The Problem with Symbols

symbols_edited-2It’s a good thing that Google doesn’t judge (I hope Google doesn’t judge), because I can’t imagine what a sentient search engine would think of me after the search terms I used to find my source images. It paints a very particular, but not accurate, picture.

Sometimes we have to touch on uncomfortable subjects, because uncomfortable things are happening.

A lot of people have objections to certain parts of the Pledge of Allegiance, primarily the “under God” part (and the fact that we don’t all enjoy equal access to liberty and justice), but I’ve long been troubled by the idea that we indoctrinate school children to pledge allegiance to a flag. Beyond the problem that the vast majority of elementary kids have zero idea what they’re actually saying, and are in any event too young to understand the implications of pledging themselves knowingly to any system, the concept of promising to follow a flag is, if I may be blunt, utter bull, as panel 2 illustrates. You can put a flag on a moose; that doesn’t qualify it to run for public office. We don’t need kids growing up believing that they’re obligated to honor that symbol wherever it’s found.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably familiar with the quote about Fascism in America arriving wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross, and we’re watching this prediction unfold before our eyes right now. (I’m not a person who throws around the word “Fascism,” but when you’re spewing rabid nationalism, and talking about closing the borders, and trying to justify a belief that your neighbors are different and don’t belong here, with you, in the greatest country on earth, that’s more or less the textbook definition of Fascism. Ergo: le mot juste.) I love America, but my America is the First Amendment America. My America is the one where people use their freedom to think, not to espouse blind jingoism.

I’ve never understood why people would swear on the Bible when we have the First Amendment. I just read about a public official swearing on the Constitution, which I’ve long thought should be the standard, and various public officials through the years have thought the same thing, even though it’s not a standard. The Bible doesn’t even agree with itself. (I know. Unlike many people who believe in it, I’ve actually read it cover to cover.)

What the stars and stripes means to me is most likely not anything like what it means to Sarah Palin, just as Mother Teresa and your average white supremacist obviously would find very different meaning in the image of a cross. The swastika one might be less obvious. The symbol of the Third Reich is also known as the whirling log in Navajo culture, although my understanding is that most Navajos don’t use it much anymore, probably because most Navajos are more culturally sensitive than Sarah Palin. The Buddhists also use this symbol to mean, “all is well,” although it’s usually reversed. But the point still stands. You can’t follow a symbol, because a symbol is a cultural construct, not an actual idea. Wrapping Fascism in an American flag does not make Fascism patriotic.

As for the Statue of Liberty, it’s almost too stupid. It’s hard for me to imagine the person so tone-deaf that they created this meme explaining why new immigrants were dangerous to their way of life using the most inappropriate symbol available. Presumably, the person who created it was not Navajo. (If they are, I apologize, because unregulated immigration did mess up their world.) Speaking as a 5th generation American, I feel sorry for the non-native person so blind to reality that they feel it’s possible to draw these lines. In defense of the person whose Facebook page I saw it on: she’s very young and uneducated. It’s not a very good excuse, but that’s hers, I guess. If you think the Statue of Liberty should be holding a giant “Keep Out” sign and you’re not indigenous, you’re actually not thinking.

The last panel is about the Japanese internment camps of WWII, one of the more shameful chapters in our country’s history, at least on American soil, at least in the 20th century. And yet certain people have been making noise in this direction, that the only way to protect American citizens is to imprison certain demographics of American citizens. If you don’t see the ridiculousness of this proposal, try to imagine that it could be your demographic one day. After all, the vast majority of terrorist attacks in America are perpetrated by straight, white, Christian men. Chew on that.

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3 thoughts on “The Problem with Symbols

  1. Pingback: My Book Is Not about Dead Trees | qwertyvsdvorak

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