If I were designing a new flag that expressed the current state of the world, it would be very simple: just the image of an iceberg floating on the ocean, the bulk of its mass lurking below the waterline.
The iceberg says it all. Obviously, in its non-metaphorical reality, it is the proliferating evidence of global climate change. But it can be seen as representing so much more.
An iceberg is, after all, a refugee. Its homeland has fallen apart and it has been cast into a vast and unforgiving ocean. But at the same time it is far from powerless. You can’t think iceberg without also thinking “Titanic.” And so the iceberg also reminds us of the vulnerabilities of our most advanced technologies to a single unfortunate encounter.
But the iceberg derives its real symbolic power from its shape. A song lyric from the 90’s expressed it as “one-fifth showing/ four-fifths hid” and that’s approximately correct. What you see is only a fraction of what’s there. As such the iceberg symbolizes all the occasions when we are shocked by what we see and even more unsettled by the knowledge that there is so much more that we can’t see. For every account of sexual assault or excessive use of force by the police there are many more that are never reported or captured on video. Yet another iceberg.
The uneven distribution between the ice that can glisten in the sun as opposed to being submerged in dark frigid water also captures our economic inequities. Twenty percent of Americans control 85% of the nation’s wealth. Sounds like an iceberg to me.
Finally, the iceberg embodies the dilemma that confronts us in many of our relationships and associations, both social and political: Glaciers have scraped down mountains and carved canyons. But life in a glacier is confining and progress ever so incremental. We yearn for freedom and the autonomy to be ourselves. Ice that stays united possesses awesome power. Ice that breaks off and floats away? Well, we all know how that ends.
With a Perspective, I’m Paul Staley.
Paul Staley lives in San Francicsco.