Friday, June 11, 2010

Political Faux Pas

In Gulliver's Travels, the Lilliputians went to war against...darn it, "Bl" something, three or four syllables...(Blefuscu - had to look it up)...some neighboring tribe who cracked their eggs on the wrong side. The point being that wars are often fought over unimportant issues, if one takes the long view. From an extremely long view, in fact, much of the motive behind all wars looks small. If someone were to describe an ongoing skirmish in Mongolia, everyone who is not Mongolian might have trouble figuring out who they think is in the right.

Before we look down on too many others, however, it pays to remember that all of us are on the inside in some competition or another, and could hardly be convinced our loyalty and sense of rightness are silly. It is considered a sign of enlightenment to be able to view one's own culture from the outside, and great objectivity to be able to think one's culture is deeply wrong in some way. Yet to step out of one culture is only to step into another. The liberal's suspicion of patriotism in a traditional sense, so well exemplified by Obama's half-hearted "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism, and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism," is not the wise objectivity it thinks it is. That is merely the belief of an entire subculture of Americans to which Obama belongs. It is its own tribe, disdaining another tribe for cracking eggs on the wrong end, by wearing flag pins or whatever.

The flag-pin wearing tribe, despite their declaration that they reflect real America, are also but another group with its own signs and countersigns. Politicians stay in office by flashing the signs of as many groups as they can get away with - and as we saw with Obama and the flag-pin controversy, not flashing a sign is itself a sign.

When called on it, tribal advocates become deceitful, trying to pretend that they aren't displaying cultural markers and are just trying to look at things rationally.
A: Some people think that you have to wear a flag pin to be a patriot but we reject that shallow...
B: No, we're not saying that you have to, but if you're the president of the US, why wouldn't you want to...

Peace. It is a cultural marker. The A's rejoice that Obama stuffed it in the face of the B's, all the while pretending that they are only saying that flag pins aren't . The B's seize upon this small thing as indicators of a dozen other beliefs they are sure Obama must have. B's like flags. A's don't. Lots of folks get caught in between. WWII vets who are Roosevelt Democrats and like displaying the flag. Whitebread Republicans who find any sort of display suspect.

To be continued...

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