In a previous article on the Pledge, I argued that although including the phrase "under God" is clearly unconstitutional, the US Supreme Court's unabashedly conservative majority would nevertheless vote 6-2 to leave it in (with Injustice Scalia abstaining). Well, the Supreme Embarrassment ruled alright, just not like I expected. They copped out and tossed the case on a legal technicality, arguing the plaintiff had no legal standing to file the suit.
But while everyone’s hopped up about the constitutionality of impressionable children saying "under God" in public school, hardly anyone’s discussing the whole twisted idea of having kids (and, not coincidentally, kids alone) pledge allegiance in the first place. Whether or not "under God" is constitutionally appropriate obscures the larger questions of "why pledge allegiance at all’ and ‘what’s the point of doing so"?
"I pledge 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."
There it is. That’s it. 31 "harmless" words. But have you read it? I mean, really read it? Say it to yourself a few times. Sounds kinda ridiculous after only two or three.
Despite the fact that it’s pipe-dream, pied-eyed rubbish (c’mon, liberty and justice for all – who’re they kidding?), it smacks of slavish subservience, submission, medieval fealty, blind obedience, archaic traditionalism, social conformity, coerced compliance, forced respect, and religious ritualism. The Pledge elevates the abstract "Republic" above the myriad flesh-and-blood citizens who not only comprise it, but by democratic right, are its very essence.
There’s no one in government to whom I owe my allegiance, no king or dictator (BushCo’s megalomaniacal global fantasies notwithstanding). I am the government. I can accept or reject the ideals of a democratic republic, for such is my right. But I don’t subject myself to it, pay homage to it, am not inferior or beholden to it, or feel like I or anyone should have to daily confirm or affirm that they’re blessed to be American and live in the land of the free and home of the brave (anymore, that can be a distinct embarrassment).
When I remember how, in home-room, we used to faux-solemnly rise and mindlessly chant this nonsense every morning, it gives me chilly-willies. Other than its degree, what’s the difference between this and the unhealthy and dangerous indoctrination we condemn in other peoples (pre-teen Islamic rocking bobble-head Koran-chanters come to mind)? Either way, the goal is to make sure everybody’s on the same page, marching to the same drummer, doing the same thing, identifying with the right group, and being obedient and unquestioning little American drones, easily controlled and manipulated.
What need is there in a liberal democracy to engage in thinly veiled civic brainwashing? Why try to create legions of uncritical yes-persons? Why don’t adults or college students begin each work or school day with the Pledge? Why is the pledge reserved only for children, for whom conformity is a social expectation with dubious benefits and whose flouting often has severe consequences?
Potentially dangerous institutions like churches, cults, and political parties keep their ranks filled with people raised from birth to repeat the ignorant claptrap they’re constantly exposed to during childhood. It’s just another version of ‘give ‘em to me when they’re kids and they’ll be mine for life’.
If the function of the Pledge is to instill some degree of civic pride in the US (and it’s hard to see what other function it has), then let’s dispense with the hollow platitudes and look at what really matters – actions. Since actions speak louder than words, it’s little wonder the Federal government in general (and BushCo in particular) wants us reciting inanities rather than looking at what they’re actually doing.
We can mindlessly parrot the words, but if we’re not delivering on them, then what’s the point? I’d rather see us treating everyone equally (no tortures, rape rooms, mutilated Iraqi babies, or skewed tax cuts), providing liberty and justice for all (not waging illegal wars in the name of liberation and incarcerating people indefinitely), and not just paying politically convenient lip service to these fundamental democratic principles (if the Chimp-in-Chief says he’s protecting my freedom one more time, I’m gonna hurl).
Till that day, which as long as BushCo is in control, will certainly never come, our kids oughta be seen and not heard.
Allen Snyder is an instructor of Philosophy and Ethics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is copyright by Allen Snyder but permission is granted for reprint in print, email, blog, or web media so long as this credit is attached.
* Related Article: "I Pledge Allegiance" by Cecilia O'Leary and Tony Platt
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