Tuesday, September 27, 2016

God And Country

Colin Kaepernick is being an ass.  But why do people care about that so much?  People make showy protests all the time, we just shrug and walk away.  Why this time? Why this person? There is a problem of disproportionate response from his critics, and I think it highlights some bad attitudes that may be getting worse. There is a tighter identification of the flag with the military that has some troubling aspects to it.  I get why the military loves the flag and the anthem, but that’s not the same thing as automatically associating the flag with the military.  The flag is all of us. The anthem is all of us.

This is the place where I usually make everything tribal, and I think that’s a good start: the God & Country tribe feels personally insulted and challenged and is punching back. Yet I think there’s more to it.

Disclaimers: this may be largely an illusion. It might be media sources artificially inflating the issue to keep it going, because they think Colin Kaepernick is right, and they want to use the opportunity. Or in reverse, there might be other groups that believe enough is enough, and have been waiting for whatever example presents itself next to kick BLM, or lack of patriotism, or kids these days. If Kaepernick had chosen differently we might be getting into this same argument this month or next month anyway. “So, Random Sports Person, what do you think of Colin Kaepernick’s protest? Does he have the right to protest?  Should Commissioner Goodell do anything about it?  How do you feel about the counterprotests? Do you have any controversial thoughts you’d like to share?  Do you know anyone with any controversial thoughts?  Do you know any racists? Do you think that racism is a problem?  Are the people who think racism is a problem a bigger problem?”

No one has mentioned Colin Kaepernick to me at work or in my social circles. So this may all just be business as usual, except it’s an election year and advocates are feverishly trying to goad their opponents into doing or saying stupid stuff.  Well, everyone seems to have succeeded at that.

If this is a real something, a real sign that we are becoming more divided, more angry, then I suppose it is best someone figure out what it is and whether we can contribute anything helpful to it. I am not that person.  I am also rejecting the other possibility immediately – that this is an opportunity to have a conversation.  We might be able to make it into that, but so far I’m not seeing any good signs.
What is happening to the God & Country Tribe? Most Americans used to have automatic membership in it, enough so that it was not a strong identifier of who they were.  People belonged to other tribes, usually more than one, to set themselves apart. Carolinian, Italian-American, WASP, Old Money, Farmer, or the newer cultural ones which are stronger now: Arts & Humanities, Science & Technology, Government and Union, Military. But until about fifty years ago, everyone was God & Country as well. Everyone had some association with church, everyone knew some rules about the flag, and stood for the Pledge or the National Anthem.  Since then it has weakened in some cultures, perhaps even becoming an item of scorn, while others have embraced it even more fiercely.  It has drifted south, and Protestant, and military, though nothing like exclusively.  It has become more closely embraced by football, perhaps because the other major sports have more foreign players, or as a byproduct of the military imagery football is so comfortable with.

I don’t know the trend among African-Americans.  I get the impression that there are places where patriotism is an unpopular item, but there continues to be a strong black presence in the military, an especially patriotic group, as noted above. There is also a lot of popular focus on competitive sports in the black community, and the flag and national anthem continue to be very much a part of that at all ages.  Perhaps that is part of what gives the protest force.

Perhaps people care more about flags when they can’t have altars – or not so publicly, or don’t want them at all anymore. The God and Country Tribe may already be the Country and God tribe, or the Country and Military and Religious Freedom Tribe. That is what CS Lewis predicted in Screwtape will always happen to “Christianity and…”  The secondary elements will ultimately take over the primary. I have long felt that was true for many in the tribe, and wondered how long the rest could hold out. I think what we are seeing is another step down that road.  I do. It has all become a muddled tribal defensiveness. You are insulting the men* who died for your freedom. You are disrespecting everyone who ever put on a uniform. (And by extension you are insulting our whole God & Country culture, which supports the military more than other tribes. So therefore, you are disrespecting me personally and I want to punch your face.)  I think that sentiment used to be farther in the background, but it’s the first one out of the gate now. 

Ah, “first out of the gate,” I wrote.  That may be a clue as well.  The first to respond may not be anything like a majority, just the most agitated and touchy. Maybe it’s just social media giving more prominence to complete asses than they deserve.

