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JOHN SCALZI: WHATEVER

July 1, 2002

Look, it's just some cloth.

I notice that every time I take a couple of days off from writing here, something really interesting happens in the world that I wish I had the time to write about, like the Pledge of Allegiance being ruled unconstitutional. Be that as it may, I resisted the temptation, and I'm glad I did, since I cranked through about 10,000 words on one of my books (which is now completed -- my portion of it, anyway) and another couple thousand on the other, so now I feel less like I'm committing career suicide and more like I'm moving along nicely. Funny how that works. Yes, writing online is fun, but it's not a substitute for getting paid. However, now I have a few minutes, so stand back while I pontificate on:

The Pledge of Allegiance. I don't think it has any chance of remaining unconstitutional, and indeed, the sooner that's dealt with, the better, otherwise we'll be getting a constitutional amendment about the damn thing, and what a nightmare that would be. Aside from that quirk, however, I'm curiously neutral on this the presumed unconstitutionality of the pledge or the entirely predictable backlash. This is probably because I personally haven't said the Pledge of Allegiance since I was in first grade. It was about that time that I learned I couldn't be compelled to say it (really; I was a precocious reader), and since they couldn't make me, I didn't. 

I still don't, although not just because I don't have to (although God knows that's reason enough not to do many things in one's life). Nowadays I don't recite the Pledge of Allegiance because I don't agree with it philosophically. For the record, I don't pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. Why? Because it's a friggin' flag, that's why. It's an inanimate object which has done nothing, in itself, to deserve my allegiance. To be entirely honest, there's very little I will do for, or because of, the flag: Won't fight for it, go to war for it, risk my life for it or suggest anyone else do anything of the sort. It's a rectangle of cloth.

Which is not to say I don't like flags. We fly one at the house, and back in high school, when I discovered that none of the staff bothered to raise the flag on our school flagpole, I took it upon myself to do it. I know how to display one, how to fold one, and I know how to get rid of one (irony of ironies, you burn it). And it also bothers me to no end when I see ratty-ass flags flapping on the radio antennae of the pick-up trucks of patriotic 'merkins. If you're going to fly a flag, you damn well should know how it's done. I respect our country's flag. I just don't confuse it for what it represents.

And there's the point. I do pledge allegiance to the republic for which it stands. I think America is the tops -- problems here and there, but overall a fine job, and one well worth endorsing, protecting, and fighting for if need be. This shouldn't be in doubt. But it's also not something I think I need to make a big deal about either. I tend to think that as a citizen, my allegiance to the United States is assumed unless I actively go out of my way to prove otherwise; therefore, no additional confirmation is required, and certainly not to the flag. As far as my allegiances goes, I eliminate the middleman at every opportunity.  

Also, to be quite honest, I simply don't go in for public pledges of loyalty or allegiance. I find them coercive and obnoxious. I'll give you another example from my past. I went to a private boarding high school which had a rigorous honor code; you were expected not to cheat, and if you did, out you went -- a fine waste of your parent's $14,000 (at the time; now, 15 years later, it's $30,000). 

The flip side of this was that once the honor code was outlined to you, you were assumed to have understood it and to practice it. Because of this, a teacher would drop off a test for a class and then feel free to leave the room, because he or she knew that the honor code was in effect. It actually worked most of the time; I don't personally recall anyone ever cheating on a test in any class I was in (to be clear, kids did cheat and were kicked out; it just didn't happen with any great frequency). The honor code worked because nearly everyone wanted it to work.

In my senior year, however, some of the other seniors decided that it would be a good idea to make a big show of our loyalty, and have all the seniors sign a paper saying they believed in the honor code. I didn't bother to sign, for a number of reasons. First, the seniors who were making a big fuss about publicly proclaiming their loyalty were also the ones who cheerfully disregarded the honor code whenever it got in the way of them doing what they wanted to do -- a pattern of behavior which, as it happens, is frequently repeated in the real world with people who make a big deal about their moral codes. 

