Blogs by Kalikiano Kalei
Flagging Enthusiasms (Andy Rooney-like Thoughts)
10/6/2011 1:55:43 PM
Please be advised that no reflexive flag-wavers or persons of the politically correct sentimentality have been harmed or injured in the formulation of these thoughts.
FLAGGING ENTHUSIASMS (ANDY ROONEY LIKE THOUGHTS)
As one of the Governor’s ‘T-Men’ (Treasury Agent? No, merely a humble financial analyst…), I work in an area that is hypersaturated with flagpoles. Every building within a couple of thousand yards of our capitol building sprouts one of these things (some two or three) and collectively it’s a bit like being in a forest comprised of tall, white and thin metal trees. Naturally enough, each of those metal poles has a flag (or two or three) on it, so it sometimes seems as (locally, at any rate) if California’s beautiful spacious skies and amber waves of grain have more flags cluttering up the Sacramento landscape than anyone can either need or imagine. All of which is fine and good, since I’ve never been adverse to the sight of Old Glory painting the breezes.
The problem as I see it, doesn’t lie with the superabundant superfluity of these national symbols of freedom and liberty that sprout up from state government buildings, but with the fact that they spend most of their time loitering forlornly at about half-staff and not way up there at the top of the pole, where their inherent, designed-in flutter factor effect is most effectively employed.
Faced with the perplexing fact that our flags spend more time only half way up the poles than atop them, I have to conclude that we once again have that national disease called political correctness to thank for this depressing state of affairs, that is, the fact that in theory the flags are dipped to memorialize some recently departed person of extraordinary merit. ..or are they? While that isn’t a bad thing in and of itself (to lower flags to half staff in honor of some departed person of high repute), it strikes me as a disservice to just about everybody to lower them for every Tom, Dick & Harry who comes along (and departs just as quickly, most often). Nowadays they lower the flags to half-staff for a wide range of people that even includes local firefighters, KIA cops, and god knows who else.
It wouldn’t half surprise me to learn that the latest such honoree is the city’s Chief Dogcatcher, who choked on a Colonel Saunders’ Extra Crispy thigh bone a few days ago at lunch, after ordering the latest batch of pups and kittens to be euthanised at the city shelter. Or perhaps the state’s Chief Accountant (who Heimlich’d-out on some of his own financial projections for the State Budget). Regardless of who the new ‘hero of the moment’ actually is, I think my point comes across clearly enough.
I am old enough (I regret to say) to recall the 1950s, a time when lowering the national flag to half staff usually meant that the President himself had died. In those days this was an honor reserved for only the most prominent national figures and typically only those at the highest very level of government, at that. Then slam-bang, along came the ‘PC sickness’ contagion…a condition that became almost epidemic after the 9/11 attack on capitalism’s High Holies (the World Trade Center). Suddenly American insecurity, in the form of every simple person in the entire population, demanded that we make everyone heroes and the more the better. Fairly soon we became inundated with ‘hero-this’ and ‘hero-that’ virtually every moment of each day. Before long ordinary soldiers fighting America’s totally unnecessary war in Iraq were all heroes (just for being over there). Firefighters who stubbed their toes saving a kitten from a local tree were heroes. In short order we had so many ‘heroes’ saturating our culture that there weren’t enough ways to honor them all, let alone enough flagpoles to lower flags on or flags to wave for.
Viewing all this obsessive national preoccupation with heroes and heroism is more than mildly amusing. Or would be, if it weren’t such a slamming indictment against what passes for common ‘public wisdom’ these days. It all leads one to suspect that the rampant media brainlessness underlying TV show dreck like ‘American Idol’, ‘Dancing with the Stars’, and all those smarmy reality shows that our intelligence continues to be insulted by, have resulted in a massive lowering of both corporate and private social intelligence levels to the point of near extinction.
Interestingly, it also brings to mind another form of national insecurity on the other side of the political spectrum during the ‘Cold War’ period of the 50s, 60s and early 70s. I reference here no other nation than the Soviet Union, with its sublimely preternatural tendency to award Soviet citizens ‘hero medals’ for just about any excuse conceivable by the lowest apparatchik minion. One American cartoonist of that era in particular (George Lichty) gained a considerable following among news paper readers for his pungent lampooning of the convoluted Soviet state bureaucracy, depicting potato-shaped Soviet citizens in his ‘GRIN & BEAR IT’ cartoon series who invariably all sported five pointed star shaped medals with ‘HERO’ inscribed upon them. In 1965 such was Lichty’s popularity that a collection of his Soviet lampooning cartoons were published under the title of ‘IS PARTY LINE, COMRADE!’ It is of course no coincidence at all that Lichty’s zany and whimsically adroit sense of satire lay behind his also being also a key member of the fabulous San Francisco musical anomaly known as the ‘Guckenheimer Sour Kraut Band’ (George played percussion; for more on this see an article I’ve written on this subject titled ‘Guckenheimer Music for Non-thinkers’).
