Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Thoughts on Symbols

Flag pins on lapels.  30 foot crosses in front yards.  Flaming crosses in fields next to US 301 in 1962 South Carolina.  Swastikas inked into hard skin doing hard time.  The Virgin Mary in thousands of upturned bathtubs on lawns throughout New England.  Pot leaf Tee shirts.  A brassy lady dressed in a drape, blindfolded and holding a scale.  A Bald Eagle grasping arrows and an olive branch.  Flags bearing stars and bars, a hammer and sickle or a crescent and a star - The list of symbols humans covet is endless.

Symbols.  Beacons or warnings.  Standards used to locate, isolate, and dedicate oneself to.  Notifications of one's tendencies, proclivities, and general outlook on the rest of the World.

I have from time to time attempted to incorporate symbols into my lifestyle. I did not have much luck.  I guess I just do not think much of symbols.  Oh, they have their uses, but it seems more often than not, the rabid symbol displayers often lose the intent of the symbol by over the top intense belief that their spin is the only spin on that symbol.  

Often, any offense taken when viewing a symbol is not what its public display was meant to illicit.  Symbols bring with them assumptions.  Assumptions can lead to trouble.

Symbols often create division instead of cohesion.  At least in my lifetime, that seems to be the case.  I think though it has been the case since the first symbol was considered.

Symbols often hide the reality that lurks behind their cheery facade.  

Symbols can confuse when opposing groups claim ownership. 

People would rather feel good waving, wearing  or praying to a symbol than living up to it.

Symbols and their misuse is universal.  It seems that no matter where you go, some group somewhere is abusing the good intentions of a symbol. 

Why is a person's worth based on the symbol they hang or don't hang in public?  I don't hang flags in my yard.  Am I a bad American then?  I don't automatically think of racism and hate for blacks when I see the Stars and Bars flying off some porch.  Does this make me racist?  Because I consider the statue of "blind justice" a crock of shit, does this mean I am not a law abiding citizen?

Martin Luther King once said a man should be measured not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character.  It seems somehow appropriate this week that his words have been hijacked by many who  support activities I am sure King would frown upon.  We have one group lead by a loony toon clown from the small screen who is according to some perverting the intentions of King by sponsoring a protest in DC this weekend.  This weekend that marks an anniversary of King's "I have a Dream" speech. 

This group is lead by folks who would limit freedoms rather than expand them.  They tend to be for fences to keep people out and against religions not bearing crosses.  They advocate division rather than inclusion.  They tend to wear symbols but have no clue what they mean.  They would rather feed the fires of fear than plant the seeds of hope.

And opposing this group, we have leaders who cannot or will not rise to the challenge their symbols represent.  Political expediency replacing idealistic fortitude just reinforces the other groups contentions and strengthens their accusations.  Neither side even comes close to living up to the ideals their symbols stand for.

So I ask you.  Why the Hell do we even bother creating these symbols we have no intention of living up to?


muddleglum said...

I sat and considered how many symbols I display. Zilch. I'm figuring I'm too word oriented. You're word oriented also, IMO, and that may be why you aren't as interested in mere pictures.

Yet, aren't words often bandied about like symbols? You know much more about people in the world than I ever will: Would you say that the same people who use symbols to separate also use words to the same effect?

BBC said...

I guess we can't live without them.

The Blog Fodder said...

Well thought out. The right has co-opted the Cross. Now they are co-opting Martin Luther King Jr. They have co-opted Springsteen's Born in the USA. Wonder if they ever listened to the words. Certainly didn't understand them at any rate.
I cannot understand why the Dems are backing down on this issue. They can take the high ground. Take back the Constitution. Take back the fight to maintain American freedoms. They need to attack, not retreat.

Demeur said...

Nothing more than corporate interests trying to stir up trouble by using some uneducated rubes.

PipeTobacco said...


Although I agree wholly with your essay about symbols (political, social, etc), in some ways aren't we all really chock full of symbols or at least symbolism whether we want to be or not. Take for example, your photo on your blog. It is filled with all sorts of detail that can be construed as symbolism... the bushiness of your beard, the color of your hair, the type of hat you wear. In the same vein, I suspect my pipe, my beard, my moustache, any aspect of my general countenance forms a symbol to people... for good or for bad.

To me, the more blatant symbols are merely a type of "shorthand notation" to convey a concept or an idea to people quickly. Unfortunately, symbols can also become corrupted from their original purpose. Perhaps the best example of this is the swastika... which prior to the Nazis corrupting the symbol to represent their evilness, the swastika was used by many cultures throughout the past 3,000 years to represent life, sun, power, strength, and good luck.... all positive things.

Thank you for your essay!


Randal Graves said...

Everything's a symbol.

PipeTobacco said...


I have a question to ask you about bicycles if you do not mind...

I have recently been biking frequently and have a new bicycle I have used for the last roughly 4 months. My questions are:

1. How often do you, as a very good rider with a very good bicycle, check and fill the pressure on your tires?

2. I gave up bike riding many, many years ago when I was 100 pounds heavier thinking that the reason my bicycles would always lose air from the tires is because I was too damn fat. But, now that I have a normal BMI, I am still finding frustration. I filled the brand new tires of my bicycle to the recommended pressure of 70 PSI, and went about my merry way. A month later, thinking the tires seemed soft when I rode, I checked them, and there was only 30 PSI in the tires. Is this normal?

3. The tires and tubes of the tires appeared fine, were not noticably misaligned, so I refilled the tires to 70 again, and kept riding. Perhaps because I was more sensitive to the issue, I rechecked the tires TWO weeks later and found that the pressure was right around between 35 and 40 PSI. Again, no noticable defects of any sort on the tire.

So... Is my air loss typical? Am I a doofus in thinking that the air pressure of my bicycle tires should stay STABLE for months like it does in my car and truck tires? Or, perhaps is it the NORM for people really *into* biking, to check the pressure and adjust the pressure of their tires before each ride? Does my tire/tube setup sound defective or abnormal? Or is it the norm?

If you are willing to answer these questions, I would be most appreciative. Yet, I also understand that you may not wish to answer them, so if that is the case... no problem.



David Barber said...

I'm with Randal. Everything's a symbol of some kind or other. The thing is, maybe symbols are like laws in a way and people break them all the time. Every country in the world will have a symbol for peace, be it a dove or an olive twig, yet most countries in the world will break that!

Just saying. Have a great weekend, mate.

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