Patriotism, Ritual & Protest - A Rant

Updated on September 26, 2016


There is a debate going around about a controversial act by an NFL quarterback which is almost inescapable even if you steer clear of American professional sports.Colin Kaepernick, quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers decided to sit out the opening ceremonies, particularly upsetting people by remaining seated for the National Anthem. He did this to draw attention to the disproportionate rate at which black Americans are shot and/or abused by police in America stating that minorities in America are oppressed.

Immediately this caused a firestorm of controversy because at sporting events in America it is generally common courtesy to stand for the recital of the Anthem with many people often removing their hats and putting their hands on their hearts as well. There are many in America who see the act of protest by Kaepernick as decidedly disrespectful, un-American and seemingly blasphemous.

In this hub rather than unpack these issues in a more reserved manner I want to explain my opinion in a more rant like format. I want to explain why people who think the act was un-American are so dead wrong about what being an American is meant to be that they might as well have been born on another fucking planet. Also, there will be some fucking bad language, so read at your own risk and, as always, ads are disabled.

History, Protest and Patriotism

Patriotism has always struck me as an odd thing ever since I was a child. In class we were instructed to recite the Pledge of Allegiance each day. At first, as a kid, this seemed okay, but quickly it became a mindless ritual to mumble the words back until, in high school, they didn't even bother to make us stand up anymore. I can remember senior year plenty of people sat during the Pledge, and even those who stood often whispered the words in a barely audible grumble. It had lost any meaning or grip it might have had when we were six, for most students anyway.

It wasn't that Patriotism or American history weren't interesting to me, quite the contrary, I was very fascinated by the motley crew of thinkers, business owners and malcontents that made up the Founding Fathers. I was also keenly aware that there were many places in the world with much less freedom and that the greatest safeguard of our freedoms were the bedrock principles of the Bill of Rights.

This is where I start to get angry when I see out of touch dullards like Mike Ditka spout off that if Colin Kaepernick doesn't like America he can simply get out and leave. This statement is so frighteningly cringe worthy that it leads me to the conclusion that Mike Ditka must be entirely ignorant of both American history and how American society changes.

I don't think people like this understand just how dumb they sound when they start complaining that one of their fellow citizens is protesting and it's going to take some doing to unpack why what Ditka said is so disgustingly dumb. I suppose the easiest place to start is in the first amendment.

The First Amendment is by far the most important in the entire Constitution and I would argue, perhaps Patriotically so, that it marks a milestone in the history of human civilization as a whole. Unlike governments before it (including other attempts at democracy) the American one not only afforded the right to protest but was predicated on the idea that protest and public opinion was fundamental to the law-making process. Freedom of speech and expression didn't just include being able to verbalize or artistically express yourself but could include any legal deviation from societal norms.

The Founding Fathers didn't exist in an echo chamber, they had a ton of disagreements with one another and they had to make compromises along the way. When some blowhard tells someone else to "get out if they don't like America" I'm reminded of those early disputes the Founding Father's had. Could you imagine Thomas Jefferson going on TV and telling Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists to "Get out if they don't like America!"

People forget that the election of Thomas Jefferson to the Presidency in 1800 was dubbed a "quiet Revolution" by many because it marked the first time an Anti-Federalist had been elected President. Rather than a violent Revolution public opinion was being swayed and the American system underwent the first true test of it's stability by electing a party that was very different from what had been in power previously.

No one doubts today that both the Anti-Federalists and Federalists wanted America to succeed and "loved their country" for whatever that's worth. Just as no one today, save a racist few, doubt the beneficial nature of peaceful protests during the Civil Right's movement of the 50s and 60s.

Even if you disagree with what Colin Kaepernick is protesting about the act of Protest itself is embedded in the very heart of what it means to be an American. Being able to have a different political opinion, even a vastly different ideology, and not be treated differently under the law, is fundamental to a free and open society which is what the United States has always aspired to be. You can be as ardently against Kaepernick's opinions as you want but at the end of the day what he did is definitively in-line with the core of the Bill of Rights.

In fact protesting because of an issue weighing on one's conscience is arguably a thousand times more patriotic than the hollow and empty ritual of standing up while some popstar or chorus of kids croon their way through the National Anthem.

Empty Superstition

My real problem with most of today's Patriotic pageantry is that it celebrates America while completely misunderstanding the point of America. What I mean is that people are outraged that a man sat down while a song was being sung while in the meantime our fellow citizens are gunned down in the street by an increasingly trigger happy police force. Again, whether you might think that the shootings in question were justified,tragic but with no one at criminal fault, or motivated by race is irrelevant. Obviously someone, for any reason, being shot and killed, is more important than the opening Patriotic circle-jerk at the start of a sporting event.

Whatever your stance on the issue of police violence in America it would seem to me that the act of bringing awareness to such an issue is more Patriotic then taking off your hat during a song. But maybe that's because I don't associate true Patriotism with empty ritual and idolatry.

One of the things that disgusts me the most about being an American is the amount of empty headed buffoons who seem to have a hard-on for anything 'Merican and don't have any nuance about their opinions on the subject. Just the fact that I can use the meme that is 'Merica and you know what I'm referencing demonstrates there are plenty of these superstitious assholes around, people who imbue anything remotely American with irrational almost supernatural importance.

I suppose it's understandable that I, as an atheist and skeptic, dislike superstition in almost all of its forms but even as a kid, and believer in God, I never quite understood the focus of Patriotism on ritual as opposed to actual meaning. I never understood it in religion either with Holy Communion being the most boring and baffling ritual imaginable for me as a kid and rituals such as baptism equally baffling. Surely God didn't care about these peculiar rites right? Surely God cared about the content of your heart and mind, about sincerity, rather than about the empty ritual of it.

