Thursday, June 25, 2015

Symbols, Victims, and Civilized Adulthood


"Anybody can become angry- that is easy. But to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose and in the right way- that is not within everybody's power and is not easy." - Aristotle

Yet another mass-murder by yet another prescription-drug addled young misfit has led to a storm of outrage in America. It is entirely proper that there be a storm of outrage, along with great admiration for the display of Christian forgiveness from the families of many of the victims. I have said before that the victims in the Church have performed well their Godly mission of displaying God's Mercy.  Soon it will be time for the state to perform their Godly function of displaying God's Justice -  by executing Dylan Roof. I say this though I have less confidence in the state's resolve to do their Divine Duty these days, for government has left off its proper duties and has instead set itself to meddling in a host of other things which are not its rightful business.

The rest of the nation has not done so nobly as the victims from the church in their response to this brutal crime. There has been outrage all right, but not rational outrage, not reasonable outrage that makes sense and has a logical outcome of preventing more of the same. The fury of America seems concentrated against a symbol the killer posed with in a photograph- the main battle flag of the Confederacy. 

Here are some of the responses: Amazon and Ebay have quit selling merchandise bearing the symbol of the flag. This is even though they still peddle merchandise with the Nazi Swastika on it! Warner Brothers has even stopped making toys of the car "General Lee" from the iconic 80's TV show "Dukes of Hazard" because the car features an image of that flag on the roof. Suggestions have even been made that Arkansas get a new flag because ours has elements in it which look too similar to the Confederate battle flag.

Look, I have never owned the "Stars and Bars" as it is called. I have never had it on a hat or worn it on an article of clothing. I consider it impolite to display such a flag in public because of the large number of people who (with good historical reason) consider the flag to be a symbol of racial oppression. I already make enough people mad just by telling the truths that some don't wish to hear, I don't want to unnecessarily offend people by wearing a symbol that I can take or leave. That being said, I am uncomfortable with misplaced and disproportionate angry driving us to such lengths over symbols.

Symbols, and I am particularly referring here to abstract symbols such as the "Stars and Bars" and the Swastika, have no power in themselves. They don't even have any meaning in themselves. The only meaning they have is that which has been ascribed to them by those who either use the symbol or see it. It is true that both of those symbols were used by people who were violently anti-social toward those of other races, but not everyone who uses those symbols ascribes that meaning to them. 

Even the swastika, symbol of the repugnant Nazi party, is also used in Hinduism and by Native American tribes as a sacred symbol. The people I know who wear the "Stars and Bars" have more animosity toward the Ku Klux Klan than they do towards blacks. To them, it is a symbol of their southern rural way of life, not racial oppression.

One of the things that makes me most uncomfortable about this is that the outrage which we feel, which we ought to feel, is being directed toward abstract symbol which has no objective meaning either good or bad and is incapable of causing harm in itself. The "right anger" which Aristotle spoke of can be a good thing, but useless anger does nothing to make us better people, or more reasonable ones. The symbol the shooter posed with in a picture did not cause these shootings. There have been over 1,000 shootings in Chicago this year alone, and the symbols the shooters used did not cause them either.

I noticed that a young friend of mine posted on social media a comment to the effect that anyone who displayed the Confederate Battle flag should just "unfriend" him and save him the trouble because they were a "racist piece of {vulgarity deleted}." I have been following this person's comments on social media a long time and at no point did they ever say that anyone who supported abortion being legal should unfriend them. 

Yet unlike the Confederate Battle Flag, whose meaning is subjective to the observer, abortion actually ends innocent human life. One million babies are being torn to bits every single year by abortion, yet there is more outrage over an abstract symbol with no objective meaning than there is over someone supporting spilling rivers-worth of innocent blood. If every American between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains were butchered today, it still would not equal the number of beating hearts stopped by abortion in America. 

Abortion is just one evil. America has dropped a lot of bombs on a lot of countries that did not attack us. We have a political system that is looting the middle class and the next generation to enrich global banksters. None of that injustice evoked the least response from my young friend, yet his rage against this symbol was visceral.

I realize what Aristotle realized, that not everyone is capable of "right anger". Some are just too young to have properly developed their sense of appropriate anger. Some will never reach that place and will live as perpetual adolescents. I don't say that everyone should see it like I do, because like Aristotle I understand that this is not within everyone's reach. But I don't think policy should be driven by those whose anger is irrational. I don't think the rational should give way before the irrational as a matter of course. It is an unproductive, even destructive, road to take which can never make us better only worse. 

Instead we should make appropriate use of our anger. It should help us insist that the right questions be asked. For example, every one of these recent mass murderers have either been on or just come off of certain types of prescription drugs. Are such psychotropic drugs over-used? Are they really safe? Americans are the most medicated people on the planet, and we haven't really had a national discussion about how normal it should be to have a nation operating on mind-altering drugs. 

 I get the idea that big pharma  has a lot to lose if people ever start asking too many questions about that. So do institutions in this nation which medicate a lot of people- like our government itself as a matter of fact. But big media doesn't talk about that - instead it gets us stirred up about things that, if not irrelevant, are at least relatively unimportant.  

Some abstract symbols have a history associated with racial hatred, and so out of respect for the feelings of those who take that symbol to be associated with that hatred I choose not to display the symbols. But the abstract symbol is not the problem. I am not obligated to hold their beliefs about what any particular abstract symbol means. And while I may choose to respect their feelings on it, I refuse to be a slave to those feelings. Their feelings about things should not control my behavior because while I may choose to defer to them from time to time ultimately their feelings about what they believe an abstract symbol stands for are their problem, not my responsibility. 


To take any other position will hasten us down the path where everyone seeks the role of aggrieved victim because claims of "victimhood" are the basis for power claims over one's fellow citizens. There was a time when people had too much dignity to seek out the role of "victim", but that was before it became the smoothest path to getting one's way. This will lead to a degenerate society where those with the least dignity will have the most power. That is what I urge you dear reader, to resist.

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