledge itself is o.k. but object to part that's in blatant violation of the Establishment Clause, you could just be silent for that part. But it seems to me that the God part is only barely more objectionable than the rest of it--though I'm not arguing for that here, but only asserting it.

On the other hand, despite the fact that it's probably reasonable to show a certain amount of respect for the flag by standing up, it may be more important to display disapproval of the pledge, so perhaps my old view was better, and one ought to remain seated.

Now, I recognize that I may very well be unduly cantankerous on this issue. And I'm willing to be persuaded.



Blogger Joshua said...

Hm. The stand/sit distinction is I guess the key point for me. I'd be more likely to just sit, I think, and sort of politely wait for everyone else to finish.

If I were in a cranky mood, I might recite the full thing with gusto while giving the Bellamy Salute, but unfortunately while everyone would recognise the commentary being made, nobody would recognise that the Bellamy Salute was something that people used to actually do while reciting the Pledge.

Yet another protest ruined by the ignorance of the target audience.

11:44 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Now that's funny.

(Though I did have to look it up.)

9:11 AM  
Blogger lovable liberal said...

WS, I think you're a Pledge literalist!

Maybe there's still a third grader in me, but I say the Pledge. I simply leave out the "under God" late addition and construe the flag as a symbol of our Constitutional liberty. Liberty and justice for all is a powerful message - maybe you've seen my tag line.

Consistent with the flag as symbol, I've recovered from the fetishism that supposedly would require me to burn the flag ceremonially if it ever touched the ground. Maybe this had something to do with picture I once saw of my grandfather's Legion post honoring tattered flags by solemnly burning them - in a barbecue grill!

Even so, these men who had fought and bled for America never would have been foolish enough, at least not after seeing action, to value an individual flag above their lives. On the other hand, they did honor the flags they were committing to ashes in such an odd setting, and I'm sure they didn't all think of it symbolically.

Maybe I simply choose to think of this symbolically. After all, when faced with transubstantiation vs. consubstantiation, I throw up my hands and say, uh, guys, don't be idiots, that's obviously a metaphor (and of course a symbol).

11:00 AM  
Blogger Random Michelle K said...

I like the pledge, and let me explain why.

I have a friend who is first generation American. Her mother was sent to the US by herself (because they could only afford to send one child at a time) to escape WWII.

What my friend took from her mother's experience is this.

The US is very different from the countries in Europe and Asia. In those countries, there is a shared languages and a share history and often a shared religion and genetics. And these similarities keep the country together and foster national pride.

And I'll also note, that some countries have lacked these similarities, have broken apart into small groups. (I'm thinking of many of the former Soviet republics here, but there are many other places that fit to bill.)

What we have instead, in the US, where we lack a common history and a common nationality and a common religion and a common ethnic background, is shared patriotism.

And the most common expression of that shared patriotism is the pledge of allegiance.

If you think about it, there is nothing else that holds Americans together other than our patriotism and our love of country.

So if saying the pledge help keeps this country together then I'm all for it.

4:06 PM  
Blogger Aa said...

I usually just sit quietly and wait for everyone to 'chant their chant'.

The reactions I get to doing this are rather intersting. Usually I get a few angry/hard/hate-filled looks...a coupla times it looked like a person was seriously trying to keep themselves from punchng me (at an elementary school function!).

4:12 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I can see your point MK, and I absolutely acknowledge that reasonable people can differ on this one. The PoA is fairly unspecific, and it may be that you have to be slightly ODD* or just plain cantankerous to interpret it the way I do.

* Oppositional Defiance Disorder. This is a joke between me and the Notorious D.A.N. Though it turns out this is allegedly an actual disorder, though one always has to take psychobabble with a grain of salt.

6:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don’t think the POA is a worthwhile fight for liberals. Like Michelle K said, it can be viewed as an expression of patriotic solidarity, and that’s a good thing.

Now, what really bugs me is when the flag is placed above the Constitution. So here’s a suggestion if you really feel the need to make a statement.

After you say the POA with gusto, whip out your pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution (I know you’ve got it), and offer to lead everyone around you in the Federal Oath. “I swear to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic.” You can leave off the "so help me God" part if you like. Every single federal employee—from the President on down—takes this oath, and it highlights that while the flag is a powerful symbol the Constitution is the foundation of our government.

7:44 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, I don't think that it would be worthwhile for liberals to try to fight *any* such fights right now. And maybe not even in my lifetime. And, again, I *do* agree that there the PoA is unspecific enough to be reasonably interpretable in a couple of ways. I do recognize that there's a non-nationalistic, non-creepy interpretation, but I don't think that interpretation is more natural/reasonable than the creepy interpretation. And 50/50 creepy/non-creepy...well, that's just not good enough for me. But maybe it's just my ODD talking.

9:22 PM  

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