## The Social Justice Warriors are right

As you might know, I haven’t been exactly the world’s most consistent fan of the Social Justice movement, nor has it been the most consistent fan of me.

I cringe when I read about yet another conservative college lecture shut down by mob violence; or student protesters demanding the firing of a professor for trying gently to argue and reason with them; or an editor forced from his position for writing a (progressive) defense of “cultural appropriation”—a practice that I take to have been ubiquitous for all of recorded history, and without which there wouldn’t be any culture at all.  I cringe not only because I know that I was in the crosshairs once before and could easily be again, but also because, it seems to me, the Social Justice scalp-hunters are so astoundingly oblivious to the misdirection of their energies, to the power of their message for losing elections and neutering the progressive cause, to the massive gift their every absurdity provides to the world’s Fox Newses and Breitbarts and Trumps.

Yet there’s at least one issue where it seems to me that the Social Justice Warriors are 100% right, and their opponents 100% wrong. This is the moral imperative to take down every monument to Confederate “war heroes,” and to rename every street and school and college named after individuals whose primary contribution to the world was to defend chattel slavery.  As a now-Southerner, I have a greater personal stake here than I did before: UT Austin just recently removed its statue of Jefferson Davis, while keeping up its statue of Robert E. Lee.  My kids will likely attend what until very recently was called Robert E. Lee Elementary—this summer renamed Russell Lee Elementary.  (My suggestion, that the school be called T. D. Lee Parity Violation Elementary, was sadly never considered.)

So I was gratified that last week, New Orleans finally took down its monuments to slavers.  Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s speech, setting out the reasons for the removal, is worth reading.

I used to have little patience for “merely symbolic” issues: would that offensive statues and flags were the worst problems!  But it now seems to me that the fight over Confederate symbols is just a thinly-veiled proxy for the biggest moral question that’s faced the United States through its history, and also the most urgent question facing it in 2017.  Namely: Did the Union actually win the Civil War? Were the anti-Enlightenment forces—the slavers, the worshippers of blood and land and race and hierarchy—truly defeated? Do those forces acknowledge the finality and the rightness of their defeat?

For those who say that, sure, slavery was bad and all, but we need to keep statues to slavers up so as not to “erase history,” we need only change the example. Would we similarly defend statues of Hitler, Himmler, and Goebbels, looming over Berlin in heroic poses?  Yes, let Germans reflect somberly and often on this aspect of their heritage—but not by hoisting a swastika over City Hall.

For those who say the Civil War wasn’t “really” about slavery, I reply: this is the canonical example of a “Mount Stupid” belief, the sort of thing you can say only if you’ve learned enough to be wrong but not enough to be unwrong.  In 1861, the Confederate ringleaders themselves loudly proclaimed to future generations that, indeed, their desire to preserve slavery was their overriding reason to secede. Here’s CSA Vice-President Alexander Stephens, in his famous Cornerstone Speech:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable. That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states.

It was only when defeat looked inevitable that the slavers started changing their story, claiming that their real grievance was never about slavery per se, but only “states’ rights” (states’ right to do what, exactly?). So again, why should we take the slavers’ rationalizations any more seriously than we take the postwar epiphanies of jailed Nazis that actually, they’d never felt any personal animus toward Jews, that the Final Solution was just the world’s biggest bureaucratic mishap?  Of course there’s a difference: when the Allies occupied Germany, they insisted on de-Nazification.  They didn’t suffer streets to be named after Hitler. And today, incredibly, fascism and white nationalism are greater threats here in the US than they are in Germany.  One reads about the historic irony of some American Jews, who are eligible for German citizenship because of grandparents expelled from there, now seeking to move there because they’re terrified about Trump.

By contrast, after a brief Reconstruction, the United States lost its will to continue de-Confederatizing the South.  The leaders were left free to write book after book whitewashing their cause, even to hold political office again.  And probably not by coincidence, we then got nearly a hundred years of Jim Crow—and still today, a half-century after the civil rights movement, southern governors and legislatures that do everything in their power to disenfranchise black voters.

For those who ask: but wasn’t Robert E. Lee a great general who was admired by millions? Didn’t he fight bravely for a cause he believed in?  Maybe it’s just me, but I’m allergic to granting undue respect to history’s villains just because they managed to amass power and get others to go along with them.  I remember reading once in some magazine that, yes, Genghis Khan might have raped thousands and murdered millions, but since DNA tests suggest that ~1% of humanity is now descended from him, we should also celebrate Khan’s positive contribution to “peopling the world.” Likewise, Hegel and Marx and Freud and Heidegger might have been wrong in nearly everything they said, sometimes with horrific consequences, but their ideas still need to be studied reverently, because of the number of other intellectuals who took them seriously.  As I reject those special pleas, so I reject the analogous ones for Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens, and Robert E. Lee, who as far as I can tell, should all (along with the rest of the Confederate leadership) have been sentenced for treason.

This has nothing to do with judging the past by standards of the present. By all means, build statues to Washington and Jefferson even though they held slaves, to Lincoln even though he called blacks inferior even while he freed them, to Churchill even though he fought the independence of India.  But don’t look for moral complexity where there isn’t any.  Don’t celebrate people who were terrible even for their own time, whose public life was devoted entirely to what we now know to be evil.

And if, after the last Confederate general comes down, the public spaces are too empty, fill them with monuments to Alan Turing, Marian Rejewski, Bertrand Russell, Hypatia of Alexandria, Emmy Noether, Lise Meitner, Mark Twain, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Frederick Douglass, Vasili Arkhipov, Stanislav Petrov, Raoul Wallenberg, even the inventors of saltwater taffy or Gatorade or the intermittent windshield wiper.  There are, I think, enough people who added value to the world to fill every city square and street sign.

### 187 Responses to “The Social Justice Warriors are right”

1. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

Complete agreement. Unfortunately, Alabama just passed a law preventing locales from removing Confederate monuments http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/26/us/alabama-confederate-monuments-bill-trnd/ Apparently, people in the South like small, local control, unless that local control will result in fewer racist symbols. This and other things make me somewhat happy that I’ll be leaving this state in a few weeks.

2. GeorgeG Says:

I agree 100%.
You know it’s funny, that election of Trump, probably the most incapable and unfit of all american presidents, who got elected by pandering to lowest of all denominators and human impulses, begun this new trend of confronting the past.

It also brought some much needed soul searching to Democratic party, and if polls suggest anything it might be bearing fruits. And I can’t forget how it energized, traditionally lethargic millennials.

Mark my words, Trump will be gone in few years and damage he and his cronies did will be repaired, fight on and in a decade or less you will get much better country than you had in 2016.

3. Jair Says:

Scott,

First of all, I agree with you that confederate monuments should be taken down. However, I think I must disagree with the (implied) statement that this is completely ethically obvious.

I recall feeling rather nauseous, myself, repeatedly walking by an enormous statue of Washington on the UW campus. Personally, I wouldn’t feel at all indignant if it was dynamited in order to make room for a similarly-sized statue of “his” escaped slave Oney Judge. But – I can understand if someone else would not feel similarly, so I decided not to vandalize it in the dead of night. I feel the same about Jefferson, Jackson and so on. It’s not obvious to me how these characters would have responded to the civil war. The Confederacy modeled its ideals after their version of the founders as pro-slavery and drew the obvious metaphor between their war and the revolution.

I agree that the Davis, Lee and co. are rather worse. I am not a moral relativist. But the question to me is: how do we decide who among the colorful cast of horrible people to knock down, and who to prop up? Is there some kind of morality meter attached to each historical figure that determines when their visages can be present? Who decides on this meter? How about King Shaka International Airport, named after a man who reportedly ordered the death of any pregnant woman in his domain due to his grief after his mother died? This seems appalling to me (if the story is true) – but I am not going to protest against the people of South Africa taking pride in this figure, or at those who admire the Aztecs without taking note of their many victims. I similarly shrug at leftists who sport Che Guevera t-shirts.

The meaning of the symbols we use is a terribly complicated one, entirely mixed up with our most deeply held beliefs and emotions, and our subjective interpretation of the meanings of the symbols. I do think we should curate our symbols, but with a modicum of wisdom and some patience with those who disagree. It is rather too easy to demonize people for their choice of heroes.

4. Scott Says:

Jair: I’m not a moral relativist either. So, suppose we agree (for example) that Turing obviously deserves some statues of him while Hitler obviously deserves none. Even then, no matter how we draw the gradient between Turing and Hitler, there will clearly (by the intermediate value theorem) exist a gray area where reasonable people might differ. My claim is not that there’s no gray area, but simply that Jefferson Davis and the other Confederate leaders aren’t in it: that they’re close enough to the “Hitler” end as to leave no real room for ambiguity. What, in your view, did they do that was good and important from today’s standpoint, as one can easily point to things that Washington and Jefferson did that were good and important from today’s standpoint to balance out the terrible?

5. Jewbroni Says:

I disagree.

I don’t disagree that these people were in many ways deplorable, and having monuments to them is in some sense a celebration of something ugly which should not at all be celebrated. But I disagree that there is anything meaningful to be gained by fighting this sort of battle.

I don’t live in the South so I could be wrong about this, but my impression of the fights over these monuments is that most people really never even thought about these forgotten leaders much, or even knew who these people were. Although there was a monument to them, no one was actively “celebrating” these people, nor probably even knew, or cared, what they were even famous for. The ruckus raised over these symbols is most often a manufactured one, and manufactured purely so certain people can show they are “right-thinking” and “progressive” by putting Whitey in his proper place.

As a Jew who lost family in the Holocaust, I would definitely object to a statue memorializing Hitler. But that’s because everyone today knows who Hitler is, and how terrible the man was, so a statue in his honor is a declaration of support for what he stood for. But if someone pointed out to me a statue of a Saint who lived 400 years ago, who no one ever thought much about, who hardly anyone even knew what he was sainted for, and explained to me that he was a major instigator of anti-Semitic policies, I really wouldn’t care. A statue to this man is no longer a statement of support to what he stood for. Maybe it once was, but it no longer has that meaning to the people who’s town it adorns. Asking for it to be removed would cause more harm than good.

That’s how I see these Confederate monument fights (and other such battles, like renaming college buildings). No one is lauding these forgotten leaders as heroes to be remembered, whose values they want to preserve. They’re just a part of the history of the place, that people simply enjoy retaining as part of their culture, the same way that people like having some old house that’s been part of the town for centuries not be knocked down. Just because it’s a part of their past.

(If I’m wrong about how seriously southern residents actually “celebrate” these confederate leaders, than I take back my whole argument.)

6. anon Says:

Slightly off topic, but I’ve always found it strange how extremely common it is in the US to name things (buildings, schools, bridges, airports, etc.) after people. Sometimes even while they’re still living.

7. Scott Says:

Jewbroni: If your theory were correct, then when progressives proposed to take down statues of Jefferson Davis, the right-wing southern whites would be like “yeah, sure, whatever. Jefferson who?” Instead, many of them stage rallies in support of the statues, and it’s used as a major issue for winning elections. So clearly, enough of them do remember who the slavers were, and find it important for the state to honor them—and that’s precisely the problem, and the justification for taking the statues down.

8. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

“I don’t live in the South so I could be wrong about this, but my impression of the fights over these monuments is that most people really never even thought about these forgotten leaders much, or even knew who these people were. Although there was a monument to them, no one was actively “celebrating” these people, nor probably even knew, or cared, what they were even famous for. ”

I’ve lived only in the South for a year, but the one year I’ve spent here strongly suggests to me that your impression is deeply inaccurate.