*And oh yeah, women.  We keep forgetting that.


james said...

I think part of the Koepernick (spelling isn't my strong suit) kerfuffle is pent-up frustration being given a vent. If you point out the flaws in the BLM dogma you know that--at best--you'll be instructed that you just don't get it. Here's a excuse to speak up, albeit indirectly. So it magnifies the G+C (or C+M+G) voice

RichardJohnson said...

For every 100 people that know Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, there are probably only 1 or 2 who know that he also expressed the opinion that Hillary should be in jail.

Combine the set of Hillary supporters with the set of those who think football players should stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. You probably get 70%+ of the country. Colin Kaepernick managed to tee off a considerable part of the populace. Which is why entertainers are advised to be apolitical: you don't want to alienate your customers.

Kaepernick also teed off those who, after the "Don't Shoot" and "Gentle Giant" reactions to Ferguson, consider BLM to stand for Black Lies Matter.

I wonder how many Kaepernick supporters would react to seeing the video of his saying that Hillary should be in jail.

james said...

On further reflection (I should always do that first, I suppose), I wonder if the media aren't making the BLM et al sound like they represent the entire black population. Certainly they're more popular with the Madison media than local black preachers, judging from column inches given. They push all the right buttons...

ML King Jr had a flag in his marches, presumably to emphasize that we're all supposed to be in this together. The impression BLM/Kaepernick leave is more like the old Black Muslims--"We're NOT all in this together, and we want to be different/separate."

If you get the sense that a whole group wants to break away, the stability of the whole project is in jeopardy, and maybe you'd better nip this in the bud.

Laura said...

I'm retired Army, and at work there's a group of vets and current reservists who meet about once a month for coffee before work. We met last Friday, and the topic of the NFL in general, and the protests in particular, came up.

One guy (black) was hot under the collar about it, because he didn't like the military being used as a prop in an argument-- why is the flag about us? Why isn't it insulting to everybody? Who inserted us into this? I was mad because the whole purpose of sports, to me, is a refuge from politics, and the NFL and the media have shoved one thing after another down my throat-- gay players, bathrooms, now racial violence. There's no way to NOT make a political statement now-- if you sit, it's a statement; if you stand, it's a statement; if you stay in the locker room, it's a statement. I HATE that. I'm not here for that, I'm here for a short vacation from serious things. (And don't forget, the players used to be in the locker room during the anthem-- that was for the fans, then the players would do their big run-on-the-field thing afterward. And that change wasn't made by Kaepernick, that's corporate.) Another guy (Hispanic) was mad because it's transparent that the main players doing this stuff are has-beens who need something else to blame (other than their crappy performance) when they get benched.

But most of the vets were just mildly annoyed, and are cutting back their watching of football accordingly-- so the 15-20% drop in viewership is about right. It's a combination of things-- the slow drip-drip-drip about misconduct, head injuries, cheating, etc. The way QB's are hyped up so much (way past their actual performance) and so many meaningless stats and "records" are generated. The rising cost and declining quality for merchandise, tickets, etc. Teams blackmailing cities over stadiums. Just bad play, and dirty play.

And I don't know one parent who would be willing to let their sons play football today. Even the fathers who played themselves, won't let their sons play. The NFL has no future if parents don't let their sons play.

Christopher B said...

It's been evident for a long tome (since at least 2008) that something had to be done to motivate minorities to vote for Hillary. Blacks were being killed just about as often when Kaepernick was a starting QB.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Laura. Very valuable comment, from actual people, but not just one that "proves my point" as so often happens on the news, especially NPR. That's a nice mix of perspectives and worth thinking through. Please tell your friends that I will remember each of their contributions and try to keep them in mind when developing opinions.

jaed said...

Laura has said what I was thinking: The annoyance here is not Kaepernick's views, or even his actions, but the fact that "he got politics all over my football-watching". (With a lot of help from the NFL and the media, granted.) If an individual player or actor or celebrity is an ass, you can reflect that everyone has problems, ignore this, and enjoy the performance. But if the ass-hood is part of the performance, you no longer have that option: the game is now tainted by the political statement.

All of which is made worse because the symbol he is disrespecting is one of the things we're all supposed to have in common. Wearing anti-cop socks is one thing; but sitting out the national anthem is a more fundamental rejection of that commonality.

