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March 17, 2014 | by  | in Opinion |
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Ramblings of a Fallen Hack

A thin white band spanning a square of black. Papatūānuku and Ranginui at separation. The Long White Cloud. Simple, unadorned. A bit weird. Beautiful.

Last week, the Prime Minister announced that New Zealand will vote on a new flag – only to be drowned in the apathy of our elite. “I would rather see us going for growth then having #flagchatz,” tweeted one notable hack. From another: “John Key Legacy = New Flag! *assets not included”. The conclusion echoing through the caverns of power was simple: I shouldn’t care whether the most basic symbol of my home is a thing of meaning or a collection of colonial relics.

We’re told real change lies not in the symbols flying atop the Beehive but in the symbols we read when we open our monthly power bill. We understand what it means to save $30 on electricity. But from where comes the impact of an image? We could spin something about a revitalised brand supporting businesses’ search for another export market. We could say a renewed national spirit will bring more Kiwis home from their OEs or help us get to election-day polling booths. Unfortunately, it probably won’t. The New Zealand story is complicated, driven as much by tax-dodging cereal manufacturers as it is by conscious decision. A flag is an idea, and without a concrete legacy, ideas suffocate in the stranglehold of pragmatism.

But that lack of a legacy doesn’t matter. Knowing who we are is a thing of innate value, a thing we celebrate whenever we watch Shorty or perform a drunken (and probably racist) ‘Poi E’. Culture exists and we care, even though we don’t always know why.

When we talk about flags, we talk about something we understand. We really have no idea about the electricity spot market or gentailer governance. When forced to form an opinion on regulatory environments, all we can do is listen to experts who inevitably disagree and sheep along with whatever party we would have voted for anyway. The flag debate is different. We know what it means to see ourselves within an image; we can reject the cartoon of a sauce-splattered pie without assistance.

And if nothing else, the flag discussion will allow an overdue conversation. Our colonial legacy, our ties to the motherland, the oppression those ties have brought and the cultures that they have created. Within the drama of our political cycles it’s rare to pause, to consider the meaning of a country founded by the speed of sail in a world flashing at the speed of fibre.

The great irony of Kiwi pragmatism is that it’s incapable of celebrating itself. Let’s have that celebration. When we talk about flags, we talk about the narrative within which our politik fights. Debating the flag is not a waste of my democracy. Who we are still matters.

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