9. Matthias Görgens Says:

Scott,. I would interpret Hair’s argument as saying that your founding fathers deserves their statues to be taken down, too. (And that to argue otherwise would be hypocrisy.)

However, the best argument I can come up with about why anyone should make a difference between these two groups is not for what they did, but for what they stand for in current debate. And there it’s obvious to all Right Thinking People, that the Confederates are heroes of the Wrong Tribe.

10. Scott Says:

Matthias: I already addressed the argument about Washington and Jefferson (see e.g. my comment #4)—suggesting a criterion, based on whether from today’s perspective the person did anything good and important to weigh against the evil, or whether it was pretty much only evil. If you don’t want to engage that criterion, then there’s probably nothing further to discuss.

11. John Sidles Says:

Jewbroni asserts [naively, based upon the evidence]  No one is lauding these forgotten [Confederate] leaders as heroes to be remembered, whose values they want to preserve.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s web page “Racial Division Along the Neo-Confederate Spectrum” provides objective evidence that this too-hopeful view is factually mistaken.

Indeed, modern-day neo-Confederate views are scarcely distinguishable from the lengthy theological texts that a marine of my personal acquaintance brought back from Afghanistan, setting forth — in all-too-rational detail — the theological reasoning that, for modern-day extremist Muslims at least, amply justifies the summary execution of heretics by beheading.

That no culture is immune from the attractions of villain- veneration, is sadly illustrated by the flowers-of-veneration that extremist Jews lay upon the tomb of Baruch Goldstein.

For the above reasons, it seems to me that Scott’s assessment is 100% correct, and therefore, so that USA may provide more brightly “a light unto the nations“, let the statues come down, and let the plaques be removed.

———

PS I will follow this comment with a comment that will be — by intent anyway — more positively, respectfully, and universally appropriate to today’s date, which is the USA’s Memorial Day.

12. Kevin Van Horn Says:

So… how come you aren’t calling for all monuments and memorials to the deeply racist President Woodrow Wilson be torn down?

When are you going to call for the Franklin Delanore Roosevelt Memorial to be torn down? FDR sent over 110,000 people to prison camps for having even so much as “one drop of Japanese blood.”

And when are we going to see the mass protests against those who buy and sell items celebrating mass murderer Mao Zedong, who killed 77 million of his own countrymen? https://www.google.com/search?q=mao+t+shirts

13. wolfgang Says:

Scott,

I just noticed that you have a “Obviously I’m Not Defending Aaronson” category 😎

What exactly is it about that A. guy that you do not want to defend? 😎

14. Scott Says:

Kevin #12: I do think there’s a strong case for renaming things named after Woodrow Wilson. Not anywhere near as obvious as with Jefferson Davis, but strong nonetheless.

For FDR, one can make the case that the terrible things he did—e.g. his internment of the Japanese-Americans, and also his near-total inaction regarding the Holocaust—need to be balanced against his central role in the defeat of the Axis powers, and also, for those of us who consider it a net good, his expansion of the federal government to one that tries to prevent people from starving to death in the street. So on balance, as with Churchill, I come down for leaving the statues up.

If the US had any public institutions or monuments honoring Mao, I would strongly protest that, but I’m not aware that it does. Of course the First Amendment allows private individuals to buy t-shirts honoring Mao, Hitler, the Confederacy, or whatever else, as disgusting as the rest of us might find that.

15. Jewbroni Says:

If your theory were correct, then when progressives proposed to take down statues of Jefferson Davis, the right-wing southern whites would be like “yeah, sure, whatever. Jefferson who?” Instead, many of them stage rallies in support of the statues, and it’s used as a major issue for winning elections.

Not at all. In many cases, when a group starts a campaign about, or against, something, that’s when support for the opposite of that thing often sprouts up. For instance, many people who had a fairly blase attitude towards transgender issues only started taking a position against the cause because of the bathroom activism that was started, or the pronoun fights that have ensued.

In these kinds of cases, isn’t it reasonable to consider that for many people, they weren’t strongly in favor of these symbols until an opposition arose against it, and since the opposition is one that is indirectly associated with the liberal/PC/Democrat tribe which they don’t like, that’s why they are fighting against it? And not because they directly support the bigotry that these people stood for? I’d argue that, similar to what you argued, for many people, this is indeed a proxy fight, but not the proxy that you pointed out. More like a proxy for the overall culture battle that’s going on in our country.

Like I said before, I will concede that I may indeed be wrong about the nature of the Southern admiration for these figures. I’ve made this argument in the past in regards to more obscure symbolism fights, like a campaign to rename a university institution, and the argument might not be as applicable in situations like what you’re describing.

16. Jewbroni Says:

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s web page “Racial Division Along the Neo-Confederate Spectrum” provides objective evidence that this too-hopeful view is factually mistaken.

I take your overall point, but I’d also point out that the SPLC has, in the recent past, lost much of their credibility as an objective fighter against bigotry, so I wouldn’t be too quick to use their claims as proof of much. They’ve too often demonstrated their willingness to tar innocent people and innocuous activities as racist.

17. Scott Says:

wolfgang: I explained that a while ago. It was an ironic reference to some commenters I once found on Metafilter, who all agreed with each other that my concern for shy male nerds made me pretty much the ultimate human evil—but one of whom was trying to explain to the others that I was nevertheless right about certain things, even though obviously he wasn’t trying to defend me.

18. Vaniver Says:

I think I endorse keeping up statues for honorable generals on all sides–I think history should remember Rommel fondly, and a similar story seems to go through for Lee. (Basically, the strategy that I’m employing here is something like “what did their enemies think of them 5-10 years after the war ended?”) Those incentives seem like they were important historically, and might remain so.

I think a similar argument goes through for founder statues–maybe one doesn’t want statues of Thomas Jefferson everywhere, but one probably wants them at the University of Virginia. (The idea here being that you do want to honor Jefferson the university builder, even if you don’t want to honor Jefferson the whole person.)

That said, I do endorse removing generic statues for non-honorable / non-constructive losers (of both the moral and political sort); bring down the statues of Lenin, of Saddam, of Davis.

19. Scott Says:

Jewbroni: I agree with you about the SPLC having lost a great deal of its credibility recently.

But as for your theory of the psychology of prejudice—that the perpetrators don’t actually care about Confederate flags or transgender bathrooms or whatever else the supposed issue is, they just care about winning the wider culture war for which these issues have become proxies—it might be right, but it also seems to place those who feel they’re being discriminated against in an impossible position. How are those people supposed to raise the issue they care about, without it getting assimilated into the wider culture war, so that the formerly-apathetic majority now wants to beat them down just for the sake of winning?

20. Jair Says:

Scott #4/ Matthias #9: No, I don’t think it’s hypocritical to keep up statues to Washington and tear down those to Lee. I agree with Scott’s argument that in the case of the Confederate leaders, there’s not any positive impact to counterbalance some of the horribleness. Basically, I am just concerned that in the well-intentioned process of dismantling these remaining trappings of slavery, some people (not Scott!) are villifying those on the opposite side of the cultural divide to the point of failing to recognize their humanity. I don’t think we are so different.

I am the type who is obsessive about ethics, constantly second-guessing myself and wondering if I am doing the right thing. So I suppose in the process of cutting myself a little slack, for the sake of my own mental health, I’m willing to cut a little slack for the Southern traditionalists as well. It is not an easy thing to turn your back on your heritage.

21. Jewbroni Says:

How are those people supposed to raise the issue they care about, without it getting assimilated into the wider culture war…

Well, for starters, I’d suggest that they should stop fighting battles over superficial issues that accomplish very little other than grant symbolic victories, and instead focus on more meaningful achievements that genuinely matter. Forcing people to use a preferred pronoun is not going to make an intolerant person more accepting of that atypical person, it’s just going to let you pat yourself on the back that you “won” that battle, while most likely actually antagonizing that person to be even less accepting and tolerant.

Same with these monument battles. Is making a public fuss about this issue going to genuinely and meaningfully advance our society’s march towards greater tolerance, compassion, fairness, and a more equitable society? Or is it going to cause greater polarization, divisiveness and inflame societal tensions?

In many of these symbolic fights, I don’t think it will. And more generally, I’d argue that it doesn’t seem like too many people are even asking that question. Instead, they’re just looking for cheap, symbolic wins which don’t effect any meaningful change. And I’d even argue that, on the contrary, they’re in some ways even counterproductive towards our progress. Because they let people shallowly convince themselves that they’re making meaningful change, when nothing of the sort is really happening, so these easy symbolic victories are substituting for real substantive ones.

(IMHO, the prototypical example of tolerant progress being made in the face of overwhelming bigotry is how the gay community has achieved such mainstream acceptance in the last 15 years or so. I don’t think it was achieved by superficial symbolic victories like word policing and calling everyone who wasn’t yet on board a homophobe.)

22. Mugizi Robert Rwebangira Says:

Very good discussion here, but the persistent idea that this is mainly about passing MORAL judgement is plain wrong. The issue is what these people REPRESENT. I think Scott captures this well in his comment #4. (Shall we call it “The Aaronson criteria for monument removal”?)

Most people today realize perfectly well that the average person in 1800 (or 1850 or 1950) wouldn’t pass muster by our current standards of sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. But that’s not the point!

As Scott points out, people like Jefferson, Washington, Lincoln, etc. had very significant positive achievements, including establishing our country, our very form of government, and the ideals we still support today, and it is for these things that we still honor them. Significant positives mixed in with some negatives.

Contrast that with people who are chiefly known for leading a failed rebellion. Zero positives and massive negatives.

WHY ARE WE HONORING THEM AT ALL?

It would be like having a nice big statue of Benedict Arnold in a place of honor in front of the US Capitol!

Public honor should be reserved for those who made significant positive contributions that we value now. By this criteria I don’t see how any political or military leader of the Confederacy can qualify.

23. Jewbroni Says:

Scott, a related question: Do you agree with the fashionable sentiment that all displays of the confederate flag should be eradicated? So, for instance, the Dukes of Hazard should never be aired again? I don’t agree with that. And that’s because, as I understand it (and again, admittedly, my impression of Southern culture could be totally off base here), people enjoy the symbolism of the flag not because they’re harboring racist sympathies, but because it’s simply a part of their cultural past. To my mind, it’s a similar issue with these monuments.

24. Lawrence D'Anna Says:

Well said and damn straight.

25. Bram Cohen Says:

With you up until the very end. Gatorade is basically a sugar drink and the ‘inventor’ of intermittent wipers was mostly a patent troll.

26. Curious Wavefunction Says:

Just like Scott, my criteria for these issues is to ask whether there is any redeeming or positive side to someone’s views. Both Jefferson and Wilson, in spite of having discriminatory views, did significant good; not just for this country but for the cause of liberal democracy as a whole. The Confederates in contrast really don’t have any redeeming features and were quite certainly on the wrong side of history.

27. Scott Says:

Jewbroni #23: No, it would be absurd to eliminate all instances of the Confederate flag—or the swastika, for that matter. If nothing else, one needs them in museums, textbooks, and historical fiction (probably even in certain video games). The point, as I would’ve thought obvious, is just to avoid honoring or celebrating these things on public property.

