Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The cross and the flag

Let's compare the Confederate flag to the cross. By the "cross," I don't mean the theology of the cross or the death of Christ. I mean an object or image in the shape of a cross that's used as a symbol of Christianity.

Now both the flag and the cross are potentially offensive. There are Muslims, Jews, and atheists who find the cross offputting. 

That's because the cross can symbolize different things to different people. To some Jews, it represents a history of anti-Semitism. 

Likewise, the Confederate flag represents different things to different people. For some, it's the Southern equivalent of the swastika. And depending on your viewpoint, that's either good or bad. If you're a skinhead or kinist, that's good–which makes you bad. 

For some, it's the Southern equivalent of the Gadsden flag: "Don't tread on me." A libertarian symbol with no racial overtones. Rather, a statement about limited government.

There is, however, a basic difference. The cross is worth defending in a way the Confederate flag is not. The cross has an intrinsic symbolic value which the Confederate flag does not and cannot. 

Predictably, there's currently a movement to "take the flag down." So we have a racist massacre in Charleston, and the response is: Let's march to remove the flag! 

That illustrates the utter superficiality and illogicality of many people. As if engaging in grand empty gestures, tweaking the symbolism, resorting to feel-good non sequiturs, is a solution to the perceived problem. Let's remove the flag, then go back to life as usual. But that change changes nothing. If there's something that needs to be changed, something that can be changed, that changes makes no difference. It just trivialize the issue, and gives people a false sense of accomplishment. But that's all some people want. 

I'd add that according to David French, the Confederate flag doesn't fly over the state capitol. That's ignorant or mendacious news coverage: 

I agree with French that it makes sense to fly it at historic cemeteries and civil war memorials. 

That said, this isn't a great cause to fight for one way or the other. The Confederate flag is the symbol of a deservedly lost cause. It's not worth defending in itself. It's just that we should avoid effacing history. 

On the other hand, it's not as if the Confederate flag is a talisman that casts a spell on the viewer. It has no hypnotic powers of suggestion. It doesn't turn white Southern peaceniks into raving raging killers. We need to maintain a sense of perspective in both directions. 

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