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Activism, current events

Baseball, Apple Pie, and Orwell

July 5 2009 Phillis vs Mets - from Blog

I went to a baseball game last night.  (No, not at Citizen’s Bank Park.)  I had a great time except for the seventh inning stretch.  Somewhere in the back of my brain, I knew that we still have to listen to “God Bless America” because brown people with the wrong religion blew up a couple of our buildings a decade ago.  But I wasn’t quite prepared for the Orwellian pep rally I witnessed.

It started with some very inspiring American style rock-n-roll pumping through the stadium while we all cheered for a uniformed soldier who has just returned from active duty in Afghanistan.  With American flags and other “Army stuff” featured prominently on the big screen, we spent a good minute or so cheering our armed forces in general and the efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq in particular.  When that was done, we were treated to an inspiring (and substantially drawn out) version of “God Bless America,” with even more American flags displayed prominently around the stadium and the big screen. When all that was done, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” seemed like a quaint afterthought.  Twenty seconds of fluff that I almost felt guilty for enjoying.  

We’ve all heard the phrase, “When fascism comes, it will be wrapped in an American flag.”  But I don’t know if we’ve stopped to take stock of just how strongly this notion of patriotism still infuses our public life and discourse.  We may have been able to relegate some of this imagery to the back burner in Bush-free America, but it’s a mistake to think that things are OK.

We need to be asking difficult questions.  Just how long do we have to swear allegiance to God and Country at our baseball games before we feel vindicated for 9/11?  At what point do we start asking which God we’re swearing fealty to, and whether or not it’s in the spirit of the American “Melting Pot” to force non-believers, Muslims, Buddhists, and Wiccans to participate in a clearly Christian mini-service?

Let me be unequivocal.  Patriotism is an ideology, and when it becomes insinuated into many areas of our daily life, it becomes thoughtless, which is damn close to faith-based.  My companion at the baseball game was a little miffed at me for not participating in the God and Country rally.  She believes (correctly) that a sense of shared culture and community is important, and (incorrectly) shrugs off the fascist elements of the culture as basically harmless.

Recall that our biggest failing as a nation was patriotic trust and obedience when we were told — without evidence, and with substantial counter-evidence — that Iraq was responsible for the attack on September 11th.  We were shown moving images of coffins, flags, firefighters, and police, and told that too many questions would spoil our chance for victory over the enemy.  You know.  The clear enemy.  The one who’s always been the enemy.  You know… we were never at war with Eurasia…

We believed.  Largely out of a sense of patriotism, duty, and solidarity.  And we were wrong for doing so.  We failed morally and as critical thinkers because we allowed patriotism to overcome evidence.  Despite all the strong emotions, we owed it to ourselves to make sure that our bombs fell on the right targets — if they fell at all.  Instead, we all put flags on our cars.  We started singing “God Bless America” at baseball games.  And we let ourselves continue believing in America, right or wrong.

Don’t lump me in with unthinking America-haters.  I like a lot of things about my country, and the reason I’m an activist is that I think it’s worth trying to make it a better place.  But when I think of blind devotion to country, I think of a lot of bad things.  In fact, I’m trying to remember a major event in history in which large numbers of wildly patriotic citizens brought more good to the world than harm.  I’m having a very hard time thinking of anything.

How much difference is there between devotion to a person who represents the state and the kind of unswerving reverence and loyalty we see whenever an American flag and a man in uniform are presented?  Does it matter that “The Troops” have replaced a single leader?  If I am shouted down for not respecting the troops and the flag, am I less in the wrong than if I refuse to swear fealty to Stalin or Mao?

The flag and the troops have become a modern substitution for the cult of personality.  Maybe this shift was inevitable.  It seems impossible to maintain the sense of hero worship for an individual when it is so easy to dig up dirt, expose an indecent photo or two, or pull up campaign records from twenty years ago.  But the armed forces?  The flag?  They are above reproach in a way that no individual could be.  Anytime America does wrong, we can blame it on the people and still maintain our patriotic sentiment.  After all, it wasn’t the troops’ fault.  And it certainly wasn’t “America’s” fault.  If anything, a focus on the nebulous goodness of “God and Country” is far more flexible than ardent and unfaltering allegiance to a single person.  Such a regime can outlive its leaders, and perhaps more importantly — it can create a kind of pseudo-fascism even in a country with ostensibly free elections, term limits, and multiple parties.  It’s fascism for democracies.

