From Incivility to Insanity: The Terminal Quality of the Twenty-First Century’s Teenage Years (Part One)

Everyone seems to be writing about incivility these days—and no wonder.  To some, Donald Trump is the poster child of the uncivil.  Relishing the moment when people are bluntly told that they no longer have a job (and marketing that moment for many to enjoy privately who publicly disapprove), drifting from one supermodel-wife to another, slapping price tags on exquisite landscapes and seeking to deface them with hotels and casinos, the Trumpster has become a living caricature of the Ugly American.  His quondam henchman Corey Lewandowski, for good measure, has been accused of molestation by no fewer than two exponents of rightwing views.  And let us not forget the boorish remarks and Tweets about Carly Fiorina’s looks, Marco Rubio’s height, Ted Cruz’s honesty, etc., etc.  Again, all of that sniping took place well within the right side of the aisle.

But if one has a bit of class, one shows the impressionable how to take the high road—whereas the Left has exploited the “Trump pretext”, it seems to me, to unleash a war on every last vestige of civilization observable in our lives.  Of course, I remember the Sixties.  Hairy people in scant clothes with an insuperable aversion to soap are nothing new.  But the Hippies, besides, were distinctly non-violent as a group (perhaps thanks to a little chemical inducement).  While not zealots for hygiene, they also didn’t leave feces on cop cars or in mailboxes.  Antifa is something new under our post-civilizational sun.

New, as well, are incidents involving public attacks on public figures that stop just short of deadly force (or cross the line, if you include the shooting of Steve Scalise and several other U.S. senators).  I cannot recall another occasion during my six and a half decades of life when anybody—even an accused pervert or convicted murderer released from jail—was hounded out of a restaurant or mobbed at a movie theater or treated to damp projectiles while quietly visiting with friends and family.  No, this kind of thing has never happened before.  Not here: maybe in Paris of the Thirties, where fascist thugs would openly beat up citizens on street corners for being too “wimpy”.

Fascism: the Trump camp is supposed to bear that banner, with its outright loathing of “wimpiness” in all varieties.  But here’s where things get convoluted (or go helter-skelter, as Charles Manson would say): the wimpy side—people of indeterminate sexuality, people wearing vagina hats, people who hug trees—are now the pool of candidates from which street thugs are recruited.  The card-carrying NRA members, despite the mainstream media’s best efforts to cast them in contrary roles, are moms and dads whose most terroristic activity is to make their children do their homework.  The Squishy Left has usurped the part of the nihilistic, antinomian urban guerilla… or urban gorilla, if you prefer.

To be historically honest, this isn’t really a Blue Moon event, either.  In their days of infancy, if not throughout their lifespan, both Bolshevism and Nazism had strong ties with sexual deviancy and featured a cult-level hostility to traditional faith.  The deified Che was certainly a scintillant piece of work.  His own mentors in the art of mass-murder were disturbed by the prurient fascination he showed in those moments when a victim’s final sparks of life bled out.  That Guevara and Manson are two of the dark saints adored by people whose attention to their genitalia dictates a luxurious, pain-fleeing life is a profound paradox with which, collectively, we have yet to come to grips. Did sadism bring an orgasmic satisfaction to the two psychopaths… or does the mushy lifestyle of the Sybarite conceal inclinations known to the sadist?

Even as an individual, I’m not sure I get it… and now the phenomenal paradox, admittedly nothing new on a broad scale, is rising exponentially in our stressed republic.  Let me frame the conundrum this way: why are the best educated people who hail from areas of greatest affluence most likely to scream obscenities and coprologisms in public as they “demand” the utter breakdown of rational order?  Why does the cultivation of the mind in our society cause us (the young of our socio-economic elite, especially) to lose our minds?

Why do women who demand that mink and ermine no longer be slaughtered for their fur also demand the right to slaughter their own fetuses?  Why do people who demand that children not be parted from their parents also demand that “stereotypes” of the traditional nuclear family be expunged from textbooks?  Why do people who demand that guns be banned also threaten to rape commentators on the issue’s other side or to kidnap and brutalize their children?

I don’t have answers that completely satisfy me.  I suppose insanity, by definition, is inexplicable in rational terms.  But the escalation of this mass-insanity to a force that begins to have political clout is little short of terrifying.  Why don’t I just slap you in the face the next time we meet?  Well, because a certain mutual respect operates within civil societies… because sane adults do not resolve disagreements with physical violence (if skin color or a cap’s logo can constitute a disagreement)… because the slightest particle of spirituality should inform me that I’m not without flaws, either… and finally (if I’m too close to the animal state for any of the foregoing to gain traction), because I’ll go to jail for assault. But maybe I’ll get off, if I scream “Nazi!” and “Racist!” loud enough.  If I play one of our numerous get-out-of-jail cards, I can practically commit murder.

Where do these cards come from?  Why do we accept their paper as currency?  Why is it that a certain nexus of guilt-ridden ideas drives us to suppress our indignation when A walks up and spits on B out of the blue?

Is it a phenomenon of the Electronic Age—do we simply no longer connect with the Other as sharing the essential elements of the Self?  Or is it a product of childhood neglect, nourished both by smartphones and by AWOL parents, which allows any exhibitionist act a free pass?  Or could it be the predestined abyss of worldly affluence that drives the wealthiest man in the world to death traps like Everest and Antarctica in search of a new pleasure… or in search of that forgotten spice of life, pain?

I don’t know.  And I’m not sure that knowing would make any difference.  This seems to be a disease for which there is no cure other than anguishing affliction rewarded by a lifelong immunity in rare cases of survival.

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Tyler, Texas: Biopsy of a Red, White, and Blue Cancer

Believe me when I say that I don’t really want to write these words—and I most certainly wish that the events behind them had never happened.  But they represent what’s on my mind to the point of crowding out other thoughts… and this reflection as a whole poses a contrastive kind of bookend to the promise of independence that my new residence held out during our July 4 visit. I usually like contrasts. I wish this one weren’t so stark.

