Every now and then, something as simple as a symbol can crystallize the fault lines in our social geography. Something that is otherwise unrelated to our daily struggles can become a flashpoint for sides with very different views. Take for instance the ongoing debate about the Maine state flag.

Wherever you look these days, you see the pre-1909 green pine tree and blue star against the off-white, sometimes manila yellow background flying outside homes and business or emblazoned on T-shirts and ball caps. It’s a basic image, but even for millennials basic isn’t always bad. Sometimes it’s even good.

Just this weekend, I overheard some out-of-staters on the North Haven ferry look at the official flag and express consternation that it had not yet been changed to the apparently more fashionable variant.

Last year, the Maine Legislature shot down a bill to change the official state flag from the navy blue background with a farmer and a fisherman flanking the state seal over the motto “Dirigo” to this en vogue, reductionist flag which, a farmer in Lincoln County recently told me, “looks like it was made by a kindergartener.”

My own state representative, Sean Paulus, D-Bath, introduced the measure. To best I can tell, it is the only bill he’s introduced. Clearly Rep. Paulus thought it was important. More important than, say, the issue of criminal justice reform I wrote him about (and to which he never found the time to respond).

A substantial majority of his colleagues disagreed (91-58) about how critical it was to change the flag. Rep. MaryAnne Kinney, R-Knox, told the Portland Press Herald at the time that she thought both flags were fine, but in the midst of the COVID epidemic there were more important things to debate.

In the event this should come up again, I’d go a step further and suggest that changing the state flag is anti-human, and anti-Mainer. Does this take the question to the extreme? Maybe, but it matters.

Right now, both fishermen and farmers in Maine are under assault.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has put in place restrictions on the lobster fishing industry in an ill-conceived effort to save the endangered right whale. Science does not support NOAA’s finding, but well-heeled environmentalists do. So does the wife of the chief-of-staff to the president of the United States.

Meanwhile, the question of “forever chemicals,” or PFAS, has already spelt ruin for some Maine farmers whose soil was contaminated because they followed the guidance of the state Department of Environmental Protection years back when it was actively encouraging farmers to spread sewage sludge over their fields as fertilizer. Beyond PFAS, though, skyrocketing inflation and a broken labor market are making it very difficult to many family farms in our state to keep going.

Imagine if representations of these iconic Maine livelihoods were stricken from the state flag on top of everything else. It would add insult to injury, and suggest the whole thing was somehow premeditated.

Do we live in a state with its own heritage and traditions, or simply an aesthetically appealing place with world-class nature that could be better enjoyed if us pesky inhabitants were removed? Ask a Realtor. When you do, you’ll find that – regrettably for those of us who grew up here – market forces favor the latter view.

One other thing: It probably wasn’t an issue for the designers of the pre-1909 “original” flag, but the blue star in today’s context has a partisan hue favoring Democrats. A red one could suggest Republicans, communists, or swingers. Given these associations, maybe it’s better to have no star at all.

In fact, let’s not revisit the question of changing the state flag again. Three months from now, Maine voters will go to the polls and cast their ballots the same way teachers issue report cards. Then we’ll find out who is thought to have pursued frivolous agendas versus who fought for us on things that really matter.

To help us parse one from the other, symbols may be helpful.

Sam Patten is a recovering political consultant who was raised in Knox County and worked for Maine’s last three Republican senators.