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Saturday, June 03, 2017
A Future Misplaced
People are a curious lot, especially when we resort to "herd mentality". For some reason, we seem to have this tendency to act or think in a certain way just because we perceive or we're told, that "everyone else is doing it", be it some fashion or gaming or whatever trend. Maybe we've just been conditioned by Madison Avenue marketing types to follow these made up trends. Maybe it's genetic, or perhaps it's a little of both. Lately, we've tripped into something similar to herd mentality, but potentially much more sinister, and that is "political correctness" or as it's otherwise known, being "PC".
Why do I say that? Because political correctness makes use of the our "group think" behavior by attempting to alter a person's behavior into conforming to a often manufactured set of parameters. This effort generally includes stigmatizing, bullying, and sometimes includes the use of or threat of violence. George Orwell discussed this kind of behavior in two of his most popular books, "Animal Farm" and "1984". However, Orwell was simply writing what he saw taking place in Stalinist Russia, where certain ideas were "erased" from the public conscientious. It didn't take long for this to go from ideas or words and phrases to erasing actual people and events from the accepted history (it's been said that history is nothing more than a collective agreement of assumptions).
The Catholic Church has had a very long history of rewriting (or "correcting" to use their phrase) history through its destruction of "heretical" sects, religious texts and other books. It has deleted, altered, and reinterpreted hundreds if not thousands of religious scripture in order to promote its political-religious agenda going back centuries. Of course, many other religions have done so as well. More recently in history, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy , Spain, Hungary and Romania all made great use of politically correct behavior which included not just intimidation but made use of mass book burnings (as did the Catholic Church which, as often as not, was simply stoking the flames for the religious and political dissenters tied to the stake). However, none did it better than Stalin who even had photos and film edit out the latest political enemy along with all mention of their very existence (while sometimes inserting himself to create the image of the all present and powerful leader).
Here in America, we're seeing something similar being played out. Perhaps not to the extent mentioned above; at least no one has been burned at the stake, executed, or set to a concentration camp...not yet anyway. What I'm specifically talking about is the accelerating tendency to distort and/or attempt to erase a part of American history. We've long heard the story about how George Washington could never tell a lie when in truth he was a little shady on his real estate dealings or how Abraham Lincoln "freed all the slaves", which is patently not true. However, that is where I want to go with this article, namely the removal of our portion of collective past as a nation. Let's get started with ole log splitting "Honest Abe".
First off, Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, a slave state, as was the first and only President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis (as an aside, both were born in log cabins). Lincoln's family moved to Indiana and finally settled in Springfield Illinois while Jefferson Davis moved to Mississippi. Lincoln would grow up being mostly unsuccessful in everything he did and hardly "honest" even as a lawyer. Of course, in time, and after numerous false starts, Lincoln finally succeed in becoming President, but it was of a nation which was deeply divided along many lines and had been since the 1840's. Davis would be more successful in his business ventures and ultimately become one of America's greatest US Senators. When he agreed to become President of the newly created Confederacy, Davis said it was the "saddest day of my life", but felt he had no other choice. Lincoln repeatedly said he had no opposition to the issue slavery with respects to the nation and would do whatever he could to keep the nation together, including the acceptance of slavery (privately, Lincoln opposed slavery). However, slavery was not the key issue for succession. It was only one, albeit a vocal one, of the many reasons for the division of the union---the two key factors being the issue of state's rights and economic development (which was brought to a head with Worrall Act).
Jefferson Davis, on the other hand, understood the complexities of succession. He even acknowledged that the institution of slavery was unsustainable and would very likely have ended on its own within ten years if not sooner. When Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, following the bloody and indecisive Battle of Gettysburg, it was in hopes of bring the war to an end. The Proclamation pertained ONLY to the states which had seceded and not to the slave holding border states and territories. Since the South was primarily rural, Lincoln hoped to draw Southern soldiers away from the battlefields and back to the farms as slaves left and crops began to rot in the fields. Of course, Lincoln's order was illegal in that it was being issued over territory where he had no jurisdiction, but he hoped it would have the same results. Of course, the industrial might of the North ultimately won and the South was utterly laid waste.
Decades later, veterans on both sides meet; some became good friends with their counterparts on the other side. Eventually, the widows, children, and descendants of both the North and South began to form associations erect memorials and statues. Even our current "Memorial Day", originally a Southern holiday, was adopted nationally. Now, some 152 years later, a new type of Civil War seems to be arising. We have a small minority of individuals who are quite adapt at being vocal as well as making use of the "politically correct" trigger, are demanding that all traces of the Confederacy be erased. We've already seen where decades of misleading education has created the popular myth of "Lincoln the Modern Moses " or that there was a single sole cause for the war when in truth, less than 4% of the entire South owned any slaves (the average was three). Most slave owners worked shoulder to shoulder with their slaves. Only 1% were the stereotypical "Terra" plantations.
These individuals and groups are demanding that all statues pertaining to the Confederacy be removed and destroyed. Thankfully, most are being saved and removed to less prominent locations. However, these demands include the renaming of schools, roads, and the removal of any and all Confederate flags or memorabilia from public property as well as museums, cemeteries, battlefields, or even re-enactments along with prohibiting the sale of related memorabilia. Failure to comply could result in threats of violence (sometimes it's more than mere threats), protests, boycotting and labeling as a "racist". As a result, state and local leaders have tucked tail and complied with these terrorist demands in the name of political correctness.
