I hold a doctorate in philosophy. That doesn’t make me a philosopher, but it does give me the ability to play with, and even make a contribution to, the difficult jargon in standard use by professional philosophers. My one contribution to the field is the invention of that awful bit of jargon used in the title here: eidetic displacement.
Here, basically, is what this fancy term means. We humans have a tendency to make symbols to represent our ideals. We make statues to represent our God. We create organizations to embody, preserve and pursue our religious and social and political ideals. And we create flags to symbolize ideals of various kinds: The Red Cross flag to represent care for the sick and the injured and the poor, state flags to represent the spirit of our individual states, and, of course, the American flag to represent the ideals upon which this country was founded: that all human beings were created equal, and that every human being is endowed by her or his Creator with certain inalienable rights.
However, we humans also have a tendency to shift our allegiance from the ideals to allegiance to the symbol. So, for instance, we create a church to embody our dedication to God, and then we gradually begin to worship the church instead of the God it was meant to serve. Then, instead of supporting and aiding all of the people God sends our way, we oppose and denigrate and sometimes even kill those who are not members of our church. What we are doing is replacing the reality with the symbol or representation of that reality.
This is a deep, deep tendency of humans. We do it all the time. We replace the reality with the form we have shaped to represent that reality. We judge people, not based on what they are, but rather based on our impression of them. We judge religions, governments, people of different races or nationalities, not on what they are, but rather on some pattern we have formed of what those people or organizations are. You can call this prejudice, but it is more fundamental than that: it is the constant temptation to replace reality with our impression of that reality. The Greek word for form is eidos, so I invented this term for that tendency: eidetic displacement.
So: Kaepernick. Colin Kaepernick is a professional football player, a quarterback for the San Francisco Fortyniners. He has some African-American heritage, and, besides being a very good football player, he is an intelligent human being concerned about contemporary events. Kaepernick has condemned the racial bigotry that has led, in America, to the mistreatment of the African-American community, and specifically to the deaths of many African-Americans, including the deaths of several unarmed African-Americans at the hands of police officers.
So, to emphasize his objections to this mistreatment, Colin Kaepernick, before a football game, refused to stand for the national anthem. And for doing this, for exercising one of those inalienable rights that the American flag and the national anthem stand for, Kaepernick was roundly condemned. Example: someone wrote to my local newspaper that Kaepernick should be suspended for not standing up, because by not standing up he was insulting the national anthem. Get it? He was honoring the country’s ideals, but he was insulting the symbol. Eidetic displacement.
What is to be an American? Is it to live and die for the ideals of universal human rights? Or is it to belong to a clan opposed to all other clans? That contrast, so blaringly obvious in the present presidential campaign, is at the heart of our continued existence as a truly great nation. Either we are a nation committed to the inalienable rights of every human being, whether American or not, or we are just another tribe, another clan identified first and foremost by our commitment, not to ideals, but to the trappings of our clan. If we are the latter, then all those brave men and women who fought and died for the American ideals fought and died for nothing. Our brave dead did not die protecting the flag that drapes their coffins, but for the ideals that that flag represents. One would hope that we all live our lives for the same reason.