I’m getting a little tired of hearing about free speech this week from people who can barely talk. If a pre-schooler crawls up to the American flag and wipes his nose on it, you sit him down in time-out. If an adult does it, you call him a champion of free speech.
Glenn Beck seems to think that reverence for a flag is akin to goose-stepping nationalism—a position not devoid of merit, but very odd in a man who also styles Confederate secession a pure and simple act of treason. (The fine art of “becking” could be a subject for another day: you achieve it by savaging convictions or figures associated with your ideology yet unattractive to you for purely personal reasons, thereby showing your broad-mindedness to the far political polarity.) I’m not going to say that athletes who take a knee as the flag is raised are vile traitors. After all, I myself have refused to mouth the Pledge of Allegiance ever since I discovered that defrocked Baptist minister and rabid socialist Francis Bellamy composed it in 1892 to program school children into believing that individual states had no rights. Yet I still stand for the Pledge. I do so because I realize that others around me don’t know what I know, and that their act is thus intended to show devotion to constitutional government rather than rejection of self-determination. In the same way, I would be appropriately quiet if a group of Jews or Muslims among whom I might find myself were to engage in a quick prayer that made little sense to me. It’s a question of manners. Why go out of your way to make others feel awkward?
Exhibitionists do precisely this: it is their definitive characteristic. They don’t care if you notice them with admiration or contempt, as long as you notice them. They need to occupy center-stage.
And here’s why I cannot accept “knee-taking” as anything more than the attention-grabbing gesture of an obnoxious brat. Expressions without any verbalization—without actual speech or even the few words of a placard or bumper-sticker—rely heavily upon context to be interpreted. I might wish to fly the Confederate battle flag in my front yard to advertise my support of the Tenth Amendment… but, no, that would be a terrible idea, because so many KKK types have decided to commandeer the flag as a condensed advertisement of their claim to be superior humans by virtue of their DNA. Did you know that the word “swastika” is used in Sanskrit Vedic texts to convey a certain meditative posture? Yet neither you nor I would hoist a swastika to ask the household not to disturb us during our meditation time.
The American flag, at this point in our history, represents to the vast majority of us the idea that we remain united in our support of certain humane values, whatever our specific differences. In this context, refusing to rise for the anthem, turning one’s back on a flag-raising, fixing one’s hat firmly aloft while stuffing one’s hands in one’s pockets, and other such displays would be interpreted by 99.9 percent of the native adult population as overt contempt for those core values. The contemptuous should not be stoned or driven from the crowd. (One of our core values is that no one may be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.) Their message, though, is clear: they’re giving the bird to the notion of a transcending endorsement of principle, declaring instead that some specific circumstance or other has exploded the principle’s credibility. They’re “saying” as much in semaphore, though they may say something else in speech or print after the fact. I can’t torch an emblem in public and then claim later that I wanted to show my warmth of feeling for what the emblem represents. Nobody would interpret my behavior that way, and I would be a) insane if I truly expected otherwise, or b) a slippery hypocrite if I argued otherwise.
Childish brats, I suppose, don’t fully qualify either for insanity or hypocrisy. And since five-year-olds can’t write, you can hardly expect them to pen an op-ed; or since their vocabulary consists of about five hundred words, you can hardly expect them to go public about legal or social dysfunction and enunciate a plan to address it. Even so, a child who was truly upset about an environmental condition would throw a fit intended to highlight the condition rather than himself. He wouldn’t wait for a very public, very solemn moment and then roll on the ground screaming.
What we have here is a crisis of boys raised without fathers. They passed their juvenile years acting out so that some adult might notice them and impose limits upon their lives… which never happened. Now, apparently, they’re going to spend the next two decades of their biological manhood playing the same game.