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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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.

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.

“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.