28. Scott Says:

Bram: LOL! Still better to erect a statue of a patent troll or sugar-water peddler than a statue of Jefferson Davis. But if Gatorade and windshield wipers are out, that leaves only my idea of a statue of Joseph Fralinger, who popularized saltwater taffy on the Atlantic City boardwalk (though he probably didn’t invent it).

29. Anindya Says:

Well written, Scott.
But let’s not have monuments to Winston Churchill whose views about the “inferior races” were *precisely* the same as Alexander Stephens, whom you quoted.
Churchill was, in addition, responsible for engineering the horrific Bengal famine of 1943 in which 3 million Bengalis died of starvation. His reaction to hearing about that was “Well, they breed like rabbits anyway”.
The only reason Churchill is considered a “hero” is because Hitler was even more repulsive.

30. Jewbroni Says:

Scott #27: Valid point; my question was inadequately expressed. To focus it better, do you agree that displays of the Confederate flag, like in the Dukes of Hazard should be excised from our culture? As I explained, I see the desire to maintain the Confederate monuments as akin to the affinity for the flag in that sort of context (obviously, this doesn’t apply to everyone, but for many it does).

And to extend the comparison further, I’d wager that telling people that they’re no longer allowed to indulge in a show like the Dukes of Hazard because (to some extent) it makes them complicit in racism is unproductive, and only generates hostility and opposition towards the effort to fight bigotry. It’s in that same vein that I think these efforts to remove the Confederate monuments mostly result in counterproductive backlashes towards overcoming racial bigotry.

31. Jewbroni Says:

In case it isn’t clear, I hope I’m not giving the impression that I’m in favor of these people being honored. I most definitely think it would be better if these monuments had not been erected in the first place. My objection is specifically to the need for, and efficacy of, removing them at this point. I’m just not convinced that a) the societal wrong that it claims to correct is really such a serious one, and b) that on balance, it will result in a net positive advancement towards greater racial tolerance and equality.

32. Scott Says:

Anindya: Churchill is probably the most interesting case among the all the ones discussed here. He was a true callous asshole, whose very asshole qualities might’ve been what prevented Hitler from taking over the world. (There were more decent people in the UK at the time—and most of them favored appeasement.)

As Scott Alexander points out in this this brilliant review, if World War II were a work of fiction, critics would’ve eviscerated it for its hackneyed, over-the-top characters and plot points, including the cigar-chomping, liquor-swilling, quip-tossing asshole who saves the world.

33. Scott Says:

Jewbroni #30: Alas, I’ve never seen Dukes of Hazard so I can’t really comment on it. Maybe others who know that show would like to weigh in?

34. Jewbroni Says:

Scott #33: The Dukes of Hazard was a 70s show set in the deep South featuring trouble-making cousins who would pull off all sorts of shenanigans in their tricked out car called “The General Lee“, which had a gigantic Confederate flag emblazoned on it.

A few years ago, when the backlash against the flag started, reruns of the show were pulled from the TV networks due to that association.

35. Scott Says:

Jewbroni #31: From my standpoint, the trouble is that the approach of saying “live and let live” to the Southern secessionist faction, in the interests of harmony, has already been tried and found wanting.

“Let’s be magnanimous in victory,” said the Union. “What harm could it possibly do to let them keep their Confederate flag and monuments? And their ‘Lost Cause’ mythology in the schools? And their former traitors against the US in high office?”

We now know exactly what harm it could do: a century of segregation and lynchings, and black votes that are still suppressed using all manner of dirty tricks. That’s why I favor the “Allies after WWII” approach: make it clear to the vanquished that the only state-approved ideology they can have, must be based on a total repudiation of their previous ideology.

36. Jay L Gischer Says:

I’ve read more than a few biographies of Robert Lee, and I don’t know that he belongs in the same category as Jeff Davis and Alexander Stephens.

The Confederacy was their project, they conceived and executed it, and ran the thing right up until the end, and Jeff Davis was such a holdout that he probably fueled the Lost Cause.

Lee was none of these things. He was an engineer who made one disastrous choice (joining the Confederate Army, and then behaved as any honorable soldier would). There were many of those in the Confederate Army, men of whom Grant said, “never have better men served a worse cause”.

So, in my heart I would like Lee remembered, for the simple reason that it is all too easy to think that evil is perpetrated only by monsters, rather than also by good and true men and women who fail to transcend their situation. Unlike Davis, or Forrest or even JEB Stuart, Lee is someone I’m sure most of us would like, and think of as a good man.

The statues we have of him don’t necessarily promote these thoughts. The Confederacy and the Lost Cause loves to push him forward, he is their best look. So I don’t know what to do.

37. Jewbroni Says:

What harm could it possibly do to let them keep their Confederate flag and monuments? And their ‘Lost Cause’ mythology in the schools? And their former traitors against the US in high office?

Scott #35: Teaching a bigoted ideology is very different than having a statue. As is allowing those who promote racist viewpoints to maintain positions of power. Those sorts of things I would vehemently oppose.

But do you really believe that statues to failed generals have contributed in any meaningful way to the the problems of racial inequality? I’m very skeptical of such a claim. They are merely symbols of the problem, and IMHO, removing them would achieve nothing of any import.

38. Jewbroni Says:

the trouble is that the approach of saying “live and let live” to the Southern secessionist faction, in the interests of harmony, has already been tried and found wanting.

I never advocated a “live and let live” approach. I’m advocating a smart and strategic approach of choosing to fight bigotry strategically and wisely, in a way that will effectively and meaningfully change hearts and minds, and not merely win us superficial symbolic victories that accomplish nothing of lasting consequence.

39. Candide III Says:

Scott: the Union didn’t say “let’s be magnanimous in victory”. The South was under direct control of the North for more than 10 years and Yankee carpetbaggers did what they wanted (including inadvertently letting around a quarter of the freedmen die of hunger, disease and exposure), as you would know if you were a Southerner. But you aren’t a Southerner and never will be, any more than I would be a Jew if I moved to Israel. As for your vae victis approach, while it is the correct policy for a conquering people, your people aren’t the conquerors (nor was WWII fought for your sakes, by the way, though one wouldn’t know it from reading only modern media). You might recall what happened in the XVII century when your people were helping the Poles to squeeze the Ukrainians.

PS: nice virtue signaling.

40. Sniffnoy Says:

My understanding that the ending of Reconstruction isn’t so much due to an unexplained loss of will, or a desire to be magnanimous in victory, so much as the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and his replacement by Andrew Johnson, a Southern Democrat.

Also: Is it just me or do a number of the commenters here seem not to have actually read Scott’s post? 😛

I’m really not seeing any reason that we should all be scrambling to take Woodrow Wilson’s name off things. Yes, he was a racist. And…? Read again what sort of criterion Scott laid out in his post! (If you want to argue for a different one, fine, but in that case you might want to do that explicitly.) The idea here isn’t to start witch-hunting the past, to find and root out every historical figure who did more bad on net than good. But Jefferson Davis — evaluating his impact is, as Scott said, something you don’t need to get out the scales for. The Confederacy was really that bad, and plainly and uncomplicatedly so. Woodrow Wilson doesn’t compare.

(Note: My understanding of US history is largely based on Adam Cadre’s series of blog posts about the presidents. Not in any way an expert on this!)

41. Meh Says:

You could have framed your opinion on this issue better than “the social justice warriors are right”

42. Douglas Knight Says:

We celebrate Robert E Lee for amassing power and respect. We should celebrate this because it was historically quite good for the Union that he had that power and respect, because when he surrendered, most of the South surrendered, rather than continuing to fight, either organized or as guerillas. We should celebrate hierarchy in the past to encourage hierarchy in the future to enable coordination, particularly sharp transition to peace.

Did the Union actually win the Civil War?

Winning isn’t binary. Lee surrendered, but it wasn’t an unconditional surrender. The resolution was compromise, not genocide. Is it worth more conflict to get more of a victory? Must every conflict be fought to ideological extermination? War is bad.

Compromise is valuable. Breaking existing compromises destroys your ability to be trusted with compromises in the future. It is true that the South largely reneged and refought the war in the 1870s, but the North retaliated in the 1960s. The last victory was the North’s and northerners who reject the status quo seem to reject the very idea of compromise.

Well, maybe compromise is impossible. Maybe there are only temporary truces, with no moral significance to their abrogation. Maybe you should do what you can when you are strong. But if your predecessors stopped short, it was probably because they weren’t that strong.

And your proposal for what they should have done is anachronistic. Your goals aren’t the same as the Union and if it had tried ideological extermination and indoctrination, you’d be saying the same thing.

43. Eric Habegger Says:

This is a very interesting discussion. One point that is very important is that people (in general) are not naturally good or kind. But society works very poorly when there are no agreed upon markers or encouragements to acting charitably towards your fellow humans. If it is OK to venerate a statue of a person that represents the white race withholding freedom and dignity over blacks then what does that say?

What it comes down to is giving society permission to act on its worst impulses. What I am seeing now in these discussions is the impulse in people to deflect from their need to push down on other types of people to claim the mantle of victim because they are being called racist. It is the same idea as working the refs in a football game so that the neutral line of equality towards all people is gradually moved to preference towards white Anglo Saxons. I hate to say it but it seems to me to be a lot of whiny complaints that we all experienced when the class bully got caught in his/her antics in grade school. I thinks it’s time to quit being defensive when behavior that clearly out of bounds is finally being called out.

44. Matthias Says:

Scott, Oh, I don’t think we disagree about the Confederates. I was just having a much dimmer view of your founding fathers. (Mostly because the supposedly tyrannical Brits they wrote their propaganda against seem like one of the best regimes at the time to live under( for white people). And lots of them had ulterior motives that much better seem to explain their actions than the self serving history the victors wrote. See eg http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2016/12/bruce_bueno_de.html for George Washington.)

But anyway, I’m only commenting from the peanut gallery. The only figure in recent German history that comes close-ish is at most perhaps Bismarck, who you can admire for being a magnificent bastard, but also despise for being a warmonger and sort-of dictator.

(Perhaps the Ostalgie (nostalgia for the east) is comparable though? Definitely a horrible dictatorship and nobody misses the East German leaders, but not everything about the system was all bad and needs to be eradicated from memory. Eg child care was more comprehensive than in the West, helping women hold a job down. Or some parts the education system. Or just some parts of culture and civil society that survived national socialists, war and socialists..)

45. Anonymous Berkeley Professor Says:

You might be right that the Confederacy fought for a bad cause, and that their military leaders don’t deserve reverance. But the SJWs who are trying to bring down the symbols of Southern culture, including their flag, are not primarily motivated by a fresh burst of virtue, however much they like to morally preen. Their main motivations are power, mob hysteria, and the plain joy of destroying their perceived enemies.

Let’s get away from the small-picture issue of whether the North has been insufficiently punitive of their defeated enemies from a war 150 years ago, and look at the big picture. There are three big-picture reasons why today’s statue-razing is inviting tomorrow’s tragedy.

First, America is moving rapidly toward a period of extreme chaos and disruption, as happens periodically to all societies, and every sign suggests that our time of troubles will be bigger than the Civil War itself. The modern left in America does not want reconciliation; they want blood. If the South cedes their flag and their statues, the SJWs will not thank them for their sacrifice and make friends; rather, the left will smell blood in the water and increase their demands, ordering greater and greater destruction for smaller and smaller deviations from leftist orthodoxy, with no limit until they are resisted with force. This parallels the current increases in purges for wrongthought (currently happening only in employment in America, but already including prison time for crimethink in Europe). Only a strong nationalist reaction has any hope of preventing this. I think we are moving toward a very violent climax before 2040–and if the left wins, the climax will be followed by Soviet-style ideological repression for 80 years or so. (Academic research hardest hit!)

