Category Archives: Civil War

Calexit

The vote counting continues. Thus far Clinton has accrued approximately 2.5 million more popular votes than Trump. Wailing and gnashing of teeth ensues – “how can this be? Democracy!?” The democracy game depends in large part on how one slices the pie. Democracy is fundamentally arbitrary insofar as the rules for inclusion are based on imaginary invisible lines in the dirt. Just take a look at a map of gerrymandered congressional districts; those distended and warped puzzle pieces forensically betray the party of their author. We could easily redraw state boundaries that would give Clinton a win; likewise we could draw new state boundaries that would give Trump an even larger electoral college win. But let’s play this game: if we look solely at popular vote within two distinct geographical areas we find a stark contrast. The first region is California and the second region is every other state except California. In California, Clinton handily won by 4 million votes. But in the other not-California region Trump won by 1.5 million. If direct democracy popular voting is going to be the new gold standard, then would it not be a crime to force the entirety of not-California to suffer under a Clinton presidency merely because one state, California, wished it to be so? Indeed, remove just one more state from that mix, New York, and the differential climbs to a 3 million more for Trump in the new country known as not-California-or-New-York.

Oh but you argue that’s disingenuous, we are “one country.” But are we? Borders are arbitrary, there is no physical law of nature that dictates biological entities living at these coordinates on a sphere must be irreversibly bound into a political union. Unions exist only so long as the parties wish it. Indeed, union dissolution is the last vestige of the people’s right to counter federal overreach. Yes, we’re talking about the “s” word: secession, an end to that “indivisible” union. Before November 7, 2016 such talk was ridiculed by the left (in straw man like fashion) to be the bailiwick of racists. However, now that the left no longer holds the reins of power they have suddenly discovered the merits of federalism, states rights, and even (gasp) secession. There is currently a movement for “Calexit”, that is the idea that California should leave the union and becomes it’s own country. A Calexit success would finally sever that peculiar linkage of secession to slavery in the American psyche. Normalization of secession would release a long neglected cudgel against expanding federal power.

The mere fact that secession is on the table as an option is further proof of the failure of the constitution (or rather the failure of men to be bound by it). The principals of federalism embodied in that document gave most power to the states with only a narrow set of enumerated powers granted to the federal government. Were that still the case no one would even care who the president was.

Symbols

Shortly after the horrific Charleston church shooting an arrest was made of the execrable Dylann Roof. The media quickly set about digging into his social media resumé (as it were) and soon discovered photos where he is either posing with a Confederate flag or paying homage to the former flag of apartheid era South Africa. This man-child monster was a hater. He posed with things that (in his mind) were a reflection of hatred. Upon tasting something vile or bitter you immediately spit it out; that was the same reaction society had to everything (well, not Gold’s Gym) associated pictographically with this person (and I use the term “person” loosely).

There not being any strong historical connection in the American psyche with apartheid era flags attention naturally turned to the Confederate flag (or more properly the Confederate “battle flag”  – the actual national flag of the Confederacy resembled America’s revolutionary flag). For simplicity I will refer to it as “the flag.” This flag (until recently) flew in numerous places all across the American south, from both government property and private property. National attention quickly turned focus on this fact and demands were made that these flags be removed — permanently. If ever proof were needed that this flag was a symbol of hate we certainly had it now given Dylan Roof’s deployment of it as a backdrop to his angry-white-trash-loner memes.