We returned to Tyler, Texas, for one last span of packing and waiting.  At some point, a bad dream degenerates into a nightmare… and it is along that seam that our present lives appear to be unfolding.  Ever since an “inspector” stuck his nose into every corner of our 50-year-old house, things have been malfunctioning.  The oven’s light fades in and out according to cryptic rhythms.  A strange wet spot has appeared under the bathroom sink.  Now we find that one of the hot water heaters (no, I don’t know why we have two, and nobody can tell us) will not keep its pilot light ignited.  Perhaps the man who charged me $370 to replace a “faulty part”—only to leave the tank in the same cold coma as had gripped it before—was a con artist, or perhaps he was simply no more competent than I at knowing how to resuscitate this mysterious model.  I wish I’d never met the guy…

And I wish the “inspector” had never whirled through our house.  In the light of all the failed lights, etc., I picture his time on our property as a re-enactment of the scene in the Tain Bo Cualnge where Cu Chulainn first takes arms.  Seventeen spears are rattled to splinters before the frightful lad finds one to his liking, and seventeen chariots are shaken to shambles before one finally withstands his “inspection”.  Our “inspector” must have some ancient Celtic DNA in him.  The paces through which he put our old warhorse left her more dead than alive.

And why an inspection?  We never had to jump through this hoop before, though we sold three houses within ten years as I struggled to generate some kind of career out of the Ivory Tower slaughterhouse.  I think it’s because the buyers in this case have no interest in actually inhabiting our digs.  Though a few years shy of thirty, the couple seems to me far less concerned about starting a family than about being the next pair on Flip or Flop.  Because they seek a loan not just to buy the property but also to gut and transform it—for a regal profit—the bank is insisting on ironclad assurances that its money is being well invested.

I can understand that—and I’m not unappreciative of the realtor for reaching out to this couple immediately rather than slapping a lockbox on our door and forcing us to bail out of the house every time some home-hunter wanted to take a little fantasy voyage through it.  But my wife and I have begun to feel somewhat “played” on several occasions since the all-too-easy deal went down.  At this very instant, a squad of roofers is pounding and hammering just above my.  The roof doesn’t leak anywhere… but the “inspector” decided that it needed to go.  That’s another $1,700 of deductible before State Farm will pay anything.  (The property is worth nowhere near the almost 200 grand that SF plugged into its formula to ratchet up what we have to pay: I’ve never received an adequate explanation of the figure.)

This has to be what a wildebeest feels like as it lies dying and watches the first vultures peck at its ribs.  What I hate most about the feeling is not knowing if I’m being hoodwinked or if, after all, I’ve just grown a little paranoid in the flurry of activity.  The poor fool who “repaired” the hot water heater was probably just in over his head.  The “inspector” was probably just a bit overzealous in shaking joints and stressing connections.  The realty/roofing/insurance complex… there I start to assume a “cornered prey” posture.  And while I’m sure that the two future stars of Flip or Flop Tyler have no particular flim or flam in their young minds just yet, their relationship with our realtor strikes me as extraordinarily cozy.  He negotiated the price… will he, perhaps, stand to benefit in some way when they put the face-lifted Taj Mahal back on the market?  I wonder.  I can’t help but wonder.

For this is Tyler, Texas.  Without money, you don’t exist—and everybody wants to exist, to be somebody.  Twenty years ago, my humble family was quickly assessed (by various “inspectors”) and cast into the bone pile.  Actually, frugality has left me better-heeled than many of the city’s distinguished citizens… but they don’t know that, precisely because I don’t advertise it.  On the contrary, an old guy who mows his own lawn, cuts his own hair, drives a second-hand car, and wears his clothes until they fall off… who would consider him advantageous to know or enviable to contemplate?

I would have liked to sell the house to another young family—for it has a generous back yard which I modeled into a pretty passable playground for my son.  (The buyers want to dedicate half of it to a pool.)  As I was digging up my movable trees in a bid to save them from the impending purge, I sometimes got a little choked up.  Three of my apple trees, and certainly my two almonds, have prospered far too well this past year to endure uprooting and transport.  I raised them from seeds and sticks… as I did my son.  In this back yard, we fashioned baseball contests, one against one, that we played with tennis balls (until he was consistently knocking those over the fence).  The ghosts of a boy and a young father linger about permanent bald spots where we had a pitcher’s circle and a home plate.

And then the boy played Little League… and his love of the game was almost destroyed by a man who ordered him to stand up on the plate and try to get hit by pitches.  I dared to gather a few of the team for a practice at our local school one afternoon… and then I, too, was issued orders: stay away from The Man’s team.  He had a cabinet full of trophies and a dream of big scholarship money for his grandson, whom he was pitching in alternative tournaments—against the rules—over weekends.  That’s why we never practiced.

So the boy played in another league the next year—Tyler’s “Negro League”, the YMCA.  For one year, we had the time of our lives.  The following year, the league was forever ruined when its organizing elite decided to arrange games all over East Texas, the plan being to draw families onto the field (a series of fields) right at supper time and rake in big bucks from the concession stand—cold cash, money in a form that could go missing from the drawer without a trace.  Same venality, different cultural approach.

Then the boy played high school baseball—very successfully, until his senior year.  We were unwise enough to secure him a college scholarship at that point and to let our success be known.  The money-bags dad to whose son the coach had often promised Division I scholarship offers was furious, especially since his golden child encountered arm problems (another case of gross overuse in tournaments) and received no offers at all.  The coach, infuriated in turn, took it out on our son, bullying him for a while and finally benching him for good.

