Colin Kaepernick and the morals of honoring Old Glory

By Matt Johnson

By now, you probably know that Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers did not stand for the honoring of the national ensign during the national anthem this past Friday evening in a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. The act of defiance or of disrespect, depending on your moral perspective, has been trending on Facebook, Twitter, and pretty much the entire social media sphere over the past 24 to 48 hours. And as you know, opinions are abound.

Everyone is giving their opinion or has an opinion on this matter. For example, many took to Facebook to express their disdain of the football player while many took to Facebook to show their support. And of course, the national media, one never to shy away from throwing a little fuel on the fire, jumped on this story like a gang of bandits jumping on a train for a train heist.

For example, The New York Times has already published their two cents. In the article Why Colin Kaepernick Didn’t Stand for the National Anthem, the classical paper explains that,

On his Twitter feed, Kaepernick curates a timeline of events that have found a place in the national discourse about race, politics and police behavior, including a protest by white supremacists in front of an N.A.A.C.P. headquarters in Houston, an article about how Arizona teenagers were forced by their school to change out of their Black Lives Matters shirts, and the fatal police shooting of an armed black man in Milwaukee.

And ABC News reported,

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

But as with the burning of the national ensign during the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention, respectively, or during the Ferguson protests and altercations from a couple of years ago, this Colin Kaepernick event can be explained and understood through moral foundations.

Moral foundations are the set of morals that liberals and conservatives prefer to express, more or less, in their daily lives when they are faced with certain events. Or rather, these morals are expressed in greater detail depending on the event. In the case of Colin Kaepernick not standing up for the national anthem before the football game, he was protesting the unfair treatment of traditionally disenfranchised groups, for example, blacks, Asians, Latinos, and the American indigenous people.

Here’s an example of the liberal foundations, fairness and tolerance:

His moral argument, which is two-fold, included the intolerance of these groups along with the lack of fairness by the dominant groups: those of European ancestry. As he explicitly pointed out, he’s not going to stand up and honor a flag that he perceives still symbolizes the oppression of people of non-European ancestry. And as The New York Times reported, he posted examples of this oppression through his Twitter feed.

In contrast, Colin Kaepernick is receiving his much deserved criticism in the eyes of those who express these conservative moral foundations. In their view, he disrespected the national anthem and ensign. And in doing so, he disrespected the authority and tradition of both the song and national symbol. He also committed sacrilege. From the  perspective of many of those who express these moral views, he’s no better than those who burn the American flag in protest.

Here’s an example of the conservative moral foundations, authority, sacredness, and tradition:

In addition, his actions have perceived consequences. As Jonathan Haidt explains in his book The Righteous Mind, from where the moral foundations’ hypothesis derives,

Sanctity…makes it easy for us to regard some things as ‘untouchable’…Why do people so readily treat objects (flags, crosses), places (Mecca, a battlefield related to the birth of your nation), people (saints, heroes), and principles (liberty, fraternity, equality) as though they were of infinite value? [T]he pyschology of sacredness helps bind individuals into moral communities. When someone in a moral community desecrates one of the sacred pillars supporting the community, the reaction is sure to be swift, emotional, collective, and punitive.

And as Haidt correctly elucidates, the response to Kaepernick perceived disrespect was “swift, emotional, collective, and punitive.” As an example, here is what happens if you put in Colin Kaepernick’s name in the Twitter search engine,

This is but one of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of responses a person will find on Twitter, or social media for that matter, calling out the football player on his perceived indiscretions. Sure! There are a lot of people supporting him in different ways. For instance, many people don’t agree with his premise, but agree with the exercise of free speech. However, for those who disagreed, and some disagreed vehemently, the retort of Colin Kaepernick was swift and penetrating.

One Twitter user hoped that a very patriotic football player would make him pay on the field at some point during this 2016 season, while many others have been quick to point out his perceived hypocrisies of being raised by a white family and making millions of dollars as a professional athlete.

The bottom line is that his actions and the response to his actions can be explained and understood through moral foundations. And although the silent majority of social media users have been quiet on the matter, most people are not politically active on social media, the loud majority have been expressing the two sets of moralities in very interesting ways with respect to this situation.

And in a way, Colin Kaepernick has provided us an opportunity to discuss two very important issues: historical discrepancies of disenfranchised groups and patriotism. The question is, can we have this discussion with the current state of news media and political partisanship? Is it possible for us to have this conversation when citizens talk past each other and not to each other? Is it possible for us to have this conversation when the people of this country, in general, don’t take the perspective of the other or understand the distinctions between different political and moral beliefs? And is it possible for us to have this conversation when we think the right answer is one or the other, black or white?

Finally, I’ll leave you with this thought experiment in moral foundations.

Matt Johnson is an economics and science writer for The Systems Scientist. You can connect with him directly in the comments section, follow him on Twitter or on Facebook

You can also follow The Systems Scientist on Twitter or Facebook as well. 



Copyright ©2016 – The Systems Scientist

3 replies »

    • Well Haidt’s been a big influence on me as a scientist. Why? He’s allowed his research to challenge his own personal beliefs; and in the process, his perspective of the world has changed, for example, his political philosophy. And in a way, Haidt provides a real world example of Thomas Kuhn’s philosophy of science, which I’ve also been heavily influenced by.

      To your point about good people seeing it differently than others, I completely agree. In my field, perspective is important. And perspectives, like morals, illustrate a different view of the world. And so an obvious question that then derives from this proposition is, who’s perspective is correct? To me, this lends power to your point about “good people may see it differently.” In other words, there are good people who may view the world in a different way from me because they are viewing the world from a different perspective and with a different set of morals.

      Good stuff, Kate! Thanks for reading my article and do please visit again!


      Liked by 1 person

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