The Heights Flags Dare Not Fly

purelyspeculationAside from writing, a significant portion of my week is comprised of driving to and from schools. As a result, I’ve recently made a disturbing observation. It seems to me there is seldom a day which goes by that the school flags are not set at half-mast.

I’ve noticed it far too often to chalk it all up to an observer or expectation-bias, and ever since noting the strange trend, the evidence has only mounted. Truthfully, I can quite accurately make the call as I head out in the morning—I can go through my entire day, and I won’t see a single flag flying at its full height.

For a while, I would try to play recent newsfeeds through my mind, sifting through the long lists of tragedies to try and pinpoint the precise reason why the flags might be lowered. Another bombing in a far off country? A videotaped execution becoming a number one hit on YouTube? Missing indigenous women? A recent school shooting? It’s hard to keep track—and that’s likely one of the most cold-hearted thoughts that’s ever crossed my mind.

Sadly, the fact is there can hardly be a day that goes by when it would be appropriate to fly the flag high. Tragedy is abounding at every turn, and we need never look too far to find some reason to keep the flag at half-mast, and our hearts shrouded in mourning. Indeed, even the briefest purview of recent events will surely be enough to convince any feeling human that to hoist the flags to their full height would be an act of callous audacity.

It made me wonder; has it always been like this? It seems that no matter how far back we look, the world has been mired in a constant string of atrocities and calamity. Are they more common now? Is our instant access to world-wide media making the situation seem more dire than it is, or could we truly be approaching the so-called ‘brink’?

For years uncounted, people have felt that society is falling apart and the world as we know it is coming to an end. Plato famously criticized the youth of his day (~340BC) by lamenting that “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” It remains a familiar feeling to this day. Every generation grows to worry about the future, and fear that the youth set to inherit this fragile little ship of ours will not be up to the task. Doomsday prophecies, threats of revolution or decay, and predictions of cataclysmic environmental disasters have maintained a place beside weather and work as some of the most ubiquitous topics for daily conversation.

But if the flags these days are any indicator, such anxieties don’t seem far off the mark. Our environment grows worse by the day, and those working to save it are embattled from all sides by those who seek only profit. So too with human rights, fights for equality, and pleas for representation. Gun violence runs rampant—challenged for the crown of ubiquity only by poverty and the failing light of hope in the hearts of the needy. Explosions rock the world hourly, cold-blooded death-cults call for our heads, and here in the ‘free-world’ the echoes of long-forgotten jack-booted feet and beer-hall bravado once again eke their way into our political conscience.

Those naïve few who proclaimed that the age of racism and hatred were behind us now hang their heads in shame, and once again the shadow of ignorance spreads across the map of our future. Standing as we are on the brink of such chaos, sky-lining against the half-lowered flags, one can’t help but wonder how close we are to that brink, and what it would take to finally shove us over?

Will it be like the most recent financial crisis? One panicked businessman making a knee-jerk move over night? A chain-reaction of self-serving backroom deals that sell the rest of us down the river? Will it come like daggers in the night, or will it come, as the old adage goes, wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross? Will there be martial law? Riots in the streets? Baffled TV-reporters mumbling through static-filled screens? Smoke and strife, or stony silence?

That I cannot say. It may be all, or more likely none. It may well go unnoticed, as it has for so long already. One small change, then another, all wrapped in the propaganda and misinterpretation so definitive of our times. But none of that concerns me. The road ahead is already laid, and I look not to how its course runs, but rather to who will travel it.

Again, my thoughts turn to Plato, and the defiant children he so sorely lamented. They are still around, and indeed it is them who we should be watching most intently. But perhaps that’s another issue entirely, and one we’ll cover in greater depth next week.

-Brad OH Inc.

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