Flag Waving, Parental Dilemma

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org & Knatz.com / Personal / Stories / pk by Age / FLEX Net Years /
early 1970s, @ K. 2006 02 20

I learned to pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America in school, same as anybody else. I didn’t know what the hell it meant, same as anybody else. As I came to adult consciousness I deliberately distanced myself from emotional attachment to patriotic symbols. I distinguished map from territory long before I ever heard of Korzybski or had a clue what his General Semantics were about. It wasn’t just politics: the cross as an idea affects me today, the cross as a piece of wood, metal, a drawing, a painting … means no more to me than the fish scales in my boat.

I learned the proper ceremony for folding the flag as a cub scout, but never had to practice it, not even in the army. (Those poor marines on display in DC!)

As public discomfort with Americas warring in Asia escalated with the war itself, the patriotic counter-measure of flag waving also escalated. People wore flag pins, taxis sported little flags on front bumpers.

By 1969 I was reading the New York Review of Books where Alfred Kazin, bless him, reviewed the law with respect to displays of the flag: nearly all the patriotic flag waving was in fact illegal, technically disrespectful, could be called treasonous. But of course no one enforced such laws against patriotic boors. Indeed I doubt that the cops would have understood these laws if they had them read to them: marines have to be drilled and drilled in them: and if they ran around sticking flags every which way they’d probably be doing it wrong too.

patriotic boors
thanx propagandatheory

(Gregory Bateson points out that the person who burns a flag is employing it as a symbol, with strong overtones of emotion, same as a person who takes off his hat, puffs up his chest, has his pulse quicken.)

In 1970, discovering Ivan Illich, reading his solution to kleptocratic civilization, I offered his non-regulating, non-licensing information network to all within the sound of my voice, the reach of my pen, from my mother-in-law’s apartment on Claremont Avenue where Hilary and I had agreed to live while her mother was transferred to Geneva for a year. We still had our own one-bedroom place on 116th Street but were sleeping and eating at Etta’s much more spacious multi-room apartment. Anyway: by 1970, 1971, little flags were everywhere. Brian, aged three or four, got a present, I don’t remember from whom, which once opened, proved to have a little flag sticking from it. This present arrived simultaneously with the news that Nixon had proceeded to bomb Laos and Cambodia.

Flags didn’t bother me: unless they were being waved in my face, unless they were being used aggressively: as an offensive weapon. When I saw the flag on Brian’s toy I said nothing, did nothing. I didn’t want to highlight it in any way.

Understand: the bulk of the buildings on Claremont Avenue’s west side are housing for Columbia faculty. Etta worked for the UN but her husband was a professor in Columbia Graduate Business School: Emile Benoit, awards, publications. (All of the buildings on Claremont Avenue’s east side WERE Columbia: in the form of Barnard College. Out front windows looked out onto the roof of the Barnard Library.) The west side of Claremont Avenue was a relatively sober place under any circumstances. The day after Nixon bombed Laos, the whole Morningside Heights environment was grim indeed: there was no flag waving on Morningside Heights.

Claremont Ave
Claremont Avenue
thanks, Corcoran.com

With one exception. Having an errand on Broadway I invited Brian came walk with me. For some reason he chose that moment to want to carry his little flag in his hand!

What should a father who all his life had wanted nothing but to be a caveman do? My decision was self-consistent: I did nothing (but blushed past my scalp into my hair). Down Claremont Avenue we walk, and over onto Broadway. Brian waved his flag, I ignored his flag, others scowled at him.

Three year old kid with something colorful and sinuous in his hand. I don’t think the scowlers took it too seriously. Above all, I didn’t want it noticed!

Do you know the joke? Father asks his son what he wants for Christmas. Kid says a tennis racket. Christmas morning, there’s his tennis racket. The father says, “OK, son. What’s your favorite present?” The kid says “My tennis racket.” The father says, “Now watch closely.” He takes the tennis racket, smacks it against the fire irons, beats it against the stones of the fireplace, opens the window and throws in out the window. The kid starts to grieve out loud. “Son,” the father says, “I just did you a huge favor, saved you untold amounts of money in the future. When you grow up, if you go to a shrink, instead of taking fifteen years at $100 per hour to try to dream stuff up to have been neurotic about, you can tell the shrink right out, in the first minute: ‘When I was a kid my father broke my tennis racket’.”

I did nothing because I didn’t want to implant any semantic confusions. What bk was waving was just some striped cloth on a stick. It didn’t want him to reify its symbolism.

I told my friend Phil of my difficulties with the situation. Phil, with his anti-war hair down to his waist, his beard down to his belly, who wore a pound of Tibetan bells and beads around his neck, unlike me was no pacifist. “You should have grabbed it from him and torn it to shreds before his eyes,” he said.

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About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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