Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Thursday, June 15, 2006


I just found out that yesterday, June 14th, was Flag Day in the United States: the anniversary of the adoption of the Stars and Stripes by the Second Continental Congress in 1777. For me, this minor holiday seems particularly apropos, since I've been wondering how to respond to the big, waving US flag that a conservative friend recently sent me to upload onto my sidebar. Even though this was surely meant less as a favor than a challenge, I feel obliged to explain why I won't be displaying the image any time soon, and Flag Day gives me an excuse to present my explanation in the form of a tardy blog post.

Vague proclamations are all the rage, but I have no fondness for them. When a person says to me, “I'm very spiritual” or “I support the troops,” they could just as well say it in Cantonese, because they've communicated nothing at all. Flying a flag is similarly problematic—I guess the message it's commonly meant to invoke is “I'm proud to be an American.” The problem is, I'm not proud to be an American. I'm lucky to be an American, but I've done nothing to deserve the privileges of my citizenship. My father has the right to some pride in his citizenship, since getting it involved some actual work from him; all I had to do was be born here. Nationalistic chest-thumping is one thing if you're Lithuanian or Gambian, but when you're a member of the most privileged and powerful group on Earth, it's more than a little unseemly. I would no sooner don a t-shirt that read “Proud to be an American” than I would one that proclaimed “Proud to be a White Man.”

Another problem with ambiguous declarations is the many ways they can be misinterpreted. The American flag symbolizes so many disparate things. If it fit it in my sidebar, I could get behind the idea of posting the US Constitution there. No way to misread that. A flag, on the other hand, could be taken (for instance) as a signal of approval for an arrogant, knuckleheaded administration that mouths the rhetoric of democracy while consolidating power into an ever-finer focus. I simply can't allow that.

My sidebar is in sore need of a spring clean. I've been meaning to delete that stupid gematriculator thing for ages, and add to my blogroll, and eventually I'll do all of that. But Old Glory stays in my inbox.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's funny how involved pride in one's country is. I'm certainly proud to be a Canadian, and often reflect on how lucky that makes me. For the most part, although it is a rather nebulous distinction and hard to articulate, our manifistation of pride in country seems to be less jingoistic (if that is indeed a word).

We tend to wave the flag alot less. Proud of it, but you are more likely to see it a government office or school and less likely on someone's lawn, or the mud flaps of their pickup. There are some who bemoan this lack of "patriotism".

5:41 AM  
Blogger Carel Brest van Kempen said...

You're Canadian???!!!!!

9:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll agree with the idea of posting/carrying/displaying the Constitution. It's very sad how many people put up a flag and have never actually read that or any other important document applying to the government. In a documentary about the late Peter Jennings, I discovered that he actually carried a copy of the Constitution in his wallet, even though he wasn't an American citizen until his later life. That made me think about what "flying a flag" is about--or should be about, but rarely is.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Carel Brest van Kempen said...

I think that living in a foreign country as Peter Jennings (and you) did gives you a perspective that's hard to achieve otherwise.

2:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been thinking of putting up a flag (an actual physical one). But I have the same reservations about how it'd be perceived. Maybe if I flew it next to another flag. A cloth-printed copy of the constitution would be nice, but it'd be too small to read...

6:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out this letter to The Oregonian by Ron Betts, a Vietnam War vet. Thought it was right on the mark:

8:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, for awhile I had what I considered to be the most Canadian job in the world, that of a mountie in the High Arctic. Missed qualifying though... I don't play hockey.

9:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I wholeheartedly agree with your statement: "Vague proclamations...when a person says to me, 'I'm very spiritual' or 'I support the troops'...they've communicated nothing at all."

There are so many interpretations of "words" now more and more they become "obstacles to the truth".

Your post is very wise, and I think
that people who understand the cycles and rhythms of life rather than continually repeat banner "slogans" have a much better handle on what the TRUTH is ~ because they are in touch with the origins of TRUTH.

8:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I burned one three years ago, and, yes, on Flag Day. Always wanted to. Did so on the semi-privacy of my apartment balcony.

Maybe I'll work up to burning a copy of the Constitution, or a Bible, next!

9:07 PM  
Blogger Carel Brest van Kempen said...

Wim: I kind of like the idea of those black flags with an image of the Earth printed on them.
Gerry: Thanks for the link. I'm afraid I found his complaints a little pedestrian.
Clare: That's pretty cool--I can't think of too many jobs more romantic sounding than that.
Patty:Thanks very much. I have to admit to being surprised at the positive response to this post. I expected some flaming.
Gadfly: Thanks for dropping by. When you get right down to it...burning a flag, flying a flag...it's all really the same isn't it?

11:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You phrased that very well. I agree completely. I do fly the flag on certain days, but for me it's more about what I want this country to represent than what it has or does at the moment. if we study history at all, there is so much to be ashamed of in the history of America. Yes, good things but a lot of greed and destruction. But the promise this country was founded on, to me, that's worth still struggling to see fulfilled. Right now we don't have a lot to be proud of though given the deception and thievery that is going on of our nature and environment as well as the middle class's destruction-- which it is helping in its own demise. Frustrating times and I just had a rant... Too bad it didn't make me feel better...

I do like your blog-- that makes me feel better

9:14 AM  
Blogger Carel Brest van Kempen said...

Thanks, Rain. Your comments make me feel better.

8:14 PM  

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