I don’t pledge my allegiance to the flag of any geopolitical entity, nor do I stand for the US national anthem, singing praises for “bombs bursting in air.” I stand up for what I believe in by sitting down for what don’t believe in.
To begin with, why should we pledge allegiance to the republic for which it stands? The republic should pledge allegiance to us: we’re supposed to be the ones who decide what it does. We’ve created an artificial political entity and now we’re supposed to swear loyalty to symbols of it? I could pile a few rocks up and call it a venerated object, to which I swear my allegiance above all other piles of rocks. Most sane folks would consider that pretty wacky—harmless though.
Nationalism, a first cousin to racism, is not so harmless. It promotes a Them vs Us attitude. We’re all Earthlings, sharing the same air. We should be working together for the good of all.
A flag pledge ritual begun early in life instills an emotional trigger symbol to be exploited later in life. It doesn’t matter that young children have no idea what the words mean. Standing together with hands over hearts, paying reverence to a piece of cloth, profoundly indoctrinates. It leads to mindless acceptance of unethical actions committed under the aegis of that flag. Emotional reactions to the flag by otherwise rational adults demonstrates the effectiveness of this conditioning. For example, some would likely experience anger at the words I’ve written here.
In public schools, the institution which mandates attendance also coerces pledging allegiance to it. Despite this conflict of interests, the pledge could be legally required of teachers and students in public schools before West Virginia's mandate was ruled unconstitutional in 1943.
These days, the legitimate options of not pledging and not standing are simply not presented. Many teachers aren’t aware that neither can legally be required. It may be rare today for a teacher to ignorantly coerce recitation of the pledge, but students are usually told they must stand and remove their hats for both the pledge and the national anthem. This isn't seen as requiring participation, merely courtesy to others. However, standing legitimizes this display of institutionalized mob mentality.
Another teacher once told me ”Stand up!“ as the anthem started.
I said, “Too much like religion for me.” He pointed at me and said, “I will report you.”
The next day I asked if he needed help with his report and he said he’d just done it informally, adding something about the principal being the commander and we should do what he says.
I slowly shook my head and he said, “I won’t debate it with you,” and left.
A security guard I was on friendly terms with asked me why I didn’t participate in the pledge and I said, “I’m not into nationalism.”
He seemed surprised by the simplicity. “That’s it?” He thought maybe I was a Jehovah’s Witness, and he knew they don’t pledge.
Pledging allegiance and standing for the national anthem, both often with hand over heart, look a lot like religious ritual. Our First Amendment forbids establishment of religion, which precludes a state-established religion of The State as well.
Patriotism and pride in one’s nation-state are promoted as positive attributes by society’s institutions, notably the nation-state itself. Attaching a positive feeling such as pride to a concept that serves the state drives indoctrination deeper.
Stating a lack of loyalty to the United States of America borders on heresy with serious consequences for those in public view. We still have freedom of expression—we won’t be arrested for most speech—but as many have discovered, seeming unpatriotic can be devastating to one’s ability to earn a living. Election to public office without pledging is highly unlikely.
William Penn said, “Right is right, even if everyone is against it; and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.” I think each of us has a responsibility to determine for ourselves what’s right and what’s wrong.
I pledge allegiance to what’s right, and to the earth on which we stand, one planet, under siege, with liberty and justice for all life.