Killing a Culture

When I was studying at Cambridge, I learned of a local political ploy where firefighters were miserably paid and people wanted to have them paid more but there was a nasty political dance about who should be paying them more; multiple parties wanted firefighters paid more at just someone else's expense.

Another layer of politics, and more to the point I wish to make, had to do with traditional foxhunts. One aspect of English upper-class leisure was having hunts in which a large number of people on horses would try to hunt a fox. It has famously been called "the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable." And it has got to be one of the most inefficient and man-hour-consuming ways to kill a fox, although I am not really sure that is the point.

There were people trying to abolish such hunts, but when I talked about this with a British friend, he commented that he did not object in principle to keeping fox hunts, and he did not object in principle to abolishing fox hunts, but the political campaign was not single-layered; the big push to abolish fox hunts was a point of debate chosen in furthering an agenda of destroying the upper-class English way of life. His refraining from offering a verdict in terms of what is permissible on animal welfare grounds was part of pointing out to me that the issue was not the welfare of a few foxes, but finding a political fulcrum to help dislodge the upper-class English way of life.

In one conversation, I commented that master politicians, like master chess players and master martial artists, do not make single-layered moves. They cannot afford to do such things. This has the corollary that if you have a single-layered understanding of something that is going on politically, you do not understand what is going on.

Speaking as a Northerner momentarily in the South and admittedly one who is trying to tread lightly (I am looking forward to the monastery moving so I will no longer be a Yankee who comes to stay), I have since before setting foot at this monastery in the South that there was something multi-layered to certain developments of political correctness. I was shocked at the consummate rudeness of removing statues; and I have been inclined to regard how the Confederate flag has been treated (with people saying, for instance, that it belongs in a museum, next to the Nazi flag). Now I know I am skating on thin ice, and I acknowledge that to many Americans the Confederate flag is offensive and is becoming treated as moreso, but may I point out a flag that is far more offensive to many more people worldwide?

An image of the United States flag.

One response might be that the U.S. flag is not flown to flip the bird at U.S. haters worldwide. But that principle may shed a little light on the Confederate flag; none of the people I know who value the Confederate flag value it as a way to flip the bird. The Nazi flag is only flown for the purpose of loudly advancing white nationalism. I admit that the racist right has taken to flying the Confederate flag alongside the Nazi flag but... I'm getting slightly ahead of myself.

When I was studying French at the Sorbonne, my professor said that he would not forgive a particular previous and more liberal prime minister. (I might comment that political comments from this professor were pretty sporadic.) In the French equivalent of the U.S. electoral college, the biggest vote-getter wins, and that means that if you have 40% of the votes and your opponent has 60%, and you can split the 60% into two factions receiving less than 40%, you win the election. And the liberal prime minister, whom the professor compared to Machiavelli, was active in openly giving real or imagined privileges and preferential treatment to immigrants, in a way that would grate on many people's nerves, and then insisting that a candidate who would today be called white nationalist be given time to speak, and airtime, and coverages. It worked in the short term and won an election. It also worked in the long term in splitting the French right into a right and a racist right.

For decades in the U.S., open racism has had a bad reputation among conservatives; conservatives may object to "racist" meaning "white" and "black" meaning "not racist," and try to pull racism into the domain of moral agents, but racism is not broadly treated as cool. But may I ask what is going to happen if people are told that a flag that represents to them heritage is on par with the Nazi flag, and people on the racist right fly the Confederate flag alongside the Nazi one and make clear that Southerners are going to be welcomed with open arms? I do not condone people going to someone who does not spit on their flag, but honestly, what is the intended political effect of approving of flying the U.S. flag but equating the Confederate flag with condoned oppression?

The state of race relations in the U.S. is a shame, and a weeping shame at that. I remember, on one of a couple of sides, living in the Bronx when I studied at Fordham and seeing black and Hispanic locals bombarded by ads from Planned Parenthood saying a perfectly politically correct declension of Yo, [N-word]! Yous ain't fit to breed! "Take CONTROL of your life!" with a picture of a black man and a list of contraceptives. The state of race relations are a mess, and what goes under the banner of improving race relations makes the mess Machiavellianly worse.

And there is one other detail I really should mention. The South really was, in the Civil War, fighting for States' rights, but slavery was not one right among others for States' rights. I haven't seen someone who wants to fly the Confederate flag take responsibility for the terrible black-white race relations that reigned in the South. But to be fair I haven't heard of someone who wants to fly Old Glory take account of U.S. citizens being comfortable at the expense of preventable human misery in Third World sweatshops. Or our consistent meddling in other country's politics, making our American values of gay marriage and abortion a requirement to receive U.S. foreign aid even when it is highly offensive. Possibly neither is justification to forbid flying a flag, and that has implications.

And I might comment: the race relations argument of whites in the South as it critiqued Northern race relations stated that in the North whites had to do the bummer jobs, while in the South there was a white equality founded on black inequality, with rationalization that this was best for everyone, including slaves. I might suggest that the phenomenon has repeated in that a high American standard of living is based on the potent inequality Third World sweatshops, although here there is not rationalization: with one profoundly morally confused exception, I have never seen anything approaching an argument that today's arrangement is best for everyone.

Perhaps we should remove the in-your-face Pride flag before either.

Political moves are layered, and I have never seen an honest presentation of all layers to attempts to make the Confederate flag an obscenity.

There are other things to be said; for one nuance, a Southerner I know suggested that the South would have won the Civil War (you know, the War of Northern Aggression) if they had not attacked the North first. Until then, Northerners were more of a public opinion that if the South wanted out that badly, let them. But I don't want to write a long treatise.

Treating the Confederate flag as an obscenity is one component of an attempt at killing a culture, and it should be recognized that the real purpose is not to remove things that needlessly offend some blacks (and, by the way, one Northern friend I knew had a Confederate flag in his military cell; blacks were not offended any more than anyone else, and perhaps they picked up on the point that he was genuinely happy to see blacks as much as anyone else).

I am no fan of the underhanded killing of cultures.