The tendency to ‘heroise’ lives or events far beyond what ordinary social prudence or civic constraint would deem reasonable and tasteful is, as any psychologist would likely affirm, most often attributable to a heightened sense of broad-based, anxious uncertainty and the sort of amorphous insecurity that finds release in symbol-specific objectivication of fears therein. It is no coincidence that most fascist regimes (and other repressive forms of governmental state politics) tend to create national heroes at the drop of a hat, and after the events of 2001 declared to the world that the Christian/Jewish capitalist world was under fire by terrorists, there was a consequent uptick apparent in our sudden impulse to find ‘genuine’ American heroes under just about every rock & mushroom. Regrettably, like all obsessions, this compulsion to make everyone somehow heroic has resulted in a discernible cheapening of the word itself, let alone a proportionate reflective diminishment of special honor or worth normally associated with the concept of ‘heroism’. The same dynamic works continuously throughout our society at all levels as the emotionally unstable masses become fixated on yet another symbol and run it into the ground from sheer over-emphasis. It would seem that a disproportionate amount of this dumbed-down behavior centers on the American flag, which has become, in my opinion, one of the most abused of our national symbols, thanks to highly reactive,brain cell deficit behavior such as I am describing here.
I have in the past often remarked on my particularly intense distaste for those simple souls among us whose naive concept of patriotism consists of a reflexive clutching of the nearest flag (or other national symbol) and waving it frantically (either in actual fact or virtually) whenever their lowest-common-denominator political biases and prejudices are threatened or impugned. You can see this in neighborhoods all over the country where homeowners have hastily tacked up flags outside their doors that they fly day and night, un-illuminated (as prescribed by official flag etiquette) after dark and generally thereafter allowed to flutter themselves into filthy limp rags from neglect. Explaining to these blithe souls that proper display of the flag is strictly governed by rules and prescribed by precise protocols generally results only in a reactive display of verbal belligerence, since none of these individuals seems to realise that flying a dirty, neglected American flag until it starts to physically deteriorate is actually an act of the greatest disrespect.
Another wonderful little vignette involving ‘flag abuse’ relates to flying miniature American flags on automobiles or motorcycles, a tasteless nuance of misplaced national enthusiasm that is also all too common everywhere today. Our local US Post Office employs one such ‘reflexive flag waver’ who has not just one, but two small American flags clipped to the rain gutters of his car where they progressively become dirty, frayed and faded. Local auto parts stores, quick to scent another source of cheap retail profit, sell these flimsily made ‘clip-on’ flags to three brain cell patriots like this chap, who think that flag waving somehow connotes their having an exceptional (heroic?) regard for their nation.
Still another example of this collective American insecurity takes the form of those small US flag patches that you see on just about every item of uniform clothing these days, whether of the US military, civic or even commercial type. I recall several years ago that an aviation colleague sewed one on his flight suit above the left sleeve ‘cigarette’ pocket. When I tried to gently suggest to him that I personally didn’t need to wear a flag on my flight suit to remind me what nation I lived in (and flew or fought for), he failed to get the message, convinced that it was the patriotic thing to do and a somehow mandatory accoutrement for any red-blooded American worth his sporterised, NRA approved, military grade, semi-automatic deer rifle.
Unfortunately, as any philosopher will hastily affirm, talk is cheap (just tune into any of today’s ‘news-talk’ radio programs) and these tacky displays of superficial symbolism have about as much to do with anything of seriously substantial moral or ethical consequence as horse exhaust does with oxygen (aside from the fact that they’re both gaseous, it should be hard to ignore the fact that they’re associated with two different parts of the anatomy, first of all).
But to return to the flag pole fixation, excessive over-emphasis of anything (whether flags or heroes) soon diminishes and/or reduces any inherent value-validity these objects may have at the onset. Making everyone a hero simply guarantees that someone who has truly done something of extraordinary merit will receive no more than the same sort of passing mention that all the pseudo-heroes get before all are quickly forgotten in the next mad rush to affirm someone’s self-worth or esteem equally. The fact that our local flags spend so much of their time fluttering at half-staff means that the act of flag-lowering itself stands in dire jeopardy of losing any vestige whatsoever of meritorious meaning. In fact, now that I think more about it, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen our many local governmental flags flying at the top of their staffs!
