Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Some sympathy for the historical American jingo

Dear Hannah,

It's become very fashionable to ask us to walk a mile in a man's moccasins without wondering what it's like to be chased by someone with a tomahawk.  Nearly everyone feels comfortable condemning Andrew Jackson for how he treated the Indians -- and condemning him at least partially rightly.  What they have not felt comfortable doing is asking themselves how it would feel to be born in a country you didn't found, and have a strange-looking group of illiterate, jobless, pagan wild-men show up at your neighbor's house and scalp all your best friends.  Whether or not this is Jackson's experience is irrelevant if this was the experience of many American settlers.  To have a savage at your doorstep, ready to strike at night and oftentimes beyond the reach of the law, would eventually affect your psychology in ways a modern man would consider unfavorable.  The only good Indian is a dead Indian is a cruel thing to say.  But we wonder how many cruelties a man had to witness or hear about (I'm speaking of the unmentionable tortures practiced by many of the Indian tribes on their enemies) before he was capable of saying it*.


With our view of the Southerners we find almost exactly the same problem.  Alexis de Tocqueville notes in Democracy in America that the majority of the Southerners he spoke to, who were not even in favor of the slave trade or happy about its results, were terrified of the dangers of emancipation.   In a South where blacks comprised at least half of the populace in many places, the Southerners lived in constant terror of both spur-of-the-moment riots and well-planned revolts; and felt forced, by a mixture of not only self-interest, but self-protection of their friends and family, to propagate systems of social policy and government that shielded them from an almost ubiquitous danger.  Nobody good, at this point in history, can argue that the slaveholders were right for holding slaves.  Tocqueville's impression was that many of the slaveholders wouldn't argue that they were right in holding slaves.  But at the same time nobody is considering that the terrors of an emancipated and rightfully-angry populace might make you less guilty for not letting go of the slaves you inherited and never wanted to have**.  We oftentimes say it's wrong to paint an entire people with an unfavorable (but general) characteristic.  To my knowledge, a leftist has never applied this popular rule, so oftentimes used in defense of blacks and Muslims, to Southerners in general.  

When we judge the settlers or the Southerners or even go as far back as the Romans, we oftentimes forget that of all the people in existence, a people from another world are the people we should judge the most carefully.  Inconsiderate of an infinite slew of circumstances, invisible to the eye and shrouded in the impenetrable darkness of unrecorded history, we forget our ignorance while pretending our superiority; and condescend to censure things we may not ever properly understand.  The overwhelming majority of history, comprised of glances between lovers and stories shared at fireplaces and little hatreds of horrible things, has been lost to us forever; and the few things we retain are not a picture of the way things entirely were, but a representation of a people for a certain moral and spiritual purpose.  Even a good historian never gives us history as it entirely was.  He paints a picture for us with the imagination he has, highlighting the few and almost isolated things that he knows.

What our leftists have proved to us is that even our sympathy, which is worshiped at the expense of all reason and goodness, is selective.  And the people we choose to sympathize with tells us almost as much about ourselves as our hypocrisy about our sympathy.  With some men we'll dig through centuries of history, trying to find them a reason for doing what they did so we can say who they are.  With others we say they did what they did because they are who they are. And the truth is that men are almost always responsible while almost always having an excuse.  We simply choose to regard them as responsible one day, and excuse them another; and we most likely do it according to the more fashionable morals of the day; and even then according to the morals which highlight the things that we're best at -- and things we're oftentimes best at because we have nothing at stake.  We would have lived in peace with the indians.  We would have set all the slaves free.  If we were King David, we would have easily killed our son Amnon after he raped his sister Tamar.  If we were Peter, we would have never denied Christ.  If we were smart, we would keep our mouths shut.

We often hear that history is written by the winners, and that we ought to hear the perspective of the unheard.  What they have forgotten is that the Southerners were (and in many ways are) the losers.  They've forgotten that the children of Andrew Jackson and the successors of his own party are terrified of being associated with him.  We forget that Rome was destroyed centuries ago; and that their successful enemies weren't necessarily any more kind than they were.  In many cases we are not more kind.  The difference is that we had the advantage (if it can be called such) of being taught, by incessant indoctrination and without any of the incentives to think otherwise, to think the way we do -- which in many instances is less helpful and less moral and more murderous than the ways men used to think.  We say judge not, lest ye be judged.  And then taking Jesus in the worst and most literal and most non-contextual way possible, to that short and brutal sentence we added an asterisk which filled a book and included almost the whole of our dead and mysterious white ancestry.

Your father,
-J

*In partial defense of the men who try to take over the world, the chief advantage of being the dominant power is that nobody can bully you around.  In fact, it can safely be said that if the world is not dictated on your terms, it will be dictated on somebody else's; and both history and language have a way of insisting that somebody else's terms are going to be unfavorable (which is why they are somebody else's).  The recorded history of early mankind is little more than a series of rapes and robberies, and it requires very little imagination to think that after a few thousand years of your neighbors killing your children and carrying off your women, that maybe someone, maybe even the most pacific and easy-going of peoples, might begin to be interested in world domination.

Fear has a way or warping our more socially-acceptable sentiments, and the constant terrors of hurt and destruction have a way of making us less scrupulous about hurting and destroying in turn.  The threat of sudden and unexpected calamity also tends to establish a feeling of patriotism for those we know will protect us, and a hatred of (or at the very least an extreme and rational indifference toward) anyone who won't.  In addition to this, each of us can see within ourselves the roots of the things we fear in others; and a long-standing peace, while accustoming us to underestimate the threats from even dangerous kinds of foreigners, can never really hide from us the knowledge we have of our darker desires.  The recent popularity of apocalyptic films and dystopian novels is a reminder not even of what we know with our heads, but of what we feel with our hearts: that despite the world getting along smoothly in the West, there lurks in every grocer, in every doctor, in every person we pass on the street and every young man we see in a school, a series of unsociable and tyrannical desires which are only suppressed by our fear of public distaste and the penalties of law.  We know (whether we like to admit it or not) that mankind is only subdued for the moment, and wonder when he'll be back at his old tricks of taking what he can't trade, raping what he can't love, and killing those he can't persuade.  The Walking Dead may have been fiction; but in many ways it's more real to us than The Old Testament.  It has the flavor of the Book of Judges, mixed with the clothing and the mannerisms of the modern man.  The scenery and the people, of course, are new.  The story is very old.  It's the history of all governments, and the beginnings of every attempt at total domination.

The great value of The Walking Dead is that that it's forced us to reexamine the things we always took for granted.  We always talk of the certainty of death and taxes, but we've forgotten that a time existed when we could only be certain of death.  All governments, however benignly our politicians prefer to present themselves, are a permanent declaration of war against aggressors. Every bill is a threat of violence and an admission of our terror.  Our constitution is a right to wage war against our politicians.  Our policemen are our watchmen on the walls of public order.  In the beginning, there was God -- and then immediately after God there was fear.  And almost immediately after fear, perhaps even before we could express it, there was government.

**It's said that the Germans, who were never really entirely in favor of Nazism, confused the Americans greatly by putting up a desperate fight when it was obvious that everything was lost.  The reason why should be fairly obvious to any of us.  Like Stonewall Jackson throwing his lot in with the South, sometimes the worse moral claim is preferable to your friends and family being conquered -- especially by a rightfully-enraged enemy.  The people who pretend that they pick principles over family every time may be more noble than us; but my feeling is that they're just as often full of shit.

2 comments:

  1. The opening sentence is wonderful.

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  2. Great read Jeremy. The last paragraph may be particularly relevant as it applies to the current political situation and many of the players involved.

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