A Short Note about Kaepernick
James A. Lindsay, @goddoesnt
Partly, I'm kidding: this short note isn't about Kaepernick. It's about what leftists don't understand about the responses Kaepernick's antics are evoking, and it's about what conservatives don't understand about what Kaepernick's refusal to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance as a Black Lives Matter-type symbolic protest. Kaepernick is merely incidental to an enormous miscommunication.
To expand briefly on him, however, let me make a few quick points. He is demonstrating freedom by standing up for what he believes in by means of a peaceful protest, but he is insulting a value held sacred by a lot of people who support him and his career. His freedom to protest in this way is exactly what veterans and current troops have fought and died to defend, but it is also correct to say that the chosen method of protest symbolically insults the institution and sacrifices that guarantee that freedom. He's probably factually incorrect about the contents of his protest, but it's probably true that most protesters are as well. All the yelling from everybody on both sides, though, is literally only making the problem worse: convincing only those already in agreement and deepening a divide that needs to be bridged, not widened. Looking at the thing in a one-sided way isn't getting us anywhere, or not anywhere good.
Anyone who has read Jonathan Haidt's 2012 book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, and who understood it, already knows what I'm about here. Anyone who wants to understand the phenomenon more deeply should read or re-read Haidt's landmark book. It really will improve your ability to understand these moral contentions (which form the bedrock of the culture wars) and to navigate them to hopefully better results.
I know you don't care because such things don't actually resonate with your underlying moral framework, but patriotic displays are a sacred value to most conservatives. Patriotic displays indicate group unity and are deeply morally resonant with most conservatives -- even if they understand the intellectual arguments about freedom to reject them. To criticize them (especially vituperatively) for making overt, though not explicit, demonstrations that patriotic displays are a sacred value to them is the same, exactly the same, as blaspheming against their religion or insulting their families (two other things they definitely hold sacred).
You can make all of the cries you want about shaking up taboos being a good thing, or critical to free speech, or a key component of open dialogue, but it doesn't matter. You will not get open dialogue for it. You will get no dialogue. You will get contempt, distrust, and bile. You will get insults and hate. And you will entrench them further in their views -- including a view not to listen to you or compromise with people like you -- as they seek to rationalize their sacred values, post hoc, as always goes with moral reasoning (including your own on your own sacred values). You will drive the wedge between you and they more deeply, defining yourselves ever more as an us and they as a them. In other words, it will backfire.
You can think, "Good! It's time we took a stand!" or whatever you want, but Sam Harris's core thesis over the past decade isn't falsified by your wrath. We have a persistent choice before us, and it's between conversation and violence. Conversations about sacred values are of crucial importance and have to be undertaken with immense care. Taking a hatchet to a surgery won't do. If you want to avoid violent, oppressive, and authoritarian solutions to this disagreement in the long run, you have to open yourselves up to more conversation. Closing doors for no better reason than a self-righteous, self-satisfied failure to appreciate where your opponents might be coming from is, it must be said, on you.
I can make this section almost identical to the one above: you don't really care, but progressive leftists are motivated particularly by elevating working to remedy perceptions of harm (which you don't share), especially those caused by systemic social forces, to the level of a sacred value. It doesn't matter if they're wrong, just like it doesn't matter if the tenets of any religious view held in faith are factually wrong (like if you're not Mormon, you probably agree with me that the Mormon belief that Jesus came to Missouri after his resurrection is profoundly bogus). What matters is that those value are uniquely important to them, just like your values are uniquely important to you even though they don't get it.
That you don't see the harm involved, think it's exaggerated, think it's misplaced, think Black Lives Matter is a misinformed hate group, or don't think Kaepernick's grievances form a legitimate cause for symbolically disrespecting the country, its norms, its unity, and those who fought to make the American way of life possible -- none of this matters. Progressive values aren't the same as your values, and you won't convince them of it by losing your minds and yelling about it.
In fact, look what it's doing. Now you have these progressive yahoos actively questioning whether or not we should replace the national anthem due to its bellicose tone and almost unknown third stanza, which they read as being overtly racist. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that of all the things you hoped for by calling out Kaepernick's refusal to stand for the anthem -- or similar displays by (especially black) athletes at the Olympic Games in Rio -- initiating a progressive campaign to replace the anthem wasn't one of them.
So, I just spent a few paragraphs indicating that national unity is something like a sacred value to conservatives, and here you are, I have to imagine, looking for reasons either to burn bridges between yourselves and the left half of your country or to encourage their lunatic fringe to set them on fire for you. The thing about conversation, like violence, is that it goes two ways. If you expect to be heard, you have to be willing to hear. I'm not laying the blame for this recalcitrance at conservative feet -- not by any means; Progressives are at least as stubborn for all their whinging about "listening" to people -- but you are the half who takes national unity more seriously. You are the half that has to bear that standard and not excessively begrudge those who don't get it.