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The American Flag Is Particular, Exclusive, and Nationalistic. Not That There’s Anything Wrong with That.

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Broken clocks tell the right time twice daily. The academic Left does not stumble across the truth quite that often, but Matthew Guevara, a student in the University of California-Irvine’s School of Social Ecology (link no longer available)—mission: “transformative research to alleviate social inequality and human suffering”—has. He put a resolution before a student-government committee to ban the American flag—okay, all flags, but still—as a particular, separating, and yet also a simultaneously homogenizing symbol that ought to be excluded in the name of inclusivity.

Conservatives were outraged. Multiculturalists, likely not recognizing this assault on the concept of culture, surely applauded. Lost in the din was that Guevara’s premise was right even if his conclusion wasn’t. Premise: The flag is particular and exclusive. That is the point of political identity. The font of wisdom flows as to the conclusion, namely: Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The resolution, passing on a vote of 6 to 4 with—seriously?—two abstentions, stood for four antic days before being overturned by a higher committee of the student body, with profuse apologies from UC-Irvine students and administration. Enter a predictably (if excusably) scandalized elected official or two, with the bright idea of a state constitutional amendment—again, seriously?—that would ban the banning of Old Glory.

Yet Guevara may have accidentally done the polity a favor by, in the course of expressing his disdain for the flag, articulating a powerful case for particularity. Without it, there cannot be politics. To be a citizen is to be attached to the very thing that offends Guevara: the particular.

The particular by definition separates, excludes and identifies. It does not thereby deride. It simply says the concept of citizenship—as against the doctrinaire contradiction of “global citizenship”—inheres in the particular.

Flags remind us of this, and so does Guevara. To be sure, he means thereby to rile us, and some of his attempts to do so partake of patent silliness, as in such horribles as: “Whereas the American flag is commonly flown in government public service locations, military related entities, at homes, in foreign lands where the US government has a presence . . . ” or, “Whereas the American flag has been flown in instances of colonialism and imperialism . . . ”

If we can look past these outrages—behold, the horror of “homes”!—we might see things worth preserving, such as that flags are “patriotic symbols of a single nation.” Similarly, “flags function specifically for a nation.” Yes, they do: a single nation; a specific nation. That’s why they exist. Flags “separate[e],” to use the word against which the resolution revolts, even as it says that in separating, spaces should not require “undue effort”—what can one say?—on the part of visitors.

Political communities also separate, as do the academic Left’s beloved cultures. This creates difference. Provided it is associated with earned, admirable qualities, difference is a legitimate object of pride. Difference is among the reasons that men—sorry, human beings—are political animals, so one wonders what, precisely, is wrong with the fact that flags “have a wide variety of interpretations.”

One challenge that political communities face is therefore to bind themselves in the common amid the diverse. Flags serve this purpose, too, and this, the resolution also condemns. “Whereas people are assimilated into national ideologies by deployment of this cultural artifact. Whereas flags construct paradigms of conformity and sets [sic] homogenized standards for others to obtain which in this country typically are idolized as freedom, equality, and democracy.”

The armchair observer of postmodernism, which is the best kind of observer of postmodernism, will recognize the significance of “construct” in that passage, and this one: “Whereas flags not only serve as symbols of patriotism or weapons for nationalism, but also construct cultural mythologies and narratives that in turn charge nationalistic sentiments.”

“Mythologies,” one presumes, is a dirty word. Or not—since, in postmodernism, everything is a mythology and, come to think of it, nothing can be definitively said to be a dirty word. In any case, nations certainly construct narratives, which is to say traditions on which the shared experience of history is based. These make nationhood possible.

The alternative, of course, is the vaunted “world without borders” presumably preferred by Guevara. But borders make self-defense possible. They make identity, fraternity and community meaningful. They also, for the record, enable income redistribution, environmental regulation and, among other goods, hauling away the trash.

Of course, much else in the resolution is gibberish, as in this head-spinning non sequitur: “Whereas freedom of speech is a valued right that ASUCI [the student group] supports. Whereas freedom of speech, in a space that aims to be as inclusive as possible can be interpreted as hate speech.”