All of these adults, by the way, are active in their churches.  All profess that they have given their lives to Jesus Christ.  Same for the headmistress of my son’s first school—she who kept a Bible prominently centered on her desk.  When I transferred the boy in mid-spring to another school because of an abusive teacher whose snarling, glaring practices were not being modified, the staff were immediately told not to buzz in any of my family under any circumstances.  At the time, I was giving Spanish lessons gratis to several grades.

Tyler, Texas.  A predatory hunt for profits in every nook and burrow of the forest, coupled with an ostentatious but skin-deep piety that magnifies mere money-lust to a different category of depravity… how could I ever miss anything about this place?  I want to miss something.  I raised my son here; we spent the twenty most important years of our lives here.  Yet every time I trap a moment of nostalgia as I box up the house’s contents, the bittersweet pleasure is at once murdered by assassin recollections that surround it.  I would like to be able to bundle up a few fond memories… but all of them would conceal the bug of an infectious and fatal disease.  And so I leave them lying in empty closets and worn-out carpets.

As an academic of thirty years, I wish I could make the proponents of conservatism see that every problem in our society cannot be reduced to a) the propaganda of a progressive left and b) the grotesque dreams of that progressive left.  We have a sickness.  The rise of leftism has exacerbated it by distracting us from it and forcing us to treat superficial varieties of progressive lunacy… but it was a preexisting condition, that disease, and it cuts to the heart of our national soul.  Boys should be able to play a game without adults circulating sordidly around its edges to turn a profit.  Old men should be able to retire without packs of young jackals descending upon them to nip at their life-savings.  Government intervention isn’t the answer: we can agree upon that.  Practiced manipulators will always figure out ways, not only to skirt around the rules, but even to collaborate in making rules that favor their interests.  We’re all enduring an evolutionary stage now wherein we have to fight off the intrusions of a do-gooder Nanny State—intrusions that only leave the poor poorer and the rich richer.  We haven’t enough energy left over to address our impoverished spirits.

For what we really need is an uplifting of the spirit—something such as might be provided by… oh, I don’t know.  Maybe the Christian faith? But where is that faith?

When the Left Serves “Nazi”, the Right Volleys “Confederate”: Ping-Pong of Slurs (Part Two)

I wish ye all a… what?  A “happy” Fourth of July?  Happy, when man/boy relationships will soon be demanding the legitimacy of marriage, as we see in Europe?  When you may soon be hounded out of a restaurant because the owner finds that you have made a politically incorrect post on Facebook?  When parents are already taking their kids to the old ballpark and having to explain to them what the LBGTQ promotion is all about?  Well, enjoy the fireworks… and don’t get indigestion on your hotdog.

Speaking of things queer… what did I read in Star Parker’s columns (whose name I misspelled earlier, apparently) a week ago?  That the LBGTQ rainbow flag reminds her of the Stars and Bars in its symbolizing of suppressed speech (I think that was the analogy’s crux)? And, in a later post, that the near-fatal beating of abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner by South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks in 1856 is a precise historical analogue to Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ being shamed out of a restaurant?  Did I imagine that?  Or… Ms. Parker, have you, too, lost your ever-loving mind?

Our radical Left today, tout court, is the modern incarnation of the Southern Confederacy: that’s what I seem to be picking up from more and more “conservative” commentators.

Simply on the evidence of the prisoner-of-war question (reviewed briefly in Part One), a rational, fair-minded adult would be forced to conclude (as were the Union’s own officers, in several cases) that the North’s operations were much the most cynical, statist, and ruthless thing going in 1864.  Yet twenty-first century America—or a significant part of its intelligentsia—has decided to remember the Confederacy as our own closest brush with goose-stepping Nazism.  This is precisely Glenn Beck’s argument for preserving Southern monuments: that they remind us of the diabolical infamy that once poisoned a sector of our society, and that they should therefore stand forever as a cautionary kind of scarlet latter throughout the South.  Now we can add Bolshevism to Nazism.

It is, in fact, hardly surprising that Star Parker would echo Glenn Beck.  He has served as her publicist and benefactor in recent years—a service for which I give him due praise.  Yet I find it distressing that canny observers like Parker should be lured by the Beck mystique into equating the Confederacy with the Third Reich—and now, it appears, with Antifa.  Along with deploring Southern prisons as anticipating Treblinka and Auschwitz, Beck is also the loudest contemporary magnifier of the Sumner-Brooks incident.  I have little doubt that Parker absorbed it from one of his diatribes.  Sumner’s brutal caning is supposed to have been (sayeth the prophet) a kind of dry run for a KKK lynching, with the Senator’s advocacy of abolition the sole catalyst of the homicidal South Carolinian smackdown.  To hear Beck spin the tale, you’d never know that the feud had been simmering away for some while and that scurrilous, personally insulting language had flowed from both sides.  Brooks, indeed, had originally considered dueling with his senatorial adversary, but he decided that Sumner lacked sufficient gentlemanly credentials to be so honored.

Another recent Beck “adoptee” is Dinesh D’Souza, a genuine martyr for free speech cast into prison by the Obama “Justice” Department.  The other night I saw a very brief excerpt of D’Souza’s forthcoming documentary—saw a briefer portion than the brief one aired, because my blood pressure instantly spiked and I hammered the “off” button.  Abraham Lincoln, that lion of liberty who plunged his nation into war solely to strike off the chains of Southern slaves, was juxtaposed with another irrepressible champion of the people, Donald Trump.  Fireworks, flags waving… all stand—and no knees, please.  I suppose Trump could also have been Churchill, since “Confederate” is code for “Nazi”.

