Saturday, September 11, 2010

Burn the Flag Poles, Not the Flag

My post on flag poles over at Garden Rant sure infuriated some folks. Here's the link.

Let me make it brutally clear that I was not attacking the American flag--I didn't even say I was. I was not attacking the memory of anyone's father, or anyone's service in the military. I don't know any of those who commented saying I was doing that, so how could I attack them? I honor the military men and women, the firefighters, the national guard, no matter what conflict our nation sends them to.

Today is the anniversary of 9/11, but it is not the anniversary of a religion or a culture attacking another. The overly-covered media orgy of that small-town pastor in Florida set to burn another religion's holiest book is a sensationlistic dumbing down of our greatest fears and the ignorance of too many people. Islam did not attack this country, radicals who have a twisted sense of Islam did. That's how the crusades started, that's how much of our country was founded and where much of western history comes from--rich white "Christian" guys (straight or gay) trying to preserve personal gain at the expense of other races, women, and cultures. They twisted religion, too.

Someone pointed out that American flags are mostly made overseas. Irony? Justice?
 
It's important to remember what the American flag stands for, if we are to make this an argument about the flag vs. about the landscaping (I was making the latter for pete's sake). America is a special place to live in, unique in the history of the world, and thank whatever god you believe in (we can still do so) that our best moments come from periods of polarization and freedom of speech.
 
At the same time, this country was founded on mass genocide--human and ecological, which continues to this second. This is not unique to our species across the planet, but the ability to reverse these effects politically, spiritually, fairly, and without bloodshed is firmly within this unique country's grasp. We occupy an incredible moment in history with great responsibility put upon our blip of a nation, and are wasting it glorifying ourselves through Wal Mart or turning our backs on even our own families and environments, let alone those across the world. (And how quickly we've forgotten the Gulf oil spill, where a layer of oil has been discovered on the sea floor, not dispersed by chemicals whose effects we also don't know. This spill is the environment's 9/11, and in turn will eventually be another one for us.)
 
I apologize for having an opinion in my Garden Rant post, and trying to do so somewhat sarcastically or light-heartedly. Humor doesn't travel well in writing most of the time. I apologize for exercising my American rights that several of those who commented on the post are wishing I didn't have. C'est la vie, but at least it's a life we have and can give to others when our federal government doesn't think about its own preservation (unlikely to happen), but the preservation of the human spirit and a nation's collective will or hope for a better life.
 
Let's see some plantings in neighborhoods that go beyond a few basic orange daylilies and river rock piled against the base of a flag pole. Let's see restoration of native species we plowed up and now call weeds. Let's restore the native ecosystems as best we can in the islands of our yards--it's the very, very least we can do. If that means a flag pole in a praire yard then by god let's do it! I'll raise whatever flag you have myself!
 
But we should have more than just lawn going up to our walls, as is the case in most homes in my neighborhood, or foreign species of blah plants like boxwood or barberry that have no ecological benefit at all. If we can't help each other, let's at least help the planet--yet the two are directly connected, the health of the planet is the mental and spiritual health of our own species. Just ask Michael Pollan, Rachel Carson, Richard Louv, Doug Tallamy, Terry Tempest Williams, or Wendell Berry. When I see bees pollinating flags, or flickers nesting on flag poles, I will take it all back.

27 comments:

Shyrlene said...

Thought provoking; an unexpected exercise of gray matter this morning - and appreciated. I'm looking forward to reading other feedback. --Shyrlene

Elephant's Eye said...

I guess you touched a nerve on this date. Maybe you wouldn't have got such twitchy knee-jerk responses a week earlier or later? BTW we have a flagpole, he is Swiss. The flag is sometimes Swiss and sometimes South African. And the flag sleeps, in the dark, off the pole, at night. You could whisper another little rant about all the energy wasted on spotlights, on flags. Why???

allanbecker-gardenguru said...

Generally speaking, humor , in certain parts of the country, is easily misunderstood. Many people are unable to discern fact from facetiousness.

Also, writing successfully in a humorous vein is a lost art and many that attempt to express themselves through sarcasm or facetiousness do not always succeed.

I, too, was off-put by the flagpole post, but in my case, it's because I expected a better crafted piece from a blogger whose writing I admire.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Shyrlene--Why, you're welcome.
EE--I once had a hotel romm in front of a flag pole. That thing clanged all night, and the light was blinding. But at least the neighborhood poles are shorter.
Allan--Keep me on my toes. Good. I get bored, easily, writing in the same vein. It's easy to slip into one mode and be that kind of writer forever, never learning anything, taking the easy way. It's hard for me to write consitently, anyway, because it is the msot exhausting work I can imagine--physically and mentally. I tried to have fun, I guess I failed.

Les said...

