Friday, February 06, 2009

Ruminations 6: On Flags

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer)

This is another in what I hope to be a month long series of aphoristic (ἀφορισμός) essays, meant to provoke thought rather than explain it. The hope is that, built up on each other, the series will provide a matrix of thoughts that together might lead the reader in new directions. Though each can be read independently of the others, they are intended to be read together and against each other.
Gesture can be the most condensed aphoristic expression. In human communities in which substance has grown too complex, or too contentious, it serves as a substitute for thought. Indeed, it serves as a negation of rationality. Gesture, especially in the religious and political sphere, can sometimes itself serve as a meta-gesture--one that beyond the complex of direct substance suggested also evokes a greater norm. Increasingly that meta-gesture is anti-rational. Gesture reaffirms the rejection of rational thought and substitutes for it something simpler--sensibility.

These notions are encapsulated in the ostensibly religious but actually anti-rationalist gestures that erupted in the context of the Mohamed cartoons. The gesture serves as simplification, and as simplified, the nexus point for emotion. And emotion serves as the cover for desire. Lust for something substitutes for Logos, for thought, in an easily discernible way. See, e.g., Reza Aslan, Depicting Mohammed: Why I'm Offended by the Danish Cartoons of the Prophet, Slate, Feb. 8, 2006. In this guise gesture becomes a substitute for moral, ethical, religious and political systems. The gesture folds in on itself and reduces the world to the essence of the gesture.

Gesture, in this sense is both transnational, trans-religious and beyond politics. Recently, the Basques have provided a wonderful example both of the power of gesture and its utility in other contexts. A Basque official invoked the power of gesture, grounded in sensibility, to effect the symbolic eviseration of the Spanish Kingdom--at least within the so-called Basque patrimony. See, Urkullu no está orgulloso de que la bandera española ondee en Vitoria porque se siente sólo vasco, La Vanguardia, Feb. 6, 2009.
El presidente del PNV, Iñigo Urkullu, ha dicho que no se siente orgulloso de que la bandera española ondee desde ayer en el exterior del Parlamento Vasco porque se siente "sólo vasco" y ha pedido que la enseña nacional no se utilice como símbolo para herir sentimientos. . . . "Imponer un emblema por encima de los sentimientos y en base a la legalidad" ha puntualizado Urkullu, no va a lograr "en absoluto" una mayor aceptación de los emblemas nacionales, sino que "hiere la sensibilidad", y se ha preguntado si no es mejor "dejar las cosas como están" si se cumple la legalidad. "Yo no me siento orgulloso y confiaría y esperaría a que hubiese una racionalidad para que, en base a los sentimientos, no procuráramos situaciones absurdas", ha concluido Urkullu.
Id. ("The president of the PNV [a political party], Iñigo Urkullu, has said that he does not feel pride that the Spanish flag has since yesterday flys outside the Basque Parliament because he feels himself 'only Basque' and has demanded that the national ensign not be used as a symbol to injure sensibilities. . . . 'To impose an emblem over [popular] sentiment and based merely on legality' Urkullu has pointed out, will not achieve 'at all' greater acceptance of the national emblems, but "offends sensibilities", and he wondered if might not be better to 'leave things as they are' if the letter of the law is respected. 'I do not feel proud and I trust and expect that there might be a rationale so that, grounded on popular sensibilities, absurd situations are avoided,' concluded Urkullu").

Gestures invoking sensibilities, sensibilities invoking emotion, emotion invoking action, make of greater impacts in a world in which the output of such 'sensible' action can be recorded , and thus recorded, used. That is the stuff of morals, ethics and politics today. It is a lesson that ought to be well learned--and acted out--in recordable form.

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