What does standing mean to you?

I shouldn’t complain that my social feeds have seen a drop off in election garbage even as the race is heating up. But I would never have thought half of that would be replaced by the subject of standing. Or not standing. Or metaphorically standing by not standing.

I went to a convention in San Jose last weekend and the person checking me in made some offhand comment that she hoped I wouldn’t run into any trouble over at the stadium (Levi’s Stadium, across the street). I asked what had happened and she said, “Oh, just the Kaepernick thing.”

You mean that one time that one guy didn’t stand up for our national anthem because he feels that black people are being unfairly targeted, jailed, and murdered by our police? You mean to insinuate that because a guy took a knee there are going to be riots in the streets, or “trouble”? Not because cops are killing black people, but because a guy exercised his Constitutional rights?

Oh boy.

But it’s worse than that, because apparently millions of good god-fearing patriots think that if you don’t stand for our national anthem the military should line you up and summarily execute you.

I don’t understand the standing thing. It has no correlation to your thoughts or beliefs. It’s a completely arbitrary and meaningless metric by which to judge people.

By the standing metric, disabled people who cannot stand are disrespecting our country.

Kaepernick is showing more respect for our country by (metaphorically) standing up for people who are being oppressed than all the zealots who blindly worship a flag without thinking about what it symbolizes and how this country is failing to keep its promises to large sections of the population.

This country advertises that “All men are created equal” (my 21st century rewrite might be “All beings must be treated fairly and respectfully”, because, you know, women and evolution and animal rights and transhumanism) and “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. This is a country built on people, diverse, yearning for freedom — usually from oppression by religion — and hoping for a shot at the American Dream(TM).

We’re not giving that to everyone. We’re not being welcoming to immigrants, or valuing black people’s lives, or tolerant of atheists. We’re not being kind to LGBTQ people, or supportive of critics. We’re not enabling peaceful protest or challenging our beliefs, institutions, and rituals. We’re vilifying whistle blowers and letting corporations run rampant over people. We’re not protecting the poor from the rich, or the Muslim from the Christian, or the woman from her rapist.

It’s so much more important to stop and think about why we do the things we do than to just keep doing them because everyone else is doing them. Social conformity is a powerful effect and was undoubtedly essential for evolutionary purposes. It can actually cause discomfort to go against the grain. This effect explains everything from standing for the anthem to the clothes you wear. The fact that women are harassed for breastfeeding in public (let alone going topless) is because we refuse to question our existing traditions and norms. We just conform to whatever’s around us, even if we have better ideas about how things should be.

If you are someone who thinks standing for the anthem is one part respecting our great nation and one part respecting our military service members, here’s how I would respond to that: I would much rather make a personal connection with a current or past service member and thank them for their service, or buy them a cup of coffee, or ask them how they’re doing or even just wish them a great day. If I look at, for example, a football game, and I see fighter jets literally flying overhead, military people marching in uniform, and hear constant war metaphors for three hours, my tiny liberal brain might get confused and think that standing for the national anthem means that I’m supporting the military industrial complex and endless oil wars for profit.

Let me say in my defense that I always stand for our anthem, because I am a social conformist just like almost everyone else. I still feel guilty about the one time I forgot to take off my hat and an old military dude just glared at me until I figured it out (my perception, probably not his). If I did choose to sit, it would be about endless war and economic equality and climate justice and NASA’s budget. I can’t sit for Black Lives Matter, at least not yet, because nobody would understand. I’m just too white and privileged to be a meaningful voice in that movement right now. But I support Kaepernick’s brave protest, and others like him.

I think this sitting out thing is going to be big moving forward. Unfortunately, it will be another way we divide ourselves: a way for liberals to spot racists and conservatives to spot traitors. The presidential candidates will be asked if standing is important, during the hottest year ever recorded. But maybe we should sit during the anthem when our government increases surveillance, or encourage our kids to sit through the pledge when we build walls or turn away refugees, or speak up when someone says something vile or bigoted or unscientific. Maybe we should clog up the streets until people wake up to the reality of what we’re doing to our planet.

While we’re on the subject of questioning things — and I think standing for the anthem is a good one — why is it always about the military? Is our society built on nothing more than our military might? Have our freedoms not also come from freethinkers and peaceful protesters and people pointing out that a marginalized segment of society was also deserving of the respect others already enjoyed?

Why don’t we show gratitude to teachers, or artists, or scientists? Why don’t our kids pledge allegiance to the scientific method and put a hand over their brains while looking up to a map of the stars, or a flag of the periodic table of the elements? Why don’t we each recite the names of the teachers, family members, friends, doctors, and therapists who have helped us achieve our dreams and kept us healthy and sane and pushed us to be better people?

Wouldn’t all that be a little more forward thinking than worshiping a country, an arbitrary division of human beings based on geography and war? Sure, America is great and has given me a very comfortable life, but we don’t have a monopoly on freedom. We aren’t the only people on earth who are brave. Do we have nothing to learn from countries that are more prosperous, peaceful, and progressive? Why don’t we sing about the latest scientific discovery?

Why is it always jingoism?

I see a future before us where we have outgrown the worst parts of our human nature, where we have evolved into a more caring, rational, and peaceful species. I look forward to a time when we don’t have to pay respect to our military, because there’s no need for war. When we can have doctors and engineers and scientists and astronauts marching before sporting events, waving the flags of Earth, Mars, Titan, and Enceladus. I am excited for humanity to rise above our petty differences, when we are born of a star system instead of a country, when beliefs recede under the crushing weight of facts and science, and when we look up to the stars in wonder instead of each other in hatred. When nobody has to take a knee to stand up to injustice, because injustice will be hard to come by.

If it takes sitting to get us there, I’ll stand up for that.

A single golf clap? Or a long standing ovation?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.