I had no trouble discerning the direction of your Garden Rant post and admire that you had the cojones to write it. The timing may not have been the best. It seems a few of our fellow citizens are particulary thin-skinned, intolerant or ├╝ber-patriotic at the moment - and this is only the ninth anniversary. What frenzy will they work themselves into when a nice round number like 10 comes along next year?

Benjamin Vogt said...

Les--10 times the frenzy? I bet not one of those folks visited my blog, but why should they. I'm tired of so many people feigning tolerance and freedom when they are the antithesis of such. As my mom said to me, they might want my freedom of expression subdued or taken away, but then theirs will be next. Then we don't have a country.

Christopher C. NC said...

Amen to this post. Benjamin you know I love you and my comment at the rant was following in your tongue and cheek. As a writer I figured at least you would get that. Bombs away!

Benjamin Vogt said...

Christopher--I continue my tossing seed over the fence on to my neighbor's acreage, and tossing it out my car window on the way to campus. I may begin handing it out to my students as either a punishment or reward for their essay assignments. Hmmmm.... Love back at you dude.

Amanda B. said...

hmmm.....very interesting! Must go check it out....

I like how you point out that it was RADICAL islam people, not the religion itself.... I hate how people stereo type a whole huge group of people based on a few psychos...

Anonymous said...

Loved the rant. (And I'm a Buckeye!)

Rob (ourfrenchgarden) said...

Your rant is right. It does seem you luuuuuuurve your flagpoles in the states.

Anyway, how on earth did a bigot with a bad mustache get so much coverage???

Kris said...

No one takes all Christians to task when the Klan engages in anti-racial/religious actions. Why should we blame all Muslims for extremists' (their version of the Klan) actions? Just a thought...

scottweberpdx said...

Yikes...sorry so many people reacted negatively...sarcasm is tricky on the internet...it's really hard to get across that you're being sarcastic, not snarky (then again, who doesn't love a little snark now and then).

Benjamin Vogt said...

AB--Well, we do thrive on stereotypes. But when we agree that we do, and that's bad, we still go and do it anyway. Come visit one of my classes sometime.
Anon--Thanks bunches. Of apples.
Rob--Flagpoles everywhere! I think I hit a nerve--no matter what flag is on it, the pole is as revered as the American flag. Who knew. And that guy in Florida, well, our media is a joke. I sometimes wonder if it should have an agenda and make up for the federal govt's lack of motivation.
Kris--Right on the money! But we do.
Scott--Well, maybe it was more snarky than sarcastic. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, until that opinion clashes with another. Good and bad, but what gets me in the gonads is how I never said "the American flag does not belong in the home landscape" or "gee, I sure hate that flag and everythign it stands for." Someone at GR who posted a comment also said the yards looked well cared for, so what's the matter? Well, piles of rock and no shrubs is not well cared for. And well caredf or does not mean ecologically beneficial, but whatever, we are all screwed anyway. Right, Bill McKibben on Letterman last night?

Steve said...

The American flag and the people waving it have done tremendous ecological damage to North America, and continue to do so (myself included!).

That aside, I think the backlash comes from the fact that you're on the wrong side of the current zeitgeist. Popular sentiment right now is against any kind of snobbery, real or perceived, and regardless its merit (as in the case, say, of the ugliness of flag poles). In essence, you sounded to these folks like a latte sipping elitist, because you had an aesthetic and were calling them out on their lack of one. Big no-no.

The other option: your average American reads at about the 7th grade level. Should anyone be surprised by misunderstandings, perceived sleights, etc?

Personally, I'm with the fellow who described patriotism as the last refuge of a scoundrel.

catharine Howard said...

The problem with nationalism is where the quiet pride gives way to jingoism. Wow the flag debate is aflame over there. Our early morning radio bulletins have been full of the controversy over the Mosque in Ground zero. A great outpouring of moderation and wisdom from Americans who have come from all over has quite washed away that sour Koran burning wannabe. I agree though - lets get back to native fauna. You guys have an immeasurably larger palette than we do something like 50,000 species to several 1000.......or perhaps I dreamt that rather than read it.

Carol said...

Bravo to this rant... now I will have to go read the one that inspired your explanation. Here's to freedom of speech. ;>)

Carol said...

Wow! Benjamin you really stirred things up! Scary. Very funny and yet not. I think you points about the home landscape are right on... it is encouraging to drive along roads seeing more owners planting out gardens instead of lawns. You are brave to post your criticism so publicly. I admire you for that. Only many are very sensitive to any form of criticism. You hit a nerve alright. Some of the comments were pretty sad really. We have one day of tragedy ... lives lost that can never be replaced and then go to a place that had not one thing to do with this attack and make every day for innocent peoples a living hell for how many years? How many hundreds of thousands dead, injured ... so many many lives ... how can we ever forget that. We are so noble ... yet as you say genocide and then slavery. How we forget. This collective nationalist consciousness is so harmful ... now we blame all the immigrants for everything wrong. Freedom has nothing to do with attacking countries ... because they happen to have great oil resources. Oh dear, I have to go out to look at the moon and dream of a world of thoughtful peace loving people ... who do not add to light pollution by spotlighting flags of any kind.

