Thursday, July 31, 2008

World Flag clichés

So I have a backlog. I've been on vacation. Sue me.

Adbusters has a contest on for a new One Flag:
The time has come for a radical shift in priorities. We are now faced with some of the most daunting global challenges in human history. These are real targets, worthy of our problem-solving skills, ripe for our intervention. Yet those who have the vision to rise above national and political boundaries still have no symbol to rally under. We invite you to create a flag – free from language and well-worn clichés – that embodies the idea of global citizenship. A symbol that triggers pride and cohesion, whether worn on a backpack, displayed on a door, or flown on a flagpole. A symbol for anyone to declare membership in a growing and vital human cooperative. We invite you to prove that design has a real role to play in the fate of our world.
Free from language and well-worn clichés. I like that. I'm afraid I really don't like flags, so the whole idea seems problematic. What is a flag but an instant cliché? And why are clichés such a problem? They are yet another tool for social cohesion: again I argue it's the imposition of that cohesion that's the problem, not the voluntary cohesion itself.

I am reminded of the annual Barbara Petchenik Children's Map Competition, which is all cliché.
Holding hands around a globe. Two hands cupping a globe. A globe itself: globes are clichés! The "blue marble" image of Earth is a cliché! So what?


One World Flag said...


I am David Bartholomew, originator of the One World Flag-- an international symbol of diversity ( if you are interested).

I don't know that all symbols along these lines have to be limited to the pitfalls of "cohesion" (which I would interpret to be a sticking together for some self-serving purpose). Perhaps within the ideals of some of these, and within their dna... could be something that rises above cliche'?

As in the zen proverb "First a mountain is a mountain. Then a mountain is not a mountain. Finally, a mountain is a mountain" I believe we can get stuck in the world of cliche', as in the second of the 3 levels of that proverb... which to me is really nothing more than a lack of imagination and true appreciation of the thing that is possible when one pushes through that limitation or laziness.

What I have attempted to craft within the mission of the One World Flag is a concept perhaps beyond cohesion and ethnocentrism/egocentrism-- to a place of true appreciation, where all are valued, as each piece of a puzzle is valued. Which piece, in the end, is unnecessary? Not a one.

Also within the tenets of this mission is the goal that we work, beyond mere tolerance, to actual appreciation of the unique contributions each of us can share.

I feel this kind of puts a spin on the ideas and limitations of flags, credos and personal manifestos of the past or prior paradigms that max out with such concepts such as the cohesion of which you speak.

It might just boil down to what any given supporter of any such flag... does in the name or under the banner of that piece of cloth.

The letters I continue to receive from proponents of the One World Flag prove to me that good work and positive action (inspiration made manifest) are being achieved-- even if that boils down to simple creations, expressions and kindnesses within each one's corner of their world.

And this seems to run on contrast to the Monty Python's Life of Brian concept of a mob of people yelling, "We are individuals!" and not getting the joke.


David Bartholomew

natcase said...

What then is a cliché? A cliché is a common meme the speaker believes has become essentially meaningless. An image or phrase that is supposed to carry power but has lost its capacity to surprise or inspire.

It's a very subjective word.

Flags, for example, can inspire fervent (one might even say rabid) devotion, but all they really do is act as a focus point for devotion to an abstract group identity: rather than focusing the Dear Leader, we focus on the flag.

Your reference to the zen proverb about mountains is apt, but I would point out that getting to that third state, when a mountain is again a mountain, is not achieved by negating the second state of mountain as cliché, but by saying "sure it's a cliché, but all our lives are cliché. So what? 'Cliché' is a cliché itself. Get to what is important."

Which maybe is why you see so few flag-waving Zen Buddhists.

One World Flag said...

Just to keep the ball in the air a while longer, and to kick it back into your court--

A cliche' (as something becomes in the second phase of the mentioned proverb), in my mind, is a limitation in one's level of appreciation of the thing, or the understanding of the thing. This occurs as one believes one has come to know the "thing". Robert Ornstein (The Psychology of Consciousness, The Roots of Consciousness, etc.) would explain this result of the naming of things as part of our survival mechanism: we scan for things of potential danger to us, and when we come to understand they are not a threat, we file them and move on.

Not being one to wish to stay in survival mode any longer I have continued to try to dissect as many of those named things in my experience and continually work to come to appreciate them more. This is a great exercise in humility, as one comes to the conclusion that there really isn't one, single, solitary thing in the universe that we can honestly say we truly understand. And so everything has the potential to become a spiritual or mind-expanding exercise.