Now, as if that isn't intimidating enough, these same individuals are demanding an end to so-called "cultural appropriation". By that they mean prohibiting non-black individuals from wearing certain types of ear rings, hair styles, or clothing. Some have tried to extend that to creating "all black" associations, social functions like school graduations, and even "white free safe spaces". Finally, there is the demand for "slave reparations", which range from a cash settlement, a free house and/or car, to a guaranteed annual income or a tuition free college education, all paid for by a special tax on non-black individuals. The worse part of this is that some publicly elected individuals or appointed institutional leaders are actually considering this while a few have actually already implemented some of these demands!
I suppose that, in some ways, I can understand their frustration (note: since I'm not a racial minority, that statement can be construed as being "racially insensitive" or not "PC"). Anyway, they rightfully claim that, per Lincoln, those who left their masters would receive "40 acres and a mule". They were to be resettled in what was then called "Indian Lands"; that is, what's now Arizona and New Mexico. The alternative was a one way trip back to Africa, which some took. They founded the country of Liberia, which is basically the anus of the world. Home to huge blocks of poverty, poor sanitation, unsafe food, inadequate housing, a seriously corrupt government, and up until recently, ground zero for the Ebola virus. However, Lincoln's assassination nullified that verbal agreement (the reason for the offer in the first place was because Lincoln felt that whites and blacks would not get along well together). These individuals also claim, again rightfully, that because of slavery, they lost their cultural inheritance and connection to their history.
However, before they try to fix the blame on the US, they need to be reminded that slavery was introduced to America by the Spanish, then the Portuguese, Dutch, French and English. Even Native Americans, who were occasionally slaves themselves, held both white and black slaves. Furthermore, do you think any of these slave traders actually traipsed through the jungles in search of some hapless victim? Nope. They were caught and sold by other African tribes; usually as a result of a conflict or war, or some chief wanted someone's wife, daughter, property, or simply to get rid of a possible rival or troublemaker. Sometimes, these poor souls were sold to European slave traders in port; sometimes they were sold to Arab slave traders who took them East to sell (this practice by Arab slave traders still continues).
The fledgling US was among the very first countries to stop the importation of slaves into the country (1794 and again in 1807). So, who should be responsible, if anyone, for so-called "reparations"? Of course, there is the fact that there were actually some free black farmers and merchants who actually owned black slaves. We also shouldn't forget the non-slave free blacks in the North and in the so-called "Indian Lands" of the West, or those who came to America post 1865. Then there is the problem of multiple compensation given that very few blacks in America today actually descended from a slave. What about non-black individuals who were held as slaves such as the Irish, Scottish, Germans, Native Americans or Asians? They should be compensated too since they were enslaved by the same people (BTW, I am not referring to indentured individuals. That was a voluntary arrangement which often ended in freedom at the end of their term of servitude).
So what do we do? Is rewriting or distorting history the best answer? Should we try to bury the past by denying mainly WASPish Americans their history the way some blacks claim they were denied? What about those demanding the statues of Andrew Jackson be removed too? What do we gain by destroying our past or even the symbols of our pasts, or more importantly, what do we lose as a nation? Is it now acceptable to prohibit individuals from displaying pride in their heritage or honoring the dead just because a small minority claims to be "offended" or because you might be called a name? Do we try to forget the past by erasing its markers and symbols the way Stalin did his enemies? Do we reward individuals for something which may or may not have happened to an ancestor 150 or 200 years ago? If so, what about others who suffered from the same fate? Should be force museums and battlefields to close or cloak the truth, yet we publicly fund other groups simply because of their race? Isn't that the very definition of hypocrisy...or cowardice? Should we allow others to censor our words? What about digging up the dead? The City Council of Memphis Tennessee voted move to remove the remains of Confederate General Nathan B. Forrest, his wife and relocating them from the city cemetery, along with his statue. Is that morally right? Should all images of the Founding Fathers who owned slaves (including Jefferson and Washington) be removed, their homes closed and their bodies disinterred too (ironically, Robert E. Lee did not own slaves and whereas neither did Lincoln, his wife's family did). What about Union Generals who owned slaves, such as U.S. Grant, who came from a slave holding family?
Claims of "cultural appropriation" too is another case of "me thinks you protest too much" to borrow a line from the Bard's pen. Civilization has always advanced thanks to "cultural appropriation" . Perhaps this should be simply chocked up to another example of extremism, no different from the divisive political morass in Washington or the theocratic-based hatefulness taking place in Europe, Middle East, Asia, and Africa except this racism being perpetrated by the same individuals who scream "racism". We would do well to seek the middle ground; to reach for a societal equilibrium and strive for a consensus which serves the greater good but leaves our values intact. As for me, I am not afraid of words; of being called a name by someone who is likely to be more guilty of its meaning than I. We should stop trying to destroy the past. To do so is like setting ourselves adrift by cutting our historical anchor or throwing our moral compass overboard. We should learn from the past, embrace the present, and keep our eyes fixed on the future.