Flag wavers have no place in democracy

Edward Taaffe
9 min readJan 6, 2024

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Flag wavers
Photo by Norbu GYACHUNG on Unsplash

It’s tempting to trawl through all the overlapping cognitive bias issues that we humans are victims to and come up with a kind explanation for a certain kind of self-destructive behaviour, but there is only one answer: “Flag wavers”. They are sometimes very nice people, but whether they are simply comfortable hiding in a crowd, or genuinely hoping to be heard, they invariably do more harm than good in a democratic society. If only those with a tendency towards this form of engagement would stop and think, there are much better approaches.

What then do I mean by the term, flag-waver?

We all enjoy a big international match, waving flags in the stands and expressing real feelings of support for our team.

Even when supporting my ex’s country team and a pal’s country, I was surprised to feel similar emotions beginning. It’s about belonging, even for a little over an hour. It almost never lasts till tomorrow though and demonstrates little of substance. Even at war, a well-paid contractor is invariably more effective and more reliable.

Where I grew up, nobody ever went to a Saturday game and attacked supporters of the other side, stadia were all mixed and they were not policed. This was because the media and the older generations were never known to express hatred towards the other side and such an idea never saw nor had it ever seen the light of day. They weren’t better people, just different in that particular way because of a tradition, because of socialization. They still carried coloured hats, even flags, they just weren’t “flag wavers”, at least not on Saturdays. Were these people occasionally prone to big demonstrations of what we sometimes call patriotism? Oh yes.
Bringing it up is simply a statement of a fact that’s useful for analysing what’s behind the phenomenon of flag-waving..

Today politicians hire PR firms and Troll firms to highlight differences between sectors of society and to stir up everything from discontent to war.
Duterte was the first at scale. He boasted on live TV of having killed someone over a look. Crime went crazy in his country, Duterte got elected.
Trump, the killings continued and eventually led to a serious attempt to bring down the US republic by armed and organised thugs.
Boris Johnson attacked the French publicly and a French child was thrown off a roof within days by a young British thug.
After the Brexit vote, the streets of Britain especially in the North of England were gripped with Racism and we saw a series of racist attacks. All that above is “flag-waving” .in one form or another.

Flag-waving has nothing to do with love of, or with loyalty to a country, a team or a group, it’s about trouble, bother, aggression; just like ape gangs in the jungle Its also very much about a gang that somehow feeds off the existence of the gang..

In UK,, after the Partygate scandal left him a long way behind in the polls, Johnson broke International Law just to start a row with Europe and give his followers something to wave their flags for.
Then he tried to deport black Asylum seekers to Rwanda knowing it was illegal and he’d have another row, not with the EU this time, but a court founded by Churchill. What does a flag-waver care about history? The only thing that’s important to such a politician is the flag waving and the association between that flag waving and himself. No logic is required whatsoever. On the Internet or a newspaper, a n article shows a picture of Johnson taken last year in Marseilles alongside a bunch of flag wavers associated with Boris, but actually taken in Brussels and bingo. Boris is now associated with a large group of flag wavers but more importantly, they are associated with him. He looks popular and so does whatever label is associated with that bout of flag-waving. We’ll return to the subject of labels.
The saga of the small boats continues as though it were serious or important in comparison to all the serious economic woes, because the value of these flag-wavers is well understood by political strategists.

What are they waving their flags for?

Politics has been gripped form early days of democracy by the flag-waving phenomena. Red v Blue, that’s a British thing to a degree. Communists or socialists are represented by red, right wing or conservatives by blue, but it’s really still about gangs. There are two key viewpoints of or personas for flag-wavers that tell an eye-opening story and they are:

A) A person with few real goals or aims, but drifting through life avoiding major trouble and occasionally seeking meaning.
That describes an awful lot of us and its intended to be insightful rather than insulting. Such people will find themselves attracted to a group for no particularly meaningful reason and hang out with them. He/she may just as easily change allegiances and for the most facile of reasons.

B) A person trained in media management, adept at manipulating person A to see and join a gang of flag wavers and to keep sending that person little rewards to keep him engaged.

It’s no more complicated than that.
Our King v Your King. Wars of the roses.
Our team v yours. The Saturday game.
Socialists v Capitalists. People who never read an economics book.
Workers v toffee noses. People from council estates.
There’s more than enough tradition to keep this reaction alive and even to create an addiction of sorts.

When flag-waving becomes interesting in the political sphere is the classic “Levelling Up” agenda.
Apart from Gerrymandering, it’s the only way you can transfer a constituency to your gang, but annoying as it seems to some it’s perfectly legitimate and represents democracy working to plan. The people you help will support you.
The question is whether and when those who have been levelled down switch alliance to rebalance the book. Usually, the plan is that this happens after the protagonists are safely in power. Its not always clear either, whether the helped. are really being helped.