Anonymous said...

It is easier for people to care about symbols than to act. We run our mouths, criticize minutiae rather than consider the idea. We are a country of whiners, with a bloated sense of self-entitlement. I live in NOLA (as I've said before) and some here seem a bit overly concerned about how rare and precious the heritage. There are those, too, who push on and look deep. I enjoyed your rant, did not realize it was one when I read it on GR. We need to get minds working, exploring, growing, instead of putting up poles and preserving every historical site and running tongues needlessly (as I am now). Keep it up - I do so enjoy your writing - naomi

Anonymous said...

It's a sad fact of American history that as soon as economic times get rough, xenophobia emerges full force. The Park51 center was not an issue 8 years ago. Immigration in AZ (which is *negative*, with more outflow than inflow, because of the economy) wasn't a national issue 8 years ago. I could go on and on with examples, past and present.

I'm with you on flagpoles. Then again, I'd vote for a law limiting the number of garden gnomes per property.

Susan Tomlinson said...

Amen to all that. I for one love it when you exercise your American right to an opinion. It happens that I agree with you on this one, but even if I didn't I'd still say exercise away, my good friend.

Susan Tomlinson said...

Amen to all that. I for one love it when you exercise your American right to an opinion. It happens that I agree with you on this one, but even if I didn't I'd still say exercise away, my good friend.

Kyna said...

A few random comments about your rant:

~I really need to get some antlers on rocks. Just for the wtf? factor.

~ If Jennifer Aniston calls you out and tells you she wants to inspect your flagpole, you are the luckiest man on the planet. Uber-patriotism be damned!

~ I'm Canadian. When I came to the US I was floored by just how many people had flagpoles in their yards, on their houses. I laughed a little. I LOVE my home country, but you don't see Canadian flags on poles in front of everyone's houses. We KNOW we're Canadian, everyone who comes through there knows we're Canadian. Why trumpet it all day and all night?

That said, Chuck and I do have two small, barely visible flagpoles sticking off of our pillars on our frot porch. We put out our flags (both of them) on July 1 (Canada's Independence Day)_and July 4. The rest of the time they make a home somewhere else.

People take themselves too seriously. I applaud you for exercising the right to freedom of speech.

People forget that one sometimes, or want special rules to apply to it. Like, 'I can say whatever I want to, but you had just better shut up before I punch you in the face.'

Oh, and as for how 'well written' it was...not everything one writes (even if one is by profession, a writer) has to be a literary masterpiece. Sometimes it can just be simple and have a point. And sometimes even be funny.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Steve--You can't use the word 'zeitgeist' and not be onsidered a snob, you know.
Catharine--those stats may be right. People ae shocked to see how many plant species are inthe Great Plains, often thinking it as flyover country. England is all about importing plants, right?
Carol--Well said! Did you hear about those bright spot lits at groudn zero a week ago, lit up at night? Migrating birds swarmed them, cirling them int eh thousands, and five times they had to turn off the lights for 30 minutes so the birds could get back to migrating south!
Anon--Bloated whiners. Yes. I've taught for 10 years in college, and there is a marked increases in the number fo students whining about late work vs. doing it on time (I don't accept late work mind you, at all). They'd rather try to concoct a story then just, at least, do half ass work. Is this really who we are? I don't believe it. I refuse to.
Anon2--Yes, so true! As for garden gnomes, I see less of those than those mini flags with flowers on them. Or lawn jockeys.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Susan--Spoken like a true college professor! Even among these times when it appears professors shouldn't be teaching free thought and exploration.....
Kyna--Paint your garage with a maple leaf. Ah yes. Do it! :) My flagpole was supposed to be fun and yet sho how ridiculous I find flagpoles in fron tof houses, hence the somewhat blown out of proportion form and diction fo the GR post. Whatever. I shold've posted somethign from my memoir in the hopes an editor was reading. No book = no job.

Char's Gardening said...

I liked your rant on the flag pole. Seems that everyone is out to show that they are more patriotic then the next guy. As I live in Florida I really appreciated your point on the oil spill. Even though people try to think that things are back to normal they are not and never will be. The fact that so many chemicals were used just bothers me, and they say the seafood is safe to eat. Maybe I'm crazy but I'll pass.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Char--I think everyoen is out to show how naive and narrow minded they are. BP tells us it's ok, so it is. Really? Why do we go along with that? Eat this uranium, it will be ok. Do it, says the doctor. And we do it. Baaaah sheep.