I share Beck’s deep admiration for D’Souza… and for Star Parker, Mike Lee, and Ted Cruz.  I am so familiar with the Beck universe, in fact, because I tried for years to tag along with his broadcasts, despite their causing me to cry foul from time to time.  The maligning of Debra Medina (Rick Perry’s quondam competitor for Texas governor) and Geert Wilders (whose name the Beck crew can’t pronounce but whose heart they have read) are but two cases that leap to mind.  Beck, alas, has repeatedly demonstrated a tendency to reach across the aisle to his ideological enemies and to join these detractors in savaging shared sacrificial victims.  Trump is only the most spectacular example of such “outreach”–and is actually fair game insofar as his conservative convictions seem very hard to locate; yet Beck’s “never Trump” opposition has already morphed into a MAGA baseball cap worn on the set (hence the green light to D’Souza’s Lincoln/Trump conceit).

The point of such hop-scotching along the boundary line of principle is perhaps to acquire some cred as a free thinker who works with both sides and only wants truth and goodness to prevail.  (“I’m not a partisan… you see?  I just shot one of our guys for you!”)  Yet I don’t really see such cynicism operating in Glenn Beck at a conscious level: I think his motive is a more pathological compulsion to keep heads spinning (perhaps, especially, his own: witness the frequent public confessions—“I was so wrong then! It was my fault, mea maxima culpa!”). Occasionally some minor, remote, or uninteresting figure comes available to slip into a load-bearing crevice of the cloud-climbing Beck edifice… and in that crack the figure must forever dwell.  Better that one should be squeezed beyond recognition than that The Prophetic Vision should come toppling down.

I see relative innocents like Parker and D’Souza being swept up in the rhetorical tornado of Beck and other dynamos of mass media whose impulses draw them toward tradition (and who therefore cling to words like “Christian” and “conservative”).  Ben Shapiro is probably in the group, though an Orthodox Jew.  Even Louie Gohmert played along during Beck’s exhibitionist “soccer balls and teddy bears” expedition to South Texas (a microscopically short-term and unhelpful response to the ongoing use of children as pawns in border politics).

The magnetism of this man’s charism upon younger or less dynamic figures is a shame… but probably inevitable.  I once felt that attraction myself; but the slandering of my ancestors—of people like my father’s father and my mother’s mother—as a race of irredeemably vile, degenerate human beings snapped my last tie to the microphone and the megaphone of Glenn Beck.  Those people, to be sure, had flaws, and well they knew it—and bitterly did they pay for it.  Yet we hope (do we not?) to see a Christian, especially one whose professions are so stentorian, to understand that even the footsoldiers who wore the Nazi uniform were not all utterly evil.

I leave this week’s ramble in the hope that I have raised two points worthy of consideration.  One, of course, is that the Southern Confederacy has endured well over a century of being deliberately, wickedly caricatured—and that naive thinkers have now been duped to accept the cartoon as a fixed historical constellation.  There really are a lot of analogous distortions ongoing in contemporary academe and the news media, if such things interest you!  The vast majority of these are launched by the Left, but…

But my second and final point is that we are witnessing the birth of a new “catch-all defamation” from the Right.  Conservative luminaries have for years quite justifiably protested their being labeled “Nazi” because they think that the two sexes should have separate restrooms or because they think that a nation should have a border.  Some among them, driven to distraction by the unfairness of it all, have apparently found an abundant puddle of mud to sling back: “Confederate”.  You call me a Nazi… I’ll call you a Confederate.  Take that!  “The Deep South that nurtured the KKK, you know, voted solid Democrat for decades.”  How many times have I heard this enthymeme from Beck and others—as if the party of Truman, even, were that of LBJ?  And then the same mouths, within an hour, will opine from their other side, “JFK wouldn’t recognize his party if he were alive today!”

The only constant in this shifting equation, it seems, is that Southerners have always been wicked racists… and you, Linda Sarsour, are a Confederate!  And you and you, Saul Alinsky and Margaret Sanger, are Confederates! Stars and Bars to you, Louis Farrakhan!

The irony is that Glenn Beck—or so I thought (so he said)—opposed Donald Trump precisely for exploiting this ruinous “us/them” instinct in a nervous, resentful electorate.  Now Glenn has found his own one-size-fits-all category of villain.  His example often makes me recall the classic Claude Rains line from Lawrence of Arabia: “A man who tells half-truths is worse than a liar—because a liar only conceals the truth, but a man who tells half-truths has forgotten where he put it.”

When the Left Serves “Nazi”, the Right Volleys “Confederate”: Ping-Pong of Slurs (Part One)

I’m facing another week of yo-yoing between states as I attempt to finalize a move, so my ideas, too, are probably somewhat wandering.  The text I’ve long wished to review, published in 1910, is also a fairly complicated document.  I think I can do no better than to offer several excerpts and then (in Part Two later this week—always assuming the presence of Internet) relate these to the current scene.

Have you ever heard about the dismal Confederate prisoner-of-war camps?  I have… all my life.  As a wee bairn, I recall (for instance) an episode of a briefly running series produced by National Geographic.  I think it was called Great Adventures.  James MacArthur was a young GI who was going deaf but died bravely charging a machine-gun nest… Lloyd Bridges was Wild Bill Hickok… and then there was an hour segment about Libby Prison.  I can still hear the warden drawling “Lubby Pri-uson” in that fanciful Hollywood imitation of a Southern accent, y’awl—and pouring a syrupy sadism over it that left Burl Ives’ character in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof standing closer to Burl Ives’ rendition of “Here Comes Santa Claus”.

So, yes, I grew up simply accepting that the South operated death camps.  At the near end of my life’s spectrum, I could recount hearing Glenn Beck discuss the death of some great-great uncle or other in one of these detention centers with a more seething fury in his voice than I’ve ever witnessed any Auschwitz survivor to evoke.  (Glenn and that uncle would obviously have been very close if the latter hadn’t died young and been born almost a century and a half before his illustrious descendant.)  I’ll have much more to say about the conservative commentary-class (most of whom hail from comfortably north of the Mason-Dixon Line) in Part Two.