We shouldn’t let ourselves be deceived into thinking that worship of the flag or the country is any less dangerous than worship of the President or the Chairman.  We shouldn’t overlook the cultural impact of “God Bless America” being sung at a hundred sixty games in thirty different cities, with literally hundreds of them broadcast nationally.  As long as something as American as baseball is infused with not only theism, but blatant theocratic patriotism, we still have a lot to worry about.



33 thoughts on “Baseball, Apple Pie, and Orwell

  1. Even aside from the danger of group-think, when did our troops become something to celebrate and admire? There is nothing admirable about being a soldier. They are hired thugs. The only way a soldier can become honorable is to say, “Oh my god! What a stupid, vicious lie they sold me,” and walk away.

    Posted by YASHWATA | September 13, 2010, 4:15 pm
  2. I agree with just about everything you’ve written here.

    Here comes the “but” you’re probably expecting… (get to it right away)… BUT, when did any American government or military official ever tell the American people that Iraq was responsible for 9/11? When? Who said it? It wasn’t Bush or Cheney or anyone in the Bush administration.

    It is an absolute canard to state “that our biggest failing as a nation was patriotic trust and obedience when we were told — without evidence, and with substantial counter-evidence — that Iraq was responsible for the attack on September 11th.” Told by whom?

    For almost 18 months after invading Afghanistan, the country harboring those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, the administration, congress (mostly Republicans and some Democrats) worked on making the case for invading Iraq. They talked about stockpiles of WMD, violations of UN resolutions, firing on American aircraft in the No-Fly Zones, the attempt on Pres. George HW Bush’s life, the fact that Iraq had previously invaded its neighbors, terrorist training camps inside Iraq, rewards paid to families of suicide bombers, the attempt to obtain nuclear material for weapons, etc.

    But not once did any official claim that Iraq was responsible for 9/11. In fact, I can recall Pres. Bush stating that clearly that Iraq wasn’t responsible for the attacks, but that they were a “grave and gathering threat.”

    Sorry to get so up on a high horse here. I want to be clear on the actual history of the events that lead to invading Iraq. Any of those reasons can be debated on its validity, but there was no official statement or stance that held that Iraq was responsible for 9/11.

    If I’m wrong, site your source and I’ll admit I’m wrong.

    I will say that enough already with the ‘God Bless America’. Can’t we just sing ‘Take Me Out To The Ballgame’ and leave it at that?

    Posted by Dr. Dim | September 13, 2010, 8:44 pm
  3. I’m not sure that I completely agree with what Jeff Sharlet opined in his book “The Family” about the absence of a personality cult in the mentality of the evangelical right in this country, but it is an interesting thought. To paraphrase, no American leader can raise himself to the monolithic status we would associate with Hitler or Stalin because his followers will always demand that he define himself as surrendered to Jesus. It’s worth considering.

    And the complete Sinclair Lewis quote (you left out the cross bit) is :“When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

    Posted by Clint | September 13, 2010, 9:17 pm
  4. Patriotism is not a virtue but a weakness easily exploited by politicians, bullies & tyrants.

    How does patriotism differ from nationalism or xenophobic racism? qualitatively or simply by degree?

    – evan

    Posted by eheffa | September 14, 2010, 5:02 pm
  5. How does patriotism differ from nationalism or xenophobic racism? qualitatively or simply by degree?

    I think you’ve hit on it. Nationalism seems to imply a sense of racial or ethnic identity, at least more so than patriotism.

    Posted by hambydammit | September 14, 2010, 5:33 pm
  6. I dunno. Ask me in fifty years, I guess. (Good luck finding me alive at that time…)

    It does seem to me that the far right Republichristian movement is somewhat impervious to the downfall of its heroes. We’ve seen quite a few, from Jim Bakker to Ted Haggard, fall into disrepute without any serious loss of momentum in the movement itself.

