Shall We Stand or Sit?

DDay_1It used to be that an individual (or a groups of individuals, united in the same goal) had to accomplish some feat before his name could be found on the lips of his contemporaries. Modern technology has changed the parameters of this rule since, with instant access to potentially millions of people across the world, more minute details of lesser accomplishments can be broadcasted to a wider audience. Millions of people can now know when eleven year old Melissa makes a II rating at the district music competition when, before the advent of social media, the knowledge and the pride would have been confined to her family and friends. Now, this is not to say that Melissa does not deserve praise for her II rating; if this hypothetical little girl did her utmost in her hypothetical music competition, then she deserves all the praise that an eleven year old girl deserves for doing her best in her district music competition.

But, thanks to social media, people deserving of far, far less praise than our hypothetical eleven year old girl, are praised to the skies every time they sneeze. Celebrities such as Beyoncé and the Kardashians are followed on social media by millions of people, who await every new post and tweet with eager anticipation, even though neither one of these celebrities–as well as the vast majority of their contemporaries–are deserving of these type of devotion. To put the situation in another light: More people in contemporary America, know about and care more about Kim Kardashian, a woman who has done nothing of real substance, aside from “being famous,” than know or care about George Washington.

Colin Kaepernick is yet another man who, following the example of celebrities who have gone before him, has done nothing to achieve instant fame. Where once stood an unremarkable NFL player, now stands the latest “social justice warrior,” (SJW) who reached fame by not standing for the national anthem since, in his estimation, the United States is still a country which oppresses black individuals and other minorities. Many have come to Kaepernick’s defense including vice-presidential candidate, Tim Kaine, and President Obama. Some, such as Whoopi Goldberg, have tried to protect Kaepernick by arguing that other athletes, such as Tommie Smith, who gave the black power salute after winning the gold medal for the 200 meter dash in the 1968 Olympics, protested legitimately in the vein as Kaepernick did. One particularly imaginative writer, Jon Schwarz, even argued that Kaepernick was right in not standing for the national anthem since the national anthem is a “celebration of slavery,” and so is entirely indefensible.

Besides being wrong in regards to their defense of Kaepernick, his defenders and Kaepernick’s actions, in themselves, are more deeply disturbing than they might appear at first glance since both the action and the defenders demonstrate that the common culture of our country has been demolished.

Although not given nearly the attention which it deserves, culture is of vital importance in any nation and society, since it is, as James Kalb has said “a system of habit and attitude, an orientation toward life and the world, that is shared and basically taken for granted within a community. It arises naturally when people live together, since we are social beings who need common habits and understandings to live together happily and productively.” In other words, culture is what ties individuals together and what turns individuals into a people. Culture is not to be found in any one, particular place but is held and comes in a variety of forums, such as schools, entertainment (both high and low), religion, shared experiences (such as from history), procedures, expectations, and customs that have been passed down from one generation to another. Nor, as is common knowledge, are all cultures uniform. Our Anglo-American culture, for example, is supposed to adhere to the rule of law, limited government (the Magna Carta, which placed limits upon King John and his successors, has been in existence for eight hundred and one years), belief in the natural law as taught by Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, the equality of man before God and the law, as well as certain, natural rights. While these cultural norms are good and should be universal, they are not universally recognized. In the Introduction to his book, Inventing Freedom: How the English Speaking People Invented the Modern World, Daniel Hannan says that the reason why private property was stolen from its rightful owners much more commonly and bloodily in South America than in the English speaking world was because the idea and practice of property rights was common and ancestral in the English speaking world but was not in the Spanish speaking world. More broadly, the balance between order and liberty, the belief in bestowed reason, philosophy, Christianity and the like, have characterized Western culture from the rest of the world.

Culture not only ties individuals together to form a people but it also gives them an end to pursue. The true end of Western culture, and American culture in particular, is (or, was) to allow men the liberty to grow in virtue through art (Beauty), Reason and Faith which will allow them  to have self-government and the enjoyment of their natural and civil rights. Without a culture, a people will disintegrate into atomized individuals, unable and unwilling to come together with their fellow men in creating a civilization. This carries greater consequences than what we might think today. Aristotle said that man is a political animal; from this premise, it follows that civilization, culture, country, are all necessary ingredients for men to attain happiness. It should be noted that this does not guarantee that certain individuals will attain happiness, only that these things are necessary for the potential for happiness to be attained. Without culture, civilization, and country, however, the political drive in man is thwarted and it will be that much harder for individuals to attain happiness.

This brings us, again, to Colin Kaepernick. While many people have rightly shamed him for disrespecting our flag, our country , and our troops, his grand-standing is another concrete example of the disintegration of our culture. A national anthem is a manifestation of the history and principles and hopes of a country. A national anthem is supposed to be one part of our culture, something that binds us in a national identity, not simply because we say a certain anthem while other countries repeat another, but because, and more deeply, it reminds us of the principles upon which our people–our culture–and our country first came to be. Not only that, but through the principles which it manifests, a national anthem is intended to remind us of our history (our shared experiences). This can be clearly seen in our National Anthem, a poem which was composed by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812, the “second War for Independence.” The United States had become an independent country, officially in 1776, when independence was declared, and officially recognized in the Treaty of Paris of 1783. With the impressment of American seamen, trade embargos and the refusal of Britain to surrender her western ports to the United States, as stipulated in the Treaty of Paris, the young United States went to war again to truly take its place among the nations of the world. Key’s poem–now our anthem–captured and still continues to contain that point in time and the principles for which the war was fought. By separating himself from the national anthem, Colin Kaepernick separated himself from his fellow Americans, from his people. Since he has not joined another people, he has stated that he will make himself an island, unconnected from his fellows.

Some, such as Whoopi Goldberg, may say that Kaepernick was justified since he was protesting injustice. Aside from the fact that there is no injustice to protest, this is beside the point since, if one is truly part of a people and a culture, he will stand for his national anthem and his country regardless of whether there is injustice or not. And this is because if he is truly and sincerely part of a people, he will love his people and his country. G.K. Chesterton once pointed out that men do not love their countries because they are great; rather, countries become great because their people love them. It is this love which motivates men to sacrifice for her, to defend her, to protect what is good and right and to address what is wrong within her. This means that a man will stand for his national anthem and his country whether injustice is present or not; if there is injustice, he will stand because he loves his country and wants to see her better; if there is no injustice, he will stand to proclaim that goodness and to protect it.

We used to be a united people. Now, multiple fractures divide us. It is sometimes, however, the littlest things which can begin the start of a new time, which can hold back the dark. Standing for the anthem is one such little thing.

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