As a white man with no cultural connection to the American south (as close as one can get to neutrality on this issue) I’ll offer my perspective. On the one hand, I have friends who I believe are truly sincere when they say for them the flag is not a symbol of hate, that it is a reminder of their heritage, in the same way immigrants might cleave to cultural symbology of “the old country”. For others it is a way to honor their direct ancestors who sacrificed their lives to protect their family from attack. These people are not closet racists just looking for a pretext to trot out passive-aggressive symbols of racism. But – I can see where the other side is coming from. After all, this flag WAS the battle emblem of a nation founded upon the principal that it is perfectly acceptable for one man to own another. Yes, secession was the result of many differences between the south and the Federal government but that doesn’t change the fact that the Confederate States of America’s constitution explicitly protected the practice of slavery. Saying the CSA was about much more than slavery, it was about a way of life, about state’s rights, etc. is all well and good, but that’s like a progressive/socialist arguing that the swastika should not offend anyone because Nazi Germany was about much more than just killing Jews… it was about deploying state programs to put people to work, swelling national pride behind a unified purpose of German greatness, and keeping people safe by outlawing private gun ownership – if but for the Holocaust that Hitler guy wasn’t so bad! (for the tone-deaf, this is sarcasm to make a point)

So to my southern friends I say this: yes, you have the right to display any symbol of your heritage you want, but you can’t feign ignorance about why some people might be offended or upset by it – the CSA’s pro-slavery stance has pooped in the punch bowl that is serving up symbols of your heritage. Sorry – feel free to commiserate with Hindus or Buddhists who had their beloved swastika ruined by the Nazi’s.

To all those that clamored, petitioned, and finally achieved the removal of the flag from state government grounds – congratulations. But now please stop. You’ve won. The movement is now getting ridiculous. People are calling for buildings, roads, and other public spaces to be renamed because they are named after someone who was openly racist, or who might have been racist, or who watched something racist on TV. People are even calling to have the corpses of former Confederate generals and soldiers dug up and removed from state-run grounds. People are also calling for the removal of the Jefferson Memorial because Jefferson owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson! They have a term for this: cultural genocide.

If the general rule used for honoring the dead is that that person never did or said anything bad or that might offend the sensibilities of someone in the future, well then I guess only saints need apply. Who shall cast the first stone? I dare say everyone who has done something memorable or praiseworthy also has had their share of dark moments. Let sleeping dogs lie and move on. You can’t change the past. It is equally important to recall the bad and the good in people – as the saying goes, if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.

Scottish Secession: Politics as Usual

Scotland made history last week. They held a referendum election to decide whether or not they should become an independent nation or remain part of the United Kingdom. The measure was narrowly defeated (45% for independence) although strong support among the younger generations ensures this question will resurface in the not too distant future.

However what is interesting about this event is not such much the result but rather that it took place at all. Historically the general trend has been toward greater consolidation of power under a central authority. It is a rare event to find wide popular support in the other direction. Why would this be? Fear and uncertainty. Humans, like sheep, follow a herding instinct. Biologically this makes sense; there is safety in numbers. But there is a point of diminishing returns when group size changes from hundreds to thousands to millions. When the numbers scale into the millions, our hunter-gatherer mathematically challenged brains cannot make sense of such enormous numbers; we fail to realize the gains relative to the tradeoffs are negligible and so we are easily fooled by anyone promoting confederation. We are easily herded by our so-called leaders who capitalize on our fears. But confederations only last if all parties are treated fairly. Democracy itself is inimical to fair outcomes as democracy inherently marginalizes the desires of (political) minorities. Democratic countries are born in the heat and fire of common cause. But, like glass, these democracies will suffer fractures under the pressure from the repeated blows of each election cycle. As disagreements fester, the structure weakens, until eventually the confederation will shatter like so many pieces of battered glass.

What is the take home message of any secession movement? That perhaps we might all live more peacefully if we are allowed to go our separate ways rather than be forced into unions based solely on the opinions of those living nearby. If the Methodist is not required to be a citizen of the Baptist State, even when that Methodist is a minority amongst his Baptist neighbors, then why should anyone be compelled to be part of a group they have no desire to be a part of? Why are religious convictions the only thoughts worthy of such respect?