    And in a very Orwellian sense, the movement easily rewrites history. Jim Bakker was always a poser. Ted Haggard was never really that influential. Clearly, they must not have been, right? Because people still care about the right things, and they’re still voting. Ted Haggard was gay? All the more reason to continue rooting gayness out of the closet! Jim Bakker was a money-grubbing poser? Well… erm… surely that was an anomaly, right? Because we’re doing work for Jesus over here at St. Pious the Gigantic.

    Posted by hambydammit | September 14, 2010, 5:37 pm
  7. “Even aside from the danger of group-think, when did our troops become something to celebrate and admire? There is nothing admirable about being a soldier. They are hired thugs. The only way a soldier can become honorable is to say, “Oh my god! What a stupid, vicious lie they sold me,” and walk away.”

    I suppose you think guns are evil as well. That’s a very retarded statement. Being a soldier is a job. Sometimes used for good things (defending the weak) sometimes used for bad (oppressing the weaker). But to claim all soldiers in all situations are people that were tricked into doing “nothing admirable” is asinine.

    Until we live in fantasy land where there is world peace you better hope we have soldiers to protect you and your loved ones.

    Posted by Watcher | September 17, 2010, 3:16 pm
  8. Watcher, I know you weren’t talking to me, but I want to make something clear about my post. I’ve got nothing against soldiers or soldiering. I have something against worshiping soldiers, and making a baseball game into a recruitment advertisement. You’re right — they’re doing their job. But I don’t need to be forced into watching a collective jizz-fest over how awesome it is to be a soldier. Why don’t we bring some teachers out and celebrate them keeping their jobs during the No Child Left Behind debacle? You know? If that sounds a bit outlandish, then GOOD! Political agendas don’t belong at ball games.

    Posted by hambydammit | September 17, 2010, 3:35 pm
  9. I agree, Hamby. As long as we have blind patriotism and think that a government, ANY government, has the “right” to take people’s lives, we will always have wars.

    Nothing should be blindly and unquestionably admired.

    Posted by Watcher | September 17, 2010, 3:48 pm
  10. You should think more carefully before you throw around words like ‘retarded’. That is a terrible thing to say.

    “Being a soldier is a job.” How is that relevant? Torturers, too, are employees of the state. Is torture justifiable as well, then?

    The sole purpose of a gun is to cause harm. Therefore the people who designed it, manufactured it, and sold it should not have done so. If you want to render this as “guns are evil,” I won’t quibble.

    Posted by YASHWATA | September 18, 2010, 12:59 am
  11. Soldiers give up their rights, the rights given to them under our constitution, to defend that right that you never think about. That you take for granted.

    They are commanded to fight and die, to forget about any labor laws, to not be able to just fucking quit…they aren’t allowed to do any of that. If the commander says charge that machine gun nest the soldier doesn’t have the right of a citizen of America to debate, quit, or anything else. He either charges or he is at the best permanently shamed by a dishonorable discharge, or at the worst executed.

    Fuck you, you pussy. You are dirt.

    Posted by Watcher | September 19, 2010, 4:54 pm
  12. A gun is just a tool Your thoughts are about as deep as a puddle. Shallow.

    Posted by Watcher | September 19, 2010, 4:56 pm
  13. 1. You don’t know what things I “never think about” or “take for granted”.

    2. “If the commander says charge that machine gun nest” — is that a scenario that appeals to you? Do you want things like that to keep happening? Why? “He either charges or he is at the best permanently shamed … at the worst executed.” — is that a good thing, in your world-view? What is good about it?

    3. No, a gun is not “just a tool”. A gun is nothing like a tool. They are different things — almost opposite. I don’t understand the point of claiming that a gun is “just a tool.” What follows from that?

    Posted by YASHWATA | September 19, 2010, 9:24 pm
  14. #3, explain the difference between a tool and a gun. Generically a tool is anything used for a purpose. A gun is used for a purpose. What’s your point in trying to claim otherwise, and what logic could you possibly be using to justify such a claim?