We go from there to sequence that turns the head at even greater speed: “Let it further be resolved that ASUCI make every effort to make the Associated Students main lobby space as inclusive as possible. Let it further be resolved that no flag, of any nation, may be hanged on the walls of the Associate Student main lobby space.”

How excluding flags includes is unclear to me. So is how the conclusion flows from the premises, which actually support this resolution:

“Let it further be resolved that our flag be hanged on the walls.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Reader Discussion

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on March 12, 2015 at 10:32:26 am

Here is an example of academic appeal to "infantilism:" Middle and High School attitudes extended and fomented - for what?

The discomforts of unsought associations; the fears of being left out; are all played upon by some to attain relative status within groups. Nothing new in that.

However, the original functions of "nationalism" *are* atrophying as the costs of the most effective means of controlled violence are rising and once again specializations are required for its effective exercise. The roles of ideologies are again emerging (but not reflected in this described event).

But, Professor Weiner is correct banners have been and remain unifying and identifying; from Nepal to my great grandfather's Schweiz - where manner banners fly in every canton and community. But, the symbols are never more than the underlying ideologies held by the people. Amongst California's youth that grasp is weal and insecure.

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R Richard Schweitzer
on March 12, 2015 at 19:05:21 pm

I wonder if Guevara would also advocate banning the display of Mexican flags at El Rasa meetings.
Surely, there are some myths that he would (or does endorse): The myth of "Latino -ness" - traced back to its historical precedents it may refer to all those people conquered or subject to the jurisdiction of Rome - oops, I guess that makes them European, doesn't it? But it is a nice myth if one dispenses with the Spanish Imperialism that subjugated the native peoples of Mexico and Central America.
I think the Aztec flag looked a little different than the one currently flying over Mexico City.

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gabe
on March 13, 2015 at 12:49:41 pm

[…] The American Flag Is Particular, Exclusive, and Nationalistic. Not That There’s Anything Wrong… […]

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Watson Comes to Law | Freedom's Floodgates
on March 13, 2015 at 23:39:46 pm

Some discussions are designed to illuminate. Others are designed to demagogue – and if distorting the truth serves the purpose of demagoguery, so be it. Guess what kind of discussion this one is?

The student resolution does nothing more than address the traditional “religion in the public square” debate: Perhaps we best promote equality and inclusiveness in the public square by excluding tribal symbols; perhaps we best promote equality/inclusiveness by establishing a uniform method by which members of each tribe have an equal opportunity to display their symbols; but it seems unlikely that the best way to promote equality/inclusiveness by displaying the symbols of only the dominant tribe.

The student resolution comes down on the side of excluding tribal symbols. You can favor that resolution; you can favor a contrary resolution. But there’s little reason to treat this familiar resolution as if it were somehow some bizarre innovation – unless your goal is demagoguery, of course.

The student resolution is not long; I encourage people to read it. The resolution does not call for a general banning of the American flag, or of all flags, out of some utopian drive for togetherness. Rather, it merely calls for removing them from the central lobby of the student union building – in essence, from the public square – in an effort to make everyone feel welcome, including people who might not have welcome associations with the American flag.

Weiner is apparently baffled that anyone might not find the American flag welcome. “Provided it is associated with earned, admirable qualities, difference is a legitimate object of pride.” Well, let’s see: the Nazis valued strength, a potentially earned, admirable quality, so does Weiner also favor flying the Swastika in the student union building, too?

Is it really so hard to grasp, as the students explain in their resolution, that “symbolism has negative and positive aspects that are interpreted differently by individuals”? Is it so hard to grasp that one way to avoid the negative aspects is to avoid needless symbols in the public square?

Apparently this is so hard to grasp. After all, Ray Moore professes to be baffled that anyone would be off-put by the presence of his Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama Supreme Court building. Perhaps when the symbols are of your own tribe, it escapes your ability to understand how others might see those symbols. Or perhaps you can understand it – but, as a member of the majority, you simply find it advantageous to demagogue the issue.

On November 13, 2003, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary unanimously removed Moore from his post as Chief Justice for refusing to remove the Ten Commandments monument from the Supreme Court building. And similarly, students passed a resolution to remove tribal symbols from the commons area of the student union building.

