Civic Debate Ethics Tip: Don’t Use Words As Accusations If You Don’t Know What They Mean [Missing Link Restored!]

That’s the newly designed Utah state flag flying above this post. A bill signed into law in March adopted it to replace the 1911 version that has been the standard for over a century. It looked like this:

Now I’ve been involved in the equivalent of flag redesign controversies several times: logo changes. It is always a mess. No matter how stodgy or outdated the current logo was, people were used to it, and hated the idea of a new one. No matter how innovative or well-designed the potential replacement was, board members would subjectively conclude it was ugly. Inevitably someone with no artistic skill or background would whip out a pad and doodle his or her idea of a good logo.

However, the issue at hand is the term being used in ultra-conservative Utah to turn the public against the new flag. It is being accused of being “woke.”

“Woke”? The flag includes at its center a beehive, just like the old flag, honoring the pioneers who arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. Gov. Spencer Cox had declared that the beehive had to be prominent on any re-imagined flag, and promised to veto any design without it.

“I did lay down the law on the beehive,” the governor said. He threatened to veto any design that didn’t have one. The rest of the flag includes five stylized peaks above the hive, symbolizing Utah’s famous mountain ranges, and the red below is meant to evoke Utah’s red-rock canyons to the south. Combined with the blue sky, the design presents a symbolic behive on a red, white and blue background. How would that be “woke”?

The old flag is about as generic as one could find, resembling many other flags designs around the country. “We jokingly call those SOB flags—that’s a seal on a bedsheet,” Ted Kaye, a vexillologist or flag scholar, told the Wall Street Journal. The supplanted Utah flag isn’t clear or distinctive and doesn’t stand out from a distance, Kaye added. He has written a design guide for flags, and consulted with state officials during the process of updating Utah’s.

While there is some disagreement over the exact definition of “woke,” which originated as an African-American term for someone who has seen the light and embraces the mission or racial justice. Now it is frequently used, as on Ethics Alarms, to describe lock-step conformity with progressive cant, narratives and agenda items, and the virtue-signaling that so often accompanies it. But whatever it means, there is no possible meaning that would apply to the new Utah flag. If it included a Black Lives Matter symbol, or a nod to oper borders, or a gun with line over it, or was festooned with a rainbow, then one might accuse the design of being woke.

Conservatives who use “woke” to describe any innovation, variation from tradition, or just something they don’t like or agree with are validating the worst stereotypes nailed to the foreheads of the political right by progressives and the mainstream media. Everything old and traditional isn’t automatically good; indeed, ethics is about society’s process of learning what works and doesn’t, and what is right, though experience and perspective. Every new idea advanced by progressives isn’t wrong or misguided, either. “Woke” is a useful term, but it won’t be useful if it comes to mean anything a critic wants it to mean. This is what the Left has done to the rather essential terms “racist” and “racism.” Two conservative principles worth fighting for are clear and unambiguous language, and civic discourse designed to inform and enlighten rather than to mislead and confuse.

Love the new Utah flag or hate it, it is definitely not woke.

17 thoughts on “Civic Debate Ethics Tip: Don’t Use Words As Accusations If You Don’t Know What They Mean [Missing Link Restored!]

  1. Is it possible that the removal of the eagle and the blatant American flag motif is what is upsetting people? They may be interpreting the removal as being in lockstep with the fashionable anti-Americanism that is prevalent among government officials now.

  2. The larger beehive is consistent with the Utah roadsigns that signal that people in Utah are good Mormon worker bees. The intended name of Utah was ‘Deseret’ (as in the Deseret News), which is supposed to mean ‘bee’ in the language of the Mormon Jaredite people.

    You could interpret the stronger Mormon symbolism and elimination of United States symbolism on the flag to signal a more independent streak in the state, maybe a sign of a secession from the US! OK, I am joking about that, but the woke accusation seems weird.

  3. I’m guessing the “woke” designation is, at this point, a reaction to the left trying to erase anything positive about US history in general. They came for Dixie State, they came for high school mascots, and now they’re coming for the flag.

    Or they’re annoyed that people want to give Utah a face-lift and see it as an attempt to distance itself from its religious roots.

    Note that neither of these (hypothetical) reactions even attempts a cost-benefit analysis of the before-and-after of the proposed change or whether there’s any real merit to the idea that the whole thing is a culture war volley. At this point, it’s probably mostly knee-jerk and “why change it if it’s fine?” mentality. I know I opposed changing the flag because it’s a waste of money and there was nothing wrong with the old flag, but get off my lawn!

    • And the new flag looks like a bad NBA jersey or MLB uniform. See, eg., the Colorado Rockies’ special Sunday unis that are modeled after the Colorado license plate design!

  4. One of my friends is South African (blonde hair blue eyed white guy who always checks off “African-American” when given the opportunity) who called the new RSA flag an “effing beach towel”
    Is the new Utah flag woke? No.
    Has it turned into a flag that a 10 year old with a box of crayolas can knock out in 20 minutes? Yup… just like the other 3 ‘four corners states’…
    What would be woke: Washington ditching George, Massachusetts ditching the native american image…
    Borderline woke: Mississippi and Georgia removing the CSA stars and bars…
    There are 15-20 states with the basic state seal on medium blue motif (add Alberta just for fun). I can see where a state would want to differentiate…
    Cheers, Mike

  5. The new flag isn’t woke, per se. I think there’s an argument that by eliminating the standard issue eagle and flag (can’t be nationalistic) and the dreadful, white supremacist word/concept of, wait for it, “INDUSTRY,’ the administration is bowing to the woke shibboleth that self-determination is a white supremacist myth which only exists to oppress people of color. Putting “industry” on the flag is tantamount to telling people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Which is verboten. People can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps in a systemic racist country like the United States.

    So besides, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” being in play, I’m guessing the deletion of “industry” is what’s going on here beneath the surface.

    • The old flag was embarrassingly cluttered as well as derivative. The American version of the imperial European eagle is truly archaic, and “INDUSTRY” is ambiguous, as well as weird on a flag. Then there are the two dates. Flags are like T-shirts: some wag once said that a person’s IQ is inversely proportional to the number of words on his or her T-shirt. I agree with that.

  6. In the State that Mondale Won, we had a flag flap that came up years ago. In looking for that, I found this goofy story:

    What I was looking for was something about the Indian that appears on the seal:

    In the original design, the Indian was riding west away from the white man. In 1983, it was changed a bit so that the Indian was riding toward the white man (in a politically harmonious way, not an aggressive combative way). That was more of a “woke” change than Utah seems to be; or maybe they were whitewashing genocide with that change.

    Anyway, I tend to like the traditional appearances of these flags with the year of induction into the union; at the same time, I like Arizona’s, Colorado’s, New Mexico’s, South Carolina’s and Tennessee’s flags.

    I even like the monstrosity that is the Maryland Flag.

    I do not think the Utah flag was improved by this change (but, then, I am no vexillologist (my new word of the day)).


  7. I always thought the boring state flags with the state name on it were simultaneously insulting (“hey dummy, did you forget your state? Just read the flag…if you can”) and informing us that the flag is so jumbled with imagery like all the other “seal on a sheet” and “name on the flag” states that no one can figure out what state it is supposed to be for without the label.

    I think the Utah flag is a great update.

    Get Utah closer to the ideal such as what Texas flies.

  8. I would have thought that in a democracy final approval for a change in flag would have been left to the people in a referendum. Here in New Zealand we had a vote on changing the flag in 2016 where 56.6% voted to keep the old flag.

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