Second and more importantly, I had already agreed to the honor code and was living by it. The issue was already settled; to publicly jump through that hoop again to prove a point that needed no further proving would be to denigrate myself and the idea of the trust implied in the honor code. I'd rather live the honor code and not make a fuss of it, than make a fuss of it and not live it. Anyway, I liked the idea of being assumed to have understood the concept; it's nice to be assumed to have a functioning brain, especially when one is a teen. And even more especially when one is an adult.

Since I fundamentally think the Pledge of Allegiance is a waste of time, arguing about whether it mentions God or not is merely gilding the stinking lily. Certainly we are one nation, under God; if one accepts the possibility of an omnipotent, omnipresent God, we are also one nation above God, alongside God, inside God and so on; yea, verily, even now we sit in God's lower intestine and other places in the body of the Lord it's best not to think about too much. If one doesn't accept the idea of an omnipresent God, well, it's over quickly enough.

Incidentally, we didn't recite the Pledge of Allegiance at my high school, but there's not a single graduate from Webb who can't break down the entire structure of the US government for you in fine detail -- we had a class on the subject, called "American Political Institutions." You can guess which one of these I think is more important for making better Americans.

-- JS 

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Previous Whatevers for 2002

6/26/2002 -- The 90s Didn't Happen
6/24/2002
-- Moral Relativism, Scalzi Style
6/20/2002
-- Mowing Life Lessons
6/17/2002
-- Provinces of Scalziland
6/14/2002
-- Symbolism Explained
6/12/2002
-- Symbolic
6/10/2002
-- Interview by Dawn Olsen
6/7/2002
-- Picturing Me
6/6/2002
-- Visiting New York
6/4/2002
-- Grammar and MSNBlogC
6/2/2002
-- Notes on Being Away
5/1/2002
-- My Borrowed Audience
4/29/2002
-- One Year of Salon Premium
4/26/2002
-- John Scalzi, Wedding DJ
4/25/2002
-- Cogent Childfree Arguments
4/23/2002
-- Sometimes I'm Not Nice
4/22/2002
-- Trolling the Childfree
4/19/2002
-- Hints for White People
4/18/2002
-- Talkin' 'Bout My Demographic
4/16/2002
-- Little Bomber Girl
4/15/2002
-- The Scalzi River; Tax Day
4/12/2002
-- On Being a Good Dad
4/11/2002
-- Afternoon Dads
4/9/2002
-- Blog Numbers Follow-up
4/8/2002
-- Questioning Blog Numbers
3/29/2002
-- The Journalist and the Tour Guide
3/27/2002
-- Breastfeeding God
3/26/2002
-- Ayn Rand as Mom
3/25/2002
-- Scalzi the Blog Killer
3/22/2002
-- I Hate Your Politics
3/20/2002
-- Final Oscar Predictions
3/18/2002
-- Football With Jesus
3/15/2002
-- Influential Writing on the Web
3/14/2002
-- Layoff Memories

3/13/2002 -- Hate Mail Redux
3/11/2002
-- Six Months
3/9/2002 -- Final Notes on the Rall Thing
3/7/2002
-- How to Write Hate Mail
3/6/2002
-- Ted's At It Again
3/3/2002
-- Mauvelous
2/27/2002
-- Stupid Online Writing Tricks

2/25/2002 -- Chuck Jones
2/22/2002
-- Jesse Helms is Ashamed
2/20/2002
-- Property Values
2/18/2002
-- "Intelligent Design" is Neither
2/14/2002
-- SwapSmarts Gets Smart
2/12/2002
-- Oscar Frontrunners
2/11/2002
-- More on Lazy People

2/07/2002 -- Lazy People Irritate Me
2/04/2002
-- Bad Deal for Writers
2/01/2002
-- My Time Off

1/29/2002 -- Site is Up

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