Weiner objects that such policies repress the free expression of tribalism. And this objection would be warranted if the Court of the Judiciary had ruled that Moore’s display could not be shown anywhere, or if the students had proposed banning the display of national flags anywhere. But no one proposed such policies. Rather, people simply observed that certain places are designed to promote equality and inclusiveness, and imposing symbols of the dominant tribe on those places frustrates this goal.

Bottom line: Weiner and Moore each love the symbols of their respective tribes, and see nothing wrong with compelling others to associate with those symbols whether they like it or not. The students passing the resolution, and Alabama Court of the Judiciary, differ. Regardless of their personal feelings about these symbols, they acknowledge that feelings are not universally shared among all who are entitled to use the commons. They reached their decisions because they prize equality and inclusion above their own personal preferences.

True, demagogues have subsequently distorted and exploited these decisions for their own purposes. But that is no comment on the merits of the decisions; that a comment on demagogues.

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nobody.really
on March 14, 2015 at 14:34:23 pm

While it is true that some discussions are designed to "demagogue", it is also true that many discussions are disguised to "cloak." Guess which one yours is?

I must ask are you now, or have you ever been, a technical advisor on the Starship Enterprise as you appear to enjoy, and are rather adept at, employing the Enterprise's *cloaking* device. It should be noted that this is a truly awesome and powerful technology allowing as it does for some massive object such as a starship, or in this case a rather tribalistic (racist, perhaps) venomous spewing of leftist agitprop, to simply disappear from the dialogue.
All that one need do is employ the façade of a calm and rational balancing of the alternatives (such as you present them) and suddenly the mal-historical, victim glorifying inanities of the left disappear.

Had Mr. Guevara and his ilk of likeminded souls with an alien conception of this nation / tribe simply limited themselves to some *positive* statement about inclusiveness, one could, perhaps, excuse their childish rants as they, no doubt, pursue / curry favor with their leftist ideologue professors. However, they went further and attributed to this tribe all the same old sins that this tribe has been accused of for the past one and a half centuries. It is that which is at issue here, not some balancing test, as you attempt to do by contrasting the Alabama Court's (Judge Moore, perhaps) action(s) in attempting to re-assert the validity of some time honored ethical prescriptions.
I do not recall the Alabama Court exhibiting contempt and disdain for other views - only an attempt to positively present these same time honored constructs. Da ya see a difference here?
I suspect you do but it is one which you choose to *cloak* so as to present Guevara and his ilk as reasonable and thoughtful actors. They, too, seem to have adopted the left's preference for the Enterprise's chief technological weapon against this *tribe* - cloaking their real intentions and sentiments behind the rhetoric of inclusiveness while again missing the massive object in their space - the inclusiveness of the criticized tribe which permits (indeed supports via State grants / scholarships, etc) their rather infantile and semi-literate rantings.

I must confess that nobody.really is a master of cloaking with his posture of rationality while all the while seeking to hide from plain sight the underlying motivations of the Guevara tribe which of course is seeking only inclusiveness - as they define it!!!

A battlefield promotion for you, Sir; now get thee back to the *cloaking* room.

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gabe
on March 14, 2015 at 17:30:46 pm

I do not recall the Alabama Court exhibiting contempt and disdain for other views – only an attempt to positively present these same time honored constructs. Da ya see a difference here?
I suspect you do....

You suspect correctly; I see and acknowledge that distinction.

And yet, the fact that Judge Moore's Ten Commandments monument did not specifically cast aspersions on any other world view did not spare it, or Moore, from being removed by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary. Thus, while I again acknowledge the distinction you draw, neither I nor the Alabama Court of the Judiciary find it relevant to the issue.

I will also concede that the student resolution contained some jargon and rationalizations that strike me as somewhat pretentious and overblown. But again, this is beside the issue.

The issue is whether and how to allow tribal symbols to be displayed in spaces that are supposed to be equally welcoming to people of all tribes. And it is not I, but you (and Weiner), who are side-stepping it.

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nobody.really
on March 15, 2015 at 12:03:41 pm

I wonder if these progressives decry the protections and benefits this nation provides. Granted things are slowly changing for the worse, in part due to the idiocies they subscribe to. Bet on it, a few may wake up when it's to late, most won't, the ego provides its own smoke screen.