For now… well, would it shock you to learn that the “Confederate death camp” chapter in our history books is a canard?

From The Confederate Cause and Conduct of the War Between the States, Item 1:

“‘It is hard on our men to be held in Southern prisons,’ said Grant, in an official communication, ‘not to exchange them; but it is humane to those left in the ranks to fight our battles.  If we commence a system of exchanges which liberates all prisoners taken, we will have to fight on until the whole South is exterminated.  If we hold those [Southerners] caught they are no more than dead men.’

Let’s be clear about what U.S. Grant is saying here: the North is consistently refusing to effect exchanges of prisoners with the South (as was the custom at that time) because his side has far easier access to replacement troops than does the other side.  If prisoners on both sides rot in jail, then the North wins.

Item 2:

“This evidence (says Dana) [Charles A. Dana, U.S. Assistant Secretary of War] must be taken as conclusive.  It proves that it was not the Confederate authorities who insisted on keeping our prisoners in distress, want and disease, but the commander of our own armies.”

Dana’s comment alludes to Grant’s decision, described just above.

Item 3:

Union internment camps contained approximately 220,000 prisoners of war in contrast to the 270,000 interned in Southern camps, yet 4,000 more men died in Northern detention centers.

I cast this item in my own words.  The figures here are perhaps lowballing the truth, for earlier in the book I recall the approximate numbers 60,000 (for how many more Federals than Confederates were in detention) and 6,000 (for how many more Southerners died in detention). By any measure, the prospects of surviving as a prisoner-of-war were about fifty percent worse if you were in a Northern prison.

Item 5:

“I said,” says General Butler [in conferring with General Grant], “I doubted whether, if we stopped exchanging man for man, simply on the ground that our soldiers were more useful to us in Rebel prisons than they would be in our lines, however true that might be, or speciously stated to the country, the proposition could not be sustained against the clamor that would at once arise against the [Lincoln] administration.”

This ornately convoluted statement represents Butler’s tactful observation to Grant that President Lincoln would be excoriated in the court of public opinion if it became known that the North was deliberately keeping Southern jails crammed with captives.

Item 6:

“Thus it will be seen that 260 out of the 3,800 prisoners had died in twenty-one days, a rate of mortality which, if continued, would secure their total extermination in about 320 days.” Report of Dr. Van Buren’s Sanitary Commission from Albany, New York, about the state of a federal prison camp

The verdict rendered here issues from a distinguished health official of the Union.  His dry observation (probably not intended to be taken fully at face value) is that every one of the Southern captives in the prison he surveyed would be dead within a year, given prevailing conditions.

Item 7:

After Mr. Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation went into effect, as we have said, on January 1st, the Federals enrolled a large number of slaves in their armies.

This seemingly neutral observation has far greater significance in the light of the decision—reached covertly in the upper echelons of the Union hierarchy—to decline exchanges.  Union leadership wished to glut Southern prisons with inmates that couldn’t be fed or cared for.  Who better to use in this glutting than the slaves freed by Sherman during his plundering expedition into the Southern heartland?  Often thrust into the front lines, the freedmen were the ultimate pawns—and indeed, have remained so in many ways.

The authors of the study do not make the point explicitly—but a freeing and arming of slaves (many of whom knew little to nothing about handling firearms, by the way) would also throw Confederate enlistees into extreme anxiety about the security of their families back home, given the recent memories of John Brown’s sanguinary insurrection. This would be true even of the ninety-five percent of soldiers whose household included no slaves. As a means of undermining Southern morale, one might call the tactic brilliant. It’s something on the order of praying Allahu Akbar loudly on a crowded airplane in order to distract the passengers.

The Confederate Cause and Conduct of the War Between the States, as I say, was a century-old document authored by men of letters that protested how the Civil War was being presented to Southern schoolchildren.  The excerpts above, drawn only from the chapter about prisons, should suffice to suggest how the history books were—and still are—playing a propagandistic game with the miserable conditions prevalent in Confederate prisoner-of-war camps.  I have cited only a few items.  I have insufficient time, for instance, to provide details of the persistent cold shoulder that Lincoln’s Union turned to ambassadors from Richmond who tried to arrange humane exchanges—and even, later in the war, to offer Northern doctors unencumbered access to their captive soldiers.  (More deaths in Southern prisons meant more fuel for firing up public sentiment against the South.)  There were also incidents involving the execution of Southern prisoners, and sometimes of non-combatants.  Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee considered retaliating in kind, but decided that trading off barbaric acts would not ameliorate the situation.

Yet the statues we must tear down because they commemorate American Nazism represent, not Lincoln or Grant (or General Pope, who declared open season on non-combatant civilians), but… Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee.  As we approach July 4 and contemplate nation-haters who parade our flag around upside-down, maybe we should consider whether we ourselves—or our most trusted standard-bearers—have not in the past foolishly or cynically inverted the most precious values represented by that flag.

Should Pop Culture Determine Our Understanding of History? Example: The Confederacy

I’ve long been a Starr Parker fan.  I even donated very modestly to her Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE) once upon a time.  She has a poignant story: in her early youth, a black single mother with a horrendous drug problem… and then later but still at a wonderfully young age (by this old man’s standards), an outspoken advocate of self-help and principled rejection of paternalistic government handouts.  I have also, only very lately, become a Marina Medvin booster.  An immigrant from the former Soviet Union, Marina remembers—though she was a mere child at the time—long lines to buy a loaf of bread and shelves where no bread appeared regardless of waiting lines.  She is a defense attorney in the DC area now who publishes blog posts daily on behalf of constitutional, limited government.

