Archive for the ‘Patriotism’ Category
Think back to fifth or sixth grade. What were the first words you mumbled every morning in class as you shook the sleep out of your eyes? You probably repeated a bunch of words that you didn’t think much about as you were saying them. They probably sounded something like “I led to pigeons to the flag ….”
Everyone grows up saying the Pledge of Allegiance, but many of us never really learn what it actually says. Being half-asleep doesn’t help. But there are other reasons why people have trouble remembering our country’s most famous patriotic saying.
One rason so many people misunderstand the Pledge, says children’s writer Ralph Keyes, is that “children who are taught unfamiliar words and phrases often convert them into ones that make more sense.” Another reason, says Keyes, is that we’ve said the Pledge so quickly and so many times that we have lost touch with its meaning.
Jon Willson, a social-studies teacher at Brooklyn Technical High School, remembers thinking that it began, “‘I pledge a lesson to the frog.’ I imagined that somewhewre in Washington, a giant frog–may be a cousin of the spelling bee–sat on a throne nodding its head in approval as I recited my multiplication tables.”
THE ACTUAL WORDS
By now, you probably know the actual words to the Pledge. But have you ever really thought about what these words mean or where they came from?
In 1892, James B. Upham, the head of Youth’s Companion, a popular children’s magazine, became furious about a newspaper editorial that criticized flag-raising ceremonies. It said they were no more than “worship of a textile fabric.”
“What’s happened to good old-fashioned patriotism?” Upham asked himself. “We must instill in the younger generation a love and respect for the flag.”
Upham thought the pledge students were saying at the time–”I give my hand and heart to my country, one nation, one language, one flag-”–wasn’t strong, or memorable, enough. So he and his assistant. Francis Bellamy, set out to write a new pledge “so fundamental and so stirring that it [would] live long after [the] one occasion.” They succeeded, giving us what we now call the Pledge of Allegiance.
WHAT THE WORDS MEAN
Upham and Bellamy chose the words of the Pledge carefully. Here’s what the words they wrote really mean:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America ….
Pledging our allegiance means vowing our loyalty to our country, and the symbol of our country, our flag.
… and to the Republic for which it stands.
Linking the flag with the republic (a political order based on a constitution) reminds us that the flag is not merely a “textile fabric,” but a symbol of our democratic system.
One nation, under God, indivisible…
The words “under God” were added as an Act of Congress in 1954, to remind us that we worship God in different ways.
Indivisible, a tricky term, means incapable of being divided any further. It had especially potent meaning when it was written because nearly 30 years before, the nation had almost been permanently divided by the Civil War.
. . . with liberty and justice for all.
The Pledge’s final clause reminds us that our political system guarantees each American: liberty (freedom from excessive restriction or control) and justice (fairness enforced by law.)
In the jargon of econometrics, values are endogenous, not exogenous. The values held by individuals are products of the institutional structure in which the individual finds herself. That is, values are not pulled out of thin air by individuals. Values are learned. But the learning process of pluralism is strikingly different from that of hegemony. In a pluralistic society, the learning is active. Individuals cannot simply accept what they are taught, because different institutions teach them different things. They are forced to make choices and to defend the choices they make. Individuals are forced to take an active role in the formation of their own moral character, to synthesize creatively their own values from the competing ones they encounter all around them. Under pluralism, individuals go mad, or they acquire moral integrity.
Under hegemony, individuals go soft. In a hegemonic society, such as ours is becoming, the learning is purely passive. Individuals accept what they are taught, because all institutions teach them the same thing. The individual plays a dependent role in the value formation process of hegemony. She is not forced to make choices and defend them, so she does not synthesize or reconstruct her own values out of the competing ones she encounters. She does not acquire moral integrity.
Moral integrity is increasingly lacking in the American character. The American character is being tamed because pluralism is being lost. The diverse institutions which should be teaching contradictory values are not doing so. Emulation has emptied them of their force. But emulation has filled the corporation with the force lost by the other institutions. Rising to hegemony, corporate values are replacing the diverse values of the formerly independent church, state, family, school, and union. This is not to say that American youth are becoming loyal servants of the corporation without a struggle, for they are not. Some of them are showing refreshing new signs of moral revulsion. But it is to say that American white collar strata are coming to accept one particular set of values, beliefs, and meanings, inculcated through emulation, through mindless striving after more for me. Church, state, family, school, and union have fallen away as sources of values, beliefs, and meanings. Corporate ones have come to dominate. In the resulting corporate hegemony, moral choice and challenge are gone — so too is the moral integrity forged by making choices and by overcoming challenges. Values have become more endogenous than ever.