Speaking of self-worth and self-esteem as mechanisms underlying our frantic national PC endorsement of ‘heroism’, I should mention in passing that ‘self-esteem’ (or a lack of it, actually) was until very recently isolated and focused upon as one of the principal ‘disenabling properties’ suffered by under-achieving students in our schools. First recognised as a possible explanatory hypothesis to understand why some students consistently underachieve academically, towards the end of the 1960s psychologist Nathaniel Branden’s book (Psychology of Self-Esteem) on the subject caught the attention of educators everywhere. Very soon his book became the hard nucleus of a movement within America’s schools to help socially or financially disadvantaged children overcome possible deficits in self-regard, and thereby (so the theory proposed) enable them to achieve substantial qualitative success in their learning efforts by overcoming socio-economic adversities.
Like all theories that seem too perfect to be true, the actual substance of Dr. Branden’s hypothesis was rapidly submerged in all the public excitement that attended it, to the point where it became immediately (one could almost say ‘blindly’) embraced as an academic gospel of holy writ by all progressive educators. Before long, all children determined to be somehow ‘disadvantaged’ in a learning environment were ‘assisted’ in various ways to achieve superficial parity with their smarter and more capable peers.
Totally ignoring the distinct possibility that the preponderant majority of poor achievers may have lacked the basic resources wherewithal (read: intelligence) to achieve, it wasn’t long before rather than stimulating students to excel on their own merits and hard work, the standards themselves were lowered to accomplish a rough (and less arduous) approximation of the same effect. This resulted in the present day ‘dumbing down’ process that has today turned the average modern day American high school education into an accelerated junior high school equivalency and the typical community college academic experience into an only slightly improved high school curricula. Instead of increasing inherent abilities of poorer students, the ‘self-esteem’ movement has simply further penalised the truly bright kids by giving their academic needs subordinate support, subsequent to disproportionately supporting the substantially complex and expensive demands imposed by the ‘special needs programs’.
In a subtle but damning parallel manner, placing unhealthy emphasis on the thoughts, concerns and concepts of those individuals possessed of far lower conscious awareness (than those extant in the upper levels of American society) has merely resulted in a bastardisation of ascendant social values, precepts, understandings and consciousness in America today. By tolerantly pandering to the sort of emotional vapidity characterised (in part) by the obsessive, popular PC ‘hero’ process one sees everywhere in American society today, we have greatly devalued any attempts to elevate common ‘greatness’, but have also simultaneously acted to substantively undermine the preservation of that most threatened of all civilized assets known to us as ‘common sense’. Thus, when heroes become a dime-a-dozen and run-of-the-mill fare, there’s precious little intrinsic high honor left over for the one or two genuinely heroic individuals among us who may occasionally perform truly extraordinary feats of personal sacrifice for the good of others at their own expense.
Self esteem, both as a pet theory for educators and as a sweeping movement that became broadly popular across the nation, has in very recent times been amply demonstrated to be just as ineffective in turning dummies into smarties as any other popular academic theory, but of course it is not politically correct to suggest that most of the dummies are actually the victims of their own paucity of intellect! Sadly, nothing short of a complete infusion of new and smarter genes and/or perhaps a brain-transplant operation will ever produce the desired result in a large percentage of the hard-core ‘dummy population’, but it is impossible to say this publically and openly (especially in California) for obvious reasons.
Meanwhile, instead of facing the unpleasant task of straight-forwardly calling the ‘emperor’ to task for not wearing clothes, we choose to instead remain moral cowards by persisting in catering to the lowest common denominator assets of the herd (who admire his imaginary duds), despite the fact that by doing so we are serving to measurably retard the advance of enlightenment in American society. Consequently, we persist in allowing politically correct ‘wisdumb’ to dictate our behavior and interactions absolutely at all levels of American society.
Until such a time that most individuals manage to throw off the yoke of crippling PC constraint to actively and fearlessly address such matters, we will likely remain to be a nation of five-cent heroes, who reflexively lower our flags to half staff every time some public person hiccups (or farts), and fly raggedy old, trashed-out polyester American flags (made in China) in front of our homes until they resemble shapeless, tattered red, white and blue rags. But don’t hold your collective breath, amigos, as that behavioral epiphany ain’t goin’ to happen anytime within our lifetimes!
And that reminds me. You don’t ever want to follow too closely behind me out there on the capitol grounds, as I’m likely to come to an abrupt and complete stop to marvel at such a rare and near-miraculous event as an American flag actually fluttering at the very crest of its pole!
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