A Tale of Two Flags

Sun shining through the trees in Mississippi
Southern Sun

Scene: A group of activists, whose flag represents very different things to reasonable people, gather to express solidarity for the ideals they believe their flag represents. Other reasonable people, who hold a very different view of what that flag represents, also gather, intending to express their disagreement with that particular interpretation of the flag.

Neither side is willing to listen to the other so, as is all too common these days, the two otherwise reasonable sides close their minds and scream at each other, seeking echo chambers in which they can be secure that their own interpretation is the One True Reality.

Sound familiar? It ought to because this is how people react when communists gather under the flag of the USSR.

Oh. Right. You thought I was talking about the Confederate battle flag1, didn’t you? That too, reader. That too.

The Current State of Affairs

In general, people fall into one of three2 camps when it comes to the flags. They don’t care enough about it to worry (the vast majority of people,) they hate it and everything they think it represents, or they believe that despite the flag’s bloody history, it now/has always represented something else, a meaning that has been subverted by a group of bad actors who tarnished their in-group’s good name. Generally, the arguments boil down to something like:

Anti-Flag: “That flag represents an ideology that killed millions of people and subjugated countless others in the name of power and cruelty. If you fly it, you are the same as they are! How DARE you fly that flag, you [appropriate epithet here!]”

Pro-Flag: “This flag represents my culture/ideology. Yeah, okay, it was used for bad things, but that doesn’t make my view any less valid. Anyone can appropriate a symbol to promote evil. That doesn’t make the symbol evil, [appropriate epithet here!]”

Differing Perceptions, Glossy Sheens

The truth is that both sides have very valid points.

The Confederate flag flew over a rebellion that, among other things, stood for the idea that it was permissible to kidnap and enslave people3 based on the color of their skin. In many ways, the Confederacy came to represent the last gasps of an ideology that was dying a death that was much too long in coming. For those who find the Confederate flag revolting4, the idea that someone could spin it to make it represent something positive is unbelievable.

The flag of the Soviet Socialist Republic flew over a nation that murdered and raped its way across eastern Europe after World War II. It presided over what may very well be the largest systematic purge of undesirables in the history of mankind. The flag of the USSR came to represent the failure of communism worldwide, a failure that the majority of the world celebrated as long overdue. For those who find the USSR’s flag revolting, the idea that someone could venerate it is ridiculous.

On the other hand…

The Confederate flag came to represent, to some people, the fierce independence and self-sufficiency that the South prides itself on. To those people, the Confederate flag represents pride in that culture, pride in service to what many of them see as a lost battle between large government and the right of autonomy. They venerate their civil wars heroes not because they are venerating slavery, but because they’re venerating their ancestors’ fight against for what they believe was a gross violation of the implicit agreement of voluntary association5 embedded in the Constitution.

The USSR flag represents, to some people, the idea that big business and capitalism are destroying the lives of countless people. To them, the USSR flag represents a revolution meant to free people from the chains of property and forced labor in the service of modern day slavers. They venerate their Marxist heroes not because they are venerating murder, but because they believe they’re working for a freer world for all6.

A Path Forward?

So, who’s right?

Both. Neither. That’s not a question with an answer because we’re talking, on both sides, about feelings instead of facts. As such, throwing stand-alone facts like ninja stars isn’t likely to foster understanding, because understanding requires us to listen to the other side so we can see where they’re coming from. Y’all need to take the rhetoric down about 150 notches before we can make progress.

Where to start? I have some suggestions.

  • Understand, if you’re pro-flag, that the people who are anti-flag have legitimate complaints. You ARE flying a flag with multiple meanings. Dismissing them as snowflakes or capitalist sycophants doesn’t help your cause, and it alienates neutrals who might otherwise be sympathetic.
  • If you’re anti-flag, stop calling people racists/fascists /whatever unless you have legitimate evidence (using the flag isn’t enough7) of their ‘ism. Talk to them. Attempt to understand their beliefs, and when you do, explain yours to them.
  • If you’re pro-flag, understand that history isn’t doing you any favors. You’re not obligated to prove you’re not a racist or fascist, of course, but it would serve you well if you could articulate your position.
  • If you’re anti-flag, understand that people have strong ties to symbols. If you want them to let go of them, banning them will never work. Understanding and friendship, though? Those may work. Think of all of the people who grew up anti-LGBT, who changed not because some guy made a law, but because the ‘eww gay people’ shorthand was replaced with ‘but that would hurt my friend’ mentality. Yeah. That.
  • Basically, just TALK to people instead of yelling at them and calling them names, stupid.

Conclusion of Sorts

A random post on a blog no one reads isn’t likely to change anything, I know. I’m probably just screaming into the dark, attempting to hold back the inevitable tide of hate and anger that appears to want to wash over the world. But hey… I tried. And I’ll keep trying until I get a megaphone or I end up strung up like all of the other reasonable folk in our crazy modern world.

Until next time.

1 – The flag most people call the Confederate flag is actually the Confederate battle flag. The actual confederate flag can be found here.

2 – We’ll not discuss the neutrals today, as they don’t much matter.

3 –  I know, my southern followers. There were states’ rights issues at play, most people weren’t slave owners, the north was similarly culpable in those violations. That’s a topic for another day, though.

4 – “Well what do YOU think of the Confederate flag, you southern raised white boy?” Someone inevitably asks in an attempt to out me as a racist. I’m glad you asked. I did indeed grow up in the south, in a very poor, very integrated neighborhood. The Confederate flag always made me a little uncomfortable because of the divide it represented, but more than that, it represented in my mind a low-class, uneducated group of people who were obsessed with professional wrestling and pickup trucks. While my view was completely unfair and based on stereotypes v. reality, I can’t quite shake the idea. I’ve never really liked the Confederate flag… but I’ve done my best to understand the viewpoint of those who do.

5 – “Were they wrong?” you ask. There’s an interesting legal question we can explore some other time… whether states have/used to have the right to secede. We may see that idea in action depending on whether California is serious about leaving.

6 – I’m sorry if I didn’t do this position justice, but Marxists and libertarians/objectivists tend to be opposed. They don’t like to talk to me much about strategy or in-depth ideology, and I don’t much care to hear it most days anyway. Hypocrite = me. I’m writing this as much for my own benefit as yours.

7 – The Confederate or USSR flags. Call people flying the Nazi flag Nazis all day. There’s no alternative context there worth a damn that I can see. Do tell me if I’m being hypocritical.