Second, America and Europe are both rapidly building nationalist reactions against the excesses of the left. These reactions are inevitable and are not tied to specific personalities; they are outgrowths of embattled peoples (yes, including white working-class Americans and Europeans, who are being deliberately crushed) and it will continue to grow as the left becomes more malign. I notice that a lot of professors I know delusionally think that this right-wing reaction can be stopped if only we cure their “ignorance”, or if Trump is deposed. Wrong: Trump is merely an effect, not the cause. It is 100% certain that the nationalist backlash will continue to grow, regardless of who is in power. Because the pain caused by immigration, globalization, and anarcho-tyranny is real and extremely intense (though the elite deny it exists at all).

Third, America has been terribly damaged by immigration and can no longer hold together as a single nation. The nationalist reaction is inevitable because diversity and immigration really are incredibly, overwhelmingly destructive (not presently to the elite, who are safe in their enclaves and are ideologically forbidden to admit that diversity has downsides, but to ordinary Americans and Europeans). The multicultural utopia is a lie; America’s future is racial strife and, ultimately, partition into multiple nations. By renewing their attack against the South, the Yankees are reopening old fissures and bringing this partition closer to the present. Among the people who will suffer the most are American blacks, who have never been able to integrate into white society. Twenty years from now, whites will be a minority, the worldwide debt crash will have occurred, and even the most optimistic globalist will no longer be able to deny that America has degenerated into a land mass of quarreling tribes who hate each other and have absolutely no values in common (contrary to the lying managerial boilerplate we all mouth today). When that happens, white America will no longer be willing or able to carry black America on our shoulders via tax transfers and government jobs. Today, most white Americans have some genuine desire to see black Americans succeed. I predict that this will not be true in 2040.

It seems to be a trait of the left that they are never, ever capable of foreseeing the unintended consequences of their actions.

46. Matthias Says:

Scott, about agreeing with the wrong tribe: I face a similar situation in my adopted England. Intellectually I can see some justification why leaving the EU if done right would be the proper thing for them to do, given what the population majority seems to want. (Even if I think that a properly organised EU would perhaps be even better.)

But I wouldn’t for the live of me want to be associated with the kind of people who voted Brexit. As it was also a symbol of some wider differences in attitude (and of course there’s some signalling to my Bremaining friends involved.)

Just differences in minor technicalities. I wouldn’t want to let the charge of hypocrisy keep anyone from tearing down Confederate statues. We can always tear down your founding fathers and presidents later.

(From what I heard, Lee was actually one of the at least grey area guys, if not actually, then at least in modern interpretation? Wikipedia says he was in favour of the Union and sort-of against slavery, even with some private slave freeing to show for it. (Of course, he still did fight for the side of slavery.) So would his statues stay up at least as long as the founding fathers’, or people who authorised the massacring of native Americans?)

47. Kavi Gupta Says:

I agree mostly with this post, and with the desire to separate the in-their-own-time-awful people from the awful-in-hindsight people for the purpose of de-iconification, if only as a moderate position many can agree with.

But in general, I don’t see why the good of memorializing historical figures is so great that it overwhelms the good of routine moral cleanup. As an example of a more extreme form of in-their-own-time-it-was-justufied-ism, I learned that Washington owned slaves years after I learned about his status in the revolutionary war. (I grew up in a conservative town, but from the comments section of a recent NYT article on the subject, this “keep kids in the dark about inconvenient historical facts” philosophy seems alive and well among it’s I assume predominantly liberal audience.)

I guess what I’m saying is: What’s wrong fundamentally with tearing down old statues? We’ve moved on several versions, providing active support for centuries-old cult-of-personalities seems needlessly expensive.

48. Edan Maor Says:

Interesting discussion, Scott you mostly convinced me on this point. A few thoughts though:

Scott #14: “If the US had any public institutions or monuments honoring Mao, I would strongly protest that, but I’m not aware that it does. Of course the First Amendment allows private individuals to buy t-shirts honoring Mao, Hitler, the Confederacy, or whatever else, as disgusting as the rest of us might find that.”

Just to be clear, putting up a statue of of Mao/Hitler/Confedaracy would be acceptable to you if it were in, say, a private office? A private school?

Btw, as far as I know, other countries like Germany have much stricter laws, e.g. you can’t display Nazi symbols at all, free speech be damned.

In any case, I think it’s pretty clear that the criterion for what should be banned depends a lot more on what people *today* think about these figures, rather than what these people were actually like or what they actually accomplished.

A lot of Scott’s statements seem to be wrong, e.g. that Robert E. Lee was “purely evil”. I don’t think most of the examples that have come up in this thread are people who are purely evil either. I also think it’s *bad* to imply that the only villains in history were purely evil. After all, someone might think, if our current president/PM/etc isn’t clearly, purely evil, then he’s obviously *not* a villain of history. Humanizing villains somewhat is what makes people understand that the real life people around them *really can* be bad.

But again, in terms of the actual practice of putting up statues, the question isn’t whether Robert E. Lee was evil or not, whether Hitler was evil or not. It’s *why people today* want that statue up. If they’re putting up a statue of Hitler, the chance they’re neo-nazis is pretty high, whereas the chance that they’re trying to celebrate the fact that he was a vegetarian isn’t very high.

That’s why, as a non-American and non-Southerner, I’m unsure what to think based only on this thread, since it seems I’m only getting one side. Clearly if everyone in the South is putting up these statues because of racism/etc, then it’s a problem. But if, just like in the case of Churchill, they’re putting up statues of him for *other reasons*, then it might be OK, IMO. Not being a Southerner I really don’t know if there are other reasons to put up statues of Robert E. Lee.

“if World War II were a work of fiction, critics would’ve eviscerated it for its hackneyed, over-the-top characters and plot points, including the cigar-chomping, liquor-swilling, quip-tossing asshole who saves the world.”

Just thinking of this for the first time, but wouldn’t the actors in WW2 be the *template* for these characters, after which they became cliche?

49. John Sidles Says:

Scott concludes (at the end of the essay “The Social Justice Warriors are right”)  “And if, after the last Confederate general comes down, the public spaces are too empty, fill them with monuments to … the intermittent windshield wiper.”

The title of Scott’s essay made me smile, and the concluding phrase “intermittent windshield wiper” made me laugh outright — for reasons that Shtetl Optimized readers who are familiar with intellectual property law and the saga of Robert Kearns will appreciate.

The smile came from recollection of a mother and her young-adult son — both persons known to me, and both ardent nature lovers. While out on a nature-walk, they happened upon a hanging, football-sized nest of the Aerial Yellowjacket (Dolichovespula arenaria). On the ground, beneath the nest, lay an arm-length cudgel-shaped stick.

For whatever reason — nature, nurture, and circumstance all three playing their roles — the same question occurred to both mother and son “Are the folk tales true? Will wasps aggressively defend their nest, if disturbed?”.

To think was to act. Mother and son approached the nest together, and supervised by his mother, the son gave the wasp-nest a vigorous whack. Not hard enough to knock the nest down, nor even damage it — mother and son were naturalists, after all — but definitely hard enough to provoke a response.

To borrow a phrase from Lincoln, “And the wasps came.” As mother and son had hoped, the ensuing interactions were vigorously, hilariously, and instructively memorable for all concerned.

One point of this story is, obviously, to point out that Shtetl Optimized is an Inveterately wasp-whacking weblog. And there is a further point too.

In the following years, for whatever reason — nature, nurture, and circumstance all three again exerting their blended influences — “a war came”, and that same wasp-whacking son volunteered to serve five tours of duty, as a US Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan. These tours were easy for neither son nor mother — the stings of war are grievous.

As the most thoughtful and intellectual of the services, the Marines provide and lengthy and ever-evolving reading Commandant’s Professional Reading List, familiarity with which is obligatory for in-service Marines and recommended for civilians.

Regard for mother and son led me to read — with full attention and in reflective depth — the USMC-recommended texts upon the following topics:

The experience of wars, personally considered  Karl Marlantes Matterhorn (2010)

The sequelae of wars, psychiatrically considered  Jonathan Shay’s Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (1994), and Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming (2002).

The winning of wars, professionally considered  Field Manual 3-24 Counterinsurgency, produced under the supervision of Army Gen. David Petraeus, and USMC Gens. James Mattis and James F. Amos.

The endings of wars, historically considered  Every War Must End, by Fred Charles Iklé (1971).

These dry-eyed, USMC-commended documents provide ample reason for thoughtful citizens to reject, vehemently, the hateful ideologies of those who call themselves the “alt.Right”. And also to reject, with equal vehemence and for similar reaons, the hateful ideologies of those who call themselves “Social Justice Warriors”. And finally, familiarity with these works helps the polity to appreciate, too, that a deplorable distinguishing feature, equally of the alt.Right and SJWs, is willful ignorance of their culture’s literature … such ignorance being a luxury that US Marines, admirably, do not permit for themselves.

As second point of this story is that (as it seems to me) Shtetl Optimized — and other venues that I appreciate, respect, admire, and enjoy — consistently stands against willful ignorance, and therefore, necessarily, stands for open discourse.

The natural resolution of the conflict between the alt.Right and the SJws — a resolution of whose historical inevitability the above-referenced Fred Charles Iklé reminds us — will presumably be along the lines of a science-respecting “SJ-positive neurocognitive conservatism.” There is, of course, no realistic expectation that with the present-day alt.Right or the present-day Social Justice Warriors will evince any great sympathy for a progressively synthetic neuroscience-respecting common ground. Still, history is replete with remarkable examples of peace-making, tradition-respecting, heretically SJ-positive accommodations! 🙂

There is socially conservative yet entirely SJ-positive tradition — a truly excellent tradition, as it seems to me — that, in wartime, US Presidents visit the wounded, on-on-one, with no press presence. Particular on the USA’s memorial day, appreciation and respect and thanks are therefore due, from conservatives and progressives alike, to presidents Bush, and Obama, and Trump, for respecting and sustaining this intrinsically conservative and progressively SJ-positive tradition.

50. Scott Says:

Anonymous Berkeley Professor #45: I can’t help feeling like, if your dark vision were anywhere close to correct (which can reasonably be questioned…), then a second Civil War and a subsequent fragmentation of the US would be coming regardless of what we did or didn’t do. In which case, if a controversy over statues helped force the issue slightly sooner, would that necessarily be bad?

Also: I might be right that the Confederacy fought for a bad cause? What are you a professor of, anyway? 🙂

Anonymous Berkeley Professor #45:

On “excesses of the left” motivating nationalist reactions worldwide:

What excesses specifically??

Immigration policy that Reagan supported? SJW’s campus idiocy? International trade that until the last 2 years was championed by the right?

I think you protest too much. Does the left have its share of idiocy? Yes. Does any of this remotely justify a violent turn from nationalists motivating a future civil war? If you answer affirmatively, I think it is *your* excess that is showing.

52. Scott Says:

Edan #48:

Just to be clear, putting up a statue of of Mao/Hitler/Confedaracy would be acceptable to you if it were in, say, a private office? A private school?

