The Propagandistic Caricature of Slave-Day History: Part One

In my soon-to-be renounced city of residence, efforts are ongoing to rename Robert E. Lee High School.  One proposal is simply to designate it Lee High School.  That seems a very appropriate solution to me.  All parties concerned represent elements of the community too incurious to ask, “Which Lee?  Lee who?” in the future, and also too intellectually inept to do any historical research.  As for the honorable burghers who will likely reach this non-decision resulting in a wrap-around smoke screen, they will effectively initiate themselves into Dante’s outer circle of Inferno’s Indecisive, who would cry neither “fair” nor “foul” during the War in Heaven.  Welcome to Hell.  Pass on through—your place is waiting.

I also don’t think it does justice to the memory of Robert E. Lee to assign his name to the largest zoo of adolescents in our county.

The self-righteous pile-on launched against Confederate veterans was only one stop in a whirlwind tour last year.  Taking a knee at football games, the “#metoo movement”, post-atrocity gun grabs, a “culturally appropriated” prom dress, more gun-grabbing, more outed Hollywood predators…  now the cry and hue is about whether you can ever designate human beings as animals.  I personally think this Trumpian epithet does an injustice to real animals, inasmuch as our furry friends have no natural endowment of free will which they may renounce in deciding to “go ape”… but I don’t believe my disagreement deserves two-weeks-and-counting of air time.

No casus belli appears to be too harebrained (sorry, rabbits!) for our society to get worked up about.  I’ll limit myself today, however, to the Confederacy.

I’ve floated these figures before, for anyone who cares: 95 percent of the boys in gray came from families that owned no slave at all, and about 95 percent of the slaveholding families had five or fewer.  Let’s see… five percent of five percent is… a quarter of one percent of one percent, or even less than the amount of “deadly carbon dioxide” in our atmosphere.  Yet no less a conservative luminary and self-styled guardian of historical veracity than Glenn Beck grows audibly irate when one of his humble audience dares to challenge his assertion that the Civil War was fought entirely and exclusively over slavery.  You can imagine what the poor dumb kid who just likes to shoot hoops or play video games must know about the subject after our schools put their stamp of approval on his shrunken cranium.

If I give my horse the rein, there will be no stopping him; so let me just toss out a few remarks drawn directly from the memoirs of two men who were “on the ground” as the war was being fought.  Amazon’s Kindle program has made the rather brief and direct works of Sam Watkins and John S. Mosby available for practically nothing—so you can buy and read these testimonials yourself without great expense either of money or of time.

Watkins never mentions any slaves in his family references.  His first mention of the subject is a bitter commentary upon the privileged few who were allowed to return home once their year of enlistment had expired: members of families that owned twenty or more slaves.  They who remained under duress, he writes, felt that they were now fighting against the very principle of self-determination on whose behalf they had volunteered their lives.

Much later, in the war’s final months and as their dwindling numbers sought to obstruct Sherman’s scorched-earth frenzy of pillaging Georgia, Watkins observed entire companies of black soldiers led by white officers.  These were freed slaves who were immediately presented with the option of enlistment: a “no-brainer” for many of them, since they would otherwise have faced starvation in a war-ravaged landscape.  (It’s beyond the scope of Watkins’s recollective undertaking… but one may speculate that the Emancipation Proclamation was at least partly engineered to refurbish depleted Union ranks as the South’s heartland was penetrated and populations in states like New York and Illinois violently resisted conscription.)  The recently freed slaves in blue uniforms surrendered a position to Watkins and his comrades without a shot on at least one occasion.  It was evident to him that they were caught almost literally in a crossfire.

The Mosby family’s circumstances were such that they very likely had slave girls in the kitchen and a “boy” or two in the stables—but these were not plantation folk, who authored the horrendous corporal punishments dramatized in Roots and were roundly loathed by most other Southerners.  I’ll confine myself to two incidents late in the Mosby memoir.  One concerns the guerrilla leader’s nearly fatal shooting by intoxicated Union troops as he dined with sympathizers behind enemy lines.  The Federals left him for dead after searching the premises carelessly; but Mosby’s hosts feared that, after a little sobering up, the Yanks might return to give their victim a second look.  The wounded colonel was therefore loaded into a buckboard and consigned to “two negro boys” for conveyance to a neighboring farm.  These young slaves were unsupervised.  They might have delivered the most wanted man in Virginia to any Union outpost and won, not only their freedom, but probably a rich reward.  Yet they considered themselves part of the family and did their part to confound the invaders.  The Becks of the world can cite Stockholm Syndrome all day long—but this was an isolated rural family headed by two old white folks (their sons having gone to war), not a Mansonesque cult conditioned by drugs and sexual deviance.

