The vacation season is a swirl of symbols and rituals.
These cultural innovations adorn our lives. They demarcate communities and evoke many feelings. They are resilient. The pandemic prompted official calls to “Thanksgiving in place.” Tens of tens of millions of individuals throughout the nation as a substitute maintained the ritual of gathering round a roasted turkey elsewhere.
Symbols and rituals may also spontaneously combust. The raging debate about Sir Francis Drake’s ties to the slave commerce is the most up-to-date flare-up.
For the 25 years I’ve lived in Marin, the concept of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard prompted ideas of visitors lurching from stoplight to stoplight. Now the road identify provokes, for me, the picture of an enormous pile-up of preening activists, a pair conscientious residents and a bunch of people that simply wish to get residence.
People who, a couple of months in the past, by no means gave Drake a second thought, now have deep, inflexible opinions about the 16th-century mariner. Not the individual, however what the identify all of the sudden symbolizes in Marin.
I believe that for many of the Sir Francis Drake High School neighborhood, “Drake” symbolizes a collage of associates and lecturers, dashes to courses and carpools to video games, graduations and reunions, adolescent angst and parental fear.
For a small group of individuals, nevertheless, “Drake” represents an opportunity to exhibit advantage, not less than as they outline it.
Like many, I actually don’t care what the faculty is known as. Still, I can see that it’s preposterous to consider that renaming the faculty goes to enhance lives. It can also be clear that individuals reply emotionally when their symbols are attacked.
Drake has been completely politicized in our honest county, so the reality about the man – good and dangerous – is moot. Truth and open-mindedness are the first casualties of politicization.
Politics and symbols are actually not new to Marin. Indeed, I believe there could also be a enterprise opportunity promoting advantage advantage badges.
Two badge-worthy examples of ideological symbols had been each touted as transportation and environmental advances: the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge bike lane and the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit practice. Both creations look like everlasting, expensive (the SMART invoice alone approaches $500 million) and, actually, monuments to symbolism over substance.
The proof is evident that neither undertaking may have significant transportation or environmental advantages. Maybe 100 courageous souls cycle backwards and forwards between Richmond and San Rafael on a median day, winding round a pair dozen pedestrians. The majority trip and stroll for weekend recreation, so there isn’t a visitors discount.
SMART’s reluctance to share ridership information, plus its lately failed try to get taxpayers to fork over much more of their hard-earned money, make clear that the impression of the practice was fancifully overstated by its sponsors (President Donald Trump might take propaganda classes from that group).
Still, the boosters and bureaucrats accountable for the bike path and the voters who supported SMART cling to the symbolic logic that it was “the proper factor” to do.
Symbolism could be a highly effective and constructive software for shaping public opinion and subsequently coverage. However, when the symbol itself becomes the objective, opportunity has been lost.
All three farces recounted right here expended scarce power and sources for little profit. Indeed, the causes these symbol-chasers assist might in the end undergo as these efforts harden the resolve of opponents and, extra impactfully, flip off the benignly detached majority that exists on most points.
Hopefully over the coming month we are going to all acquire energy from our vacation rituals (pandemic-ified as they might be). Hopefully in the new yr, our collective focus can be on substance not symbols.
Merry Christmas and completely happy holidays.