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john trainor
on March 15, 2015 at 12:56:05 pm

No bad. But it's been said better:

"Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to."

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nobody.really
on March 15, 2015 at 14:26:12 pm

Just to be perfectly clear:

I am not side-stepping the *issue* - I am DENYING its validity and further asserting that the *issue* is a fiction, a fallacy, emanating from the fevered minds of the usual utopians. There are no spaces where all are equally welcomed if being welcomed means, as the leftists now seeks to define it as "never having to be offended," never having your own INSULAR belief system challenged. In this scenario of the left, even Mother Theresa must be brought to heel for I am certain that she offends someone, somewhere.
No, the left, as with Mr Guevara, sidesteps its own unwelcoming attitude toward those with a somewhat less alien conception of this nation and its flag and does so with the presumption that it is their RIGHT to be unwelcoming to the tribe of which they are allegedly a part. I assert that Guevara and his ilk have no such right nor is their any right to be free from unwelcoming sentiments, especially those that are self generated.

Yikes, Nobody! Life itself is offensive! or so the left must ultimately conclude (in fact some of our more virulent enviro-Nazis have so suggested).

You know, "when in Rome, do as the Romans do" - or at least have the good grace and sense to simply let them be - more importantly do not make it a point to tell them how screwed up they are. They may find that offensive and unwelcoming after all. Yet, the *grace* of the dominant tribe ( an attribute apparently absent on the left) is such that it allows (i.e., welcomes) the disjointed, semi-coherent buffoonery of the Guevara's of the world. Under such a scenario, who is the "welcomer?"

My goodness, at least the knuckleheads of my generation went off and formed communes so that they could live out their utopian fantasies. This group expects the rest of us to partake in their dystopia.

So, no. I ain't sidestepping the issue - I am DENYING it!!!!!

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gabe
on March 15, 2015 at 14:50:20 pm

Going back over words in those exchanges:

"Promote"

"Protect" (defend)

The distinctions in the motivations for each of those actions may be at the root of these ever so intellectual discourses.

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R Richard Schweitzer
on March 15, 2015 at 17:12:11 pm

I ain’t sidestepping the issue – I am DENYING it!!!!!

Fair enough. So we would appear to have two irreconcilable perspectives: The perspective of Ray Moore, Greg Weiner, and gabe, vs. the perspective of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary, the students, and nobody.really. So be it.

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nobody.really
on March 18, 2015 at 18:12:21 pm

Isn't one of the things that supposedly makes the Unites States distinctive among nations precisely its rejection of tribalism, and its insistence that national identity stems not from birth, but rather from a common commitment to shared and enlightened, liberal-in-the-old-fashioned-sense ideals?

One of the reasons that guys like James Forten, David Walker, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Luther King could insist that America was their birthright too, and that what MLK termed a "promissary note" included in its beneficiaries members of tribes alien to Anglo-American caucasians, was precisely that American nationalism is not premised on tribal identity.

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on March 18, 2015 at 18:35:35 pm

While I much agree with NR that it would be a smart and useful thing for everyone in the conversation to read carefully and reason from the text of what the students actually wrote (something that is apparent in the arguments so far adduced only of Greg Weiner and NR), I can not agree with her conclusions.

I take the ideals for which the flag stands--the "republic for which it stands" in the words those of us who attended public schools learned and recited at a young age--to be something to which all Awmericans have recourse. I think it is foolish, especially for members of subaltern groups, to dismiss these ideals as exclusively or even largely those of a dominant tribal group. Let us remember that one of the very first things dominant tribal groups do when they wish to oppress is to reserve access to firearms exclusively to members of the dominant tribe. Thus, in Reconstruction, terrorist organizations like the KKK or the Knights of the White Carmelia sought to, and succeeded in, disarming the former slaves. So the second amendment right to bear arms functions in part as a constitutional recourse to socially and culturally marginalized groups.

