Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Pledge: Preparing the Public

In response to my proposal for a new type of legal challenge to 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance, a member of the studio audience, Emu Sam, raised a number of relevant tactical considerations.

For background, my proposal can be addressed by asking and answering the question, "Would an African-American have standing to challenge a statute that changed the Pledge of Allegiance to say, 'one white nation'?"

Emu Sam added that atheists who pursue this method of challenging ‘under God’ should also pursue the following:

1. Spread awareness. Post about it on blogs. Talk about it in clubs and council meetings. Write letters to leaders and other organizations.

2. Consult a lawyer or multiple lawyers.

3. Consult an advertising agency.

4. Raise money to hire experts, including experts in raising money.

As elements in a tactical plan I agree with these elements and the reason for them.

Specifically, if the Court were to declare 'under God' in the Pledge and 'In God We Trust' to be unconstitutional, one possible response would be to amend the constitution. The people itself would have to know and appreciate why that was the correct decision. This would be in spite of a massive advertising campaign filled with lies and distortions on the part of religious organizations against such a decision. It will require public outreach.

It would require reaching a significantly larger audience than that which is within sight of this blog.

However, it brings up another element of concern.

My argument against the Pledge and the Motto focuses on the effect that these have on young minds.

In the context of desirism, we promote desires in young minds through the social tools of praise and condemnation. Once these desires are planted, they carry through to adulthood, even where the agent's beliefs change so that they know intellectually that the foundation for those desires is senseless.

The Pledge and the Motto provide praise for those who support 'one Nation under God' and who trust in God. They promote aversion to those who do not share these values. It is through this effect that the Pledge and the Motto provide an effective filter that is 99.9% effective at preventing atheists from obtaining public office, generates poll results that atheists are the least American group and the people they would least want their children to marry, and the attitude that they are responsible for everything from the Holocaust to every school shooting that happens to take place.

These attitudes are in each of us. Even though our beliefs have changed so that we no longer intellectually support 'one Nation under God' or trust in God, we still have the desires and aversions planted in our brains as children that inhibit us from acting in opposition to these policies. We would rather sit back and do nothing because we carry childhood desires and aversions that make it comfortable for us to sit back and do nothing.

So, there is a danger that this planning would become an excuse for procrastination - a claim that we do not have to take any action today because we still need to study and consult and plan. So nothing gets done.

We need to recognize that the desires and aversions that these practices planted in our brain are still there for the vast majority of us, and decide that there are good reasons to push through that discomfort to confront a policy that is ultimately quite destructive.

This is how we prevent the current generation from planting the same desires and aversions in our children that they planted in us, thus freeing those children from these psychological burdens and giving them greater freedom to do that which is right.

Continued public silence on matters of the Pledge and the Motto, particularly in the company of young children, only serves to help deliver the message to young minds that those who support a nation under God or trust in God are praiseworthy, while those who do not are 'outsiders' unfit for membership in the civic community. Allowing those who do not support the Pledge to remain seated only reinforces this message - those who support 'under God' are accepted and included, while those who do not are unacceptable and excluded.

The first step that Emu Sam mentions is actually quite simple and it is the most important. It is to present and discuss the idea that adding 'under God' to the Pledge makes it not only an expression but an endorsement of religious bigotry, in the same way that adding the term 'white' (as on, 'one white nation') to the Pledge would be an expression and an endorsement of racial bigotry. And then ask the question, 'Would an African-American have standing to challenge a statute that changed the wording of the Pledge to say, 'one white nation'?"

And what would a good person's reaction to such a change a change be? Or, what amounts to the same thing, what should a person's reaction to such a change be?

Merely presenting the case - presenting it, discussing it, and debating it - particularly in the presence of young children - would do much to neutralize the effect of the pledge itself in fitting young brains with bigoted attitudes against atheists. If they know that there are people who condemn 'one nation under God' as they would condemn 'one white nation', then it will be harder for the attitudes that the praise inherent in the Pledge and the Motto seek to plan to take root.

Yes, it will be a long time before 'under God' gets removed from the Pledge and trusting God is no longer the national motto. However, before they are changed they must first be challenged. The fact that change is far off in the future does not imply that challenge must wait as well.

In fact, the longer we allow the attitudes planted in our young brains that make it difficult to challenge these measures to rule our lives, the longer it will take to effect these changes. In fact, they will only be changed by the generation that pushes past those socially planted inhibitions and anxieties and take such a stand. The generation that continues to yield to these inhibitions and anxieties will do nothing.

1 comment:

Emu Sam said...

Even water cooler talk works. Perhaps especially water cooler talk. The sort of thing you talk about every day in casual conversation reaches a lot more ears than the sort of thing you only talk about at political rallies or other places where the whole point is to talk about the Pledge and the motto.