These two highly astute and estimable women have something in common that I much regret: a loathing of the Confederate flag and all things Confederate.  I’m gathering up my notes to write a piece on the first half of a stunning century-old publication titled The Confederate Cause and Conduct in the War Between the States; but it has occurred to me that I should preface that labor with a few words about why I’m undertaking it.  These two women are the reason, and others like them: people of intelligence, character, energy, education… and inadequate information.  How can a product of Los Angeles public schools and a Russian immigrant begin to understand the depth of propagandistic whitewash in which Mr. Lincoln and his architects of invasion have been immersed when I myself—a Southerner and professional man of letters—am coming to these truths only after my sixth decade on earth?  You may feel that the dust has settled on all the relevant issues far too long ago for a clean-up to do anything but irritate the eyes, with North Korea and cyber-terrorism and other worries looming much larger.  I entertained that feeling myself, to start with.

I could write here, “But the truth is always worth knowing,” and not be distorting my Kantian worldview very much… but I also sympathize with Conrad’s Marlow when he abstains from telling Kurtz’s fiancée that the great philanthropist ended life a thorough hypocrite and a homicidal megalomaniac.  Granting that certain truths can never be known in this life, I am also unsure that the knowable ones are really worth getting straight in every case.  Perhaps Starr Parker would say, “Even if 95 percent of Confederate soldiers owned no slaves, their cause has become identified with racist objectives in the minds of their descendants and should be deplored for its currently accepted interpretation.”  Marina Medvin might add, “Yes, and here in Virginia I have seen twisted men actually waving around the Stars and Bars to promote racial hatred and segregation.”

If a symbol loses its original meaning in the hands of a dull posterity, should we not consider it in the light (the dim light) of its present value?  If I told you that the swastika were in fact an ancient Hindu meditative posture and that its Sanskrit meaning pertained to mastering self-knowledge, should we therefore surround ourselves with swastikas to enhance a mood of peace and composure?  I wouldn’t recommend it!

On the other hand, letting the degraded meaning go forth unchallenged would be disturbingly similar to letting all those “fascist” and “Nazi” tags lavished upon any critic of the Far Left settle in.  I’ve heard commentators—self-styled conservative commentators—label Germany’s Alternativ fur Deutschland (AfD) party a Nazi organization, simply because they accept what they read in European news sources.  If AfD and Golden Dawn are just warmed-over Nazism, then are the Republican Party and ICE and the Christian church the same thing?  If we demand that devoted public servants and worshipers of the Cross be cleansed of this slander, then is the Southern Confederacy to be left on the list of infamy only because its adherents and would-be apologists have long been dead?

As a matter of fact, it seems to me that one of the best ways to oppose ignorant men who wrap their crusade against dark skin in the Confederate flag would be to cry, “That wasn’t the position of Jefferson and General Lee, blockheads!  Virginia didn’t even join the secession until Lincoln attempted to levy troops there for his invasion of the Carolinas.  If you investigate that president’s plans for resettling freedmen in Panama, you’ll find someone much closer to your bigotry!”

When, instead, we allow unexamined popular stereotypes to stand, we create a banner under which fools may collect.  Look at the number of Che tee-shirts being sported on college campuses.  If we were to teach the truth—that Guevara was a sadistic mass-murderer and a genuinely racist coward—wouldn’t we induce a more careful level of thought about communism generally?  Do not many reprehensible mass movements, indeed, begin when crude notions are allowed to cluster around simplistic fabrications?  Logo’s are great for uniting supporters of sports teams.  Shouldn’t a healthy democratic republic, though, resist their pollution of political life with all its available resources?
There are two kinds of history, I have found: history that removes the filters of culture and environment so that we may view our ancestors as people like ourselves living in different conditions… and history that reduces our ancestors to temporal/cultural furniture, so that their only purpose is to describe one step of the staircase leading to our highly evolved present.  The latter sort is what’s now taught in our universities: wrap, label, and file away.  It eliminates the complexities of human nature, and it feeds our insatiable contemporary appetite for evidence that we are the best that’s ever been—the highest Darwinian rung.

I wish thoughtful people like Parker and Medvin could see their way to protesting, “You dumbkins can wave that rebel flag around all you like—but those who designed it resented being called rebels, and you don’t know squat about their motives.”  How can we cry foul at our children’s ignorance of National Socialism when we ourselves are content to traffic in caricatures of the Confederacy?  Could it be that we, too, need someone than whom we will always be better—that the Confederate bad boy would have to be created if he didn’t exist?

And doesn’t our surrender to such slovenliness—intellectual but especially moral slovenliness—corrupt our spiritual vision in some small way?  Aren’t we just that much more like those we deplore who read history and literature only for evidence of the proletariat’s struggle or of the male’s villainy to females?  Are we not willingly cutting ourselves off from the humanity of those who preceded us—are we not, in effect, banning them from our restaurants and tweeting death threats against their children and shouting obscenities at their residences, these speechless ghosts who cannot shout back?  Is that the conduct of a superior character?

Marlow didn’t clue in Kurtz’s fiancée because she had already concocted a man who never existed—and to remember this two-dimensional artifice in death would, after all, be the logical consequence of loving it in life.  She had chosen and embraced her illusions of preference.  Like Marlow, I wouldn’t bother wasting words on zealots who publicly assault those of a different persuasion.  They inhabit a black hole, and anything that passes close to it can only be torn beyond recognition and sucked in.  I refuse to believe, however, that people like Starr Parker and Marina Medvin are of this ilk.  That’s why I would like to say a few words on behalf of hundreds of thousands of ghosts who lost limb and youth and life a century and a half ago… and not to preserve the odious institution of slavery.

Keeping Bambi and His Mom Together… in the Snake Pit

Back from a whirlwind trip to collect the keys from the builder of our new house almost 800 miles away.  Quite exhausting… but what wears me down more is pondering how much brush I have to clear.  The crew pushed things around to create space for their construction—not to leave space for my garden and orchard.  And to think that the Master Builder marveled at the number of snakes he had seen about the site!  When you produce brush piles, O Rugged Captain of Joist and Beam, you get snakes.  (Which is just as well… because you also get rodents.)

