Wednesday, June 24, 2015

From the Confederate Battle Flag to the Boys in the Boat

The flap about the Confederate battle flag brings out the admiration in me.

How do liberals do it? One liberal writer brings up the issue of the Confederate battle flag, that featured in the on-line rantings of the racist killer Dylann Roof, and immediately 30 million liberal hearts are beating as one to demand that the flag be taken down at the South Carolina statehouse.

Imagine if conservatives could come together on an issue and carry all before them, if only for a week!

I suppose the answer is: that's what liberals do. That's what it means to practice a secular religion and combine your religious and political practice in one. Everything is political, and everything is a moral outrage. And everything comes down to "The Issue."

For conservatives like me, things are more diffuse. Morality is separate from politics, because morality is about right and wrong, while politics is about strong and weak. And to me, "slavery" is a more complex subject than the peculiar institution that prevailing in the years in the South before the Civil War.

For instance, the plantation owners didn't choose African slaves to work their plantations out of racism. They chose them because west Africans four hundred years ago had developed a peculiar immunity to malaria. The plantation owners could have used white Europeans on their American plantations, and they did, bringing indentured servants to the Americas. The only problem was that the white indentured servants died of malaria in the malarial swamps of the east coast of North America.

Put it this way. The plantation owners that hired white indentured servants failed, because their workers all died. The plantation owners that bought west African slaves thrived, because their workers didn't die as much as the wimpy whites.

Yes, but how could those Southerners face themselves in the morning!

They could face themselves in the morning because we each of us write ourselves a moral blank check each morning, while checking the bank balance of others with admirable and searching rectitude.

That's how liberals manage to politicize the evil actions of an evil racist lone wolf while remaining silent about the black-on-black carnage in, e.g., the South Side of Chicago. And the cultural tsunami of fatherless boys in America. And the utter incompetence of government at all levels, including the apparent Chinese hack of all federal employee records.

I'm reading The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, the 2013 book about the University of Washington crew that competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It follows a number of themes, from the horror of Nazism to the agonizing sufferings of Americans in the Great Depression.

But for me the overriding theme is the cultural differences between then and now. The heroes of the book, the boys in the boat, were mostly from the artisan class, and from unstable, fractured homes. Before enrolling at the University of Washington in the fall of 1932 they had faced formidable hardships in their young lives, including being chucked out by their father's second wife. There wasn't no welfare state; these young men had to find a job, had to find a place to sleep, had to find a way, somehow, to overcome -- and then pay for tuition at the UW. The book contrasts their privations, their grit, and their shame, with the easy effortless lives of their upper middle-class classmates.

Back in the 1930s in America it was white Northern European youngsters trying to build a life out of the economic chaos of a failed government and the social chaos of their parents' struggles and failures. Today in the 2010s, nothing has changed. Only now it is African American youngsters trying to build a life in the wreckage of failed government policies, and the chaos of their parents' struggles and failures.

But by all means let's stop selling Confederate flag memorabilia at Walmart.

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