What Is a Flag For, If Not To Burn?

I have been listening to Scott Adams quite a bit lately.  I gave his Periscope videos an honorable mention in my list of favorite podcasts, but he’s creeping up the ladder.  I still don’t agree with him on everything – not by a long shot – but he makes me think, and I appreciate being pushed in different directions than I might not normally be inclined to venture on my own.

I was listening to a couple of archived videos while I made dinner today, and he was talking about the Colin Kaepernick/NFL/take a knee controversy that was the talk of the town until Las Vegas happened.  He said something interesting with which I did not initially agree, but having given it some further thought as I have gone about the duties of the evening beyond dinner, I’m not sure that I disagree.  Minimally, I don’t think I disagree to the same extent that I imagined a few hours ago. 

“Flaggot” is not an unknown slur in Ancapistan.  A flaggot is someone that is a flagrant statist and flag worshipper, someone clearly incapable of rational thought and worthy of being mocked.  It is more commonly used against the police and military that like to speak about duty to country and that sort of thing.  Most all ancaps recoil in disgust at the thought of such things.  I will admit that there is not much love in my heart for agents of the state, but I pity their ignorance more than anything else. 

What is the American flag?  As Nelson Muntz of The Simpsons fame put it in the classic episode Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington, is it, “Six red stripes, seven white stripes, and a helluva lotta stars?”  Is that all there is?  I think most people would argue that the flag is certainly something more.  It is a symbol of American greatness.  E pluribus unum.  Freedom.  Autonomy.  Success.  Green grass, apple pie, outdoor concerts, Fourth of July parades, and a youthful, plucky spirit.  A tad naïve, perhaps, but with the best of intentions.  The flag is something that everyone is supposed to be able to rally under, something that pulls the masses together as individuals and unites us as a whole. 

It should come as no surprise to anyone that, being an anarchist, I balk somewhat at the thought of belonging to any group.  It’s a strange conundrum sometimes, the fact of being an anarchist.  All of the ancaps that I have met are naysayers and individualists down to the core that seem to resent the notion of belonging to any unit larger than a family.  There is even some reticence at belonging under the label of anarcho-capitalist, and I can safely include myself in that number.  I don’t like labels, as such, and I don’t want to get too comfortable with something, even though I have a fair idea of my place in the world right now.  I think when you get too comfortable with things, you rule out the possibility of change and forward momentum, and if you aren’t evolving, you’re dying on the vine.

The thing about all anarcho-capitalists, whether they lean socially liberal or socially conservative, they all value certain things.  Individuality.  Free markets.  Ideas.  Freedom of expression.  Sound money.  Free trade.  And perhaps above all things, anarcho-capitalists value peace.  Peace is at the core of all of these things.  I have long made the argument that peace and sound money and fiscal policy are inextricably linked, that anyone that believes that we can have world peace before we fix economic problems is living in a world of wind and ghosts. 

Looking at the list of things that ancaps value, you might wonder what the difference is between that list and the one above.  In what version of America do those values not belong?  Friend, I’ll tell you: today’s America. 

We have been at war in Afghanistan for 16 years now.  The government are so many tens of trillions of dollars in debt – is it $20tn or $30tn, and does it mathematically matter? – that it can never repay it.  It is actually impossible to repay the current debt.  When you start realizing that we fight unjust wars in far-flung places to service a debt that can’t be repaid to fund a lifestyle that we cannot afford, it gets harder and harder to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” 

Some libertarians stand because of the principles on which the government was founded.  They maintain that the Constitution was the greatest document ever written by man, and I would be somewhat inclined to agree.  Unfortunately, by making the Constitution a “living document,” we render it worthless, and the government so long ago ceased to even pretend that it mattered that it seems almost laughable to me to bring it into the conversation when we talk about shrinking government.  I think, in all honesty, it was fair to say that, although the experiment was great for a time, the so-called “Great Experiment” has failed.  The United States is no longer a republic, but a democracy grown too large to for the pygmies in charge.  Democracies are a thinly veiled reiteration of “might makes right,” and although I think people feel that this is true, they don’t know that it’s true.  They still believe they can vote themselves to freedom.

I still feel pangs when I see the flag at major events, but it is a pang of sorrow for a place that I once felt was deserving of such a powerful anthem and such a lovely flag.  But I know now that the government that flag represents does not represent me, and I know that there are millions and millions of Americans that feel the same thing.  Even if they cannot identify it with perhaps the same precision that I can, they sense that something is wrong.  They can feel the rot creeping out of the swamp.  As the tentacles slip up out of the ichor of the Potomac and roll slowly and quietly across the landscape, we can smell it coming, that wet, fishy smell, but we don’t know how to stop it, and most of us can’t even name it.  We only know that it’s bad, and that we don’t want it, that it doesn’t represent us.

A lot of ancaps may argue with me and say that the flag is just a symbol of the government and that you cannot have a symbol like that represent so many different people with so many different ideals.  There will always be dissidents, but the fact remains that, at one point, there was enough cohesion in this corner of the world that people could rally around the flag.  The flag was not just the government; it was a set of ideals.  It was a broad set of ideals, but everyone could agree on freedom, the pursuit of happiness, and ice cream at a ball game. 

I have often entertained the idea of buying an anarcho-capitalist flag and hanging it off of my back deck.  I may yet do it.  Although I have a tense relationship in my heart, with one side pulling towards being an iconoclast and the other desiring to belong to a structure that suits my sensibilities, I have discovered lately that there is value in structure.  A group has to have a set of mores in order to function.  There must also necessarily be a dissenter or two, to point out the little imperfections and to force us to recheck those same sensibilities and perhaps readjust as circumstances change. 

What is a flag for, if not to burn?  What is a flag for, if not to worship?  We worship when the ideal we have in our mind matches the embodiment of the philosophy that we see around us.  The flag encapsulates what is around us, be it good, evil, or indifferent.  When the embodiment ceases to reflect the ideal, sparks start to fly, and folks, it has been a hot, dry summer.