Another interesting aspect surrounding this attempted secession is that it was done so non-violently. Historically, secession attempts often trigger an overwhelmingly violent response from the “parent” who refuses to let the “child” go its own way. Americans have long lost the ability to rationally discuss the concept of secession given the Pavlovian association it has in this country with slavery. But perhaps Scotland can finally get Americans to view secession in a new light. It is possible for secession to be about something other than racism.

Secession is a fundamental right, namely the right of association, which conversely implies the right to not associate. Secession is the only tool that minority groups have in a political union insofar as the very threat of it may be sufficient to alter the behavior of the majority. For example, Scotland achieved many concessions from the UK. Sadly most of those concession had to do with granting Scotland greater power to tax its citizens, so Scotland is certainly no poster child for some sort of Randian free-market utopia.

In reality this whole process has been nothing more than political parties jockeying for power. Their goal is not a noble quest to unburden their citizens from the oppressive yoke of a foreign regime. No, their goal is to be the ones with their hands on the reins of that yoke. However Scotland is not unique in this respect. Every act of secession has been about shifting power from one group to another. The only benefit secession confers is that as power is divided, it becomes progressively weaker and hence less of a threat. One can only hope that such attrition of power will one day consume today’s “superpowers” leaving behind a collection of small, peaceful and prosperous communities that are too busy and too weak to provoke conflict in foreign lands.

The libertarian war over the Civil War

My comments on this recent Washington Post article concerning the kerfuffle over Jack Hunter.

Full article is here.

This piece perpetuates the myth that there is some embarrassing subset of libertarians, so called “neo-confederates” that embrace slavery as being “ok” and that still pine for a CSA. This is absolutely total hogwash. There are no “neo-confederates” (whatever that neologism is supposed to mean) – nobody who calls themselves a libertarian is pro-slavery, pro-racism or pro-CSA. Nobody. The term “neo-confederate” is just a made up term that attempts to smear libertarianism by conjuring guilt-by-association imagery (“my, my that word has “confederate” in it – so those people must think just as the confederates did”). For example the author states “There are contrarians who criticize Lincoln’s use of federal power and argue that the South had a right to secede — but have no love for slavery or the Confederacy.” – so – this then implies that the “contrarians” exclusively hold this position and thus obviously the “neo-confderates” do not hold this position and therefore they must have a love for slavery. In point of fact this is the exact same position held by those commonly referred to as “neo-confederates”

Concluding that those libertarians who denounce Lincoln and his methods of waging war must somehow be the intellectual hiers of the confederacy and therefore must support all the things the confederacy stood for is as absurd as concluding that libertarians approve of prostitution and drug use because they call for repeal of laws that criminalize such behavior. Yes, I realize people do conclude that, but it is an intellectually bankrupt argument. 
To see the fallacy here, turn it around, let’s suppose the north had wanted to secede because they no longer wanted to be part of a union that included slavery – and then suppose the south had said “no” you may not leave, waged war, and kept the union intact. In both cases the putative goal of the war – “save the union” would have been achieved. So to say one war is good and one war is bad implies the validity of the civil war was not based on “preservation of the union” but rather on the legitimacy of slavery. So if that is the case, then it is quite odd indeed that Lincoln did not “free” the slaves until after 2 years into the war – and even then only in the seceded states – ironically he did not free any slaves in union states that had not seceded. Can you say hypocrite? Had the war truly been about “freedom” Lincoln would have freed all slaves everywhere in all American territories first and then that would have precipitated war. Slavery was nothing more than a tactical weapon in the arsenal of the north. Slavery was the industrial strength of the south and freeing the slaves was an attempt to undermine that strength, nothing more. Slavery may have been the political irritant that engendered sectional tensions and ultimately secession, however, make no mistake, the war was not about abolishing slavery, it was about preserving the union, i.e. not permitting an independent political body to break away, which is the most common cause of war throughout history.
 
So you’ll have to excuse me if I find it difficult to take seriously the cartoonish image of Lincoln we are taught in school as some sort of Don Quixote-esque crusader for truth, justice and freedom.