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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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?

“It’s My Body!”… Then Why Can’t You Control It?

What’s that whining Fifties jukebox favorite that goes, “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to”?  That one invariably springs to mind when I hear the tired refrain, “It’s my body, and I’ll do with it what I want to.”  Many mutations of this peevish, childish taunt were run up the masthead during Ireland’s repeal of her Eighth Amendment last month—a plebiscite which effectively legalized abortion under most conditions.  Yet how true is that claim about one’s body, and in what sense might it ever be true?

You cannot legally amputate a limb just because you take a disliking to it in most civilized nations.  This dark urge is rightly considered to characterize a mental disorder, and those who suffer from it are viewed as incompetent to make such decisions.  So… no, in that case you cannot do whatever you wish with your body.

The counter-argument might be made that the fetus is an invading, parasitic life form, so that the “amputation” analogy is inaccurate.  The modicum of truth in this protest, however, seems to me to undermine the broader claim irreparably.  Because the fetus is indeed another life and not just one of your appendages, you no longer have any right whatsoever to terminate its existence.

But (says the whining party-girl) you ignored the “invading” part, the “parasite” part!  I don’t want this parasite growing in me!  This is an entirely different line of argument that has completely abandoned the “it’s my body” umbrella.  Assessing its validity would require a close review of just what’s meant by invasion and parasitism.  A three-year-old child might well be deemed a parasite: we would certainly be contemplating a life form that cannot survive on its own.  Would the parent, then, be morally justified in murdering the child on the ground that the toddler had become an insufferable parasite?

But to return to the “it’s my body” contention… how does the “yourness” of this body reconcile with its having been successfully invaded by a parasite against your will?  You submitted your body to a course of behavior which rendered the parasite’s implantation highly probable.  Unless you are an utter idiot incapable of guiding her own Sharpie along her own demo-placard, you must know that pregnancy is a possible-to-likely consequence of sexual activity.  You made the choice to engage in that activity through your body.  If you own a car and you race it along a muddy, stony course for thrills, then your insurance provider is not responsible for returning the vehicle to its previous condition.  You chose to employ it in a risky, irresponsible activity: the consequences of that choice must be addressed with your own resources.  Why does society have an obligation to patch up the “damage” when your body was the vehicle of your joy ride? Because, you know, you’re demanding that society’s resources remedy your inconvenient predicament. Most abortions are not self-administered, just as most people can’t repair their own car.

Two further points arise here.  One is that you don’t really have a right to treat any item of personal property however you damn well like.  You can’t set fire to your car or your house because you enjoy the sight of smoke and flames.  The flames may spread to other people’s possessions; and, in any case, wantonness is considered morally reprehensible even in situations where it is legally permitted.  You could pay ten thousand bucks for an oil painting and then shred it without fear of facing charges… but your community would regard you with horror and disgust, as it should.  Even inanimate objects should not be destroyed for idle amusement.

Secondly, the public actually does have a stake in whether or not you give birth to the children you have conceived.  Societies that do not produce another generation do not survive: Western Europe is slowly (too slowly) awakening to this grim fact as I write, and even China will soon run into it around a surprising near-future turn of events after having promoted abortion for two generations.  Those who extol the demographically salutary effects of abortion in an overpopulated world, such as certain eugenicist members of my own family, may be right at some level; but notice that, once again, their position doesn’t support the “it’s my body” premise.  On the contrary, they maintain that society has an exigent interest in keeping your progeny off the face of the earth.  (I might add that their attitude often infects its elitist proponents more quickly than the seething masses: childlessness has all but exterminated my side of the family tree.)

Finally, I’d venture to point out that anyone who lives for more than half a century must begin to question just what kind of possession he or she enjoys over the body.  As you age, your body becomes a traitor.  If it were truly yours, it would behave better… but it doesn’t sleep as it should, it rebels against certain foods, it must relieve itself with irritating frequency, it torments you with mysterious pains never before known—it’s increasingly a ramshackle house that you are forced to rent.  You begin to understand that it doesn’t really belong to you and never really belonged to you: that it was always a rental property, and that the terms of the lease require you to endure a degree of inconvenience.  You’d rather have been a little taller; that won’t happen.  You’d like to have blond hair.  Well, that can be arranged temporarily… but probably at the cost of long-term damage to your mop.  You’re too fat.  That’s a condition similar to being pregnant, in that it follows upon certain choices you have made in pursuit of pleasure.  If you want to be thinner, eat less and eat better.  If you want to be un-pregnant, abstain from sex, or at least circle three days in the middle of your month to be reserved for fasting and meditation.

If you can’t read a calendar or count to thirty, find a friend who can.  Why is it that the most educated people appear to advocate most vocally for these positions that should never have relevance to the conduct of any but the very dullest?

But I forget: the most educated are busily changing the biological sex of their bodies even at this instant.  It seems that their body really wasn’t theirs, after all, having been switched at birth with someone else’s.  Is that perhaps what abortion ultimately represents in their minds—is it a kind of transferred suicide, a revenge directed at life for ever having interrupted their peaceful oblivion?