I didn’t say it would be “acceptable” to me—I’d almost certainly want to avoid such an office or school, unless there were some really good innocuous reason for the statue to be put up—but only that it should be allowed on First Amendment grounds.

Incidentally, I’m now trying to imagine who would want statues of Mao, Hitler, and the Confederacy in their lobby. The Institute for General Evil? 🙂

53. Scott Says:

Douglas #42:

We celebrate Robert E Lee for amassing power and respect. We should celebrate this because it was historically quite good for the Union that he had that power and respect, because when he surrendered, most of the South surrendered, rather than continuing to fight, either organized or as guerillas. We should celebrate hierarchy in the past to encourage hierarchy in the future to enable coordination, particularly sharp transition to peace.

That’s the strongest and most interesting case I’ve heard yet for keeping up statues of Robert E Lee in particular. The trouble is that others will likely read more into the statues than graceful surrender. As an analogy, I think I’d be OK with the Japanese having a statue of Emperor Hirohito, but only because they were so thoroughly pacified after the war. If there were a politically significant faction in Japan that wanted to go out and rape Nanking again (or even just rape it a little bit), that would be different.

54. Anonymous Berkeley Professor Says:

Scott wrote: I can’t help feeling like, if your dark vision were anywhere close to correct …, then a second Civil War and a subsequent fragmentation of the US would be coming regardless of what we did or didn’t do. In which case, if a controversy over statues helped force the issue slightly sooner, would that necessarily be bad?

Good question. I don’t know. I do think that post-war, America will never again enjoy the level of comfort and wealth we currently do. This is the American Empire’s last dance.

Also: I might be right that the Confederacy fought for a bad cause?

I unequivocally consider slavery to be a bad cause. I qualified my statement because I haven’t taken the time to read enough to evaluate the competing claims about the motivations for the Civil War.

55. John Sidles Says:

Scott wonders “Who would want statues of Mao, Hitler, and the Confederacy in their lobby?”

Fans of fascist death squads are natural candidates. One of today’s commenters on the hugely popular alt.Right website Vox Populi summarizes the pro-murder alt.Right political perspective:

Eric the Red proclaims  “When the time comes for a helicopter ride for the leftists, cucks, churchians, and other useful idiots, I want to be the one who gets to introduce [racially mixed conservative] Rod Dreher to his first drop zone.”

Note: Vox Populi’s readers appreciate “helicopter ride” as a standard alt.Right euphemism for fascist murder.

Within alt.Right circles, “Eric the Red’s” open enthusiasm for fascist death squads has become, alas, unremarkable.

The lesson of history (as surveyed in the above-cited FM 3-24, for example) is that far-right and far-left ideologies in general, and nowadays especially the alt.Right, have provided psychological spawning-grounds for mass-murder enthusiasts.

In the USA, at least, death-squad enthusiasts very commonly are neo-Confederate sympathizers too — which is yet another reason for the statues to come down, and the plaques to be removed.

56. sclay Says:

The confederacy was about more than just slavery. The South for against forced political union by standing for forced economic union; the North was against forced economic union by standing for forced political union. How is forced political union any less abhorrent than forced economic union?

You are embracing tyranny in its worst form.

57. Tim McCormack Says:

My home town of Charlottesville, Virginia is currently having a debate over what to do about the statue of Robert E. Lee riding a horse on a large pedestal. There are some nuanced conversations.

But the KKK literally held a party when that statue went up (burning a cross on a nearby mountain, IIRC), and just the other day a bunch of white supremacists marched around with torches to protest possible removal: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/05/14/confederate-statue-torchlit-rally-charlottesville/101692414/

I wonder if they realize that they’re taking a lot of the nuance out of the conversation, probably hastening the removal of the statue…

An odd coincidence, I just read that Alexander Stephens quote yesterday, in a book I just started, The Warmth of Other Suns. Only about 70 pages in, I can already highly recommend it. It’s a history of the Great Migration (of blacks out of the american south), built on a framework of the life stories of three individuals.

59. Scott Says:

Candide III #39:

PS: nice virtue signaling.

Well, y’know, I was no longer getting invitations to all the elite cocktail-and-arugula parties, after that whole flare-up about feminism and shy male nerds, so I had to do something to get myself back on the guest lists…

60. Scott Says:

Sniffnoy #40 and others: I’d be curious to read someone’s argument for what Woodrow Wilson did that was so great to counterbalance his racism. Off the top of my head, I’ve mostly got
(1) entered the US into WWI, after having campaigned on a platform of not doing that, and
(2) helped found the League of Nations, which is mostly remembered today for its disastrous failure to prevent WWII.

61. murmur Says:

Finally one cause in which I can agree with you unreservedly.

62. murmur Says:

BTW you’re still leaking other commenters’ name and email. My field just got auto-populated by someone else’s details.

63. moscanarius Says:

I wholeheartedly agree with Jewbroni in comments #5 and #15 and #21. I wished to comment a bit more on Scott’s comment at #7, which is a response to #5.

Scott said:

“If your theory were correct, then when progressives proposed to take down statues of Jefferson Davis, the right-wing southern whites would be like “yeah, sure, whatever. Jefferson who?” Instead, many of them stage rallies in support of the statues, and it’s used as a major issue for winning elections.”

No. What Jewbroni meant when he proposed a differentiation between a statue to Hitler and a statue to some obscure antisemitic Saint was that people no longer associate the last one with antisemitism, not that they don’t associate it with anything at all and would, therefore, be completely indifferent to it.

Maybe antisemitism was a big thing both for that Saint and for the people who made him a statue in the town square, and maybe this all got lost in time – the townsfolk no longer hate the jews, and the Saint’s story has been reduced to one paragraph of generalities. The tribute lost its original meaning, but this by no means implies that it no longer has ANY meaning to them. Over the centuries, it is almost guaranteed to have acquired new associations which may be invisible to outsiders, and may look weak, unimportant, and nonsensical – but they are there. And they matter a lot to the townspeople.

The townsfolk may not remember who the Saint (or Jefferson Davis, or Lee) really was and what he really represented back in the day, but they remember going to school and seeing the statue on the way; they remember their grandfather talking about how great Statueman was (grandpa may have been a bona fide racist, but grandson does not need to be; for him, it can be just a childhood memory); Jimmy might remember that his father was employed at the workshop that has cast the statue; and so it goes. The statue reminds them of several aspects of their lives – there is always a conection to their relatives, a dear memory of olden times, a sense that the statue belongs to the community.

When some random outsider comes around screeming SMASH THE IDOL!!!, they will not be indifferent at all, even if they no longer idolize the statue. Demanding its removal is seen as an absurd intrusion in the community life by someone who does not have a clue.

“So clearly, enough of them do remember who the slavers were, and find it important for the state to honor them—and that’s precisely the problem, and the justification for taking the statues down.”

That doesn’t follow. From their love for their statues, it doesn’t follow that they remember their history. You being an outsider, it is easy to come full-sanctimony-mode and advocate the smashing of Baal’s altar. To an outsider – a guy like you, Scott: born and raised elsewhere, not related to anyone in town, follower of a different religion – the only plausible reason for someone to defend a statue of Lee is knowing Lee from the history books. But that is not how the town natives see it: they have few conections to Lee, but they have many many many more to that specific statue of Lee.

64. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

sclay #56

“The confederacy was about more than just slavery. The South for against forced political union by standing for forced economic union; the North was against forced economic union by standing for forced political union.”

Odd that nothing remotely like that is discussed in any of the declarations of secession. They all talk about slavery, repeatedly.

65. Kavi Gupta Says:

sclay #56: even if the South’s cause wasn’t just about slavery, the rest really doesn’t matter to most of us in calculating the value of their cause. Call it a -inf+epsilon type situation. And frankly the view you seem to be implying, that it is tyranny for one people to tell another *not to own slaves*, is ludicrous.

66. Kavi Gupta Says:

Scott #60: frankly, I think Wilson is given a massive pass by modern liberals because he was part of the “progressive” movement. It’s hard for people to argue that he was racist without acknowledging that the progressive movement of the early 1900s was actually fairly classist and racist (take prohibition, which was a lot like our war on drugs, with minority communities being the primary ones targeted).

Of course liberalism fixed itself for the most part, but it makes liberals uncomfortable to have their ideological heratige questioned (usually by Marxist types who apparently don’t care about that sort of thing).

67. Richard Says:

Scott: I largely agree with your points, but I have a question. What do you think of the preservation what’s left of the Colosseum in Rome? Should it be dismantled to avoid the appearance of somehow honouring an institution where unspeakable acts of cruelty occurred? Or is there an argument for maintaining this one for historical reasons?

68. Jewbroni Says:

murmur #62: This happened to me too! Was wondering where they info came from!

69. Scott Says:

Richard: I would never support literally destroying the Confederate statues. Instead, they should be moved to museums where scholars and other interested people can study the artistic techniques, etc. (which indeed is exactly what’s been happening).

I’d suggest that the Coloseum be moved into a museum as well, except for certain logistical difficulties… 🙂

70. Kavi Gupta Says:

#63: this entire argument presupposes that the statue take-down group is entirely outsiders. In fact, the primary supporters of statue take-down are African Americans who have lived in the community for generations and are fed up with having to pass statues of those who fought for slavery.

In your example, it would be like if the local Jewish community in this town wanted to take down the statues​ to an anti-Semetic local saint, and the Christian parts of the town went ballistic, some bringing out swastikas, etc. Then, would you consider it a reasonable response?

71. Kavi Gupta Says:

Scott #68 actually, i personally was annoyed that they didn’t pull down Jefferson Davis like Saddam Hussein. But I guess I’m not much of a preservationist in general.

72. Charlie Croker Says:

Scott, while your arguments seem reasonable at first glance, I would like to point out three things:

1) Can you name any person who lived prior two World War 2 and had acceptable views on race according to today’s standards? Statues of all presidents prior to JFK would have to be removed, or even statues of any politican before his time. Notice that Abraham Lincoln’s views on race were largely the same as those of Jefferson Davis. Only their views on slavery were different. Davis wanted to keep it, Lincoln wanted to end it and remove blacks to Africa.

2) Statues of Hitler were not removed because Hitler was a mass murderer, but because he did not belong to any German political tradition and Germans wanted to distance themselves from him after World War 2.
On the other hand, it is not at all unusual that there are statues of people who were on the losing side of a historical conflict. Indeed, the removal of artifacts of the past that are considered to refer to “hostile elements” has, to my knowledge, only been practiced in totalitarian countries.

3) I’m not to sure that your views on the cause of the Civil War are so obvious. Did you know that Abraham Lincoln proposed this amendment to the US constitution: https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/failure-compromise/resources/proposed-thirteenth-amendment-prevent-secession-1861? Why should the South start a war for slavery when Lincoln wanted to give them all they wanted?

73. Kevin Says:

There are several posts here with words like, “I’m not a Southerner, so…” There’s nothing I can say that Jewbroni hasn’t said far better except, “I am a Southerner” and his take on things rings quite true to me. I’ve lived in the South for 39 of my 52 years and it has been a rare thing to run into an actual racist. Quite the contrary I’m often surprised by the warmth of feeling expressed by whites toward black individuals.

It’s really a shame that the word “racist” has been allowed to be broadened to include all sorts of notions that have nothing intrinsically to do with race. I say this because what is often branded racism is actually culturalism, and many of today’s cultures are clearly in desperate need of criticism. This has always been dicey business but today will get you shouted down as a racist tout de suite.

