Flag The Referendum!

If we get nothing out of the whole “flag debate”, hopefully we get to learn something again about our system, and just how messed up it is.flagquestionmark

Scrolling through your Facebook feed, it is hard to escape angsty posts about the terrible quality of the alternative flags, how much the referendum process costs, how the current flag is colonialist and racist, why we should boycott the referendum, and eventually (once the results come out) how unfair the result was. But what is hilarious in spite of this all, is how reminiscent the attacks on the referendum are of critiques of democracy!

I can say that I sympathise with a lot of these angsty statuses, some are real concerns. The fact that $26 million is being spent on this, with $6.73 million being spent on the “public consultation process” (i.e. bureaucracy, bureaucracy, bureaucracy, which attempts to ensure that the referendum is up to scratch so democracy can work) just shows us the nature of government spending, and how much is wasted on every single project, on petty “engagement”. If you want to follow what the panel actually did, it wandered the country, talking to people about their values and attending meetings and workshops. This is what millions has been poured into. And if you think that $26 million is not actually that much in the larger scheme of things, you can look at the larger scheme of things – total government spending for 2015/16 is $88.6 billion, and GDP is $240 billion – in other words, government spending is 36.7% of GDP. This is all just a reminder that our markets are not so free, after all.

I really dislike the current flag. If you study its origins, the reason we have the Southern Cross on the flag is because of its naval significance, and the Union Jack of course, because of the monarchy. But what does that mean to us? The everyday Kiwi in a pluralistic, individualist society, now pretty divorced from the United Kingdom? Very little. Our current flag is a simple reminder that our culture is built on the back of colonial expansion. There is no recognition or acknowledgement of the tangata whenua and Māori society, but simply the image of a constellation which guided colonists, and the Union Jack to remind us that we started off as a part of the British Empire. In essence, it is a spitting image of statism and the destruction of Indigenous culture. Just a subtle reminder too, that flag burning is illegal because it hurts the government’s feelings.

Its royal blue background is reminiscent of the blue sea and sky surrounding us, and the stars of the Southern Cross signify our place in the South Pacific Ocean. The Union Flag recognises our historical foundations and that New Zealand was once a British colony and dominion. – Ministry of Culture and Heritage.

The current flag was not chosen by the people, but was chosen by the government, and yet we are told to identify with it and be proud of it. And now we get a “choice” – five other alternative flags, chosen from a forty others, by a group of temporary bureaucrats, which no one actually wants. Again, sounds just like democracy. Every election we turn up to the polls, and pick from a load of options which are not perfect, but feel are the best of the worst, and then get told afterwards how empowering democracy is and how accountable the government is. If things do not work well, just vote harder! Here we get given five half-class alternative, chosen by a taxpayer funded round table, and get told that we have a voice and are so lucky – it is laughable. If you are up in arms about this referendum, check out our democratic system – the difference is one of the two bears more significance on our lives, and costs us a hell of a lot more.

No matter what flag we get after this, the minority will complain about the result. Classic. Majority tyranny. Whatever flag is chosen will not be representative of the country, but representative of the majority. The will of the people is not a thing in democracy, only the will of the majority, and the permission to oppress the minority. And this is an important thing about the flag – be it chosen by the government (as the current one is) or chosen by the majority in a referendum, the flag cannot represent the people of a nation, and so the flag is pointless.

The alternative is that well… we do not have a flag. As controversial as this may sound, we are not defined by our birthplace within artificial borders – or at least should not be. If the referendum campaign is about standing up for our values, then a flag is the wrong way to go about it. Values are not collectivist but individualist, and it is wild to assume that you can display the distinct and diverse values of some four million people on a piece of flying fabric.

In fact a flag is only an extension of the contradictory idea of patriotism – that for some reason because we live within the same borders, we can take pride or share shame of the achievements of others born within the same borders. It all forms a part of the socialisation we are given by governments and reinforces social contract theory, that we exist as a collective, as a nation, with identical values and duties towards the state, and the progress of the nation  – which is plain wrong, and edging on fascism.

People who enjoy waving flags don’t deserve to have one. – Banksy

If this is true, then we should oppose even having a flag. Rather than considering what flag is the prettiest, we should consider what the flag actually means, and what the process signifies. What I have learned from all this, is that because our next one is being chosen by the majority, and we all have varying values and individuals, the flag serves little purpose. But that’s just me.

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