Friday, July 07, 2006

Burn, baby, burn...

In a previous post, I mentioned my discomfort at the over-politicalization of the 4th of July parade, and even though I tried to head it off, I still got the expected comment "Well, isn't this the best way to celebrate our freedom of speech!?". So I don't know if the commenter just totally missed my point or whether I was not clear enough in my thesis.

Nobody should be denied their right to express their thoughts. But there are lots of ways of doing this. It seems to me that what we call "freedom of speech" is really freedom to persuade. Why else would anyone care about what anyone else says in public? And by persuade, I mean to effect significant change in the lives of other people.

So, repeating an ancient aphorism, you get more flies with honey, and really this is one of the points I was trying to express in that post. It seems like these days everyone of these "protesters" is just focused on testing the limits of free speech, to the extent that they are not really interested in the ultimate reasons why this right was given to us all. It isn't to piss off as many people as possible, it is to convince people that they should do something different from what they are doing now.

This is not a new idea, right? If you want to convince someone of the correctness of your ideas, you need to first not make them defensive, not make them feel like they're stupid, or wrong (even if they are!). Look at how people do kiruv, for example.

Which brings me to my second topic - flag burning. For a long time, I was vehemently against any kind of repression of flag burning by the government, and I still am against any kind of amendment or government interference. However, I have been thinking about the implications of flag burning. The flag is not just a square of cloth with some patterns on it. The flag represents the United States of America and all which it stands for, including the ability to express your opinion. But what opinion are people expressing when they burn the flag? They are saying they don't like America and all that it stands for. Not the policies of the current President, not anything minor. You are symbolically denying the founding principles of this country, the nebulous intangibles that separate one nation from the others, that make each country unique in its own way.

So why should the rest of us Americans tolerate this? To get back to my previous point, what are these protesters asking us to change by this "free expression" of their opinion? Are they saying that America should commit suicide, it should no longer be America? What country can tolerate people that advocate it's dissolution? Because that is what burning the flag communicates to me. If this is not what they are trying to communicate, then I think they need to find a better way of doing it.

Shabbat Shalom.


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