Trump World Grab-Bag--A Collection

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Vexacious Vexillology

There is a theme that I have noticed in threads regarding the subject of whether the Confederate flag should be flown, or what the meaning of the flag happens to be, that derails the conversation into why a particular image was chosen--based on the image, without respects to the political or self-determinative why of any choosing of a symbol in particular--whether it be the choosing of a symbol for the side of slavery, or the choosing of a side for the perpetuation of Jim Crow and segregation.  It's sort of a way of trying to not see Nathan Bedford Forrest for the trees. I think it's a boring segue into a bit of the history of the political that tries to elide the history of the personal--in other words, it goes into what people meant versus what they did.

When people gather in the road waving that flag at the President, or wave it outside the White House during a government shutdown, I don't think I need a Weatherman to know which way that wind is blowing. It would have done no good, after all, to wave that thing at Clinton or Carter, white men of the south, who it might have represented at least in the heritage sense. When waved at Obama, though, it becomes just a little hard to separate it from the banner that supports segregation and doesn't recognize a black man in a White House. The term "usurper" has been used. But he was legitimately born here and legitimately elected by the American people. Using that term doesn't illegitimize Barack Obama as a man of Kenyan descent--it delegitimizes those of us who voted for him.

But this is all current events. We go from here to a weirdly mixed history--Lance Mannion did a truly excellent piece regarding KKK history,  and how neither South nor North, nor Democrat or Republican, can quite acquit themselves of the eliminationist strain.  Charlie Pierce points out that we haven't learned from history because we never even learned history. People come to an idea of that flag that isn't what history intended.

All I can say is--flags and history may be beside the point: how are we treating people here and now? Because if that treatment is crap--and it often is, maybe let's let history hang and just figure out how to be better people. But I do think that flag is a problem, and a largely racialist one, so maybe the people  who flaunt it should get called what they are legitimately representing.


mikey said...

You're right, of course. And to the extent that one is interested in the historical/socio/political history of the Confederate Battle flag, you make some good points.

But for me...meh. I was pleased and excited to see it come under fire, and to see the demands that American state governments quit using it as a symbol due to what it actually, you know, symbolizes. But at this point, I've really lost interest. If you're still arguing that the flag is a legitimate symbol of southern history & heritage, you're either a liar or an idiot. Everybody know what it is, and what it means. If you WANT to represent yourself and your community with a symbol of racist hatred, I'm pretty sure these arguments aren't going to get through to you. And once that flag is finally removed from official American governments, it will go on being used, as an even more virulent symbol of white supremacy.

In the end, it's kind of like the flag-burning debates of a decade or two ago. It's ultimately just a colorful piece of cloth - it does not carry the power people invest in it. It comes down to your final point - it's not symbols that matter, but actions - and I expect the actions of the people who rally behind this flag to be increasingly violent and desperate....

Vixen Strangely said...

In the end, it's kind of like the flag-burning debates of a decade or two ago. It's ultimately just a colorful piece of cloth - it does not carry the power people invest in it. It comes down to your final point - it's not symbols that matter, but actions - and I expect the actions of the people who rally behind this flag to be increasingly violent and desperate....

Just so--it has always struck me as puzzling that there are some people who seem especially invested in symbols, and not as invested in people, to the extent that they would be more shocked at the burning of a flag, than at the burning of an actual human being. But to people so wired, seeing their particular totem come down in spaces they presumed to be "theirs", is viewed by them as psychologically "genocidal" ("cultural genocide") even when those same people still breathe and watch tv and can fly the flag over their garages for all anyone cares. I have tried to understand how this fixation on symbols works, but am mostly just happy I still focus on harm to humans, not bits of fabric. It's like an IQ test, really.

Formerly Amhert said...

Vixen, one thing I have learned over the years is that it is utterly pointless to talk with Yankees about the South's feeling in respect to the War of Northern Aggression. Carl Jung says that “a symbol, if it is not just a sign, participates in the mystery that it represents.” Anyone involved in the magic arts should understand this as fundamental. I suggest A Dictionary of Symbols by J. E. Cirlot. And of course you could review your Yates, perhaps especially Per Amica Silentia Lunae. Of course with Yates, even in his autobiography he discusses symbols.

I could tell you many things about this period of history that would echo the sentiments of our new Democratic candidate James Webb. As you pointed out, people who do not learn from history because they don't know history. As a consequence, mostly internet discussions are a lot of hot air.

I will mention that you need to consider the fact that after an agreement was made between the North and the South to cease hostilities, and our Republican champion Abraham Lincoln instructed the band to play Dixie, the South had all of its constitutional rights suspended. No freedom of assembly, no freedom of speech, no constitutional rights at all. Additionally, the South was being controlled by the foreign occupation of a military power. It was not a pretty picture.

For most Southerners it really is about heritage. We fully understand that black Americans would see it as about slavery. And we understand that Yankees also see it as primarily about slavery. However, very few Southern families were rich enough to own slaves, and as a consequence very few Southerners soldiers took to the field over that issue.

Vixen Strangely said...

There is a definite difference of opinion--no question. There are state's rights questions that affected the North at the time as well--for example Prigg Vs Pennsylvania, that prevented the Commonwealth of PA from implementing a state law that went against the Federal Fugitive Slave Act. (New Jersey had a similar law on their docket, and was joined by other, mostly New England states.) We also up north participated in a degree of "nullification" acts, mostly regarding jury nullification, in not sentencing abolitionists associated with the Underground Railroad. I think it might bear mentioning that after the election of Lincoln, before he even took office, the various secession articles of several states, first among them South Carolina, were made public, giving the new President-elect notice that there was a threat of open rebellion.

Given what the articles of secession of each rebel state indicated, we aren't entirely sure what those white people not owning slaves were supporting other than white supremacy, states rights (but only as respected the owning of slaves and low tarrifs, but having lived under a really free market thing for so long, the arguments about that seem like hash to me--I'm a capitalist, thanks) and not having Yankees be the boss of anyone probably because they met somebody from Philadelphia once, and, yeah, I totally understand.

So Yankees like me just go "Youse shot first" when the term "Northern Aggression" gets mentioned. Yeah, I recall there was some blockade of SC or whatever. But our northern states' rights where dicked over by slave-state majority congresses, and we didn't freak out and say we didn't want to be part of the US anymore. Probably because our status as free states was new (there were still slaves in PA and NY in the 1800's even if we feel bad about it) and we weren't ready to be 100% abolitionist either. Crazy frontier shit like Missouri and Kansas aside, we think it didn't have to go down like that.

But as for symbology--I don't care about leaving it to the symbol-minded. I get the investment in sigils for temporary use, but I get stuck at the idea of masses of people seeing a use in a logo because to me--I feel like one of the problems of art is brainwashing. I know, as a partisan opinion-writer I'm guilt of taking a side--but I do so hoping to release thought--not overwhelm it or shut it up by terms of art.