The Propagandistic Caricature of Slave-Day History: Part Two

My maternal grandmother was the most extraordinary person I’ve ever known.  Though her family had inhabited a small area along the Rappahannock for three hundred years, the household’s dissolution upon the death of her mother more or less forced her to accept an offer of marriage from a Texan who happened to be stationed near Norfolk during the First World War.  The life to which he transported her in central Texas wasn’t remotely similar to the cultural setting she had left behind.  The dissonance that resulted did not send harmonious ripples through subsequent generations; I trace a lot of the complexities of my own character back to a schizophrenic kind of tug-of-war between a nearly antisocial independence and an invincible attachment to fine creations that “have no use”.  I suppose my emigration to Georgia, now in its final stages, is a compromise between the Texan and the Virginian in me.

One priceless bequest I owe to my grandmother is a small (all too small) amount of oral history that roots in times far preceding the Civil War.  I recall, for instance, a story that concerned the childhood of her own grandmother.  The girl was privy once upon a time to an exchange between the adult womenfolk and a slave girl called (I think) Sally.  The women were chattering over a rumor that so-and-so whipped his slaves.  They were scandalized, and quickly reached the conclusion that the reports were malicious.  Nobody whipped slaves!  I imagine they treated the talk just as you would if somebody whispered that the strange man down the street had two Thai girls locked away in his basement.  Such things were thrilling to talk about in their Gothic horror but not to be believed in the light of day. Sally overheard the discussion and ventured to disagree with its conclusion.  Oh, such things did indeed happen, Miss Anne!  Oh, no, Sally, you shouldn’t be so gullible—that’s all just vicious gossip.  Oh, no, Miss Anne, I know what I’m saying!

And this went back and forth until Sally at last, in an argument that could not be rebutted, dropped her blouse and exposed her back.  It bore the cicatrices of old lash marks from a previous owner.

My grandmother’s intent was to illustrate through the story that her family, at least, did not maltreat slaves.  I recall thinking at the time that it also revealed a disturbing degree of isolation from ghastly realities needing to be faced and addressed.  I now understand, further, that the vignette confirms what I’ve often read about slaveholders: that the bullies among them were held in contempt by their neighbors and socially ostracized, so that they would go to great lengths to conceal their sadistic practices.

Merely accepting the institution of slavery, you may counter, should disqualify anyone from entering heaven… but in that case, my friend, it may be you who inhabits a fantasyland.  Our world, unfortunately, is colored mostly in shades of gray.  You and I like to believe that our own lights shine bright—but time will humble us, I guarantee you.  If moral perfection is a prerequisite for heaven, then it’s a very lonely place.

My grandmother, for instance, would often vigorously point out that the Yankee slave traders made a handsome profit off of a commercial activity forbidden in most of their states.  (Not all of them, by the way; states like Maryland and Kentucky not only permitted slavery, but were not prohibited from the practice by Mr. Lincoln’s glorious Proclamation.)  I would add on the basis of my own reading of slave narratives that simply setting your bondsmen free wasn’t always a clear benefit for them.  Sometimes a freedman would run into a couple of ruffians who would tear up his documents and put him back on the selling block… and the result might be trying to survive on a big plantation’s chain gang rather than currying Mr. Jones’s horses and feeding his hound dogs.  These outrageous recaptures, besides, could occur in northern territory, and even in Canada.  Yankee laws didn’t seem to be overly concerned about the problem.

I’ll close for now with one more ambivalent vignette that my grandmother proudly repeated.  After the war, her father was down at the waterfront as evening gathered.  (He captained a small fleet of boats that harvested menhaden from the Chesapeake, primarily for fertilizer.)  A strapping young black man appeared from nowhere and approached him on the lonely wharf with a plainly unfriendly purpose in mind.  “Papa” had no arm with which to defend himself—but he did have his trusty pipe; and in the gloaming, as he pointed the pipe’s stem deliberately, it must have looked very like a Derringer or a “pepperbox”.   The menacing stranger lit out with his hands over his head and was seen no more.

Why do I share this story?  Well, it shows us that a) casual robberies and murders took place routinely far east of the Mississippi even in the 1870’s; and b) that not all Americans of African descent were angels, just as not all European DNA was diabolical.  With the freeing of the slaves came an uptick in violent crime.  How could it have been otherwise?  The South was destitute: the economy into which the slaves were freed had been shattered.  (Many sought jobs in the industrial north—and the bigotry and race riots that ensued somehow don’t reach the threshold of interest in most history books.)  Organizations like the KKK are a permanent stain on our cultural legacy; but it’s not a moral equivocation to observe that some naive souls may have been seduced into sympathizing with them thanks to a perceived link between freed slaves and more dangerous streets.  In the same way, the Bolshevik objective of exterminating the Catholic Church, with wholesale murder of clergy, persuaded more than a few distressed French, Spanish, and Italian bourgeoisie to embrace fascism in the Thirties.

I wish we could collectively remember, in these rabid and downwardly spiraling times, that we are complex beings whose history is a tangle of mixed motives and bad calls.  There are no angels among us; but there are, indeed, a few devils—the very behind-the-scene puppeteers who would have us all choose a tribe, a camp, for the most simplistic of reasons and then raise barricades.  No good can come of such non-thinking.  We still have a little time, maybe, before it sucks us irresistibly into a vortex that will pull apart the last vestiges of our civilization.

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.