Posted 122 days ago
I thoguht that Menand's last two paragraphs were incredibly thoughtful:
Those texts were made to appear to belong to some common fund of national faith, such that it was fitting that they be recited in unison. And they all sounded good. But I don’t think we had any coherent idea of what they meant, and I doubt they had much effect on our subsequent behavior as citizens.
I imagine that McHugh would think it’s fine that those texts were ineffectual means of socializing. She seems like a person who does not believe in creeds or canons. She prefers, she says, ambiguity and change to the myth of a unified national narrative. But ambiguity and change are just the keywords in a different narrative. The position that we should not want to make all Americans think alike has an exception, which is that we want all Americans to think that we should not want to make all Americans think alike. I would subscribe to that, but it is a creed. And diversity, too, has a canon. Betty Crocker is excluded.
"Ambiguity" is a creed and something we would have to ascribe to to "teach" to people. I do disagree with Menand's argument, that the things that we "recited in unison" didn't actually infuence what he thought. Sure, maybe for him he grew out of it, or a handful of other people. But in reality, I think a lot of people buy into the Pledge of Allegience and tons of other songs and such for the masses. Maybe if you have the education Menand does, it seems so long ago, but for the vast majority of people, these are some of the most important and vivid ideas that one may come across.
So I side more with McHugh in that this does need to be reworked, but also that "ambiguity" is a creed just as any other.