Sunday, January 16, 2005

Reactionary PC - WTF?

I don't feel that people should forget the atrocities of the past, and I think that history can affect the meaning of places and things. Though generally, I was under the impression that the people on the other side of the Atlantic are far more progressive or sophisticated about dealing with symbols and their inferrence, then I see something like this reported, ironically by an Indian news source:

So, they want to ban the Swastika? The Swastika as the article points out ironically is a respected symbol of well-being in the East. It's a symbol found in other ancient cultures, as well. However, its now infamous association with Nazi Germany sends shudders through the public whenever it appears, such as on the costume armband of a particular English Prince. It's amazing how a negative historical connotation can taint a once benign symbol. In my early twenties I remember studying in a building at Chicago that had a swastika pattern on the floor at the bottom landing of the basement. I can't remember which building it was. I was horrified to see the Swastikas bold and unhidden as a checkerboard motif at my feet. My horror of swastikas at the time stemmed from a slightly traumatizing incident I'd had as a child** Feeling disturbed by having to confront the symbol which has become the axiom of 20th century evil, I asked someone why the school would decorate the floor this way. My friend prompty pointed out that the arms of the swastikas on the basement floor were facing in the opposite direction of the Third Reich symbols. He also noted that the building was errected before WWII or even then emergence of Nazi Germany and it's use of the Sanksrit image which originally signifies luck or well being. I found from the article referenced below that the Nationalist Socialist Movement in Germany and their anti-semitic stance did have it's origins prior to WWI; however, this isn't to say that the architects and designers of the Chicago building were aware of or associated with that.

The swastika appears also in ancient Scandinavian, Egyptian, Native American & Irish cultures. Thinking in both a geometric and aesthetic sense this makes perfect sense that it would become a universal symbol (not necessarily convening the same meaning in all cultures). It was easy to create, and duplicate as decoration in art and artifacts such as weavings, baskets, rugs. It has the appeal of a dynamic figure, a wheel or a pinwheel capable of constant motion. I believe that banning the swastika as a symbol of evil would only confirm that most humans are unsophisticated village idiots who cannot come to their own conclusions about the impact of historical events as well as determine their own values and morals. We're thinking for people when we determine the meaning of symbols no matter what their context.

Now, I wonder if anyone seriously sat down with Prince Harry and asked, "What were you thinking when you wore the damn thing, boy?" Was he trying to pull of an Eric Cartman-like stunt, or did he just think it was cool? Or was it simply a lapse in judgement?
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**When I was 4 or 5, I attended a Sunday School class held in a middle school classroom. The desk I was sitting at had a few swastikas carved in it. I was just mastering writing and copying down letters and other symbols. Naturally, it was an easy pattern to copy and it reminded me of flying birds. Later I drew a picture, not unlike a picture a little girl would draw of a house, the sun and trees. I placed the spirally looking birds throughout the sky. My mother found me drawing the picture and declared that I shouldn't draw swastikas because they were very bad. The discussion that ensued most-likely prompted the horrific fascination I had with the Nazi's throughout my childhood and adolescence.

"Why are they bad, Mommy?"
"They're the symbol of a very evil man named Hitler."
"Who's Hitler, Mommy?"
"He killed a lot of people."
"How many?"
"Why did he do that?"
"Because he was evil."

In hindsight, this moment had brought about an important milestone in my moral consciousness. I had a very difficult time comprehending why this happened - millions of people being killed. Even at that age I knew about how big a 'million was' thanks to the counting panels and blocks of beads I played with at Montessori. What puzzled and poked at my mind was 'why' someone would do this? Now, one could draw nationalistic and socio-economic theories and point out the movitivation behind the Nazi's "Final Solution." We can postulate that people were going through a sort of sociopathic phase during that place and time, Demogogues like Hitler tend to have sociopathic or meglomanic tendencies. I remember watching an interview of Pol Pot as an old man, and he clearly was not able to come to terms with the Killing Fields as the rest of the world saw it. Still, in his mind he was a man whose goals were in the best interest of his country, but the question as a moral question still sparks shock and awe in most everyone. "How could anyone allow that to happen?"


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