Nor would I wish to argue that the fifth amendment due process rights are somehow the exclusive ideals of a dominant tribe. Sure, we can all point to the ways in which our legal system fails to protect such groups. But that is precisely the point of these ideals, as a matter of aspiration. When they do fall far short as matters of practice, subaltern groups can appeal to them as a matter of national obligation that we all strive to live up to them. Recent events in NYC, Ferguson, and LA may spotlight the gap between ideal and lived reality. But the argument that the ideals, aspirations--MLK's dream--belong to all of us gives real rhetorical heft to the demand that possession of these ideals is not a matter of tribal affiliation.

I could go on. The United States is simply not a nation defined by tribe. We should, as a matter of aspiration, hope, and dream, demand that it continue not to be.

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on March 19, 2015 at 23:45:51 pm

I take the ideals for which the flag stands–the “republic for which it stands” in the words those of us who attended public schools learned and recited at a young age–to be something to which all Awmericans have recourse. I think it is foolish, especially for members of subaltern groups, to dismiss these ideals as exclusively or even largely those of a dominant tribal group. Let us remember that one of the very first things dominant tribal groups do when they wish to oppress is to reserve access to firearms exclusively to members of the dominant tribe. Thus, in Reconstruction, terrorist organizations like the KKK or the Knights of the White Carmelia sought to, and succeeded in, disarming the former slaves. So the second amendment right to bear arms functions in part as a constitutional recourse to socially and culturally marginalized groups.

Nor would I wish to argue that the fifth amendment due process rights are somehow the exclusive ideals of a dominant tribe. Sure, we can all point to the ways in which our legal system fails to protect such groups. But that is precisely the point of these ideals, as a matter of aspiration. When they do fall far short as matters of practice, subaltern groups can appeal to them as a matter of national obligation that we all strive to live up to them. Recent events in NYC, Ferguson, and LA may spotlight the gap between ideal and lived reality. But the argument that the ideals, aspirations–MLK’s dream–belong to all of us gives real rhetorical heft to the demand that possession of these ideals is not a matter of tribal affiliation.

I could go on. The United States is simply not a nation defined by tribe. We should, as a matter of aspiration, hope, and dream, demand that it continue not to be.

I share many of these ideals. That said, I don't find these arguments compelling.

1. The US unambiguously withholds citizenship from people who wish to have it, high ideals notwithstanding. So the suggestion that membership is somehow a function of aspiration, hope, and dream is simply false.

2. We're talking about the lobby of a university's student union building. Not all students are US citizens -- or even desire to become US citizens. The student resolution seeks to make all students welcome in the student union building, regardless of nationality.

3. I may think that everyone should acknowledge the debt they owe to the United States government, and to our creator God -- but it does not follow that the lobby of the student union building, or the lobby of a state supreme court building, is the appropriate place for me to make those arguments.

4. I may think that all right-thinking people should embrace the Enlightenment ideals of the Founders, and embrace Judeo-Christian values -- and I may even argue that membership in this fellowship of fellow believers is open to all, and thus no one is burdened by my insisting that everyone associate with the symbols of the belief systems I find so compelling. That said, I may also conclude that if my belief systems are as compelling as I say, I should NOT seek to foist them upon the unwilling. Rather, I should be perfectly content to leave the public square alone, confident in the knowledge that sentient beings will embrace those symbols of their own free will without any official coercion.

5. Regardless of what we might want the US flag to symbolize, people are free to draw their own conclusions. And ultimately, the US is just another nation, with the same faults and shortcomings nations have. Who better honors "the flag of the United States of America, and the Constitution for which it stands" -- the person who exercises free speech by burning a US flag, or the person who seeks to abrogate free speech by outlawing flag-burning? That's what's really at issue here: Do we want to honor equality in practice, or honor a SYMBOL of equality in denigration of that practice?

Or something like that.

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nobody.really
on March 20, 2015 at 17:46:59 pm

I think you have missed the point of my argument. I am concerned in what I write above to address your claim that the US is somehow a nation defined by tribalism. That is not an entirely implausible notion, since the root of the word nation--natio--is "tribe." And most nations historically have been defined by tribalism, albeit often as a kind of mythological move to create a shared identity.

But this sense of the word nation does not apply to the United States. Your claims above--many of which I am in agreement with you--do not address this argument.

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Kevin R. Hardwick

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