And there were other, more minor nuisances… our builder set out a mailbox post with a street number because the Fire Department requires it, but didn’t bother to add the non-requisite mailbox.  We hard-working, home-grown Americans don’t go the extra mile in business dealings any longer, apparently: we sidle up to the legally stipulated boundary and then stop.  The builder, I hasten to add, comes highly recommended and is overworked (“If you want a job done, find a busy man,” runs an old adage that—of course—none of my students had ever heard). And he did lay all the joists and beams with admirable precision. I’m not griping… I’m just sighing.

It’s a start: the beginning of my life’s last chapter, after I have wasted so many intermediate pages trying to live out a hopeless narrative in the academic world.  I got the first of my long-suffering, probably dead-on-arrival fruit trees in the ground… and my cactuses fared much better. Nopales mean antioxidants at my doorstep if… if our socio-political train finally runs off the track. I stared down a deer through the kitchen window with the same grim reassurance.  I’m neither a hunter nor, on most occasions, a carnivore… but it’s nice to know that Bambi’s mom is in the larder if I absolutely need her.

Speaking of neglected work, cultural meltdown, does and fawns, and slimy serpents… I’m not exaggerating when I say that much the most annoying part of last week’s adventure was having to listen to CNN carry on in the hotel breakfast room (a hotel, because the house wasn’t quite ready on the evening promised).  Oh, I’d heard plenty of protests about CNN’s “fake news” coverage… but I had shrugged them off as the hyperbole of competitors, since I myself hadn’t regularly watched cable news for years.  The phenomenon, it turns out, goes far beyond mere bias.  It leaves me more determined than ever to ready the drawbridge for cranking up, because some of us are obviously losing our minds.

Now, what I’m about to write is based on the five-minute walk-through needed to soak up two cups of tea.  (I postpone breakfast and squeeze it almost into lunch—the so-called “starvation diet” that’s actually done me a lot of good).  Yet the very fact that my sampling was so brief and casual raises its own alarm: at any given moment, this is what you get.  Alisyn Camerota was leading a chorus about how frightened those de-parented toddlers along the border must be.  There were storms in the South Texas forecast—and, and the storms would bring thunder… and, and the little children would be so very terrified because they had been wrested away from Mama and Papacita!  Oh, my God! Oh, it was all so uncivilized and beastly!

Yes, Alisyn (keens another Woman of Corinth), and I talked to one person (one person of many, none of whom had names… but what would a border-jumper’s name mean to you, privileged Americano?  We’ll call her Maria…) and… and she was in tears, and she said that she didn’t know where her child was!

Hrrrumph… yes, Alisyn (as we switch to Clive Coat-and-Tie on the steps of the Capitol).  It seems that there are some advisors surrounding this president, and indeed many Americans among the president’s supporters, whose philosophy is that immigration is bad for the nation and should be brought to a complete halt for the indefinite future….

At this point, I growled over my tea, “No, we just want the damn laws enforced so that not just anyone gets to wander into the country!”  It was a very audible growl… but I was on my way out, and anyone who wanted to savor the anguish of the cuddle-your-child advocates further (a team strangely silent on the public funding of Abortions ’R Us Planned Parenthood) was instantly relieved of my presence.

I’m just not getting it. I have seen the edges of the Chihuahuan desert, and I will hazard this generalization: anyone who either leads or sends a child across hundreds of miles of that terrain is very likely a child-abuser of the first order from whose influence the toddler ought to be liberated permanently. Or if the situation in Mexico is really so bad that mothers are fleeing with their babies in arms—fleeing into a yet more lawless vacuum than their native village where they will be that much more likely, both mother and child, to be raped or murdered—then we should approach our southern neighbor and announce, “You have a civil war going on, and your refugees are spilling into our nation. We insist upon intervening. You need help.” When the refugees do reach American soil, by the way, the good-faith option would be to go straight to the authorities rather than to attempt sidestepping them under the expensive and criminal guidance of the very cutthroats whom you claim to be fleeing.

Dividing kids from such adult “supervision” seems a very good idea to me, even though it has now been scrapped and we’re right back to “catch and release”. Why not put the kids up for instant adoption? My wife and I will take one. Will Alisyn Camerota? Will Chris Cuomo?

Meanwhile, certain municipalities in Canada are swooping in and placing children in foster care if their parents protest the school system’s LBGTQ agenda. Several cases in our own cities have lately involved children being forcibly separated from their parents after hospital visits, not because physical abuse is suspected, but because the white coats want to experiment and observe. Where were the mainstream media on these stories?

Remember the body of the toddler lying face down on a beach that stirred such a surge of compassionate border-opening in Europe two or three years ago? No one has ever explained to me why there were no footprints around this lamentable little corpse in the soft, wet sand. Did the photographer really snap the shot without first checking to see if the boy had vital signs? Or was the whole thing staged?

Are we really such an irrational, impulsive mob now that an image without context and a talking head wearing crocodile tears suffice to advance the cause of major criminal enterprises?

The answer appears to be “yes”. Naturally, it has always been so with respect to a minority—a large minority—of the republic. Any republic.  Our imbecility is now approaching critical mass, however. It scares me a lot more than snakes… and snakes, remember, actually eat rats.

