Too many halos, not enough heroes

Too many halos, not enough heroes June 14, 2024

• Thomas Bremer’s Flag Day column on “How reciting the Pledge of Allegiance became a sacred, patriotic ritual” includes some fine things. There’s a nice introduction to Robert Bellah’s concept of “civil religion” and a quick tour of its criticisms. And there’s a pithy history of the origins of the pledge and how it has been amended over time.

But Bremer doesn’t mention the No. 1 thing that needs to be said in any discussion of the pledge of allegiance: A “pledge” of “allegiance” is a creepy, creepy idea. And requiring or pressuring children to recite a “pledge of allegiance” — a loyalty oath — every day is creepy to the third power.

Just imagine your spouse suggesting that you begin every day of your marriage by reciting a loyalty oath to them. Is there any way to imagine that without also imagining that your spouse is Patrick Bergin in Sleeping With the Enemy?

It’s just skin-crawlingly creepy.

• The Friendly Atheist, bein’ friendly: “I recently did something I didn’t think I’d ever do: I sat down with two Christian hate-preachers to talk about our mutual disgust and why they say such horrible things.”

Hemant’s neighborly effort there reinforces something that David Dark says often, most recently here:

There is no the media.

… I’m involved in a lonely war against the deployment of particular abstractions. I call it RPM theory. I believe “Religion,” “Politics,” and “the Media” are perhaps the three most catastrophically unexamined abstractions in the English language.

There is no there there.

There’s people. But there is no the religion or the politics or the media. Just people making decisions.

Most of these people can be addressed as people. It can take time and effort and fancy footwork. But addressing people as persons can be done.

• “The mystery of Joe Piker.” Fascinating story from an English village near South Durham in the early 19th century. “Joe Piker” was the locals’ nickname for a respected, if reclusive, miner and farmhand named Josiah Charles Stephenson. But that wasn’t the name he was assigned at birth either.

In his later years, on nights when he had too much gin at the village pub, Joe took to dropping hints about his past life.  He once told one of his very few friends that he hailed from Berwick-upon-Tweed, although he furiously rejected any suggestion that he return to his native land, or even communicate with anyone he knew there.  He occasionally muttered that when he eventually died, it would cause the greatest scandal Toft Hill had ever seen.  His listeners tolerantly dismissed such words as the drunken babblings of a bitter old man. …

• Paul Campos on “Crank Magnetism.” His subject here is why it is that people who get wrapped up in one conspiracy theory seem likely to dive into other, apparently unrelated conspiracy theories too. Or, as a commenter at LGM put it, why it seems to be “a very short jump from believing kale smoothies are a cure for cancer to denying the Holocaust happened.”

He lists a bunch of contributing factors to this, but I think the main driver here is the antisemitic trajectory of conspiracy theories in Christendom/former-Christendom, what Abbie Richards calls “the Antisemitic Point of No Return.” Basically, in any culture shaped by a history of Christian hegemony, any conspiracy theory requiring a secretive, nefarious “They” pulling the strings from the shadows is ultimately going to conclude that “They” are “the Jews.” And since almost every conspiracy theory requires some nameless, malevolent “They” behind the scenes, almost every conspiracy theory eventually becomes an antisemitic fever-dream.

This is why my favorite cranks and crackpots tend to be cryptozoologists and Bigfoot hunters. A small slice of them slide into the idea that the secret truth about Sasquatch is being suppressed by They/Them/”the Jews,” but most are just people who believe, or hope, that there’s stuff out there in the woods somewhere that we still haven’t yet discovered. On Richards’ Conspiracy Chart, cryptid-chasers fall into the same category as “Elvis lives” believers, a level of conspiracy thinking she describes as “unequivocally false, but mostly harmless.”

Apart from the role of the internet and social media, another big reason for the current explosion of conspiracy theories is that actual Nazi-types understand that the trajectory of all apparently unrelated conspiracy theories is toward and across that Antisemitic Point of No Return and they have weaponized that understanding. So Holocaust deniers and Protocols-pushers don’t restrict themselves to promoting those explicitly Nazi-ish delusions, they’ll promote and encourage all the rest of the fetid stew — Moon-landing hoaxers, flat-earthers, young-earthers, anti-vaxxers, Satanic Panic, adenochrome, “crisis actors,” etc. — knowing that it will bring others, inexorably, to share and endorse their Jew-hatred.

• The title for this post comes from the Housemartins’ always timely “Flag Day.”

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