After the war, an extraordinary friendship evolved between the one-time mounted guerrillero who had animated so many Yankee nightmares and the victorious General Grant.  The latter showed himself an advocate of clemency and amnesty on numerous occasions when his titular superior, the drunken sot Andrew Johnson, treated Southern petitioners with complete contempt.  Mosby actually helped to secure Grant’s election to the presidency, arguing to his fellow Virginians that the inequities of Reconstruction could only be resolved by working with reasonable men of the Republican persuasion.  On one occasion late in their acquaintance, Mosby asked Grant whether he would have worn gray if he had been a born Southerner.  Grant answered, “Of course!” noting his admiration for the Virginians with whom he had attended West Point.

Similarly, General Lee’s remark to a third party in strong disapproval of secession on the eve of war is reported by Mosby.  Lee’s final choice was dictated utterly by the allegiance he felt to his “homeland”: i.e., his state—Virginia.  His slaves were set free as hostilities began precisely so that his motives would not stand in doubt. (General Grant, in contrast, held on to all the many slaves he had acquired through marriage until Lincoln’s Proclamation made retaining them impolitic. Their release by a Northerner such as he was not legally required.)

But… yes, tear Lee’s statues down, by all means! Rename all the streets and schools, and continue to teach that Southerners were American Nazis and their black slaves American Jews.  Keep encouraging idiot white boys to associate the Stars and Bars with the KKK and the Swastika. Turn up the flame on both burners of the stove, making Holocaust survivors out of political pawns and “rebel fringe” bad boys out of semi-literate couch potatoes. Thank you, Glenn Beck, for promoting all that shameless and indefensible claptrap; and please, Tyler, Texas, remove Robert E. Lee’s name from your sprawling house of pedagogic malpractice.

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Cultural Disappearance Is Contagious

The following article began as a review of Thilo Sarrazin’s L’Allemagne Disparait (Germany Is Disappearing) for Amazon… but it grew to such proportions that I thought I’d post it here, as well, with slight adjustments.

I read this book in French because I feared that my German might not suffice to guide me through the learned Sarrazin’s highly abstract discussion.  Alas, French was little better—and my native English would scarcely have closed the comprehension gap.  For the real difficulty lies not in vocabulary per se, but in the densely terminological, thoroughly arcane idiom of the social sciences, where trails of nouns often end up forming a single noun-adjective group referenced to some airy statistical reality.  And of statistics, too, there is an abundance.  These are often the more vague as they grow more clear—by which I mean that a patent dependency of one factor on another has a way of shutting down what should be a deeper probe into a complex issue.

Now, all of that said, I’m very sympathetic with regard to the Sarrazin case.  Western nations on both sides of the Atlantic are currently engaged in shouting down critics of uncontrolled immigration with the “Nazi racist” slur.  Sarrazin has been pilloried before for speaking in cold facts.  Those facts are as follows: Germany (and, by extension, other prosperous Western societies) cannot absorb a steady deluge of unskilled Third World laborers who have large families requiring ample public subsidy and who are so comfortable with dependency that they attempt not even the degree of assimilation implied in learning their adoptive home’s language.  Sarrazin has repeatedly and predictably run into trouble by insisting that Islamic culture, especially, nourishes this retrograde attitude.  Of course, he is right, inasmuch as the harmful Muslim tendencies at issue are not religious but cultural: the large families of the Near East and North Africa, the inferior role of women, the “unmanliness” of long study, and so forth.  To claim that Germany’s population must inevitably grow less intelligent as its proportion of weak student-material escalates thanks to open immigration—and that the German way of life itself must disappear as future generations become more inept with advanced technology—is not really racist at all.  It’s certainly not the same thing as saying, “Syrian Muslims are dumb.”  It is a commentary, rather, on the cultural friction between an atavistic society and a progressive high-tech society.  East Indian, Chinese, and Vietnamese immigrants do not pose the same problem to the Western educational system, Sarrazin notes.  They are also far less attracted by the advantages of a de facto guaranteed minimum income provided by the German system.

