As an introduction, I have to say that this episode, which has quickly turned into an ethics train wreck of sweeping and perhaps catastrophic proportions, frightens me as few issues do. It has become a danger to free speech, to cultural diversity, to liberty, education, historical fairness, cultural cohesion and common sense. It appears to be the metastasis of all the demonizing rhetoric, self-righteous pandering and virtue-signaling, and totalitarian-minded efforts to remold the past in order to control the future. The level of contempt, hate and intimidation being focused on those who—like me—are attempting to keep the issues in perspective by analyzing complex and emotional ethical components in context is causing the fervor involved to approach that of unthinking mobs. The damage done by the worst mobs of the past, however, were mostly confined to a restricted region, or, like The Terror in France or the Red Scare here, were immediately repudiated one the fever broke. I’m not sure that this fever will break, at least not before it breaks us. It is the perfect storm of self-righteous fanaticism, as the anti-Trump hysteria collides with Obama era race-baiting and victim-mongering, both of which have run head on into the mania for air-brushing history to remove any mention of events, movements, attitudes or human beings that “trigger” the perpetually outraged of today.
Social media has magnified the intensity of this already deadly storm, by allowing once intelligent people to throttle their brains and judgment into mush by confining their consideration of the issues to partisan echo chambers. Daily, I am embarrassed and horrified by what I read on Facebook by people who I know—I KNOW—are capable of competent critical thought but who have completely abandoned it to be on the “right” side, where facile, half-truths and lazy conclusions are greeted by a myriad “thumbs up” and “hearts.”
And I am angry–contrary to popular opinion, I’m not usually emotionally involved in the issues I write about; like Jessica Rabbit, who isn’t really bad (she’s just drawn that way), I’m not usually as intense as I seem. I just write that way—that I am so tangential and impotent that what see so clearly has little persuasive power at all, because I’ve frittered away my opportunities to be influential in a thousand ways.
I have never allowed futility to stop me, though, because I have spent a lifetime banging my head against walls.
Here are the ethics observations I’ve been accumulating since the first torches were lit in Charlotte:
- Please watch this video, from Ken Burn’s “The Civil War”:
I was moved when I first saw this, which was in the documentary’s final chapter, and I am moved still. The old Union soldiers moaned when they saw the men who had tried to kill them, and who had killed their friends and comrades, re-enacting their desperate open field march into deadly artillery. Then they dropped their arms and met their former foes, and embraced them.
These men didn’t think of the former Confederates as traitors, or racists, or slavery advocates. They, like the Union veterans, were just men of their times, caught up in a great political and human rights conflict that came too fast and too furiously for any of them to manage. They were caught in the same, violent maelstrom, and knew it even 50 years earlier. Soldiers on both side wrote how they admired the courage of the enemy combatants they were killing, because they knew they were, in all the ways that mattered, just like them. It was the Golden Rule. After the war, these soldiers who had faced death at the hands of these same generals, officers and troops, did not begrudge them the honor of their statues and memorials, nor their families pride in the bravery of their loved ones.
Yet now, self-righteous social justice censors who never took up arms for any cause and in many cases never would, employ their pitifully inadequate knowledge of history to proclaim all the Civil War’s combatants on the losing side as racists and traitors, and decree that they should be hidden from future generations in shame. We have honored men and women for the good that they represent, not the mistakes, sins and misconduct that are usually the product of the times and values in which they lived. In doing so, we leave clues, memories, controversies, differing vews, and stories for new generations to consider and better understand their own culture and society, and how it came to be what it is.
Those who want to tear down monuments to the imperfect, whether they know it or not, are impeding knowledge, perspective, wisdom, and understanding. They want only one view of history, because they will only tolerate one that advances their ideology and values—just as the Americans of the past believed in their values. Foolishly, I suppose, they trusted future generations to act on their own ethical enlightenment without corrupting the historical record. Continue reading