As a bizarre off-shoot of [thread=605861] this thread [/thread], I began to wonder what would be more instantly offensive to dopers : burning a book, or burning a flag. I don’t want to go into more detail as to the book or the flag at this point. We’ll assume it’s the flag of your country, just to avoid a Thurston Howell-esque discussion of burning the yacht club pennant.
Which one gives you more of a visceral “That ain’t right” feeling?
As flag burning is both a respectful means of disposal and a legitimate political protest (“you have soiled the flag by action x, I am symbolically destroying that soiled flag”), and book burning is principally a crude attempt at coercion, I’m going to have to say book burning is very offensive and flag burning not very much at all.
When someone burns a flag in a wrong-headed political protest, I’m sometimes put out, but that’s mostly because they’re wrong, not because flag burning itself is bad.
I think our flag is a symbol of our right to burn it. Burning the flag does not necessarily mean that you are against the country, but that you are against certain policies. Burning a book seems to me to be a symbol of destroying ideas.
The relevance is that we’re not talking about smearing a flag with shit, for example.
Flag-burning often originates from betrayed patriotic feelings, and the message is not simply “I want to mess up this flag” but “I am purifying this flag that someone has soiled by their evil actions; I reject this fucked-up situation.” Some people have tried to spin flag burning as being solely offensive for the sake of being offensive, as being purely rejectionist. But it is not necessarily so. Some people burn flags specifically because burning is a respectful, purifying way of destroying a flag when that action becomes necessary. They are not doing other things with the flags in question.
The only objection I have to flag-burning as a form of protest is that the flag-burners assume the flag symbolizes the same thing to everyone. They’re sending a message all right, but one that is likely to be misunderstood. Of course, if they just want to piss people off, someone will oblige them by being pissed off. Mission accomplished.
Book-burning, on the other hand, symbolizes not only a protest against the content of the burned book, but implies that the ones doing the burning are the rightful arbitrators of what information you or I should be allowed access to.
Burning a flag symbolizes nothing more than someone being opposed to something they think the flag symbolizes. Burning a book symbolizes not just opposition to the book’s contents, but that no-one else should be allowed access because they might think differently than the book-burners about the contents thereof. One act simply shows opposition to something, but the other denies other people the full exercise of authority over their own lives.
I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I suspect that how the flag is handled before and while it is being burned might be an indication whether the protesters are burning a flag which they perceive as having been “soiled” or if they are burning it because they dislike the things or people they believe the flag represents.
Flags have a low information content. Even if you somehow destroyed every American flag on Earth, it could be recreated from memory because it’s so simple. That would be difficult-to-impossible to do with a book. There’s simply more there to destroy with a book. And you can be just as patriotic without a flag, while you can’t read a book without a book.
As well, book burners tend to be people who are against the free dissemination of knowledge in general, while most flag burners have a specific country they are mad at.
The OP is a little bit equivocal because in the title it asks ‘what is worse’ and in the OP itself it says ‘what would be more directly offensive’. As for the first, I did vote that both are equally bad (or good) - both should be permissible in my view, even if it makes people angry or offends them. Both are clearly political statements, and both can be stupid or not according to some personal arbitrary standard, but that is not part of the consideration for me - whether X is intended by Y to mean anything at all and whether X achieves some goal that we think Y might have (or should have) in an effective or efficient way not does not affect whether Y should or should not have the right to do X.
As for being angry myself, as a book-lover I object more to books being burned than flags being burned, if only for the Third Reich associations that it calls up for me - but I don’t feel that that would be grounds for making that practice illegal.