Sometimes I’m judgmental.
Wait, full disclosure: I’m always judgmental, but, because most of the jobs I’ve had in my life require me to speak in front of strangers every day, I’ve learned to leave at least a couple shreds of the social contract in place, and only to go full-on Dark Phoenix when I encounter someone who’s more of a jackass than me. Which still happens on a disconcertingly regular basis. The human race as a general rule is disproportionately apathetic or downright opportunistic, and most of these people simply lack the self-awareness to understand normal human reactions to what they’re doing.
I’m sort of like SkyNet, is what I’m saying?
Anyway, my tolerance for BS is substantial. But one thing that consistently irks me is the misappropriation, or downright distortion, of popular words and symbols to achieve a twisted outcome. These have no particular commonality other than the fact that they are constantly wielded as a political, rhetorical or social tool that is completely antithetical to their true meaning.
I’m going to flip it a little bit here. I’m not a swastika apologist — meaning, I’m certainly aware of the symbol’s original significance, but the issue goes beyond that.
Look, I think we’re all aware of the swastika’s use as a religious symbol way, way pre-Nazi Germany, but here’s a brief summary: we can trace this thing all the way back to Neolithic times. It’s been found on artifacts unearthed everywhere from Bulgaria (6,000 BC) to the Indian subcontinent (3,000 BC), and continues to be used as an important, sacred insignia today in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. Its roots date much further back in history than Nazi Germany and, if the world had any inherent justice to it, would overshadow the atrocities committed under its banner.
Knowledge of these facts is not a problem; it’s something everyone should be aware of, because historical context is important. But just as important is the social context and, like it or not, the swastika is now a Nazi symbol more than it is anything else.
There are those who possess, let’s say, an “adamant awareness” of history. Here’s a real-life example: when I still lived in Augusta, I was hanging out at a bar — doesn’t matter which one — with some friends, playing darts, having a couple of beers. Also in the bar was this muscle-bound dude-bro with no shirt on and, I kid you not, a massive swastika tattooed on the upper left side of his back. Someone asked him about it, and he proceeded to recap everything I said two paragraphs above, though much more extensively.
Good news: not a Nazi. Bad news: insufferable dumbass. See, it doesn’t matter what you know about a symbol, its original implications, etc. It only matters what the symbol represents in our current society; there’s no “bringing it back” for the swastika, and any attempt to is an attention-grab of the grossest type.
You know this word; you’ve been hearing it all your life, at the end of prayers, at the end of hymns, as an interrogative punctuation to a statement (“Captain Picard would kick Captain Kirk’s ass, amen?”), etc. It’s taken on a bit of a colloquial context as well, and it gets tossed around fairly frequently in response to a statement that the speaker agrees with, either fully, halfway or ironically.
The true meaning of the word is some variation of “truly,” “verily” or “let it be.” In essence, it is an affirmative statement, a signal that the speaker truly believes what he just said, or that the person to whom he was speaking is in agreement. The problem with its modern usage is that it exists in a sort of fugue state between sacred and flippant. In other words, we rarely think about what it means to truly agree.
Another example: a long time ago, I wrote about a preacher who would turn up occasionally at my graduate school campus to shout at us about masturbation and abortion. He cornered me and a group of friends on one occasion, punctuating every ridiculous statement with “Amen?” before rampaging on. Finally, I interrupted him and said, “When you say amen, you’re affirming that we agree with you. And I don’t think we do.”
The larger implication here is that we rarely think about language, its power, what it truly means. It is the building block of how the world perceives us, and how we perceive the world; it might do us some good to stop, to think, to pick it carefully.
The Boston Tea Party
This might be the most complicated one, but I’m running out of coffee, I’m tired and I still have to actually go to work later today, so you’re gonna get little more than bare facts here.
The modern Tea Party movement — which, I mean, are they still around? — takes its name from the 1773 incident wherein a group of Boston Whigs, or Sons of Liberty, intercepted a tea ship inbound from England, carrying nearly 600,000 pounds of tea for the city. They dumped the tea into the ocean. Boom, history.
Today’s Tea Partiers love — in addition to wearing silly hats and being vaguely racist — to identify with the original group of protesters, and have focused much of their rhetoric on abolishing the income tax, saying that it punishes success and rewards laziness, among other just really crazy stuff. They’ve even taken up the old rallying cry of “No taxation without representation!” and attempted to co-opt it for their own usage.
Here’s the problem: the modern Tea Party is absolutely freaking represented. If they participate in the voting process, then they are guaranteed a voice in the electing of government officials, from local school trustee to state representative, to President of the United States. They may not like who gets the majority of the vote but, as both sides of the aisle have had to accept, them’s the breaks.
The original Tea Party was not about the taxation of the colonies itself, but about the fact that Parliament — which included no elected officials representing the colonies — was doing the taxing. That’s it; that was the issue. In fact, the United States Congress set about taxing tea imported into the country very soon after its inception.