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Flag: Making the Abstract Concrete


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Flag: Making the Abstract Concrete


The flag is a symbol of an ideology; a symbol is an act, sound, or objects having cultural significance and the capacity to excite an emotional response. Ideology often reifies, i.e. making into an object an abstract idea, for the purpose of concretizing a matrix of abstract concepts into an emotional symbol for influencing the emotions of the people.


“O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”


“Rally round the flag boys” was a song popular during the American Civil War.


The Union version goes something like this:

Yes we'll rally round the flag, boys, we'll rally once again,

Shouting the battle cry of freedom,

We will rally from the hillside, we'll gather from the plain,

Shouting the battle cry of freedom!


The Confederate version goes something like this:

Our flag is proudly floating on the land and on the main,

Shout, shout the battle cry of Freedom!

Beneath it oft we've conquered, and we'll conquer oft again!

Shout, shout the battle cry of Freedom!


Marx is perhaps the first intellectual of great stature to coin the word “ideology” and to study its epistemological foundations. Marx makes it clear that ideology is an important aspect of all societies and especially for a society so dedicated to the cultivation of production and consumption as is capitalism.


A brief examination of culture in the United States and one will find that ideology, as framed by Marx, is a fundamental aspect of many of its social institutions; especially evident in religion, politics, and economics.


Ideology “is a systematically and socially biased body of thought”. It spans a broad spectrum of groups with their varying degree of bias and sophistication.


Despite the broad spectrum encompassed by this category of thought and practice “all ideologies share an identifiable logical structure objectively dictated by their ideological character”. Each ideology has a moral, i.e. prescriptive, dimension. Each ideology attempts to shape society to fit its particular world view. “Ideology turns what is a fact for one group into an “ought” or “ideal” for others…Marx argues that since an ideology generalizes a narrow point of view beyond the limits of its validity, it is compelled by its very logic to ‘moralize’ and ‘preach’.”


Ideology often becomes a moral doctrine. Because it generalizes and remodels abstract ideas into an object, i.e. it objectifies, it reifies narrow abstract ideas beyond their true limits of validity it is compelled to propagandize and to “sell” its ideas. Ideology is constantly telling others how they should live.


Ideology has a complex character. It is normative; what are its ideas and experiences it attempts to present them as inherent in human nature and from this it “deduces appropriate moral recommendations”. It is biased toward a specific group; it is against other social groups, it treats these other groups as mere means. It universalizes a narrow and limited view and “sells”, perhaps evangelizes (militant and crusading zeal) might be an appropriate expression, this view to others.


An ideology can never adequately defend it self rationally because its assumptions have never been critically evaluated nor explicitly formulated. It is often rabidly critical of rival views. “Consequently it never states its first principles, or makes a perfunctory case for them, keeps reiterating and reformulating them, elaborates on them in the name of critically examining them, and so on.”


Quotes from Marx’s Theory of Ideology by Bhikhu Parekh

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I think that symbols, like flags, appeal primarily to the emotions. Manipulation of the emotions is the primary means for manipulating the naive and manipulating the naive is necessary for power within a democracy such as we have in America. "Tea" is such a symbol and we can see how this symbol, as a rallying symbol, has been so effective in the USA.

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