To be a Southerner is to have been laughed at, derided, and accused in the national consciousness your entire life. I’m pretty sure even Southern blacks will acknowledge this. Throughout my childhood the Confederate flag was generally referred to as the “rebel” flag. And it never, for me or anyone else that I was aware of, had the slightest thing to do with racism. It had everything to do with showing a middle finger to those who looked down on us and bullied us.

The South is not a land of racists. It just isn’t. Those flags and statues don’t stir the secret, latent racism in our hearts. But the South is a nation and a culture. And no nation has ever reacted well to being told what its symbols mean and that they must be removed. Jewbroni is right that this time won’t be any different. It may be totally justifiable, ethically, for those symbols to go away, but to expect everyone to see it that way and to acquiesce is foolish. There are so much more important and productive things we could be doing as progressives rather than kicking this sleeping dog.

74. sclay Says:

Joshua Zelinsky #64: Your reading of the various declarations of secession are incomplete. As just one example, concerning the South Carolina declaration of secession, Wikipedia says, “The primary focus of the declaration is the perceived violation of the Constitution by northern states in not extraditing escaped slaves (as the U.S. Constitution required in Article IV, Section 2) and actively working to abolish slavery (which South Carolinian secessionists saw as Constitutionally guaranteed and protected). The main thrust of the argument was that since the U.S. Constitution, being a contract, had been violated by some parties (the northern abolitionist states), the other parties (the southern slave-holding states) were no longer bound by it. Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas offered similar declarations when they seceded, following South Carolina’s example.”

Kavi Gupta #65 said, “the rest really doesn’t matter to most of us in calculating the value of their cause.”

And there you have it. Forced political union is ok, forced economic union isn’t.

75. Douglas Knight Says:

Scott 53, symbols mean many things to many people. Should the meaning of a symbol to one group swamp its meanings to others? There are Japanese militants who are not very apologetic about Nanking, and they revere the Emperor. But Hirohito himself lived long enough to quietly boycott the Yasukuni Shrine.

76. Jr Says:

I agree totally. The statues were put up to symbolize racism and that is what they continue largely to do. I guess people should be able to express Southern pride without being accused of racism, just like someone can be a proud German without being suspected of Nazism, but their pride should not be expressed by honoring slave-holding traitors.

Whether the Confederate flag is acceptable is more debatable. If it has come to represent all of white Southern culture it might be okay, I am not sure how closely we should identify it with racism.

I agree with Scott’s suggested list of heroes are good names, but the medicine might go down more easily if we could add some more Southern heroes. Which white Southerners have, whatever their faults by modern standards, done deeds for which we can celebrate them? The Founding Fathers have been mentioned. What are the more modern heroes? Dolly Parton?

77. jemand Says:

“Likewise, Hegel and Marx and Freud and Heidegger might have been wrong in nearly everything they said…”: I am surprised (or not) to find only men of german language in you list of philosophical villains. I am not surprised to find Marx and Freud on it. But why Hegel and Heidegger? Your verdict against Heidegger is probably not based on his writings (which are IMO not translatable w/o loss), but on his questionable role until 1945. But in this respect I think he was rather average giving no reasons to be recruited by the institute for general evil.

78. Eric Habegger Says:

Speaking for myself only, I think many of us northerners don’t have much sympathy for the south about this issue. We see them mostly just feeling sorry for themselves and putting themselves in a circular firing squad that negates all their arguments.

Kevin: “The South is not a land of racists. It just isn’t.”

Then comes sclay saying “Forced political union is ok, forced economic union isn’t” because of the injustice when the North declared they wouldn’t return escaped slaves. The willing blindness of that unintended racism in that line of reasoning is breathtaking.

79. Scott Says:

Charlie Croker #72: I already repeatedly addressed the point about “acceptable views on race”—once again, the issue is not whether people who lived a long time ago were racists by today’s standards (most often, yes), but rather, what if anything they did that was good to balance out the bad.

80. Scott Says:

Jr #76:

Which white Southerners have, whatever their faults by modern standards, done deeds for which we can celebrate them? The Founding Fathers have been mentioned. What are the more modern heroes? Dolly Parton?

Any reader of this blog should have one answer to that question ready to go: Ryan Williams.

81. Scott Says:

Douglas #42:

Lee surrendered, but it wasn’t an unconditional surrender. The resolution was compromise, not genocide. Is it worth more conflict to get more of a victory? Must every conflict be fought to ideological extermination? War is bad.

Again, my model for what a pretty good victory looks like is that of the Allies in WWII. Many of the Germans and Japanese were too self-pitying for my taste in the stories they told themselves afterward, and many war criminals went free. But most importantly, they no longer even thought about repeating the atrocities they’d committed earlier. On the contrary, both (West) Germany and Japan rebuilt themselves within a few decades into economic powerhouses, choosing to compete against their former conquerors in an entirely different arena. And by the 1980s, Japan in particular was handing the US’s ass to it in cars and consumer electronics. I wish the South had responded to its defeat in the same way, rather than with Lost Cause mythologizing and Jim Crow.

82. sclay Says:

Eric Habegger ##78 wrote: “the willing blindness of that unintended racism in that line of reasoning is breathtaking.”

On the contrary. I’m quite willing to say that racism is wrong. For the record, forced economic union is evil. But I also recognize that violating a contract is wrong (which the North did). I also hold that two wrongs don’t make a right.

Are you willing to state that forced political union is evil?

83. Scott Says:

Jewbroni #34:

The Dukes of Hazard was a 70s show set in the deep South featuring trouble-making cousins who would pull off all sorts of shenanigans in their tricked out car called “The General Lee“, which had a gigantic Confederate flag emblazoned on it.

A few years ago, when the backlash against the flag started, reruns of the show were pulled from the TV networks due to that association.

I guess I’d need to watch the show to understand better. Like, is it trying to illustrate a true aspect of the culture of the South at the time, without necessarily endorsing that aspect? In that case, I’d personally say keep the show on the air, totally unmodified—just like I’d say for Huckleberry Finn and its use of the n-word, or for the classic Disney movies with their many, many aspects that are “problematic” from a modern standpoint.

If, on the other hand, the show actually celebrates the Confederate flag and what it stands for, then my calculus changes.

84. Scott Says:

Eric Habegger #78: Yes, as sclay’s answer unintentionally illustrated (in a darkly comic manner), even the South’s “secondary” reasons to secede, the ones that supposedly weren’t about slavery, more often than not actually were about slavery once you spell them out more fully!

85. moscanarius Says:

#69: no it doesn’t. Bear in mind that I was responding to Scott’s argument in #7. Scott was saying that rallying against the removal of controversial statues proved Jewbroni#5 wrong, and that the existence of support for the statues was enough to conclude that the supporters still remembered and approved the actions of the people represented in the monuments. I argue this is not true; it is perfectly possible (and quite frequent) that the original significance of the monument was lost, and it acquired a new meaning over the time. Often, it is these new associations that are behind the emotional and irrational defense of questionable mementos of the past.

Since I am not even talking about the legitimacy of one or more groups taking statues down, it makes no sense to oppose me by saying that elements of the community are also involved in the process. I was responding to Scott, who is (like me, and probably like you) an outsider, as are many of the supporters of such actions, and as it is from an outsider’s perspective that we are having this discussion. That is the one reason I mention outsiders at all.

I was also not justifying or calling any action “reasonable”, so your last question is also a bit out of place. I was just explaining that there are other factors behind the preservationists’ rallies other than support for controversial figures.

But if you want to toy a bit more with the antisemitic Saint example, be my guess. Let us assume your scenario to happen; now ask yourself, Gupta:

1. Do you think the Christian side of the town is going ballistic exclusively due to hateful rabid antisemitism? If you think so, I say I disagree. That’s all I was saying really.

2. Do you think it is fair to assume that the average Christian ballistic protester shares the same motives as the (always tiny minority) swastika-bearers? If you say so, I disagree.

That is it.

86. sclay Says:

Scott,

Is forced political union evil? Yes, or no?

87. Scott Says:

sclay #86: That’s a nonsense question. As long as I remain a US citizen, I’m “forced” into political union with 320 million other people. That includes even extremely odious people like yourself, someone who’s now been caught worrying about “abrogation of contract” for contracts regarding the return of escaped slaves—contracts that are entirely null and void, on any modern conception of human rights. If I don’t like it, my main option is to renounce US citizenship and move to one of the world’s 195 other countries (well, one of the ones that would take me). It’s not perfect, but what alternative do you recommend? We could have a much larger number of countries, but even then, if some of the countries had chattel slavery, I’d have no moral problem with the neighboring countries invading and overthrowing them when it was expedient for them to do so. For me, human rights easily supersede “states’ rights” and “countries’ rights,” if the latter even exist at all.

88. Kavi Gupta Says:

#85, I am not a fan of assigning exclusive motives. However, I do think that anyone who is trying to defend something with arguments as flimsy as “the civil war really wasn’t about slavery,” is applying an ex-post-facto justification for believing in the cause of the Confederacy in specific and most of Southern history in general: the subjugation of a group of people based on the color of their skin.

As for your example, I think it’s fair to assume that anyone who is going ballistic about the removal of a statue of an anti-Semite is either in at least partial agreement with what the statue honors, or entirely insensitive to the concerns of the Jewish community. There are levels of anti-Semitism, and while I don’t think that going to the same rally as someone with a swastika makes you as bad as the one holding it, the effect does “leak over” in a Bayesian sense. The same goes for the Confederate monument defenders.

Also, can anyone provide an example of the southern culture honored by these statues that is not centered around slavery and it’s long term effects?

89. Kavi Gupta Says:

#86 Define “forced political union”. If only 51% of the South had supported secession, would it still be “forced political union” for the North to intervene in favor of the remaining 49%? How about if it was 70%?

And why can’t we count slaves, who were almost certainly in favor of remaining in the North in our definition of “forced political union”? That gives you 13% of the population right there! The fact that West Virginia split off from the rest of Virginia over the issue of slavery suggests that there were other pockets of the South that weren’t so in favor of secession in the first place.

Finally, IIRC, *the South* started the civil war by attacking Fort Sumter. It wasn’t like the South seceded and then the North invaded.

90. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

sclay#78

Joshua Zelinsky #64: Your reading of the various declarations of secession are incomplete. As just one example, concerning the South Carolina declaration of secession, Wikipedia says, “The primary focus of the declaration is the perceived violation of the Constitution by northern states in not extraditing escaped slaves (as the U.S. Constitution required in Article IV, Section 2) and actively working to abolish slavery (which South Carolinian secessionists saw as Constitutionally guaranteed and protected). The main thrust of the argument was that since the U.S. Constitution, being a contract, had been violated by some parties (the northern abolitionist states), the other parties (the southern slave-holding states) were no longer bound by it. Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas offered similar declarations when they seceded, following South Carolina’s example.”

So, I’m not sure I should bother to reply this since you seem to be doing an amazing job arguing against your own case by the sheer fact that your claimed more complete reading is all about different aspects of how slavery interacted with it. But in case we weren’t clear on how utterly connected to slavery let’s look at those declarations. We get fun things https://www.civilwar.org/learn/primary-sources/declaration-causes-seceding-states Mississippi saying “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery” and even your attempt to add nuance just talks about slavery more!