Then the NFL's various statements on this, their intent focus on being seen to be "inclusive" and so forth and so on, spread the contamination of politics to all of professional football. (Along with things like threatening to fine other players for doing things like wearing 9/11 cleats that are less in-your-face and less divisive than Kaepernick's actions, but represent the "wrong" politics. It seems that professional football not only has politics now, it has "right" and "wrong" politics.)

It all seems too tiresome for words, in a way that it wouldn't be had Kaepernick done or said something offensive or controversial that wasn't entangled in the football games themselves. If it were possible to just watch the performance... but it isn't.

I don't think this is a God-and-Country-Tribe-Is-Getting-Angrier problem; I think it's a nowhere-to-escape-from-this-stuff-anymore problem. More and more things that used to be refuges, where we could ignore the things that divide us, aren't refuges any more.

- Target's bathroom policy: they had family bathrooms already, but they just had to shove their politics in customer's faces and make repeated statements about that: you got politics all over my shopping.

- Campus grievance studies: they had the departments, but all students must now take the courses and do the crit/self-crit sessions as a condition of a degree: you got politics all over my education.

- Ghostbusters remake: it wasn't enough to just make the movie and see what happened, they had to denounce anyone who didn't like it as a sexist: you got politics all over my summer popcorn movies.

- Apple Computer: it wasn't enough to matter-of-factly have a gay CEO and make computers, he had to announce that anyone who opposes same-sex marriage shouldn't use the products: you even got politics all over my stupid iPhone.

Nothing will be allowed to escape. And when every aspect of life, even the most trivial, requires "taking a stand", and when benign neutrality is no longer allowed as an option, it shouldn't surprise that people start to take stands. They haven't been left any other choices.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@jaed - I think you sum that up well and your examples are good. BTW, I think the term you were looking for is asshattery, which is also fun to write.

The counterargument, that YOU (meaning me, I guess) have had your white, male, cis, Anglo-Saxon, slaveholding culture dominance for 10,000 years, so if you have to put up with a little inconvenience for a little while hearing the opposite, so what, doesn't impress me much. It has some truth in it. It is worth reflecting on privilege and history, and hidden oppression and all that. It really is, and I support those artistic creations and teaching opportunities that arise in life.

But it's not the only thing that people ever worried about, writhing under oppression and hoping to be liberated. Women in rural 6th C Macedonia who wondered if they might prefer to be men left no cultural trace because they were mostly worried about finding something for their families to eat, not being killed, worrying about where they stood before God, caring for relatives dying of unexplained diseases, and hoping for some slight boon that would come to their extended family so they could find a few moments rest. Much of modern victimhood is the annihilation of all history before the year 2000, not understanding in the slightest what it was like.

jaed said...

The counterargument, that YOU (meaning me, I guess) have had your white, male, cis, Anglo-Saxon, slaveholding culture dominance for 10,000 years, so if you have to put up with a little inconvenience for a little while hearing the opposite

There's very little of "hear me out" in that counterargument*, and a great deal of revenge and malice in it. Which I suppose is part of the whole problem: when the goal is to annoy and discomfit the people you've selected, you have to keep pushing until they're visibly annoyed and discomfited before you feel any satisfaction. Which I guess means getting politics into everything until there's nowhere to get away from it.

* This is assuming you accept the premise of the counterargument that humanity is divided into oppressors and oppressed, and that ([for example] "gay" and "straight" are not just characteristics, but two different kinds of human being along that divide. Which premise I find, as the young people say these days, problematic.

(To say nothing of what happens when we start getting into comparative cultures. Oh my sweet millenial summer children, what a shock you are in for someday.)

the annihilation of all history before the year 2000

A side note, but one weird thing I've noticed is people proclaiming that the Dark Ages lasted until times I can remember personally, and that their ideas bear no resemblance to the reality I know. Someone a few weeks ago was talking about how in the 70s, there were separate water fountains for black and white people. (Not in the 70s, and not in the 60s, and not even before that in most of the country—but they didn't know that.) Someone else talking about the cruel oppression of women in the same period. "No one would have even imagined a woman being President back then!" It feels very odd.