The problem for flag wavers is that they are not in control. They are not free to make that logical move in their own best interests, but stuck in identity wars for far too long to make their voices count. Above all, the failure happens when they give up the power to make decisions and place that power in an undefined primeval gang, little different to a gang of sheep-worrying dogs in a rural town, who go for a run in the fields late at night to kill a few lambs and feel like wolves before returning to get their bowl filed and a pat on the head next morning.

Today, the money desperately needed in some Southeastern Tory traditional constituencies of UK is instead, being carefully distributed among what many southerners think of as, head-banging Socialists. in the Northeast.. To be fair that’s not a description of all of them by any means, or even a majority, but it captures the overall attitude as we’ve seen it represented since coalmines began to close back in the eighties.
The NE is smart enough to vote Tory as long as they keep receiving, but the SE is lost staring into an empty lager tin and waving those blue flags and anti-refugee flags helplessly. For them the only problem is supporting someone else’s gang, an unheard-of atrocity.
The latter is Flag-waving at its worst and it’s best in one snapshot.
‘Levelling up’ could easily be used as the label for Marxism, it is certainly Socialist by nature. It appeals to working class people who noticed that socialists were more likely to provide them good pay and take care of them rather than tell them to compete.
It seems to be doing for the people of the Northeast just what it promised and that’s all good. What’s not so good, is that the people doing this sell themselves and indeed got elected on the basis of their identity as a right-wing party dedicated to neoliberal ideals and yet here they are letting down all their loyal supporters.
The problem for flag wavers is that an idea quickly becomes a label and soon a gang and our team v your team. That’s when it suddenly becomes a huge liability for everyone. There’s really no reason to expect that right wing party should never level up a poor region, but to a flag waver this is disloyalty and well, they just don’t understand it.

In general, flag-waving detracts from debate and confuses the democratic process. At worst it can be manipulated to carry out terrible evil as we saw in India a year back when rumours caused people to lynched and murdered.
The sight of Trump supporters attacking the White House as part of imaginary groups chasing imaginary villains was really quite shocking to the extent that the US has largely brushed it under the carpet rather than confront the evil it revealed to us all.
Zionists in Israel have started a war that will bear little good to anyone because they got enough power to boldly step up their war on helpless Palestinians, the other gang and all because Zionists believe their gang to be superior to all others.

Not only is the culture of flag-waving gangs a huge problem for placing the gang membership in the place where performance should be, i.e. voting for a flag instead of a clear cut policy, but flag waving slips one level further when it abstract the gangs into words or ‘labels’ as described in CIA training manuals. The ‘Label’ is an emotionally charged word or label that the people associate with the felling , accurate or not, that they are feeling, but then ruthlessly associated with the thing a politician or negotiator wants to sell them.
Suddenly the gang promising to help everyone own a business or have a job in one of the new businesses has been abstracted to simply the ‘Conservatives’ that is further extracted to ‘The Right’. Some people even use words like ‘rightist’ ( Americans obviously) and of course journalists introduce further labels like’ far right’. Soon the ‘far right’ has somehow slipped from being a bunch of SME supporters to racists who patrol the streets attacking coloured people. No different in the British SE.
Ive almost managed to confuse myself and I’ve barely scratched the surface, but that’s more than enough to illustrate the enormous damage done by flag waving even before it becomes a shouting match about meaningless labels.

Conclusion

Ignore flags and flag wavers and ignore labels, they were designed from the outset to deceive you. Don’t fall for it. Only well thought out plans with costs, times and risks are acceptable. Reputations are as reliable as yesterday’s leftovers, Stick to what you can see or hear and measure.

The important takeaway is to get and remain in control. If you don’t communicate with your representatives you can’t expect to be represented and if you don’t show willing to hit them where it hurts, why on earth should they believe you? This is one area of life where loyalty never, ever comes into the discussion.
Your partner may give you cold shoulder with no explanation, but loyalty is due and you should give the benefit of the doubt, talk about it. Your sports team may hit a losing streak, but for the sake of your sanity, best make allowances for a while.

None of the above applies to democracy.
No allowances are due unless negotiated in good faith. Patience is due only when they promised a delay and outlined risks.
In politics, forgiveness is a form of self-destruction, that’s not how it was designed.

If you feed your cat she purrs, if you poke her with a finger she scratches. That’s how democracy is intended to work. No room for misunderstandings. It’s like hiring a cleaner. Pay them when they clean, give them a warning when they don’t and fire them if it happens again.

When you see the chap battered from head to toe waving his flag under a banner that says “Well they tried” have a quiet chuckle and think: There, but for the grace of . . .

Finally, a more cautionary note. None of us can ever achieve much democratically by simply voting even the few of us with the intelligence to vote tactically. Unless you can find a large group of like-minded souls to also vote for the good outcomes, you will surely be disappointed. This is why I urge you to spread the good word.

See also:

The bug at the top.

Use villains to get anyone you want elected

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Edward Taaffe

Ed is a technical consultant and writer in the areas of Digital and Products. He writes here on random subjects that catch the eye.