The Weaponizing of Hurt Feelings (Part Two)

I have entitled these two pieces “the weaponizing of hurt feelings” because the aggrieved “snowflake” turns out also to serve on a kind of SWAT team.  Once you’re accused of being insensitive to race or gender or an alien culture, you have no defense, no recourse, and no opportunity even to present your side of the issue.  You are instantly guilty as charged.  (Sexual harassment law is indeed written in these terms.) The mere perception by one of the “offended” class—a person of color, a woman or gay or transgender, a Latino, a Muslim, an atheist—that you may not be one hundred percent “down for the struggle” suffices to convict you of major thought crimes.  Now you can only go belly-up and present your throat to the predator’s teeth.  Perhaps your life will be spared after your body is mildly savaged… but the terms of such clemency require that you remain forever more in a default position of worthless, despicable offender caught red-handed and shame-faced.

That the female enjoys particularly ready access to these weapons is obvious to anyone who has recently picked through the mine fields of Academe—but detonations may be heard far beyond the hallowed halls of ivy.  The #MeToo movement has already terminated many a career.  Most of the condemned deserved the firing squad, from what I can tell; yet the method of trial and execution remains disturbing to me.  The candidacy of Herman Cain was picked off a few years ago by dubious accusations that were never verified—and the Anita Hill attack on Clarence Thomas was a kind of sniping-school rehearsal for the ambush several decades earlier.

These cases were especially interesting because the sex of the accusers appeared to trump the race of the accused.  As much rhetorical ammunition as the Left has expended in arguing that we gun-and-Bible clingers continue to practice our old-time racist ways unrepentant, it is yet more invested in the notion that women are constantly abused and enslaved.  Judge Thomas was charged with having stacks of Playboy Magazine awkwardly displayed in his apartment, and Cain with having suggestively offered a job-applicant a ride to her hotel: such “horrors” (if they ever really happened) were supposed to concern us more than a black couple’s not being able to secure a home loan.

So who am I to undervalue the magnitude of such atrocities? The male has no right whatever to rate the trauma created by offensive incidents; their victims may be veritable Auschwitz survivors in their own minds, for all he knows.  Assume the supine posture, present your jugular, and shut the **** up.

If this isn’t the equivalent of being visited by the thug-enforcers of a “protection” racket in a Thirties ghetto and having your storefront rearranged, then I’m at a loss for a better parallel. Those men whose reputations and careers lie in ruins beneath the #MeToo movement’s juggernaut would probably have preferred to get off with a broken arm or a few shattered ribs. And while I do not condone their behavior—while I of all men, who lived my youth holding doors open, surrendering chairs in crowded rooms, and declining offers of one-night stands, have earned a title to deplore and condemn male coarseness—I also smell the rat of self-serving manipulation in certain cases. Women who don’t want their fanny pawed shouldn’t wear tight-fitting dresses into crowded ballrooms full of egomaniacs. Women who don’t want eyes leering at their breasts shouldn’t sport low cleavages where alcohol is liberally flowing. Women who don’t want to be chased around the furniture shouldn’t retreat with the producer to his bachelor penthouse. To call forth a man’s baser impulses and then sue him for a quarter of his net worth because he failed to resist… is that so very unlike snapping a photo of some politician in a compromising position with a “plant” and then blackmailing him for a crucial vote? Do you see how these indignant protests can uncomfortably approximate the tactics of the Mob?

If today’s woman is indeed so readily offended, maybe she should make the burqa part of her wardrobe. As a matter of fact, while pondering these issues, I have begun to discern a prickly similarity between the passive aggression of the “hurt feelings bomb” smuggled into our classrooms and boardrooms and the suicide bomber of radical Islam. How else to explain the seemingly nonsensical solidarity that leftwing causes like avant-garde feminism manifest for proponents of Sharia law… how else, but by recognizing the ambition of both to blow up stable, rational social structures?

For there is much passive aggression in most terrorist acts, too: this is another paradox that has nagged at me for years. I could almost agree with the smattering of ill-advised Democrats who professed admiration for the “courage” of the 9/11 murderers: they did, after all, kill themselves as well as thousands of innocents. Yet suicide isn’t so very gutsy, especially when you force others through the exit along with you. I myself knew plenty of alienation as an adolescent. My school days were a daily hell—and, in what would activate a flashing red alarm today, my budding masculinity sought a significant refuge in black-powder revolvers. I learned not only to become a fairly good shot, but also to melt lead and mold Minié balls. Never for the fraction of an instant, however, did I so much as idly fantasize about turning a muzzle on the rudest of my classmates. To my mind, such an act would have justified their contempt for me. I would have demonstrated that I was truly the lowest of the low: a spineless, murderous coward. If I entertained any silly adolescent fantasy at all, it was that I would step up and save the lives of those who would happily have watched me drop dead, they cringing and sniveling and I advancing to meet the threat head-on.

So how could these young men of our new century who crave a manly exit have hit upon such a vile means of defying the world and commemorating their misunderstood lives? How can suicide bombers be such loathsome, wimpy back-shooters—and how can the mass-murderers of Columbine and the authors of all subsequent campus atrocities, slaughtering helpless targets with the ease of snuffing out fish in a barrel, have supposed that they were leaving behind a manly mark? Are these not “feminized boys” seeking vainly a brief and final passage to manhood? With their irremediably hurt feelings and their one-way vengeance upon offenders without any defense, they seem to me a very odd and late development in our global epidemic of moral chaos. These boys aren’t acting at all like men. Why don’t they understand that?

Why don’t young women understand that it’s not sensitive to be over-sensitive—that obsession with one’s own feelings, almost to the exclusion of allowing anyone else to feel, is the very opposite of sensitivity and, indeed, the emulation of uncivilized masculinity?

Is the objective of the progressive female to transform herself into the worst kind of male? Is the destiny of progressivism’s haphazardly produced males to imbibe the most untutored qualities of a primitive femininity?

And as for suicide, as I wander back to that worst single hour I ever passed in a classroom… is it not significant that the very word is now the subject of a taboo, and that to scorn suicide as cowardly is no less forbidden and anathematic than denouncing abortion as human sacrifice?