The reactionary right is onto something — our values, beliefs, and meanings are disintegrating, collapsing into conformity. This collapse is a very important subject for social economists to study. But the reactionary right fails to identify the real cause of the collapse, so this social economy analysis helps to set the record straight. The values corrupting us are products of corporate hegemony, not of welfare statism. The organizational revolution, not the New Deal, is the fountainhead of competitive conformity. And, the collapse into conformity is driven by emulation, not secular humanism. As more and more of us have moved into the large-scale, bureaucratic organizational world, we have taken on more and more of the values, beliefs, and meanings useful for getting ahead in that world. We have adapted to the organizational revolution. Nevertheless, we have failed to understand what has happened to us as we adapted to hegemony. Instead, we have accepted the ready-made scapegoats offered us by the reactionaries. And yet, in spite of all our confusion, some facts are hard to avoid: It was Ivan Boesky, financial capitalist, not Beatrice Washington, welfare mother, who was caught with his hand in the till to the tune of $100 million.
The touchstone for American Renewal must be conscious and continuous effort, at every family table, in every neighborhood, every organization and every region of the nation, to cast aside racism and prejudice in all their forms. We must remind ourselves and our children of the metaphor of the rising loaf of the shared American experience.
At the same time, every civic group must nurture and develop the leaders of the future. The object is not so much to prepare “heroic” leaders as it is young people who grasp the techniques of working together collaboratively, rather than acting alone in frustration.
Learning about collaborative leadership and mediation also can be a “refresher” for people who find themselves victims of mid-life “stalling” — workers sidetracked by lay-offs or new technologies, burned-out journalists and community activists, and disillusioned professionals. The issue is not so much training as it is renewal through a pooling of talents. The same processes also can function collectively, permitting, for example, leaders of a region to think together about ways to deal with their mounting crises.
The push for renewal must infect every institution of the land, from churches and corporations to every group representing those “factions” of democracy of which James Madison first wrote. In every sphere, we need the equivalent of Reinventing Government — the idea that with the same resources, one can indeed achieve more public good, be more responsive to impatient and insistent constituencies, and motivate and empower workers.
Organizational renewal does not come easily. Just as in personal and family life, the urge to protect what one has is immense. What is required is creative in-surgency. This means the insurgency of men and women who believe deeply in their families, neighborhoods and the missions of their organizations, while realizing they are falling far short of their potential. One example would be what some people call the “shadow government” of experts in frequently clashing industries, governments and environmental organizations. These people would jump at the chance to agree on workable compromises and creative “win-win” scenarios to move public policy forward. Sadly, they all too rarely get the chance to do so. But the dreary refrains of organizational orthodoxy too often squelch their originality.
Indeed, insurgents generally have a tough time of it, often because they are going against the grain. But in a real sense, they are the salt, the true patriots of our time.
And if collaboration, not conflict, is a secret to American Renewal, the message to the popular media must be “you, too.” Fights, scraps and competition in every arena from sports to government, are easy to cover. Corruption and the transgressions of people in high positions are red meat for the media. No one wants to suppress legitimate investigative coverage. Butan American Renewal demands a great deal more of the media. Americans want press, radio and television coverage that focuses on their deepest concerns and interests. They worry about the future, and want media coverage that treats them as adults, illuminates policy alternatives and explains the substantive barriers to solving our shared problems, as well as the potential for break-through.
Fundamentally, the message of American Renewal is that we need a new patriotism — as bold as the raw courage of our nation’s founders, as visionary as the framers of the most durable democracy in recorded history — because we face the challenge of reorganizing some of our most complex and resistant systems.
We need new standards for civic life. We need a new social contract that says every citizen counts, not just at the ballot box, but at parent-teacher meetings at schools, on committees to hammer out conflicts between growth and environmental conservation, and in neighborhoods to stop crime and save at-risk youth.
Amid this message of idealism, we need the pragmatism to understand that renewal is never complete. It does not equal contentment. There is no magic day on which it will be complete. We must commit ourselves to a “rolling renewal,” for while renewal seeks to invent new forms, it does not pretend those forms will be perfect. Our Declaration of Independence, the commitment of our Founders, reminds us that self-governance is a dynamic process — a state of mind, requiring surges of fresh energy and commitment.