Sunday, July 5, 2015

Revolving Civility

Well now, it's July 5th and since every American's ears are still ringing from the noise of firecrackers and you can't hear the TV, allow me to provide some distraction via the righten word. Words, as should happen, tend to have meanings. It's kinda why we come up with them. However, I'll leave it to future generations to praise the crucial sociological niche filled by such modern terminology as "selfie" or "sexting" or "twerking" and instead concern myself with some golden oldies.

Take "revolution" for instance. Oh, it's a time-honored tradition of turning things around, revolving social roles if you will, most poignantly embodied in the French Revolution where the people at the bottom revolved to the top and the people at the top revolved to six feet under. However, as George III's neck never became personally acquainted with the guillotine in 1776 and the social institutions of English aristocracy stuck around to inspire Downton Abbey, we can safely conclude that the colonial militias did not revolve the English government. That little snafu was a War of Independence, also known as an act of secession. If you don't like the way the boss is treating you, you quit. It's a generally assumed right unless the boss wins the ensuing brawl, in which case it's a crime. Given that it involved Englishmen fighting other Englishmen (until some seceded, at which point they stopped being English citizens) one may also stretch one's imagination to calling what everyone here celebrated yesterday a Civil War.

We do of course learn of another quaint little bloodbath by that title fourscore and seven propagandist pamphlets later, but in that case the provincial aristocrats leading the masses into a suicidal conflict for their own profit had the wherewithal to ask questions first and shoot later, making the act of secession official before defending themselves against the invading army of their former government. The Southern states were not engaging in a civil war. They weren't marching into their boss' office to demand a raise. Been there, done that. They were instead quitting their job, flipping the boss off and trying to start their own company but as many IT start-ups who went up against Microsoft in the '90s learned, that rarely ends well.

That's the dirty little secret swept under the rug whenever media figures beat their chest about southern racism and ridicule moonshine-belching backwoods militias kvetching about the "war of Northern aggression." Inbred, thuggish and uneducated Clevon may be, but he's got a point. Abraham Lincoln murdered six hundred thousand people by invading a political entity which had simply declared its independence. Don't take it too hard. Pretty much every famous leader in history is some kind of mass-murderer or another. Don't forget that the bad guys who seceded were fighting for what they believed amounted to freedom, believed it every bit as ardently as their great-grandparents had, or for that matter as any youth of today who gets conned or economically forced into becoming a disposable brainwashed khaki-clad murderer for the interests of the rich. That they were being duped into protecting a social system which was harming them for the profit of a few plantation-owning fat-cats (free labor I should think drives down the value of labor) is neither here nor there. I doubt the lot of many rank-and-file dirt-farming colonial peasants changed in 1776 either - but the profits of rich colonial merchants who no longer had to go through the English system just might have.

Now as for slavery, that's halfway to a non-issue. On one hand, the Southern claim that oh-no, the Confederate flag isn't about racism and the war wasn't about slavery rings hollower than its proponents' skulls. Yeah, they had "economic" reasons for seceding but every time I hear them try to cite one it winds up tying back into the economic basis of plantation wealth, which just happened to be stamped "made in Africa." Clevon just wants them "darkies" to call him "massa." For the masterminds of the Secession, you bet your sweet cotton-soft ass it was about slavery. For the North however, we have to remember that no power hierarchy invests (human) resources into a war for the sake of humanitarianism. They do it for power. It may be that as I become more closely acquainted with writings from the time my opinion might change, but there's a very basic powermonger calculus involved in the North's aggression:

Losing half a million or even a million taxpayers to a vicious, bloody, brutal conflict (which you the industrial tycoon or politician calling the shots won't have to fight) is still more profitable than losing nine million taxpayers to a peaceful act of secession, losing a conveniently backward breadbasket and gaining an economic competitor. The bottom line had spoken.

Later, Lincoln made a few politically favorable speeches with no practical risks or repercussions for himself. It always helps to imbue the people you're having butchered with a sense of moral righteousness, to tell them the enemy hates them for their freedoms or the red subversives are at the door or the Kaiser's personally raping every woman in Europe or, yes, even that (even though you can keep your own house-slaves) you're subjugating your cousins across the border in the name of freedom. That he stuck by his campaign promise in later years seems to have been more about a crafty lawyer sniffing out the prevailing political wind than anything else.

Perspective matters. Terminology matters. That one act of secession was less about popular freedom and more about private profits and so was the next and so was its violent repression, that nonetheless something good came of both, that a representative republic is only one tiny iota better than a constitutional monarchy but it's an important iota, that slavery was an abomination against reason and life itself and racism is still utterly moronic because races don't even fucking exist, that secession is more often driven by the interests of a few self-interested manipulators than by the will of the people, all this cannot be summed up in one paragraph or in your old propagandistic eighth-grade social studies textbook, much less in a couple of chest-puffing catchphrases like "revolution" or "civil war." History is fucking messy and has been re-written more times than the Bible.

So, now that you've spent an evening watching a militaristic effigy play out above wherever you may live, try to think about all the false assumptions you've been making, all the jargon you've been taking for granted. Try to realize that this quintessentially irrational species is incapable of making informed, well-meaning choices, that whatever political campaign most makes you feel entitled and righteous is likely doing so under false pretenses. Whenever progress has come to our hopelessly primitive power hierarchies, it's more often than not been an accidental side-effect of the worst possible motivations. They're not made to revolve and they're almost never civil, and every government, corporation or militia will gladly murder you for seceding, if it can.

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