Column by Alex R. Knight III.

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A few years back I published a piece here on STR that dealt with the symbology employed by various enforcers of government laws, and noted how most of it seemed steeped in a praising and glorification of violence, militance, and intolerant prejudice. I meant every word of what I wrote then, and still stand behind it in full. The actions of the individuals sporting such iconography more than demonstrate their enthusiasm for such values, and this leaves little room for any alternative interpretations.

Much more recently, of course, there’s been an amazing amount of vitriol – from all sides of the issue – regarding the banning of various symbols (mostly in the form of flags), predominantly the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy.

This was all precipitated because of the senseless murder of nine black people attending church by a young white male with openly-admitted racist views. More recently still was the astoundingly bold killing of two white news reporters covering a story on-scene, by an openly gay black man. Which then prompted many to ask (mostly in sarcasm, it’s interesting to note) which flag should be banned as a result. The multi-colored gay pride flag? I was thinking myself perhaps the Ugandan flag, since the dictator Idi Amin demonized all white people in the 1970s, expelled them from Uganda unilaterally, then abdicated as that particular tax-farm went down in flames, to seek refuge in Saudi Arabia . . . another tax-farm which later proved to be a nest of anti-American terrorism, supposedly culminating in 9/11, that modern Day of Infamy.

Before things start to tilt in the direction of becoming even more ridiculous, I’d like to point out a very simple observation: To the extent that symbols possess much significance whatsoever in a rational universe, I’d say their intent all depends upon context.

If I see a Confederate battle flag at a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan . . . well, that means one thing, doesn’t it? If I see one on the roof of the General Lee – a vintage 1969 Dodge Charger muscle car – racing around Hazzard County with Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrain in hot pursuit, I doubt very much that means that Bo and Luke, those “good old boys, never hurtin’ no one” are on their way to pick up their Imperial Wizard robes from Uncle Jesse and head to the nearest Aryan Nations headquarters. If I see the Stars and Bars flying at a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert – as I in fact have – I doubt that means thousands of negro-hating racists have congregated to listen to some Southern-fried rock and roll. In fact, I doubt very much the band in question would even knowingly play for such a crowd.

Again, it’s all about context. The idea that my idea of what something means is the only acceptable view or interpretation is not only exceedingly arrogant and closed-minded, it’s also just as intolerant and ignorant as anything that such a person might accuse another of being in the first place.

Take the American flag as one more example. Probably most of the anti-Confederate symbology crowd consider the Stars and Stripes to be entirely non-controversial. Yet I’d be willing to wager a substantial amount of money that on a global scale, more people worldwide at this point in history see “Old Glory” as a symbol of military bullyism, oppression, and hypocrisy, rather than as a symbol of liberty or sovereignty. In fact, we need not even look abroad to find such sentiment. Try asking anyone who has had their life ruined by the IRS, their home raided by the DEA or BATFE, or taken away altogether for non-payment of property tax. Try asking someone who has had the daylights beaten out of them by cops . . . only to find that when they tried to sue for damages in government courts that the entire system drew together -- not to dispense justice -- but to protect the police from the consequences of their own merciless actions. Try asking someone jailed for life on trumped-up evidence or for simply growing a single marijuana plant. True, many such individuals may still display the Stockholm Syndrome of feeling allegiance towards their oppressors and captors, and I certainly wouldn’t want to put words in their mouths. But I’m guessing a substantial number would probably prefer some red, white, and blue nylon toilet paper to any other proposed use of such. And who can rightfully level blame against them?

Let’s have a look at the torch relay of the Olympic Games. It looks to be an ancient Greek tradition. In truth, it was the brainchild of Adolf Hitler himself, first used at the 1936 Olympic Games in Munich. The Olympic Games Committee obviously know this. Do they ever suggest this custom be removed, banned, or replaced? Does anyone ever suggest that the Olympics are a Nazi event?

