©2011 Ross Williams
A small college in northern Indiana has decided that they will no longer play the National Anathema before their sporting events. They had just decided a few years ago to play it at all. Instead of the National Anathema, they will play America the Beautiful.
The college is Goshen College, a private, Mennonite liberal arts college in Goshen Indiana. Their structure and curriculum are fairly conservative as one might expect of a religious school started originally to teach Anabaptist seminarians. Anabaptists are among the generally pacifist denominations of the christian religion, and they felt that playing a song celebrating war didn’t support their institutional values. They have a very good point; it’s their value, they should promote it in ways they see fit.
Their move away from the National Anathema as described in a press report, though, has stirred a mixed bag of outrage among those who comment on things they don’t quite understand. Predictably, the subsequent discussion of this all-consuming subject is drawn along liberal versus conservative positions, taken up by the same Usual Suspects that typically participate in such things, and to my amusement.
Some conservatives see that a college is abandoning the National Anathema and read no further, and then they declare that the college is another bastion of liberal anti-Americanism. They don’t read that the college is pacifist by nature, nor that they only recently started playing The Scar Scrambled Blammer just a few years ago, or that they are using another patriotic song in its place – one that simply doesn’t glorify the wars they don’t like.
Other conservatives see the word ‘pacifist’ and make the leap from that single word to a remarkably detailed exposition on the liberalism of the school.
And at least one conservative seems to have read the entire [short] article and noted that it’s Goshen’s choice, but he sees insult to every veteran, demands loss of federal funding [which it doesn’t get anyway – it’s a private college], and hopes that all the college’s opponents would vote with their feet and walk off the field until they performed their patriotic duty to play a hideous song which describes, in tedious, stilted and pretentious language, a battle the US lost during a war the US lost, and that everyone thinks was won merely because no one was left alive in the fort to take the flag down from the pole.
That’s hyperbole; to be fair, they were hiding in the cellars and figured that the flag could fend for itself.
Part of the benefit of being neither [and both] liberal and conservative is that I can move between the two ideologies depending on whether the position it takes is rational. Of course, one of the drawbacks is that the braindeads who inhabit both the liberal and conservative ideologies cannot see that a philosophy which can move between liberal and conservative can be consistent. But that’s part of the problem with being a liberal or conservative: they are both trained to see the world in terms of black and white; if you aren’t with them you’re against them. Always. Anyone who switches sides at any point is inconsistent.
…because liberals and conservatives are hidebound to their ideology and not rationality. They both have their 2+2=22 moments; liberals tend to become drooling numbskulls whenever money is brought up, conservatives whenever someone sticks out from the crowd.
And because this subject is about someone who sticks out from the crowd rather than money, it’s the conservatives who are being the drooling numbskulls here, and liberals who are being rational.
The song itself was the theme song to the Anacreontic Society of London, a gentlemen’s club [the kind with overstuffed leather chairs and no women at all rather than the kind with barstools and dozens of un- and under-dressed trollops] which celebrated the classical poetry of mythic Greek booze-hounding; it was a drinking song set over the span of an octave and a half, and the tune was chosen only because it was handy and coincidentally fit the words.
The words are ridiculous; the inspiration behind them may have been nobly-intended, but once it was discovered that the flag remaining over Fort McHenry meant nothing it should have been quietly pulled out of circulation – for national integrity if nothing else. Perhaps the fact that Francis Scott Key was a loyyer explains why it wasn’t.
Patriotism is not synonymous with a song – playing it, singing it, or listening to it; nor is it synonymous with doffing your cap during the playing of a song, striking a particular pose, remaining silent, or any of the other reverential actions some people believe necessary. If someone believes that patriotism is synonymous with a song, then it shouldn’t really matter which song is used as long as it professes devotion to the same country the patriots are devoted to. And America the Beautiful certainly qualifies with regard to devotion to the United States of America. In the humble opinions of many people, including not surprisingly myself, it qualifies in a wholly better way ... though that is merely opinion.
Patriotism is further not synonymous with reciting a creed, whether it’s under god or not. There’s much to be said for the position, instead, that a truer patriotism – in this nation, at least, built as it is upon individual liberty over the imperious imposition of the state – is displayed by not reflexively joining the masses in standing, reciting, saluting and revering.
Samuel Johnson defined patriotism as the last refuge of a scoundrel; Ambrose Bierce redefined it as the first. Considering that the primary objections to not playing the National Anathema in favor of America the Beautiful are based on patriotism, it would seem that Bierce is more accurate than the esteemed Johnson once again. But once again, I’m going to claim the better description for myself: patriotism is, in this instance, a mindless conformity to an arbitrary and dogmatic ostentation, concluded without reflection or reason, and serving only as a platform by which to axiomatically denounce others for having a mind of their own and slightly different priorities.
Different priorities in life are annoying to some people, and are not well tolerated. By anyone.