    Beyond that single point, your entire argument is what? That we should just do away with soldiers and let those who want us dead to make that the situation? I’d rather not, but feel free if you’d like. As long as there are people who think violence is a justified means of getting what they want, we’ll need soldiers to prevent them.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | September 20, 2010, 8:49 am
  15. 1. Your words give a pretty big clue that you take the military for granted. Oh wait, they are “hired thugs”.

    2. War? Do I think war is a good thing? Hell no. It’s aboslutely horrid. I wish it didn’t exist. Unfortunately it is a reality. And as long as it is a reality, we are going to require someone to defend us from those people willing to wage war on us.

    I don’t think house fires are a good thing either. But I will respect the firefighters that put themselves in danger and often give their lives to protect other people.

    Sometimes police are required to kill people to keep our society together. Just like our military. Are police “hired thugs” in your opinion as well?

    3. Alex already covered this.

    Posted by Watcher | September 22, 2010, 10:34 pm
  16. I greatly apologize for blurting this:

    “Fuck you, you pussy. You are dirt.”

    That was completely, indefensibly, vulgar and emotional from me.

    I feel very shameful for adding it. Let it stand as a lesson to me that I need to grow up. You shamed me greatly by not reciprocating in kind.

    And Hamby, I apologize to you as well for doing this on your blog.

    Posted by Watcher | September 25, 2010, 1:42 am
  17. For ME doing such a thing on your blog.

    I’m really, honestly sorry.

    Posted by Watcher | September 25, 2010, 1:42 am
  18. Thank you for the apology.

    1. “Your words give a pretty big clue that you take the military for granted.”

    Before, you were claiming that I take “freedom” for granted. Now you say it’s “the military”. But there is still no reason to suppose that you know what I’m thinking (or that you understand what I’m saying).

    2. “As long as [war] is a reality, we are going to require someone to defend us from those people willing to wage war on us.”

    That just doesn’t follow. (“We want to kill them” IS NOT a logical consequence of “they want to kill us.”) There are thousands of strategies we could pursue instead of making war.

    “Are police ‘hired thugs’ in your opinion as well?”

    In general, police officers are trying to enforce the law. They try to prevent people from murdering each other – and they are expected to do this without murdering anyone themselves (if possible). This is completely different from the mandate given to soldiers. It’s almost the opposite.

    3. By definition, the purpose of a weapon is to cause harm. A weapon can only make the world worse, not better; therefore, it is wrong to make one.

    EVEN IF we could know which side of a given conflict is the GOOD one (and in general we do NOT know this), then we would be morally justified in making a weapon ONLY if we could guarantee that the person who ends up using it is on the good side. But this cannot be guaranteed.

    For extra credit: Picture a situation in which two people are arguing, and each happens to be holding a deadly weapon. Person A is a really nice guy, who wants to find a way for everyone to be happy. Person B is a creep who cares only about himself. Who is more likely to fire his gun?

    Posted by YASHWATA | September 25, 2010, 3:53 am
  19. Since I covered #3, let’s continue.

    The purpose of a weapon is of course to cause harm, but you seem to be leaving out that killing animals for food requires harming them. I see your point, but you are simplifying things beyond reason. Guns are used for hunting for food. Again, the stupid mantra, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”.

    Please explain how guns are any different from any other tool that could be used to hurt a person as well as any other purpose (as I can’t envision any tool that is so specialized that it cannot be used as intended for hurting people and not also used, as intended, for hunting).

    Posted by Alex Hardman | September 25, 2010, 7:59 am
  20. 1. I’m assuming you live in the same country as I do. The United States of America. How did the United States of America, that made freedom a priority, come into existence? Did we just move off and set everything up with no interference?

    We were not allowed to give these freedoms to ourselves. People tried to stop us by killing those that tried. How did we give ourselves freedom? We made militias that fought and died. Soldiers died to give all of us that lived through it the right to live free. If those soldiers were never soldiers, if they never fought you, I, none of us would have this freedom.

