Thinking about symbolism


The symbols we see around us play an important role in building a cohesive society. In fact, symbols are an important tool for humanity. The images we see help to create both our group and individual identities, such as the Canadian flag, the maple leaf, or even Tim Hortons, which play toward our patriotism. They identify us as being part of this country.

Symbols also play a functional use for us as well, in that our alphabet and language is a set of symbols. They enable us to create complex and comprehensive ideas that we are able to use to communicate with one another. This messaging contains nuanced norms and values that form a part of our culture here in Canada, subtly distinguishing us from other societies, and even creating distinctions between generations or subcultures within our country.

Implied above is the inherent power within symbols, which we can sometimes overlook, missing some important trends. For example, last year, a rally by a White Supremacist group marched in the U.S., which created political fallout both there and here. The symbol of the Swastika has become associated with a political meaning that is contrary to our values. It symbolizes hate and fascism, racial segregation, among other negative ideals, because of its use during the 1930s and 1940s in Germany. Forgotten is its initial meaning of peace within Sanskrit.

Similarly, the Hammer and Sickle, used by Communist groups and countries, has also been vilified in the past by Western countries. It symbolized the challenges to our liberal economic ideals, and it too was associated with the oppression of various peoples and groups in Eastern Europe, many of whom fled to Canada to seek safety and refuge. Time, however, seems to have forgotten these dark histories, for this symbol has recently been paraded at political marches in Alberta, without even a flicker of discontent. Has this symbol and its associated movements become impotent, or have some of their initial values become entrenched within our societal values, such as workers rights and a fair economy?

Across Western Europe, these two political forces have been, once again, vying for political legitimacy, and they are slowly becoming integrated into European mainstream politics. Could we see the same thing here in Canada, or even here in Alberta? It would seem that such trends are cyclical, recurring themes within politics, and they are interesting to observe. They offer us insights into potential issues on the political landscapes, along with opportunities to learn from our past. These social and political trends represent how we want society to be viewed in posterity and they are represented in the symbols we, as a society, accept and reject.

John Kennair is an international consultant and doctor of laws who lives in St. Albert.


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John Kennair

John Kennair is an international consultant and doctor of laws who lives in St. Albert.