So I agree with you that a cliche' i ssomething we have come to believe is meaningless... but that doesn't make it actually meaningless per se.

A flag, specifically in my sense of the possibility of the One World Flag, can then be more than a focus point for devotion to an abstract group identity (the cliche' of what a flag has been perhaps); instead it can be an illustration, or perhaps focal point of a concept where one's identity itself comes to be valued, along with that of every other person. Not in the cliche' sense, but in the true wonder/awe/appreciation sense.

And yes it is not needed, but even the Buddhists have core thought principles that guide them to non-thinking. And the yin-yang symbol that is the centerpiece of the One World Flag, while not maybe being central to Buddhist thought (I don't claim to know its complete history) does have crossover in Taoist philosophy and has a name in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and other Asian cultures. P.S. If you don't see a flag-waving Buddhist, does it mean he is not there? whether in the forest, next to the falling tree, or elsewhere?

Also, you will find, on the FAQs page of, a section entitled "Planned Obsolescence" where from the onset I knew that such lofty ideals behind the flag, once achieved, would work it into non-existence, or the next logical progression of the idea. This, too, is the goal behind offering/inviting/allowing all who have their own flags, personal procalamations, and visions, to share them (most reside in the inspiration section) by way of our links page.

I don't think we really disagree that much. But I do enjoy engaging in nuanced discussions once in a while (when I am not in silent Buddhist mode!).

As a wise friend once said to me, "I don't need to be right; I don't need to be wrong; I just need to be happy."



natcase said...

David, I'm really sorry but I'm having a really hard time figuring out what you're saying overall. I don't think it's you; I'm just in a different headspace. You're also covering a lot of ground! So I'm going to work on one paragraph.

You said, "A flag, specifically in my sense of the possibility of the One World Flag, can then be more than a focus point for devotion to an abstract group identity (the cliche' of what a flag has been perhaps); instead it can be an illustration, or perhaps focal point of a concept where one's identity itself comes to be valued, along with that of every other person. Not in the cliche' sense, but in the true wonder/awe/appreciation sense."

To me this gets at the real experience of a flag. When I think of what flags can do I think of Randy Newman's "Follow the Flag" from his Land of Dreams album: "They say it's just a dream/ That dreamers dreamed/ That it's an empty thing that really has no meaning/ They say it's all a lie/ But it's not a lie/ I'm going to follow the flag 'til I die"

Thinking of maps as clichés (as the Adbusters contest seems to) does not look at flags as things to be experienced. It looks at them as social phenomena. My point is that "cliché" is an "outside" word like "mythology" or "belief", as opposed to "scripture" or "knowledge." To call something a cliché one must be outside it.

Keeping on the Buddhist theme, while there are relatively few "flag wavers" in the cynical Western sense, there are of couse lots of flags waving: prayer flags, in which the words of the prayer printed on the flags are carried off on the wind. I've always like the image, but it depends on a belief in a saturation in divine spirit that doesn't jibe well with modern culture. It's also a lot more modest than the modern conception of flags.

One World Flag said...


You are perhaps hooked a bit on "flag" while I am hooked a bit on "cliche'".

Coincidentally, I have been listening to the new Randy Newman these last couple weeks.

I guess I would just add a last thought:

I don't think many Buddhists, despite the highest degree of the mastery of non-thinking... transcend the "I Am"; and this in the sense of feeling the "I Am" of oneself as not separate from the "I Am" of all that is. I have experienced that as an image in my mind for a long time-- as something I call the "boundless drop"-- an image in my mind of a drop about to fall into the vast, endless pool. That is how my perfect moments, however short-lived have come. For me it feels "divine", but I am ok with anyone experiencing the same connection and not wishing to dub it that, or assign any personality, or whatever. Mine is really more reverence at the vastness, without the getting hooked on words and quotes and all the divisive aspects of spiritual/religious manifestations stemming out of such experiences.

The nature of this connective "I Am" experience as I feel it, tends to go more egoless/humble/reverent (and such come the motivations that originated the flag that "came through me"... where I sense an immense of amount of ego involvement stemming out of identification with the flags and concepts such as you have described.

Two completely opposite takes... on what seemingly could have been similar experiences. And my smallest (as I can keep it) spiritual arrogance always wonders whether it is indeed possible to experience it as I have experienced it, and still bring the ego to it to so large a degree. If so, I find that one really mind-boggling.

I like how you think and write. I will make it a point to come back and check out your future writings on occasion.

Thanks for the interplay.