People make associations with symbols. It's kind of a peculiar trait, but they consistently do. Some people do it more than others, though, and seem to have an emotional need to make connections between a symbol and that which the symbol represents.
The thing, though, is that I wonder if I'm delinquent in this area because I don't make strong symbolic associations that other people do.
Take, as my main point of interest, flags. Flags and the graphical symbols they bear were designed for the purpose of easy identification, usually from a distance. Images have no language barrier, and having a simple picture to represent you and the people you are associated with makes it easy to label people and places. Whether it's old-style battles where flags would be carried, maps with flags on each country, or just a display of patriotism for your country, they're good for communicating the simple concept "This flag represents the people X."
That I understand.
What I don't get is when people turn a symbol itself into a sacred image of whatever it represents.
Take religious idols, for example. Basically every religion has had some sort of idol system and usually those idols are sacred, having special rules like "do not touch" or "whenever you see it you must sacrifice to it", or whatever. But, through the history of major religions, those idols were rarely (as far as I know) actual gods themselves. Rather, actual gods were said to have dwelt in the seas, the air, the sun, or really anywhere else. But although they weren't gods, people would treat the idols as if they were. That rock over there is insignificant and the atoms that compose it uninteresting, but the atoms that compose that specific idol are sacred and should be treated different.
Back to flags. I don't know about other countries, but here in America some people basically treat the American flag like an idol. It is not to touch the ground, it is to be fully raised initially even when flown at half-mast, it is not to be touched with a hand that has touched raw meat in the past 24 hours, or whatever. Rules, rules, rules, and rules some people worship. If you let a flag brush the ground and actually don't really care about it, you're disgracing their nation and you risk assault by a high caliber weapon. (Note that I'm not talking about people's view of America itself, I'm just talking about their view of it's flag.)
But all that is just about a symbol. A symbol that represents something else. And what I don't get is how people can elevate a symbol to the position of, if not sometimes actually higher than, that which the symbol represents. That just makes no logical sense to me.
A symbol, by indisputable definition, is something that is not what it represents and it merely serves as a placeholder to be used when the thing itself would not suffice. For example, you can't fly the country of America from a pole, at least not without some serious hydraulic work, but it would be easy to simply display a picture that represented the United States, thus a flag makes logical sense. But treating the flag as if it were sacred?
If a symbol is as sacred as what it represents, where does it end? If a symbol (in this case, a flag) is as sacred as that which it represents (America), is the symbol the original symbol (for example, a bumper sticker of a flag) just as sacred? If Symbol1 = Object, does Symbol2 = Symbol1 = Object? Is a bumper sticker just as important as a fifty-foot flag? Is a picture of a bumper sticker in a catalogue just as sacred as the nation of America itself?
A flag is a piece of cloth with a logo on it, and that logo just represents America. But it's only a representation of America, America itself relies a grand total of nothing on the well-being of that flag. There are an innumerable number of flags around, all made of pretty cheap material, many not even made in America, all of which have no impact whatsoever on the operational status or well being of anything related to America.
If I see someone burning a flag to make a political statement, I don't burst arteries, I'm just glad they're taking out their anger in a way that doesn't hurt anyone. They're burning a symbol, a symbol that can be replaced for $7.99 USD at one of many stores within a 10 minute drive.
I think I understand why people make those symbolic connections, though. I'm not a psychologist, but I think it's common knowledge that most people love having something physical over something that's abstract. The United States is abstract in the sense of being huge in physical area, population, philosophical ideals, laws, customs, etc, but a flag is a small, physical, comprehensible object, and people like that better. It's easier to comprehend and imagine a flag than it is 2,263,960,000 acres of land, 300,000,000 people, and all the civil, social, political, and technological complexities they have. People can look at a flag and be proud of it, but they can't look at America and be proud of it, they have to just imagine it and be proud of it.
I suppose I do understand why people elevate symbols to the levels of that which they represent, I just think it's stupid.
I guess I was born without whatever gland that's responsible for that type of emotion because I have never made a big deal out of symbols. They're just... symbols. I'd be ticked if you attacked America, but I really don't care if you burn our flag. One down, fifteen million to go. Big deal. It's the same thing as yelling "**** America". Your complaint has been duly noted. I probably knew that you hated America before I saw you burn a flag, I still know that you hate America. You've done nothing more than communicate your hatred for America, and the odds are pretty good that I don't care about your opinion to anyway.
Flag burning is stupid. When you burn a flag, all you do is communicate that you hate the nation (or organization) that flag represents. But there are many ways that you can communicate that idea, most of which are more efficient and don't make you look quite so stupid. Burning a flag is just a overly-passionate person assigning unwarranted emotional attachment to a flag... which sounds familiar.
But in the end, regardless of the logical sense an emotional connection to a symbol may or may not make, people have the right to do it. If you want to make a flag sacred, you can. But, similarly, if you want to burn a flag you can do that too. Both acts are stupid in my opinion, but you're free to do both. All I really ask is that you try your best to keep your illogical, raging emotions to yourself. Not only do I not care, you're probably wasting time and effort from doing something productive.