It is painful, as an American, to read Saarazin’s applauding our more sensible handling of the issues in this work, most of whose research belongs to the previous decade.  We have not kept to the wiser path during the intervening years.

The single point that nags me about Thilo Sarrazin’s analysis is its philosophical materialism.  Christianity appears to be lamented in these pages as a body of helpful illusions that once made life happier, just as (one might say) the innocent deceptions practiced on children make Christmas happier.  To me, this is indeed the great flaw behind the book’s reliance on sociology and statistics: not their complexity, but their reduction of the central issue to a very practical one of economic sustainability.  If the West dies, I think it will be because she has terminally misplaced the purpose of individualism, of liberalism: to liberate the soul from bestial servitude in order to pursue things that have no “market value”.  Because of our contemporary spiritual malaise, we have exchanged the degrading drudgery of intense manual labor for the degrading addictions of an anemic will.  Our moral decline, after all, is intricately involved in the plummeting birthrates that cause such alarm to Sarrazin. Our steady, centuries-long desertion of largely self-sustaining agrarianism to have the affluence and convenience of city life has likewise exposed our pastimes to suicidal frivolity and snared our physical surroundings in a vicious cycle of unwholesome artifice.  We are courting depression through hedonism, poisoning ourselves with pollution, and turning chronically neurotic thanks to our mechanized pace of living: all of these factors leave us in no mood to produce a new generation, and sometimes physiologically incapable of doing so. Such issues cannot adequately be diagnosed without a spiritual reference… and the Christian Church in Europe, all across the denominational spectrum, seems incapable nowadays of providing this.

Germany Is Disappearing is a powerful work and a “must read”, in any language, for those who want to project the future of Western civilization with some mature degree of probability.  But it also seems to me to be missing a vital element.

The Point of No Return Lands Us Right Back Where We Started

The History Channel began airing a special titled Two Degrees: The Point of No Return on Friday night, September 15. I survived about five minutes before my own temperature started to rise alarmingly. Here are some reactions based upon that minimal exposure.

The documentary appears to be somewhat more credible than Mermaids.

The two fatal degrees actually refer to the Celsius system, meaning that they equate to nearly four degrees in the Fahrenheit system more familiar to us laymen. No attempt to dramatize there, I’m sure.

The footage of Arctic icebergs releasing sheets of ice into the ocean has been so widely circulated among the documentary community that I quite literally saw it fifteen minutes later on another station where the Ice Age was being discussed.

Juxtaposing footage of melting icebergs, ambulances on a tear, hurricane-flooded streets, and high-rises in conflagration is a very sorry substitute for rational argument.

Similarly, footage of smokestacks belching out pillars of fumes is evidence of nothing whatever. Most of the billowing effluvient may be water vapor (i.e., steam); and the videos themselves may have been taken in 1968 or 1975, or at any point over the past fifty years when pollution controls were lax to non-existent. The documentary’s argument, of course, would not be served by acknowledging that we’ve gotten much, much better—not in China, but in the West—about filtering out toxic particles.

Is it entirely arch, by the way, to observe in passing how much this kind of fear-mongering serves the imperialist ends of Communist China, its objective being to curb our own industrial production rather than to point the finger at immensely more zealous offenders? Might full disclosure reveal some modest involvement of the PRC in this production, I wonder… wonder… wonder?

The opening assertion that, in the century and a half since weather records have been kept, eight of the hottest ten years have occurred in the last decade is a prima facie absurdity. You cannot take the planet’s temperature the way you take a sick child’s. In 1880, a great many reaches of the planet were not even fully explored. Today as then, furthermore, many areas where temperature readings may be harvested in abundance are, naturally, urbanized—and we can indeed say confidently that urbanization has both increased over the past century and that urban construction heats things up. But…

But the manmade activity in the crosshairs isn’t hyper-reflective, headache-inducing steel and concrete, all of which god-awful mess I detest as much as anyone on earth; the culprit is supposed to be CO2, which alone (for some reason) must take the rap for nudging up the mercury. But…

But plants love CO2. They eat the stuff up. I’ve never seen the desert Southwest so green as it was this past summer. Is that bad? Does that spell the end for us all?

