Confederate Flag Hysteria

So the Stars and Bars is coming down from the South Carolina statehouse to the accompaniment of whooping and hollering by breast-beating politicians. If you have the stomach, you can watch some of it here. Now, sure as clockwork, politicians are tripping all over each other to get on the bandwagon. Flags are coming down all throughout the South. You can no longer buy them on Amazon or at Walmart, although at this writing they’re still seen on eBay. Statues of Confederate heroes are in danger of being ground up for use as concrete aggregate.

What’s the meaning of the Confederate flag, anyway? It depends whom you ask. It means nothing to me. To some white Southerners, it’s a reminder of their brave forbears’ fight for their honor. To many blacks, perhaps most, it’s a symbol of hate. Who’s right? All of the above; none of the above—it’s whatever you want to make of it. What’s disturbing is the widespread ignorance of what the Civil War was about. It was about secession, first and foremost, and only secondarily about slavery. Lincoln freed the slaves as a tactical matter, and only in the re-conquered Southern states, and not until two years into the war. Before the war he made it quite clear that his goal was to preserve the union, and if freeing the slaves would further that goal, he would free them, and if not, not.

It is the height of oversimplification to cast the rebels as bad guys and the yankees as good guys. There were many acts of kindness between whites and blacks on both sides of the line and of course, many atrocities on both sides. This doesn’t justify slavery the least little bit. But the war was the wrong way to end it. If the South had been allowed to go its way, 600,000 lives plus uncounted misery and destruction would have been averted. Slavery would not have lasted much longer in the South for economic and moral reasons. One economic reason is that the best slaves would have escaped to the North where they would no longer fear being deported. The gradual mechanization of farms is another. On the moral front, although ideas moved more slowly in those days, thoughtful Southerners would gradually come to see slavery as abominable and indefensible. (Highly recommended: Jeff Hummel’s groundbreaking revisionist treatment of the war, “Freeing the Slaves, Enslaving Free Men.”)

I take their word for it that blacks see the flag as a symbol of oppression. Given that, I would have to agree with the action in South Carolina notwithstanding the insult to Southern pride. But I’m not so naïve as to believe race relations will improve as a result. In fact, I fear they’ll get worse. If the flag wasn’t a symbol of racial animosity before, it is now. Positions will be hardened. White Southern conservatives, having recently taken a beating on gay marriage, will be further marginalized and polarized. The “progressives,” having smelled blood, will be on the warpath (oops—is that word racially insensitive?). They’ll be out on search-and-destroy missions, hunting down vestiges of Southernism.

My humble suggestion: let’s not get so worked up about symbols, whether they’re flags, crosses, Mohammed cartoons, or even the dollar sign on the last page of Atlas Shrugged.

Gun Rights, the Black Panthers, and ‘the South’ in the United States

From a report by Aaron Lake Smith in Vice:

The Dallas New Black Panthers have been carrying guns for years. In an effort to ratchet up their organizing efforts, they formed the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, uniting five local black and brown paramilitary organizations under a single banner. “We accept all oppressed people of color with weapons,” Darren X, who is 48, tells me in a deep, authoritative baritone. “The complete agenda involves going into our communities and educating our people on federal, state, and local gun laws. We want to stop fratricide, genocide—all the ‘cides.”

Interesting, and brings up the question: will the NRA support their right to bear arms, or will they revert to their early 20th century stance and begin supporting gun control again? Also in the article is a bit of history:

The seeds of what was to become the Black Panther Party lie in the 1940s, when black veterans returned to the South after fighting in World War II and found themselves dehumanized by segregation.

I’ve often wondered about this. The desegregation of the South and the achievements of the Civil Rights movement were perhaps the greatest human accomplishments to come out of World War 2 and the Cold War, and this has startling implications for libertarians who advocate for a hardline non-interventionist foreign policy. Libertarians in the US point out that worldwide empire is bad, even a liberal empire, but without it I don’t see a Civil Rights movement happening (which in turn means nobody in the developing world has a model to look up to).