91. Malamute Says:

Scott, I too would be interested why you you insinuate that “Hegel […] and Heidegger might have been wrong in nearly everything they said”. Could you give some substantial examples?

I doubt that you have studied their works (or Marx & Freud for that matter) in any serious form or shape.

92. John Sidles Says:

Jr wonders  “Which white Southerners have, whatever their faults by modern standards, done deeds for which we can celebrate them?”

Wendell Berry is a still-living, tradition-respecting, politically conservative, explicitly religious, Bible-quoting, populist, contrarian Kentuckian who has received pretty much all major USA awards in the humanities. Worth watching, especially, are Berry’s NEH Jefferson Lecture (2012) and his lecture I Love Mountains” (2008).

Where shall we place Wendell Berry, in the left-versus-right proxy wars? The simple answer is nowhere. Berry’s works are “hors catégorie” (as the French classify the toughest bicycle-climbs).

A modest proposal: replace all Confederate statues with statues of Berry, and all confederate plaques, with quotations from his works, selected alternately by liberals and conservatives — there will be no shortage of material.

Problem solved, and proxy battles ended! 🙂

93. Michael Says:

@Scott#60- well, he did give women the vote.
Getting the US into World War I is questionable- if the US hadn’t entered, would Lenin and Hitler still have come to power? I’ve heard arguments both ways.

94. Michael Says:

@Charlie Croker#72- in Eastern Europe and the former USSR, after the fall of Communism, there were calls to destroy monuments to the Soviets. Sometimes that happened, sometimes it didn’t. And many Russians opposed that for the same reasons that many Southerners opposed the removal of monuments to the Confederacy- they didn’t want to admit they were wrong.

95. Scott Says:

Incidentally, Candide #39:

you aren’t a Southerner and never will be, any more than I would be a Jew if I moved to Israel.

There’s an obvious sense in which that’s true. But note that in the same sense, I wouldn’t be an Israeli if I moved to Israel—just an American Jew who happened to live there. (Jewishness, like other religious identities, is a bit different: supposing you underwent an Orthodox conversion, the Chief Rabbi of Israel would then be halakhically required to consider you as Jewish as he was.)

But here’s one thing I know. If the American South wants more wealth and economic dynamism, one of the most important things it can do is encourage educated and talented people from around the world to move there, and nurture science and technology hubs like Austin, Houston, Atlanta, and North Carolina’s Research Triangle. And one of the lowest-cost ways to do that is to tear down Confederate statues, and otherwise signal to the outside world that its negative stereotypes about the South are badly outdated. The fact that so many today want to go as quickly as possible in the opposite direction, doesn’t change the fact that this is sound advice.

96. JohnK Says:

Scott, “southern governors and legislatures that do everything in their power to disenfranchise black voters.” How are they doing this?

97. Douglas Knight Says:

Scott 81, yes you said before that you know what victory looks like. But my question was: is it worth the cost? Do you know what the costs of the various options are? War is bad.

98. Sniffnoy Says:

Scott #60:

My point isn’t that Woodrow Wilson is particularly great. Although if you want to read about him, my knowledge of him mostly comes from this Adam Cadre piece. 🙂 (And the League of Nations, while overall a failure, certainly did some good things!)

Rather my point was more general, and I guess I didn’t really explicitly express it, so let me try to do that now.

Basically, I don’t think we should be looking for flaws in historical figures, looking to take their names off of things. Like — even without knowing in particular what Woodrow Wilson did, do you really expect he’s so atrocious we need to erase his name from things, just based on his racism? That is to say — we can basically put some dummy entries on the scale here, with “various positive things we’ll assume exist” on one side and “various negative things we’ll assume exist” on the other. The question isn’t which way it tips in expectation, but whether it tips in a way that’s truly clear, decisive, unambiguous.

Also I just worry that this is too much of a slippery slope, something that can lead to ever more stringent purity tests, in the vein of, well, the SJers. But some figures — e.g., Jefferson Davis — are so truly atrocious that there really is no slippery slope. Davis was, as you said, clearly and unambiguously on the side of evil. It’s not a question of weighing various small things against each other, where maybe there’s something you don’t know that you’ve overlooked that’s going to tip it the other way. Again — knowing all you know about Woodrow Wilson, and recognizing there’s a lot you don’t know, are you really going to conclude he must be terrible? That doesn’t seem like a reasonable conclusion to me. But knowing all you know about Jefferson Davis, and realizing that there’s probably a lot you don’t know… well, whatever else there could be, there’s just no way it could compare, you know? (If there was, you’d have heard about it.)

Charlie Croker #72:

3) I’m not to sure that your views on the cause of the Civil War are so obvious. Did you know that Abraham Lincoln proposed this amendment to the US constitution: https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/failure-compromise/resources/proposed-thirteenth-amendment-prevent-secession-1861? Why should the South start a war for slavery when Lincoln wanted to give them all they wanted?

Lincoln didn’t propose the Corwin Amendment; that was Corwin and Seward. Lincoln was just president when it passed Congress, but the president has no role in the amendment process. He did claim in his first inaugural address that he had no objection to it (assuming I’m understanding this correctly), so that’s something. Quite possibly even he was telling the truth. But the Corwin Amendment ultimately wasn’t ratified. Again, what Lincoln wanted or not really has no relevance here! What matters is whether the amendment could get ratified, and it coudln’t. It’s not even entirely clear whether the slave states would have been satisfied with the Corwin Amendment; the slave states wanted slavery to expand to new territories (which, by the way, was something Lincoln was firmly against). My understanding is that this was primarily as they believed slavery needed to expand in order to protect itself, so perhaps many would have been satisfied with the Corwin Amendment, but that’s not obvious — absent a court case on the matter, it’s not clear whether a future amendment could have repealed the Corwin Amendment. Those dedicated to preserving slavery might legitimately fear that the Supreme Court might rule it indeed possible to repeal the Corwin Amendment.

99. Candide III Says:

Scott #95: Pfui. Do scientists and engineers move to China, as per NYT article the other day, because the interracial feminist shy nerd scene is so vibrant and there are no Confederate statues there? No, because the Chinese give them enough money to set up a lab, and also don’t waste their time with sensitivity training. Imagine not having to walk on eggshells for fear of having your career destroyed, or worse (weren’t you the guy who considered having himself chemically castrated?) Those people who do move to Austin &c. do so because the Bay Area is so horribly overpriced from all the economic dynamism that it’s almost too expensive to have a family if you aren’t a founder or a VC.

100. Candide III Says:

Scott #95:

But note that in the same sense, I wouldn’t be an Israeli if I moved to Israel—just an American Jew who happened to live there. (Jewishness, like other religious identities, is a bit different: supposing you underwent an Orthodox conversion, the Chief Rabbi of Israel would then be halakhically required to consider you as Jewish as he was.)

You’re quibbling. Jewishness is both a religious and an ethnic identity. Ethnic goyim (except maybe the half-Jewish ex-USSR people who don’t otherwise qualify for aliyah) who convert to Judaism are a set of measure zero, and this has been the case since time out of mind. See Scott Alexander’s latest. As for your moving to Israel, that was precisely my point. You would be an American Jew whether you moved to Tel Aviv or Austin, TX. You’d never think and feel as a Southerner (you seem to be averse to the idea). You could bring up your children to be sort of Southerners, maybe, if you married one, ate trefah, refrained from dumping on Lee and Jackson, from saying the word “racist” and from ever referring to halacha &c. in their hearing. Oh, and bought a gun to shoot with.

101. John Sidles Says:

Recommended to conservative and liberal advocates of rational discourse and a civilized polity is the on-line resource “The (Uncertain) Fate of Baltimore’s Confederate Monuments“.

In a nutshell, the Baltimore City Mayor’s Special Commission to Review Baltimore’s Public Confederate Monuments, by an open process of rational civil discourse, recommended the following disposition of Baltimore’s four Confederate monuments:

• one monument to be deaccessioned,
• one to be removed to a battlefield,
• two to be preserved and “contextualized”

In a concluding assessment:

The process served a valuable purpose for Baltimore. It illuminated the histories of four statues that previously had not, as Commissioner Blount-Moorhead stated, been “activated” by most Baltimoreans for decades.

It created a forum for important commentary about the ways that the memory of slavery and the Civil War is currently used in our city.

It raised questions about the function of public art and the civic interpretation of history.

And it demonstrated that especially when members can contribute to the decision-making process, the public is more than willing to wrestle with the question of the role of the humanities in civic life, even if they don’t necessarily agree.

Were all of America’s Confederate monuments similarly reviewed, and similarly disposed, and similarly contextualized, in similar proportions … wouldn’t the USA become thereby a brighter “light unto all nations”?

As an exercise in contextualization — an excellent word for a necessary process! — here are some reflections upon a claim made above:

Kevin testifies (circa #73): “I’ve lived in the South for 39 of my 52 years and it has been a rare thing to run into an actual racist. … The South is not a land of racists. It just isn’t. Those flags and statues don’t stir the secret, latent racism in our hearts.”

Not everyone has your experience, Keven. Growing up, there was in my entire rural county, one remaining black family, and one remaining Jewish family — all that remained after a Klan-conducted campaign of ethnic cleansing back in the 1920s and 1930s.

Left behind were inexplicable pairs of drinking fountains outside the courthouse and empty balconies in the movie theater and in the older churches. As a child it never occurred to me to ask why the balcony seats were never occupied.

Left behind too was an immensely destructive culture of willful ignorance, in which even the reading of books was deprecated.

Racist literature like the nationalist publication Attack! and novels like (physicist, yikes!) William Luther Pierce’s The Turner Diaries circulated widely; assemblies at my high school inveighed against Darwin by leading the students in fundamentalist anthems like “I’m no kin to the monkey“; and music teachers asserted that the “stopped anapestic beat” of rock-and-roll music was physically damaging to young brains.

The economic foundations of our county were entirely blue-collar (manufacturing) and red-neck (farm labor), and I participated fully in this economy, being no stranger to tractor-driving and every form of physical labor. The back of my neck was red — and remains wrinkled and leathery even today — for the simple reason, that the sun beat long and hard upon it.

There was abroad in this rural county, in 1960s and 1970s, a deep and well-founded concern that the blue-collar/red-neck life was dying  that it could less-and-less sustain a dignified life of work and family-raising.

Beginning in the 1980s, and continuing to the present day, this rural county (like many) has experienced spiraling scourges of underemployment, alcoholism, drug addiction, hopelessness, mental illness, and suicide. These can’t be blamed on racial minorities, Islamic fundamentalists, and immigrants, there being none of these present.

Disputes over Confederate monuments are therefore, pretty clearly, mere proxy fights, that are grounded in the tough questions that are associated to the ever-increasing infeasibility of economically supporting a dignified family-raising life by manual labor and/or family-farming.

As for reversing this rural (and urban) social degradation, neither far-left ideologues nor alt.right ideologues are deserving (in my view) of any credulity whatsoever. My own social sympathies are provisionally aligned with of Wendell Berry, and in particular Berry’s 2012 NEH Jefferson Lecture (per comment circa #92) resonates with me.