Which is a great segue into a (maybe even the) big kahuna: For centuries before Hitler hijacked it for his own purposes, the swastika was a sun symbol signifying good tidings and health. It is still significant in Buddhism, Hinduism, and other major religions. In fact, even in early 20th Century American tradition, swastikas made of wood or metal were often hung above doorways as a kind of good luck charm – similar to the custom of hanging horseshoes over barn doors today. The swastika actually has a noble and benign history behind it, stretching thousands of years into the past prior to the advent of Naziism.

To me, symbols are just designs (other than some that may have a strictly utilitarian purpose), and flags just pieces of cloth, most of which represent various States: Cabals of bureaucrats who violently control the lives, liberty, and property of others both for their own self-gain and twisted edification, in addition to the rubric of allegedly attaining some form of socioeconomic outcome. And, of course, the various -- though all strikingly similar -- and ultimately identical concepts behind them. Flags? Symbols? I have little use for, or interest in them.

But that’s me and my interpretation. I recognize the fact that you may have an entirely different view.

And far may it ever be from me to try to stand in your way, and prevent you from expressing it.

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Alex R. Knight III's picture
Columns on STR: 153

Alex R. Knight III is the author of numerous horror, science-fiction, and fantasy tales.  He has also written and published poetry, non-fiction articles, reviews, and essays for a variety of venues.  He currently lives and writes in rural southern Vermont where he holds a B.A. in Literature & Writing from Union Institute & University.  Alex's Amazon page can be found here, and his work may also be found at both Smashwords and Barnes & Noble.  His MeWe group can be found here.


Mark Davis's picture

Right!?!?  I suppose context has followed common sense and the Doe-doe bird down the road to extinction.

Samarami's picture

I've watched "symbolism" germinate and grow exponentially over my 80 years. Divide-and-conquer is the agenda.

Much of the "gay" phenomenon and sexuality in general is symbolic in nature. "Sexual orientation" only entered the vocabulary in the recent 20 or 30 years. I often wonder of aborigines in the tropics who run around naked all their lives are as perplexed in those areas as we in "civilized" parts of the world -- if they feel a need to ponder over their "orientation".

An interesting sidelight: I recently took a job at Wal Mart -- mainly for the daily bike ride and to keep my head oriented (don't have to worry about sex orientation :-]). During my first week while on an errand at the front of the store I decided to duck into the men's room. I went in, all the stalls were occupied. I pushed on one or two to make certain (not wanting to stoop over and peek for feet). Eventually a stool flushed and out stepped a young lady -- in Wal Mart garb, one of the gals working in the front. I was petrified!

I rushed out, looked at the door (thinking, "...what the hell is SHE doing in the MEN'S room for pity sake???...") I had walked into the ladies room of all stupid, embarrassing blunders(!).

In the back where I work the men's is on the right. In the front the men's is on the left. Easy to mistake when you're in a rush and not using your head.

But also symbolic. What's the big deal about using the bathroom that every owner of public establishments has to invest in two separate bathrooms? Pretty soon they'll also need a separate one for gays, and I suppose one for transgenders or transexuals or whatever they're calling themselves nowadays.

In Japan when I was there in the 50's men and women used the bathroom together. There were no "men's" and "women's". The bible-belt culture has now forced them to westernize, I suppose. Between religion and sex, it's a wonder any of us have remained sane. Sam


Paul's picture

Sam, back in 1980 I was in Paris. One restaurant had a men's and ladies room in the basement, but the men's urinal was actually outside the two, just a wall of tiles where some water dripped out of a pipe, that the ladies walked by on the way to their room. Then there were the pissoirs on the sidewalks... :-)

I mentioned the flag thing back in this article, coming to much the same conclusions as you:

Flags are much like choosing respresentatives in elections. They are a package deal; the good comes with the bad. But I think most people use them as landmarks to orient themselves with, or to find other members of one's tribe. I too find them not very useful although I have long had a hankering for the Gadsden flag.