Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Politics, the Flag, and America

The Success Blog is becoming too political - not in content, but it form - and to me, at this time, in this country, most things political don't find close kinship with the things I call successful. Lets give fewer answers and ask more questions. What would that lead to?



In this picture, the American flag looks backwards. But what does that really mean? A flag, after all, is two-sided, and unless it is symmetrical along its vertical axis, any flag will look different from one side than from the other. So is this flag backward or are we just seeing it from a new perspective. Is the wind blowing the wrong way? Would this picture be more correct if I simply reversed it, so that the stars and stripes stream out to the right, as they should. Or should they? Do we like the flag-pole on the left because it is how we read our books - anchored on the left and free-wheeling on the right? Our terms for politics and lifestyles seem to be the reverse. In Japan, do they like their pictures of flags like this? So it matches their books? Do they care? The Japanese have a nice symmetrical flag - it's never the wrong direction. Does that reflect something about their culture? Can a flag really tell us something about the people it represents? The Japanese flag is the same from all sides. Are the Japanese people? Is Japan? Did Betsy Ross decide that Americans were pretty damn complicated, and they needed a pretty damn complicated flag? Does the flag look different from all sides because we, as people and as a nation, look different from all sides? Or, was Ms. Ross simply handier with thread and needle than her Asian counterpart? Possible. All possible. But unlikely. The two-sided nature of our flag probably has nothing to do with the two-sided nature of our politics, our lifestyles, and our morals. It probably has nothing to do with why, as Michael Barone writes in the latest US N&WR, "the world's most egalitarian nation allow such a yawning gap between rich and poor". It is probably unrelated to whatever it is that lets a nation of immigrants striving for inclusiveness "square with its history of division and racial strife". The asymmetrical pattern of stars and stripes probably goes no further than its representation of the 13 original colonies and 50 states that we learned in elementary school. Even so, it seems an apt icon for understanding the duality of our nation and how, from one side, we are made to appear just, good, and peaceful, while from the other, we are hopelessly backwards and hypocritical. Are these views really of the same thing? Are we all loking at the same flag? Probably not. Unfortunately, politcs is not as simple as a flag. Even a complex flag such as ours, that looks backward from one side, but frontward from the other, is clean and simple compared with the thick allusions and layers of politics.

The flag in the picture, with the sun shining through it, could easily be a symbol for democracy. Each side looks different, but both have the same 13 stripes and the same 50 stars. While you will always find yourself on one side of the flag or the other, neither side is impenetrable to light, and it is impossible to be one side, looking, without having some idea of what the other side must be seeing. Many people will still view one side of the flag as forwards, and the other as backwards, but no one will be able to get rid of either side without losing their own. The politics, like the flag, would be transparent, or, at least, translucent, and no one could use it to hide. I suppose that in an ideal democracy, the flag wouldn't be merely two-sided. The greens would have a side, and the independents, and the workers, and maybe Nader would like a side all to himself, and that would be ok. There would be as many sides as there were people who wanted one - and they would always be there, and none of them could be removed without it affecting the whole flag. It's hard to picture a flag with that many sides that were all connected mirrored; and sadly, it’s equally as hard to imagine a government of the same kind. Yet our flag, with all of its simple complexity, and it's humble two sides, could be a start. At the very least, it might make someone think - and we could all use more of that.

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