Well, yes… because mosquitoes will descend upon New York and Boston just as they currently do upon, say, Brazil. Bet you didn’t know that there actually aren’t any human beings still alive in Brazil. The mosquitoes got ’em all.

I could go on. I could question, for instance, why the same people who want to shut down our industries (but not the PRC’s) also want our southern border flung wide open so that millions of blue-collar workers driving uninspected, high-emission smoke-bombs can take their place in our twice-a-day rush-hour traffic. But…

But my temperature is starting to rise again. Yeah, I hate car culture and the contemporary American city. Hate it more than the ambassadors of Green who fly innumerable jets to endless conferences in Seattle. But kindly stop insulting my intelligence with the Halloween panoply of skeletons and ghouls held together by paperclips and Elmer’s glue. Come back after you’ve done your homework, and try to talk like an adult.

Statistical Obtundity: How Sharp People Reach Dull Conclusions

I heard a certain amiable media commentator make a point a couple of weeks ago that he has often made before (and which, frankly, is becoming a little tiresome and cliché in him and in others). He remarked that people entertain an irrational fear of new technologies, especially those in transportation. Statistically, you’re much more likely to die while traveling from Dallas to Atlanta in a car than on a plane. Furthermore, now that self-driving cars are looming (which was the specific topic under discussion), people are shrinking back in fear and again failing to register that they’re much more likely to die when others like themselves are behind every wheel at rush hour.

I call this phenomenon “statistical obtundity”: i.e., the tendency of bright people to convince themselves that they’re even brighter than they are by juggling undigested stats. Raw numbers can make us obtuse if we’re not careful. The chances seem to rest almost at statistical certainty that a burst of solar flares will not take out our power grid today, or tomorrow… yet the chances are 100% that such a burst will one day occur, and that we’ll lose all electrical power if we don’t secure it in ways so far ignored by policy-makers. The chances are 100% that a super-volcano will one day erupt in Yellowstone Park (which sits atop the caldera of one)… but today is a great day to go see Old Faithful!

Likewise, if a terrorist’s bomb or surface-to-air missile explodes your plane in mid-flight, the chances are pretty much 100% that you’ll die. There is no equivalent situation that arises in driving a car. Because the vehicles are widely spread out and no more than one or two people, usually, sit within each one, no “target” is presented. If a high, long bridge or an undersea tunnel were to be taken out as peak traffic filled it, the situation would become comparable to the exploded aircraft’s—but such precarious choke-points can either be avoided are negotiated at a less popular time by the “paranoid” driver.

You see, the correct comparison is not between airplanes and automobiles: it’s between Heathrow Airport and the Channel Tunnel, or perhaps between a passenger jetliner and a Japanese bullet-train. To put it another way, the plane and the car pose a contrast. One is a sure-fire death-trap IF certain defenses can be penetrated by evil agencies: as a passenger, you’re powerless to control your fate once security has been breached. The other option is perfectly insulated from the machinations of wicked schemers. Even if a tractor-trailer jackknives in front of you or a drunk driver strays toward you across the median, you still have the wheel in your hands and may come out in one piece with quick, cool reactions.

Now that the self-driving car looms in our future as something like a lead-pipe cinch (whatever that means—lead pipes are pretty deadly, too, you know), all bets are off for the car. It will become like the jetliner. A hacker who gains access to whatever GPS is controlling your vehicle’s navigation can sweep everyone into the sea at rush hour. You’ll just be along for the ride and won’t be able to do a thing about it. Apparently, we haven’t yet learned the lesson that trending new technology all appears to be dangerously centripetal: it’s carrying us toward greater centralization—in the name of “efficiency”—where one miscue, glitch, or brilliant feat of sabotage may kill thousands. A flu vaccine is advertised by Big Brother as the means to save dozens or hundreds of lives annually… and only one or two here and there will die because of a peculiar reaction to it. Simply choosing a lifestyle where one’s exposure to masses of people is limited doesn’t win consideration as a serious alternative. Yet there’s always the chance that, by fair means or foul, some toxin will find its way into the vaccine…

I like keeping as much control over my life as I can get. I leave the self-satisfied techno-geeks and faux conservatives to curl up in their blanket of warming stats.