Kaep and the Ones who walk away
Recently QB Colin Kaepernick has decided not to stand up during the national anthem. He has down this the past three pre-season games and only recently has been caught doing it causing a media fire storm. He has a whole lot to lose by doing it .It brings about the mix that is America, and the mix it always has been.
One of my favorite short story is The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas By Ursula Le Guin. It is an incredible philosophical work about “how the sausage is made” in society. The great peaceful society is hoisted up on the foundation of a child isolated and beaten regularly. The society is still “Great” but the child still exists , and every person when they come of age learns about the child. Then, a few choose to walk away from society , deciding they cannot be part of the system.
Are the people who stay in Omelas bad? Why do we walk away?
This entire conversation about Kaep is an allegory for our own problems today as well. There is always a tension between our written rights to freedom and the bindings of societal norms that are always put into place. Societies,for the most part, have always held their warriors to a degree of worship . It’s DNA is written into every societal institution on the planet, if you consider the realist measure of “force” to be the antidote from being overrun by anarchy. The Military also reflects our values and standards we hold ourselves to . Much in the same way the Omelas is the society of peace and harmony, an ideal utopia we still strive for, and it makes sense that it is a great country. Yet, to those who walk away, the ends never justified the means . The best part of the story is that we implicitly think that the child must be beaten for Omelas to stay great. It’s written and assumed. Why? Because we are afraid of change to the status quo will have negative ripple effects across all of society. Our social norms are more burdensome than anything the government makes us do , and breaking them is like spilling the beans on the Child in Omelas. Way to ruin the party bud?
What’s really American is that our symbols and institutions don’t need to mean the same thing to any of us. We can hold them to different standards , and if they don’t live up to them we can respond . You can disagree with the standards (“I won’t sit because I don’t get free Chinese food”), but I have not heard a single person say that the standard for which he won’t stand is petty. Would we be so angry if the Asian Americans we put in interment camps , wouldn’t stand while they were in those interment camps (they did, but they were under military watch so…)? And if they didn’t wouldn’t it be easy to imagine somebody saying “If they want to show they aren’t Axis spies, they should show some patriotism” ? Or would the country that accused them of being traitors due to the color of their skin, understand their reluctance (for an answer look at how we treat Muslims today)? I’m not equating the two injustices here, but to show in retrospect the USA has acted in ways that merit not standing up. The best part of democracy is that our government reflects the human spirit demand for justice,equality, and kindness. The worst part is that it reflects the human spirits reaction for fear,apathy, and malice. People never overcome fear for simply the sake of being brave , there is always a greater good that people call on to overcome. MLK and countless others risked their lives and died by the hands of US citizens to make the America, that soldiers and fight and protect, better. They were hated by their fellow Americans , both black and white, until they started to change minds, that the USA they lived in was not the standard it was to be held to. We fight for our freedom abroad, and we change the soft norms around us to match the freedoms we deserve at home.
If the logic is you can’t not pledge to the flag without insulting the men and women who fight for it’s freedom, then you also can’t pledge allegiance without respecting the evils and bigotry of america. I feel the good outweighs the bad and I salute it, but the equation of how people feel is a deeply personal one, the outcome of which is subjective. I was never put in an interment camp, ostracized for the color of my skin, or had family killed due to stereotype. The country has been great at protecting me from that, but for those who feel it hasn’t that is another story.
When one walks away from Omelas it is not a insult against peace and equality, its a message for how the sausage gets made.