    If you think you can sit around and be free and no one will try to take it away from you, that you can fend them off with words…you are…

    You know this is an unrealistic idea. The cost of freedom is blood. And only by shedding the blood of patriots, of soldiers, will any people convince other peoples to give them the liberty to be free.

    Posted by Watcher | September 25, 2010, 1:19 pm
  21. 2. It does follow. The fellow in power pays his soldiers to give him more power in wealth. The best way to do this is by enslaving other lands with other people to slave for him. When those soldiers come, you have to stop them. The only way to stop them is to kill them.

    If a madman breaks into your house in the middle of the night with a gun, about to kill and rape your family, what do you do?

    You either A) Let him. B) Kill him.

    It’s not we “want” to kill him. We “have” to kill him to protect ourselves. Now, of course the best course, is to incapacitate him, but sometimes we don’t have that luxury. Sometimes shit happens. More people are wounded in wars than killed.

    Posted by Watcher | September 25, 2010, 1:25 pm
  22. 3. “Weapons can only make the world worse”.

    I’m a cow. I’m hungry. I use these things called teeth(molars) to rip the grass apart. I cause harm to grass with these teeth. I chew the grass and gain sustenance. I live and reproduce.

    I’m a tiger. I’m hungry. I use these things called claws and teeth(fangs) to rip flesh off of antelopes. By doing this I keep myself alive.

    I’m a Homo erectus. I shape stone axes with rocks. I use these rocks to dismember prey for food. I keep myself and my people alive using these tools.

    I’m a Homo Sapiens living in 1600’s Alabama. I have a rifle. I use this rifle to shoot deer for food. I keep myself and my family alive using this rifle.

    So all these critters by using tools (whether biologically made or otherwise) have made the world worse?

    Posted by Watcher | September 25, 2010, 1:31 pm
  23. Differentiating a weapon from a tool is a matter of legal wording. Nothing more. A “weapon” is a tool that is used often to cause harm to other humans because it is effective.

    Are drugs bad? Are we talking about Cocaine or Penicillin?

    They are both drugs.

    Posted by Watcher | September 25, 2010, 1:38 pm
  24. “If a madman breaks into your house in the middle of the night with a gun, about to kill and rape your family, what do you do? You either A) Let him. B) Kill him.”

    Misleading. There are other choices. One of them is to call the police.

    Is this a situation you relish? — you and the bad guy shooting it out? If he’s a better shot, and he kills you and rapes your family, is that fair? Is that a reasonable outcome to you? Would things not be better if your mythical enemy did not have access to a gun?

    You are advocating for a world where billions of deadly weapons are spread all over the world, just waiting for a mercenary or a sociopath to pick them up. Isn’t that kind of short-sighted?

    Posted by YASHWATA | September 25, 2010, 2:35 pm
  25. Realizing that I am happy to let you guys work this out, I do feel like I need to interject something. A nuclear bomb is a tool just as much as a gun is a tool. While we can pontificate about the usefulness of owning such tools as deterrents, I don’t think there’s any question that the use of such a tool is overwhelmingly harmful. It is also very species-centric, but that’s another issue.

    I sense a bit of bias in someone who would reject the person who says “Religion is just a manifestation of human psychological traits, and isn’t good or bad in and of itself,” while accepting the notion that “a gun (nuclear bomb) is just a tool.”

    Posted by hambydammit | September 25, 2010, 3:02 pm
  26. Call the police? And wait for 5-10 minutes for them to show up? Are you nuts?

    That’s not reasonable. And yes, when it comes down to it, I either kill him to stop him or he kills me and does what he wants. That’s nature. That’s reality.

    Would I relish someone breaking into my house? No. But the fact remains that there are sick people in this world and the kill other people for no reason other than to fulfill some sick fantasy in their head. Or for greed.

    Posted by Watcher | September 25, 2010, 9:45 pm
  27. Hamby, a nuclear bomb is a tool that CAN be used for harmful purposes, but can also be used for peaceful and beneficial purposes for humanity.

    People are biased because we only ever hear it being used in acts of war in our media and popular attention.

    Think about this everyone, what do you consider a bow and arrow?

    Tool or weapon?

