Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Peeve: Symbol Abuse

Resolution #11: I will rant more, and more often. To help me accomplish this one, I am starting a new category of post, the peeve post, of which this will be the first. (Or third depending on what you think you're counting.)

I thought of trying to think of my greatest peeve, and then my next greatest peeve, and then my next, numbering them 1, 2, 3, &cetera until I ran out at 500 or so, but then I realized that I would have to have many of them listed in front of me before I could order them so well.

Also, I have often exposed my peeves in columns and other posts here. So I'll want to leave those in the archives and present many of my more obscure peeves in this new category.

I've decided to begin with one of my most obscure peeves, one which gets hardly any sympathy from people I've mentioned it to.

Symbol Abuse is what you get when unintelligent people, i.e. most everyone, can't or won't distinguish a symbol from that which the symbol symbolizes. Another name I have for it is Stupid Cat Mind, so named because when you try to point something out to a stupid cat he stares at your finger.

I've been a geometer and an artist. Two not so unrelated activities. I have a huge love of the visual and the graphic. So it really pisses me off when perfectly good simple graphic images, innocent inoffensive geometric figures, are treated as criminals.

[Above Left: Swastikas interlocking or disconnected create interesting planar tilings. Interlocking swastikas were often used to create ornamental friezes in pre-WW II architecture. Seattleites can see an example of such a frieze encircling the Smith Tower at 2nd & Yesler, near the top.]

The most egregious instance of this kind of Symbol Abuse was conducted by Hitler when he co-opted the swastika from Hinduism and some other Indo-European cultures to identify the NAZI party with a fictitious pure proto-Indo-European master race. (We now know that the earliest genetically pure ancestors of the Indo-Europeans were protozoa. Probably African protozoa.)

So first, Hitler spends a couple decades smearing an innocent symbol by linking it with racism, genocide, totalitarianism, fascism, and attempted world conquest and subjugation.

THEN, when it's all over and the aggrieved symbol should have been free, what do we get? Six decades plus of blaming the victim. People hate the swastika, instead of hating the bastards who raped it.

[Above Right: When is a symbol of fascism not a symbol of fascism? Context matters.]

Or, it goes the other way. People who SAY they care about what the US flag stands for, in practice only care about the flag itself.

The flag is NOT what it stands for. It's a symbol. It's no different than a word or a name. It points. Pay attention to what the pointer points at, stop looking at the pointer.

[Below: A US Military urban camouflage American flag patch. How symbol abuse bites you in the ass. Used to be, Americans marched into battle waving the Stars and Stripes. Now, because the symbol has become a talisman of loyalty and patriotism, rather than a communication to enemies and allies, our guys go to battle with disguised flags. Next they'll be carrying them on key chains in their back pockets. Instead of talking to the world, we're talking to ourselves.]

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