OPINION – Thank goodness for social media. Without it, most of us wouldn’t have a clue about what we’re supposed to be outraged over at the moment.
The excuses for collective outrage may be short-lived, but the Orwellian Two Minutes of Hate that’s taking place is definitely not fictional.
From Harambe the lowland gorilla to whatever Trump just said to the rising cost of an EpiPen, there’s always something or someone deserving of our ire.
Today’s candidate for denunciation is San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick who recently opted to sit out the national anthem. His perceived lack of patriotic respect prompted calls for retaliation, including losing his job or being drafted into the military and sent to war.
Kaepernick later explained that his decision was a silent protest against perceived social injustice and oppression against blacks and other people of color. That’s his opinion, and he has every right to it.
There is a certain amount of irony in a guy who earns millions of dollars on the basis of his own merits claiming that people like him are being systematically oppressed.
Even so, Kaepernick’s sense of a growing injustice in America isn’t simply a figment of his imagination.
Regardless of his misgivings, the ferocious reaction of the masses is what reveals a serious sickness that manifests itself whenever someone chooses to abstain from patriotic ritual.
Connor Boyack from Libertas Institute notes:
We infuse symbols with our own values, biases and perspectives. Those who do not see a symbol the same way we do – indeed, who may see in a symbol the very opposite of what we do – is not a call for arms. It should be a call for understanding.
Patriotism and national pride can be admirable things when tempered with humility. They can also become destructive stumbling blocks when they become a rallying point for irrational, angry group-think.
If we truly believe that America is the “land of the free,” why should we become incensed when someone exercises their freedom to dissent? Is our national psyche so fragile that it cannot survive a person peacefully choosing not to stand during the national anthem?
Should we demonstrate our love for America and her symbols by coercing everyone to conform to a particular patriotic norm? Is our concept of freedom really that narrow?
One excuse being offered by those who wish to see Kaepernick suffer for his opinions is that he is contributing to a lack of national unity. These calls for what amounts to forced unity are alarming on many levels.
Mandatory unity has historically proven to be an effective tool for persuading people to turn off their minds and revert to a more animal state of thinking. This is particularly true when a bit of fear is thrown into the mix.
In Paul Rosenberg’s recent essay “United We Fall,” he points out some sobering facts:
Every mass tragedy since 1900 has not only featured unity, but has been built with unity as its central component. This becomes utterly obvious with the use of just one word: collectivism.
Collectivism is unity by definition, and it stood at the heart of Mao’s China, Lenin and Stalin’s USSR, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and the various Kims’ North Korea. As a first approximation, these unity traps killed 100 million people.
The point here isn’t that the folks who are upset with Kaepernick’s choice to sit through the national anthem are akin to murderous dictators. It’s that societies that punish and discourage nonconformity are suffering from a serious blind spot.
The question that few are willing to ask themselves today is whether our society may have similar blind spots. Group-think will not allow for such questions to be asked; therefore, it falls to individuals to find the courage to swim against the tide.
Dissenters may not always be right, but historically, the crowd isn’t known for its wisdom and foresight.
Many are familiar with the iconic 1936 photograph of a large crowd of Germans performing the Nazi salute. Deep within the crowd, a lone man stands with his arms crossed, refusing to follow along.
His name was August Landmesser, and there’s no doubt that citizens of the Third Reich viewed him with much the same need for retaliation currently being heaped upon Kaepernick.
When Landmesser’s family later tried to flee to Denmark, he was arrested at the border and warned of harsher punishment if he did not conform. A year later, he was arrested again and sentenced to a concentration camp and then drafted into the military.
He did not survive the war.
Following the masses has never required much in the way of courage.
On the other hand, many of the greatest and most transformational breakthroughs in human history have been those times when individuals were willing to break with the crowd.
We need to ask more questions and engage in less knee-jerk patriotism.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator, radio host and opinion columnist in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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