    Posted by Watcher | September 25, 2010, 9:59 pm
  28. “You are advocating for a world where billions of deadly weapons are spread all over the world, just waiting for a mercenary or a sociopath to pick them up. Isn’t that kind of short-sighted?”

    You are insinuating that if every country on the planet outlawed guns that they would all be gone? The genie is already out of the bottle.

    If you outlawed guns today, in America, we would still have guns everywhere 50 years from now. How well is the war on drugs working? If you outlaw guns only criminals and police will have guns around you.

    Does that sound good to you?

    REALITY. World peace is a beautiful idea. But it will never happen. Guns are often used for harmful purposes to other humans, but they are here to stay.

    Everywhere. Just like drugs. If enough people are willing to pay money for something someone will supply it. Humanity has proven this over and over and over and over. It’s fact.

    Posted by Watcher | September 25, 2010, 10:07 pm
  29. “I either kill him to stop him or he kills me and does what he wants. That’s nature. That’s reality.”

    That’s reality? Are you joking? It is your personal daydream. Even as a hypothetical scenario, it is too simplistic to serve as a respectable argument for your position.

    “I either kill him … or he kills me” is simply not true. There are other possibilities.

    You feel strongly that we should have armed thugs all over the place blowing each other’s heads off — but you have no argument for it. You can’t explain to us why you want it that way, probably because you don’t know.

    Posted by YASHWATA | September 25, 2010, 10:16 pm
  30. Watcher, I think you’re being a bit disingenuous. Or maybe you’re being species-centric. I know you and I recognize that a weapon is a subclass of tools, and I know you and I recognize that weapons can be used as tools for other purposes. We don’t need to dance around these points.

    The “peaceful” use of nuclear bombs has been abandoned since the 70s. Once we learned how dangerous and destructive the radiation and other side effects were, we realized that there are far too many negatives associated with nuclear blasts to make up for their efficiency at digging canals. (This doesn’t even begin to address the political implications of nuclear detonations.)

    If we wanted, we could use an AK-47 as an elaborate hole puncher. We could eat dinner on its hard carrying case. We could disassemble it and use the barrel as a drinking straw. But all of this is beside the point that guns are tools for killing things, including people. Their purpose is killing. If they are used for something else, that’s fine, but the weapons industry would go out of business in two heartbeats if we could wave a magic wand and make it physically impossible to kill a human with a gun.

    Posted by hambydammit | September 26, 2010, 2:25 pm
  31. I found myself completely and utterly in shock at how insulted you felt, considering you have absolutely no problem insulting most of this country. I have never served in this country, but all the men in my family have and I might one day. I think your flagrant disrespect of the men and women who stand up to threats to, not only our freedom, but also our lives. You sit behind the comfort of your computer screen and bash the people who give you the right to sit there and say any type of convoluted crap about them. I would as what gives you the right, but I just answered that. If it isn’t God, then it is them. I bet you believe that Franklin Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were great Presidents, huh? Well, they would lock you up in internment camps for writing about them or the army like that, and Gorge Bush, while he didn’t do everything right and was clearly hated, stood up for your rights to say whatever you wanted about him in your shorthanded, biased, unfair, and clearly liberal freelance journal collum. And, whether you want to admit it to yourself or not, God was founded into this country as much as you don’t want him to be there. By taking out the founding fathers, most of them anyways, from our learning, distorting the true identities of the ones we do learn about, and taking away God and our prosperity, we loose our foundation and slip into Facist Socialism, something you seem to support. Patriotism isn’t a sickness so much as narcistic ethnocentricism and blunt and flagrant disrespect and blindness about your country and history do. Check your facts and your words before you go out and publicly trash someone who keeps you free and works hard to keep your rights secure.

    Posted by ShamousO'Thule | March 2, 2011, 2:12 pm
  32. Thanks, Shamous. That’s either great Poe or a great example of why it’s important for me to keep doing what I’m doing. Either way, thanks.

    Posted by hambydammit | March 2, 2011, 5:04 pm
  33. Agreed, excellent Poe or may the Almighty Noodle have mercy on you Shamous.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | March 3, 2011, 11:07 am

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