I have been having a bit of trouble coming up with something to blog about since I had a pretty nice weekend, and I'm not particularly angry about anything right now. We went to visit my sister, my wife and I attended a wonderful SCA(medieval recreationist stuff) event, I finally heard from my two favorite students, and we actually made some progress on the apartment. Yesterday, though, I saw something that got me thinking. (yes, I know. that can be dangerous) I saw a bumper sticker on a huge pick-up truck that had two Confederate flags, and between them read 'find out the truth before you judge'(or words to that effect). That made me pause. I do try to question my own beliefs from time to time, or when presented with an unexpected viewpoint I will attempt to see things from that angle, so I started wondering if perhaps I needed more information about the realities of what the Confederate flag represents. I planned to get on-line and do some research when something occurred to me. Symbolism is not rooted in rationality or research. It lives deep in the mind, in that same place where there are monsters under the bed, and angels over our pillows.
Symbols are the shorthand for our visceral reactions. I would imagine that the parts of our brains that respond to symbols are among the oldest; carrying instincts from pre-language humanity, when a picture (or eviscerated buffalo carcass) was literally worth a thousand words. It doesn't matter that there were many black people who fought for the South in the civil war, all that matters is that today the rebel 'stars and bars' stirs instinctive anger in some, instinctive patriotism in others. The true history of the symbol, while surely important, is rendered irrelevant by our emotions. And if you feel that I am in error about this, and I certainly welcome comments, let me put forth another example. The swastika has been around for centuries. It was used in countless forms by cultures as diverse as the Navaho, Hindu, and Bhuddists. But a little over 60 years or so ago a charismatic madman took this ancient symbol and forever tarnished it with blood. Perhaps, in time, Hitler will become a minor footnote in human history, but for now the swastika, with all of its positive cultural ancestry, is instantly recognized as representing hatred, and horror, and fear.
So what's my point? To be honest I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps I want to encourage people to question their deepest beliefs. Maybe I want people to be more understanding when others disagree vehemently about those beliefs. Maybe I'm just killing time before going to work. We just don't know. ;-)