After Germany and Japan surrendered Washington was forced to cede political rights to blacks because of the hypocrisy that pro-rights marches highlighted to the world. The US was engaged in a propaganda war with the USSR, and the segregation of blacks and whites in the US was very bad press. Without the Cold War, blacks would probably have remained official second-class in the US (and the world). Libertarians should be proud of the Civil Rights movement, even if the legislation passed didn’t conform perfectly with individual rights (i.e. affirmative action instead of reparations, or nothing but individual rights!) and even if blacks got their individual rights through legislation rather than law.

Smith’s reporting in other places is less than convincing, though:

Shootings of civilians by police officers reached a 20-year peak in 2013, even as the incidence of violent crime in America went down overall.

I believe that the shooting of “civilians” by police officers is a violent crime, but unless I am missing something Vice simply treats the data as if shootings by police officers are different from shootings by people who are not police officers. Nothing will change as long as this kind of mindset is prevalent in the US. I understand that police officers have a job to do, and that their job makes them different from people who do other jobs (say, a doctor or a lawyer), but it does not place them above the law.

Also, a more disturbing implication of this would be that a more violent police force decreases crime. This is not discussed by libertarians or left-liberals. I don’t like it, but it cannot be ruled out as a possibility just yet. I hope somebody will debunk my notion in the ‘comments’.

One last fascinating tidbit from the article is the difference between the old leaders of the Black Panthers (one who claimed that the Koch Brothers are behind everything, thus showing – to me, anyway – that hippies and Black Panthers have more Baby Boomer similarities with each other than they’d like to admit) and the new leaders (“all power to all people,” including gun rights). Racism is so interesting to me in the American context because of the demographic perceptions amongst other reasons). My parents and grandparents have very different types of racist assumptions than I do, but I’m getting way too far ahead of myself. More on American racism later, or just take me to task in the ‘comments’ section!

(h/t Chris Blattman)

From the Comments: Red State Blue State Edition

Now that I have a trusty laptop again, I can answer questions and discuss comments a bit more efficiently. Hank Moore asked the following question in response to a link I provided on Left-wing secessionist sentiment:

That California piece was good. What’s your take on the whole red states mooching off the blue states thing? I keep hearing this whenever the secession question comes up. Those few libs who don’t want to confiscate Texas from the Texans say “good riddance, you’re a tax burden anyways!”

It doesn’t quite fit into my version of the conventional wisdom for some reason. [1] Are the blue states paying more than their “fair share” simply because they are underrepresented and thus the fault is the constitution, or [2] is it because they already have large populations they naturally attract big businesses in spite of the fact they aren’t as friendly to free enterprise, and because of this there is more tax revenue to be collected? [3] And then there’s the fact that some red states may in fact still be feeling the effects of being on the losing side of the Civil War (scorched earth warfare, unconditional surrender, reconstruction). These are the three possible explanations that fit with my way of thinking. Maybe its just that I’m cherry-picking “evidence” for a conclusion I’ve already arrived at.

Any thoughts?

All three of Hank’s reasons are good, but I’d like to zoom in on the last one about the Civil War. I think has the gist of why many red states are poorer than blue states, but with a couple of tweaks. Continue reading

Lester Maddox, Hero or Bum?

Ask anybody outside Georgia who Lester Maddox was and you’re likely to get a blank stare.  I’m not from Georgia but I remember the attention he got in the late 1960’s.  Aside from Alabama Governor George Wallace, Maddox was the best known rear-guard defender of racial segregation in the South at that time.

Mr. Maddox and his family operated a modest restaurant called the Pickrick adjacent to the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta.  The fried chicken must have been good, because he prospered.  He gradually became interested in politics and began to express them bluntly.

Maddox was incensed when the Civil Rights Act became law in 1964.  Among other things, the Act outlawed racial discrimination in “public accommodations.”  He did not welcome black people as customers, and when three black men tried to enter his property in July of 1964, he reportedly waved a pistol at them and shouted: “You no good dirty devils! You dirty Communists!”  He believed that as owner of the restaurant, it was his prerogative to decide whom he wanted to serve. The pick handles that were initially decorations in his restaurant became symbols of his defiance, and he sold them as autographed “Pickrick drumsticks” in his souvenir shop.

Maddox consistently defended his stand as an issue of property rights. Continue reading