Thursday, July 23, 2015

Flag Logic

The confederate flag debate has come to our little hamlet of Juneau in an interesting way that reveals a logical fallacy worth observing.

First some background: An organization called Friends of the Flags flies all 50 state flags each summer along the main road in town to welcome tourists. A local small business owner--who happens to hail from the Land of Dixie--recently launched a successful campaign to replace the official Mississippi flag (which includes a confederate symbol) with that state's original magnolia flag. His effort was prompted by the Charleston church massacre and an overwhelming national consensus that the confederate flag is a symbol of America's ignominious history of slavery, racism, and white supremacy. He wanted to show visitors to Juneau that our community disavows those things.

Now a counter-effort is underway to put the official Mississippi flag back up, based on the following arguments, culled from comments in online community forums: freedom of speech; only a few people think it's racist; the business owner is taking bribes; no one should patronize his business; taking down the flag hides history; it's just a piece of fabric; who cares it's just a flag; if we're going to remove flags we should be consistent and also remove crosses because of human rights atrocities historically committed by churches. (Actually, I don't think that last point is really so crazy, since religious symbols generally don't constitutionally belong in public spaces in America anyway).

But actually, this blog post isn't about my opinion, because of course, the flag is just a proxy for the real debate: The debate that on one side says people should grow up, put on their big kid panties, and simply get over past/present injustices; and on the other says those injustices should continue to be honored and addressed in ways both symbolic and real.

So what is this blog post about then? It's about a problem in logic. 

Roughly stated, the argument for returning the flag to its rightful place on Egan Drive is essentially that a symbol of the confederacy is no big deal. Yes, there is some indignance over the flag's historical meaning and the fact that this is an official state flag being removed. But stripped down, the argument is really this: a confederate symbol is no big deal, and 200 overly sensitive people are imposing their sensitivity on everyone else.

Let's say for the sake of argument that that is true. But if that's true, and a symbol of the confederacy is really no big deal, then what's the big deal in removing it? It can't be both a big deal and no big deal. In other words, it can't be a big enough deal to launch a petition to put it back up, but no big deal to fly it in the faces of those who find it atrociously offensive.

Either it's a big deal, or it's not. The person who mounted the effort to remove the flag is being logically consistent in his position that it is--in fact--a big deal: both to take it down, and to fly it. By contrast, the people who want to put the flag back up simultaneously claim it's a very big deal to take it down, but no big deal to fly it.

Honestly, as someone who values reason above almost everything, I find myself more offended by this logical inconsistency than anything else.

Image result for mississippi state flag

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