Who should lead the charge in upgrading state flags? There is no definitive answer, and the search for one can be surprisingly confusing.
Let’s start by identifying three primary groups of players:
- Vexillologists (flag experts)
People who have an exceptional interest in flags (e.g. vexillologists) are typically the people who cry loudest for change. It makes sense, since they can see problems in current flags that are invisible to “amateurs.” It’s also important to make vexillologists part of the process because they understand the fundamentals of sound flag design.
Legislators are an indispensable part of the process for obvious reasons. No flag is going to be officially modified or adopted without legislative action.
The third group of players are ordinary citizens, and this is where things get a little weird. Most people don’t trust politicians, and for good reason. Moreover, many may not see eye to eye with vexillologists, either.
Psychological Roadblocks ˆ
There are some powerful psychological forces at work in the realm of symbols. Symbols can mean different things to different people, and they have enormous influence over people. Witness the people who say they are willing to fight for their flag. Or consider the irrational hatred many people have for the swastika, an ancient Asian symbol that was adopted by Adolf Hitler, who generations of propagandists have branded the most evil human being who ever lived.
Many people are “traditionalists” who are loathe to part with the symbols they grew up with, no matter how ugly or politically incorrect they may be. Take Nebraska, for example. Its flag is popularly considered America’s worst. Yet when a Nebraska senator courageously began working to replace it with a respectable flag, he was shot down by ordinary citizens.
Of course, legislators aren’t without fault. They have proved themselves almost unbelievably incompetent when it comes to upgrading state symbols. The most obvious problem is probably stonewalling. However, even when legislators are spurred into action, they often wind up shooting themselves in the foot. There are no better examples than Georgia and Mississippi, which adopted new flags that are worse than the original flags.
Nor are vexillologists perfect. Though most can agree on the fundamental rules of flag design, they vary wildly in the realms of aesthetics and symbolism. For example, some rank Maryland’s distinctive flag #1, while others decry it as a monstrosity. And what about Alabama’s flag? Does it represent the Confederacy, and does it matter?
There may also be a fourth group of players that are largely invisible. Imagine a vast conspiracy to defeat attempts to upgrade state symbols. Many people would call that a ludicrous idea.
Yet state symbols are highly politicized. A well organized movement is attempting to have English designated the official language in all 50 states. Another movement encourages states to adopt an “Honor and Remember Flag,” a phony patriotic symbol that supports the military-industrial complex. In studying past efforts top adopt new flags in various states, I’ve been struck by the legislators and citizens who insist on retaining existing flags because “Our ancestors fought for that flag!”
In fact, that’s one reason I favor upgrading state flags. Too many existing symbols are drenched in blood. I would prefer a new roster of symbols that gives the military-industrial complex and the war whores who support it a middle finger salute.
Unfortunately, the obstacles seem nearly insurmountable. How can one get vexillologists, legislators, and citizens on the same page, especially if an army of conspirators are pulling the strings?
Utah Leads the Way ˆ
Utah legislators may have found a workable solution, though it remains to be seen how their efforts will pan out. First, they simply took charge. They announced a campaign to adopt a new state flag, then sponsored a contest that solicited thousands of entries.
Critics complained that ordinary citizens weren’t asked if they wanted to adopt a new flag. It’s a tough call. I respect democracy, but I despise it at the same time. A democracy composed of ignorant or stupid people is a mobocracy, and there are plenty of stupid Americans. If we waited for the muddled masses to take charge, nothing would ever get done. In this case, I think legislators should be commended for taking the bull by the horns.
As consolation, Utah legislators retained the current flag as an official historic flag. That gives me an idea for what I think would be an intriguing experiment . . .
Imagine if legislators in one state or another took the initiative to adopt a new state flag that would have equal standing with the current flag, which would not be replaced. Residents would be free to fly whichever flag they prefer, and either flag could be flown at official functions. How would perceptions of the two flags change over time?
If such an experiment was carried out in Utah, I would venture to guess that only a minority of residents would embrace the new flag at first. However, the new flag might actually be more visible because 1) it’s more distinctive, and 2) most Utahns don’t fly the current flag to begin with. The new flag would also presumably have more traction with the tourism industry and various businesses. I suspect children and young people might embrace the new flag.
After a period of five or ten years, legislators could then retire the original flag if its popularity is warning significantly.
I don’t expect my idea to ever be implemented, but it would be a fascinating exercise, and it would be democratic without all the mobocracy. What do you think?