Ongoing Unpleasantness

One day. Back to gym. And the news seems full of grrr brrr about the to-do in Charlottesburg over the week out.

The morning podcast was an episode of the CBC’s “Best of Ideas” supposedly about peace. It wandered about the topic but did poorly. The discussants were all academics and they did a poor job. It always amazes me how heated academics (and some bogs) can get about things that are purely subjective and immeasurable. 

So with that preparation, I set to consider the current unpeace over the matter of memorials to Confederates.

I have to admit to being of divided opinion on this matter. Not, per se, over the statues, but over the question of the war itself and its role in our society.

The matter of human chattel slavery – the “peculiar institution” – cannot be dissected out. It is one of the great evils of humanity. Admittedly it is a knee in a curve of whether any human can own – as in property – any other life form? This is itself indissectable since half (or more) of the cells that make up each and every one of us is not a component of the human body. Our bodily tenants are greater in number than we are, each and every one. We studiously avoid the question of whether it is just and fair and humane to discorporate any life, much less those that inhabit our bodies that we liberally dose with antibacterial soaps and antibacterial medications – inside and outside. It is this denial of the matter of the life ecology that brands all of us who have one opinion or another of human abortion as bigots and shirkers.

Some inadvertent executions are unavoidable but I see no great rush to embrace Jainism, myself included. 

So how can we be expected to get along with other humans? Biological arrogance aside we are imbued with instincts, characterized by “Us-Them”, that assure we shall be ugly and mean and violent to each other.

I have to admit that things were different when I was growing up. John Singleton Mosby was as large a television “star” as Francis Marion or Zorro. I was an adolescent in high schule when the centennial of the war was observed. And “people of color” either participated or hid. It is not without note of pride that during this period my high schule was integrated – and much to our benefit and joy. I know no one I attended with, including myself, who did not benefit personally from this diversity. 

I recall considerable friction on the Campus of the Black Warrior when some of the Greek houses would celebrate their spring dances in Confederate imitation. The complaints and outrage were more about greek arrogance and hubris than adoration of a slave holding society.

America has always been about slave holding in some form or other, not all called such. Early immigrants signed away their freedom for years – indenture – to come to the “New World.” Factory and mining companies endebted their workers to a life of lost freedom – owing one’s soul to the company store. I went to schule with “Mill Kids” whose parents were so encumbered and only by the destruction of the cotton mill system were the children saved from such. Today’s capitalists have gone to the opposite extreme, renting workers for the minimum of pay and duration with no obligation for the life force expended. Slavery is not just chains; it is also failure to care.

I had to study the war, both as history and as military phenomena. This started in grade schule and continued through the War College. I highly recommend it as a means to appreciate how incompetent we humans are. The public schule bits were like fruit cake – mediocre baked goods ruined by tasteless, nasty nuggets of life. The military bits were better reading but a nastier lesson. Our public schules seem incapable of imparting any reality except that of the enslavement of the young, with their mental abuse included. Our military schules at least are a bit more forthcoming of the realities, partly to prevent their repeat, and if a repeat is necessary to minimize the reinvention of mistakes. The latter is much more optimistic of the intelligence and rationality of humans than the former.

For a species that is supposed to be wise, we seem unable to not do harm to others. That, to me, is the merit of these memorials. Not to commemorate past false glories but to remind us of the evil that we wrought and that we should not do it again. Yes, their sight is unpleasant to some; it should be unpleasant to all. But we should not dispose of these for that reason; no, rather we should retain them to remind us what not to do.