What is the meaning of a symbol, and who decides? More the the Confederate flag and monuments.

By analogy with words, anyone can say that any bunch of sounds is, for them, a symbol for something else concrete or abstract. Thus we have “water” and “eau”, both symbols that stand for H2O, which itself symbolizes the concrete stuff to which it refers. Further, anyone can invent a private language in which the sounds or letters “glorphat” refer to the same concrete stuff as water, eau, or H2O.

No one can deny that, for me, glorphat means water.

Of course, glorphat, while useful to me as a private symbol for water, is useless as communication because glorphat doesn’t symbolize anything to you or anyone else. Indeed, anyone can have a private meaning for what the rest of society uses to mean something else. Thus, I might say that “shoelace” for me refers to water, and no one could contradict me. Of course, everyone else, wishing to communicate accurately would be using shoelace to symbolize the thingies that tie running shoes.

Thus, it is logically possible for a person displaying the Confederate battle flag, or the Confederate Blood Stained Banner (as was done until recently in the Hillsborough County office building) to have a private meaning for that flag.

This comes down to the question as to how society creates the symbols that we use to communicate our thoughts about concrete and abstract things. How did “blog” arise to symbolize a particular form of electronic cyberspace communication?

Keeping in mind how blog came to symbolize that communication, I offer in evidence the thoughts of the guy who created the Confederate stainless banner, the second national flag of the Confederacy. (I’m pasting this material from here:)

Stainless banner

Source: Naval History & Heritage Command

And it’s also the same flag that was explicitly designed to symbolize “heaven ordained supremacy.” Syracuse University historian Jonathan Wilson, who studies antebellum American literature, tracked down the meaning of the second Confederate flag as described by its designer, Thompson.

The following is Thompson quoted in an excerpt from the book Our Flag by George Preble:

Paragraph 1

If that isn’t clear enough for you, Thompson then wrote that this new flag would “be hailed by the civilized world as THE WHITE MAN’S FLAG” (sic):

Paragraph 2

“THE WHITE MAN’S FLAG,” notably, was supposed to be “chaste.” The Civil War-era South (and other racists that followed them) were somewhat obsessed with the rape of white women by black men.

If you happened to see the recent movie Selma, about the famous civil rights march of the 1960s, you would have seen white people standing along the road as the marchers passed by. Some of those white people were waving the battle flag. Were they waving that flag because it symbolized the nobility, bravery, and courage of their ancestors? Why would they pick that particular moment to state publicly their views about their ancestors? Why would saying something about their brave ancestors be relevant to the situation at hand, to express a response to people marching for the right to vote?

I don’t think those white people were committing a non sequitur. They knew just what they were expressing, which was not just to say that they ancestors were brave, but that their ancestors’ fight for white supremacy and slavery was right and just. And that the marchers’ goal was wrong.

For the same reason, to transmit the same message, the South Carolina legislature mandated that the Confederate battle flag fly over the state house dome, just beneath the US national flag and the South Carolina flag. They didn’t pick the early 1960s to pass that law because it suddenly occurred to them to honor their ancestors. They were expressing their opposition to that era’s civil rights laws.

Just as a firm loses exclusive use of a trademark if they allow it to fall into general use, as Kleenex for tissue, so those Southern white people who assert that the Confederate battle flag only symbolizes the bravery of their ancestors have lost the use of their symbol because they have allowed and accepted racists and neo-Confederates to use that flag for their own causes. Where were those who wished only to honor their ancestors when the racists adopted the battle flag to symbolize white supremacy? Why weren’t they telling the racists to stop insulting the honorable memory of those valiant Confederate soldiers?

Well, I think I know the answers to my rhetorical questions.

What do you think?


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