I can remember sermons in Church directed at the so-called "Back Sliders", Christians who showed up every Sunday in their finest attire but then went home to sin and ignore God the rest of the week.

Patriotism seemed even more confusing, because with religious ritual there is a God to appease. With Patriotism there is no supernatural force to be placated or pissed off and, in most cases, no laws to adhere to either. It wasn't as if sitting during the Pledge of Allegiance at school caused any controversy, sure you might get a dirty look but in school those are unavoidable no matter what you do or don't do. It wasn't as if failing to take off your hat during the Anthem hurt anyone's feelings, again the worst you'd get is a dirty look or a whisper or gesture to take your hat off from an elder or friend.

Who was it hurting to refuse to go through the motions of the rituals of Patriotism? Only the feelings of those who had made idols of the symbols and songs associated with their country. Only those who imbued superstitious importance onto the objects and forgot that the ritual wasn't the important thing, the substance of what it meant to be an American was. Sincerity was important, adherence to principles, standing up for the ideals that you believed America was meant to aspire to.

A large portion of the world seemed to be putting the cart before the horse. The American flag wasn't and isn't important, it's a material object. Fuck the American flag. What is important is what that Flag is meant to stand for and what it could stand for in the future if we can live up to the ideals we set for ourselves. The Flag is a symbol, but some have made it an idol.

Standing for the Anthem, like standing for hymns in church, is equal parts superstition and peer pressure induced tradition. It's meaningless woo woo that does very little to imbue children with any sense of Patriotism. If you want children to understand what being an American is you have to teach them about history, about the Bill of Rights, about the ideals that we are meant to live up to even if our nation has often stumbled in doing so (from its inception no less).

If you want your child's heart to swell with Patriotic pride of being an American it is best to give them something to be proud of rather than just pressure them into doing it because everybody else is.

Taking off your hat is similarly meaningless and putting your hand over your heart is something that is generally done to swear an oath, which is itself a superstitious act.

The meaning is not in these traditions, true Patriotism, being a true American, has fuck all to do with standing up and mumbling through the first few verses of the Star Spangled Banner or mouthing the Pledge of Allegiance. Colin Kaepernick, in simply exercising his rights, in act so American it's in the first fucking amendment, has apparently pissed off a ton of idolatrous superstitious zealots worshiping at the First Church of Merica.

Forced Patriotism?

Pledge of Allegiance

American school children doing the pledge, before Germany co-opted the whole "Hail Hitler" thing
American school children doing the pledge, before Germany co-opted the whole "Hail Hitler" thing

Erections Flying High

When I first encountered the outrage over Kaepernick my reaction was a shrug. I myself have no alliance or stance on the issue he is protesting. I would like further investigation into why our police and justice system so disproportionately harms the black community but suffice it to say that I have no horse in this particular race. I am concerned and disturbed by the number of people, just in general, that are shot by police in America and indeed concerned by the number of guns and shootings in America in general.

But the more I thought about the outrage at Kaepernick the more angry I became about how hollow Patriotism has become in America. One incident that made me think occurred when I went to the Sports Bar with a few friends. The bar broadcast every game in the NFL simultaneously on multiple screens. We sat there with beer and chicken wings laughing and talking idly. Naturally the start of every NFL game includes a rendition of the Anthem.

No one at the bar stood. No one stood. All those different games being played across America, all those different opportunities to stand at attention with hearts covered and no one gave a solitary fuck. It struck me that this was an instance of Americans caring about the spectacle, the superstitious ritual. There was no repercussion for the millions of Americans sitting at home with their Papa John's pizzas in their pajamas if they sat through the anthem while scratching their balls. But for Colin Kaepernick, a public figure, professional NFL athlete, in a stadium full of standing Americans with millions of ball scratching fuckwits watching at home the repercussions were immediate.

Somewhere in America two people were having sex during the Anthem and there was no one there to shame them. Instantly, however, Colin Kaepernick is the target of scorn and outrage because he didn't submit to the peer pressure and tradition. He didn't go through the motions of the ritual and so he must be shunned.

Colin Kaepernick's grand crime is giving more of a shit about the people of his country than he does about the empty rituals associated with his country's sporting events.

The vast majority of Americans sit during the National Anthem when it's televised. They don't stand in their living rooms boners flying high for America and orgasm into their red, white and blue undies as the song reaches it's climax. They sit, on their asses, in sports bars and waiting rooms and listening on the radio in their cars. They don't give a fuck, nor should they.

Nor should anyone. Because just like with religious rituals the only one's who invest any meaning into these empty actions and old symbols are us, we the people. And Patriotism, Nationalism, and all of that are meaningless without an understanding of the principles and founding ideas upon which a society and a nation are built.

Among America's founding principles are freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom to protest. Exercising one of these rights is a thousand times more Patriotic than the empty fascist horseshit that so many people invest an irrational amount of emotion into. Even if you believe Colin Kaepernick is wrong to say that minorities are still oppressed in America it is his right, and if he is so moved by conscience, his Patriotic duty, for him to call attention to that.


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      Lawrence Hebb 16 months ago


      Some good points here. As an ex soldier i can appreciate where some of the 'protesters' are coming from.

      Take just the Vietnam war, America lost 57,000 people there, 80% were 'Black' (to me that's hugely disproportionate! but for the ex military folks the national anthem isn't about 'singing a song ' but remembering those who didn't come home!

      I'd agree with you though (by the way we heard about it here in NZ but it was more on how dumb the commentators were)