Stepping on the Rattlesnake

There was a time when I was a Gadsden flag devotee. In my libertarian days I even used it as a prop for a speech, back in those days when I believed that overcoming fears was something that you just had to put your mind to in order to achieve. I never did get over my fear of public speaking, and I’ve long since given up even trying to do it. No two groups are ever the same, and repeated embarrassment in front of larger and larger audiences just spreads belief that you are incompetent at the task you are trying to achieve. Stop while you’re ahead, advice I should have taken a long time ago when it comes to public speaking.

By Benjamin Franklin – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3g05315.

The Gadsden flag is itself a token of fear, but it says more about the fear of the people who carry it than it does about the people they are opposing.
When Franklin came up with the severed snake image for the thirteen colonies, the imagery was undeniably effective. If the colonies didn’t form themselves into a cohesive whole, they would be killed and consumed separately by the world powers of the time. It was such an effective image that it was used more than once by Franklin to call the citizens of the colonies together to support a common cause. It reverberated again and again through the varying crisis that faced the fledgling colonies. Colonies that dreamed of one day being free of their European masters.

The snake on the Gadsden flag is whole. That snake represents the colonies standing as one. It’s a rattlesnake because early Americans had enough experience with rattlesnakes to appreciate the warning rattle they gave. The flag itself was a warning rattle to the British and their Scottish and German mercenaries that the American colonies were determined to be colonies no longer. But since the common European conscript had no idea what a rattlesnake was, the caption DON’T TREAD ON ME was added to communicate the important fact that the flag failed to communicate with its visual representation. We will fight you to the last man to establish our independence. We will take you down with us if you persist. This was a sentiment that we understood for ourselves, but have repeatedly failed to recognize in other former colonies when they fought for their freedom.

However, the necessity of putting text on the flag makes it a bad flag in the eyes of vexillologists. If you have to put words on your flag, your flag has failed to communicate the information you want to pass on. It’s also the first in a long line of bad revolutionary flags. Juvenile attempts to provoke an enemy that proceeds to do the thing that the flag says they can’t do.

Like this image does. It doesn’t matter that that foot will be bitten and probably have to be amputated. That the corporations will face retribution and regulation for their unwise actions curtailing free expression. Not all governments are equal, and not all societies are free. Doing the bidding of the powerful will never make you the friends of the weak, and the weakest among us is always going to be an individual somewhere. The corporations, if they proceed to tread on the snake of free expression, will die along with free expression. It is in the nature of ideas that this is true.

Stepping barefoot on a rattlesnake is a bad idea. Stepping on free expression is similarly a bad idea if you are a corporation that relies on people being able to speak their mind on your platform. Users will leave the platform for other platforms where they can express themselves the way they like without threats of punishment. The individual users need to be smart enough to know that they are being lied to, though. That they aren’t smart in that way is a failing of education, and there is no easy way out of this conundrum. You can’t foment revolution without consequences, and you can’t stop people from calling for revolution without infringing on free expression. GIGO, as I said previously. Garbage in, garbage out. Separating the worthwhile communication from the informational junk food. Not going on Facebook seems to be the first step to kicking the current informational junk food habit.