Where’s the the quantum relevance in all this? There’s plenty, and I look forward to Shtetl Optimized eventually refocussing upon quantum ponderings! 🙂

102. Candide III Says:

Here’s one more reason to think twice about statue-removal: Right now, U.S. principally relies on the Republican segment of its population for its volunteer military, and Southerners, with a long-standing tradition of service, are a considerable proportion of this. Paid employment and perks like the G.I. bill are certainly part of the motivation of these people for joining the military, but old-fashioned patriotism and desire for military recognition and glory is arguably more important in motivating people to expose themselves to the danger of death and mutilation. By condemning and disgracing great soldiers and generals of the past post-factum, and moreover condemning and disgracing them for beliefs and actions which were not at the time criminal or even particularly opprobious except in the eyes of a fanatical minority, as you progressives do, you sap this motivation and run the eventual risk of not having a functional military to rely on in your quest for tikkun olam. Historically, mercenaries are not known for loyalty, and if you imagine that women will make just as good Marines as men, you are out to lunch.

PS: not only do I see others’ emails, I see the contents of their posts that are in moderation. Proof: John Sidles, blaming part of the ills you list on immigration is perfectly reasonable even if there are no immigrants locally, just as it is perfectly reasonable to place part of the blame for the decline of manufacturing on trade with China despite China not being in America.

103. moscanarius Says:

#88:

“However, I do think that anyone who is trying to defend something with arguments as flimsy as “the civil war really wasn’t about slavery,” is applying an ex-post-facto justification for believing in the cause of the Confederacy in specific and most of Southern history in general: the subjugation of a group of people based on the color of their skin.”

I am sure many of them are, but I also can see that many are rationalizing keeping the town statue in its place, because they got used to having that statue there or because their grandfather has cast the statue long ago. Or just because they like to pick a fight from time to time to avoid boredom. Rationalization is employed to hide the true nature of an argument due to it being hard to defend; you seem to think that the only hard-to-defend argument being hidden in this case is slavery, but that is not true. Defending the controversial monuments because you used to play by them as a child or because you personally dislike your activist neighbor is just as hard to sell; it also invites rationalization.

The point is that you (and Scott, originally) are arguing that the rationalization they engage is hiding something horrible (defense of slavery), while I argue that it is often hiding something ridiculous.

“As for your example, I think it’s fair to assume that anyone who is going ballistic about the removal of a statue of an anti-Semite is either in at least partial agreement with what the statue honors, or entirely insensitive to the concerns of the Jewish community.”

See, you already admit that there are two different things leading to the same apparent outcome: either they kind of agree with antisemitism, AND/OR they are insensitive. Two very different states of mind. I think it is fine to say they are being insensitive many times, but insensitive is not the same as outright evil. And, of course, insensitiveness towards an outgroup’s feelings is not exactly uncommon, nor a feature exclusive of those pesky Southerners.

What I have been defending here is that a lot of the passionate defense of these monuments is less about an actual support for slavery and more about many other minor and even ridiculous things. As another example of what these things are: common contrarianism. People often pick battles just because. For an example, see all of us here in this comment section: none of us has to be here, none of us probably thinks about slavery or abolitionism very often, none of us gets payed for discussing here, no monuments get saved or destroyed by us – and if they were, no one here would be neither sad nor happy for more than 5 minutes. Yet here we are, dscussing for the sake of discussion, because we like it. What makes you think that this is not going on in the rallies?

“while I don’t think that going to the same rally as someone with a swastika makes you as bad as the one holding it, the effect does “leak over” in a Bayesian sense.”

That is fair up to a certain point; but notice that you are putting everyone on the same rally (not always what happens), and you are not saying how many swastikas would you require to consider the whole movement tainted. There are very few Klansmen and Nazi sympathizers left, and most protesters are neither.

Last, I can’t help you on your last request. But I notice that “centered around slavery and it’s long term effects” is so broad a category that I am afraid you could dismiss anything presented to you with little effort.

104. Scott Says:

Candide #99: There are some educated Westerners who move to China, but it’s a trickle compared to the number of educated Chinese who move here, and the main reasons aren’t economic but rather social, cultural, and political.

The reasons why people do and don’t move to Austin is something I’ve learned a lot about over the past year, through firsthand interactions and recruitment efforts. Yes, of course Austin is hoping to capture the spillover from Silicon Valley now being too expensive for “normal people” to live in. But then why Austin, rather than Pittsburgh or Seattle or a dozen other places? We need to be seen as an attractive place for an educated person with options to live—and stuff like the campus carry law and SB4 work directly against that.

105. jonathan Says:

While I generally agree with your thesis (that the motivation for secession was basically 100% the preservation of slavery, and that we shouldn’t celebrate Confederates), I do disagree on one big point, which I think reflects your judging by modern standards. Not moral standards, but what you might call “patriotic” standards.

While secession was primarily (indeed exclusively) motivated by slavery, it does not follow that all who fought for the South did so to preserve slavery. Many fought for the South because they were loyal to their state, which was seceding from the Union.

Moreover, it’s not clear to me that even by *modern* standards seceding is treason. We today celebrate the patriots who sought independence from England. And we generally support the notion of self-determination (a principle enunciated by Wilson, a Southerner), and we celebrate territories that vote on whether to secede (like Scotland’s referendum on independence). And back in 1861 there was an even stronger notion that one’s primary loyalty was to one’s state, and that a state could and should have the ability to secede if it so chose.

In actuality, many individuals faced a difficult decision in 1861 about whether to go with loyalty to their state, or their country, or to follow a still higher principle (whether moral or political). Some chose one way, and some another; they fought and sometimes died for their state or their country.

My understanding is that Robert E. Lee cared little for slavery. He faced a difficult decision whether he would be loyal to the Union or to Virginia, and he chose Virginia. By the moral standards of his time, that was a defensible, even commendable, choice. Calling it “treason” is no more than the victors writing history (that’s what the Brits called George Washington).

I’m not saying that we *must* have a monument to him. But if the people of Virginia (or of other states, whose sons he lead into battle) wish to honor him, I do not think that is wrong.

106. Scott Says:

Candide #102: You’ve got to be kidding me with your argument about military recruitment. If you want to be venerated for your service to the US military, I’d think it reasonable to ask that you at least join the US military, as opposed to a rebel military engaged in treason against the US.

107. John Sidles Says:

Candide III proclaims: “Right now, U.S. principally relies on the Republican segment of its population for its volunteer military.”

Claim by Candide III, link to graphics from Commander Sheri Snively’s “Heaven in the Midst of Hell: A Quaker Chaplain’s View of the War in Iraq” (2010) with forward by Gen. James Mattis (see also the USMC-commended SJ-positive literature referenced circa comment #49).

Perhaps the proportion of extremist acolytes entering military service exceeds those discharged? That would be cool. 🙂

108. Scott Says:

JohnK #96:

“southern governors and legislatures that do everything in their power to disenfranchise black voters.” How are they doing this?

Off the top of my head? Closing polling places in majority-black areas with the intention to create longer lines. Cutting back early voting after it’s found that blacks disproportionately use it. Requiring forms of ID that black voters disproportionately don’t have. Eliminating same-day registration. Purging voter rolls indiscriminately using private contractors, removing tens of thousands of names that should be there along with the ones that shouldn’t be. There are many other tricks that I’m forgetting right now.

Note that a court has ruled that the North Carolina GOP’s voter suppression laws were designed with “surgical precision” (the court’s words) to target minorities—indeed, the Republicans in the state legislature requested data on minority voting patterns before writing the laws.

For much, much more on the topic, a Google search is your friend.

109. jonathan Says:

Scott:

I was going to make this comment a rant, but now I’ll restrain myself and just make the pro-Wilson case in as subdued a manner as I can manage.

Wilson was so much more than just a “racist” (a moral failing still common today, let alone to a man born in Virginia in 1856)! He has an adjective (Wilsonian) named after him, for crying out loud! He proposed the League of Nations (precursor to the UN); enunciated principles (such as self-determination) that are still foundational to international law and human rights; reoriented US foreign policy towards spreading democracy and capitalism, laying the foundation for our late 20th century foreign policy. (Okay, maybe a Trump fan could hate Wilson, if they knew who he was.)

Yes, he campaigned on keeping us out of the War. Surely that is a point in his favor! He was genuinely a man of peace (ironically, given the topic, because of his experience of the Civil War as a child in Virginia). Yes, the US ultimately entered the Great War, but this was after Wilson kept us out of it for several years (doubtless saving many American lives — the US suffered an order of magnitude fewer military deaths than other major combatants). He was rather compelled by events to enter.

You can make fun of the League of Nations as much as you like, but the principle was admirable, and its failure had little to do with Wilson. He was a visionary, and his vision later came to fruition in the UN, and the post-war order that has seen no wars between major powers since.

(Basically after WW2 everyone said “I guess Wilson was right after all!” and did what he had proposed. So if we had just listened to him to begin with, probably no Hitler and no WW2, maybe no Cold War.)

He also uttered one of the most ironic lines in history “It would be the irony of fate if my administration had to deal chiefly with foreign affairs.” Today he is famous as essentially the father of internationalism and US foreign policy principles (let alone international law and human rights). Talk about calling your shot!

He said that on his inauguration in 1913. What did he want to focus on instead? Have you ever heard the word “Progressive”? Well, Wilson was the first president elected by the movement that went by that name. I’ll give the mic to wikipedia:

Leading the Congress that was now in Democratic hands, he oversaw the passage of progressive legislative policies unparalleled until the New Deal in 1933.[1] The Federal Reserve Act, Federal Trade Commission Act, the Clayton Antitrust Act, and the Federal Farm Loan Act were some of these new policies. Having taken office one month after ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment, Wilson called a special session of Congress, whose work culminated in the Revenue Act of 1913, introducing an income tax and lowering tariffs. Through passage of the Adamson Act that imposed an 8-hour workday for railroads, he averted a railroad strike and an ensuing economic crisis.

Wait, there’s more. You’ll love this guy. He was a law professor (and president of Princeton) before he went into politics. So basically a scholarly academic. The worst point against him is that many of his grand visions were foiled by the forces arrayed against him, forces of “America Firstism” and “Isolationism”. (You know, basically Trumpism).

Look, I’m more conservative than you, and even I think that Wilson was awesome, even when I disagree with him! How much more should you! You talk about the Enlightenment, but here was a guy (a scholar!) who took the ball for the Enlightenment side and advanced it quite a bit, both yielding good immediate results, and laying the philosophical groundwork and vision for much to come.

But yeah, he was a racist, so off with his head!

(Yes, this was the subdued version.)

110. Charlie Croker Says:

Scott, maybe this is just my European versus your American perspective, but not only was almost anybody before World War 2 “racist”, the positive actions most political leaders in Europa whose statues we display are remembered for are military conquests and nothing but military conquests, with a few exceptions. Since modern day progressives mostly believe in some sort of pacifism, should we now remove these statues too?
Your restriction that we should only keep the statues of “racists” when they did something else to advance progressivism to outweigh that fact would lead to the removal of every political leader who wasn’t a progressive by the standards of his time and in my opinion, this would be outright Orwellian. For example, EVERY Roman politican or military leader supported slavery and most of them did nothing progressive at all, leading to the necessity of the removal of their statues under your standards.

I also think you arbitrarily assume that a historical figure’s views on race should be dispositive when it comes to the question whether their statue should be displayed. For example, Robert E. Lee was considered a great military leader by his contemporaries of both the Union (who wanted them to be one of their generals) and the Confederacy and I think both groups would have agreed that he did what he thought was in the best interest of his state. After the war, he quickly wanted to become a citizen of the United States again and the issue was just settled for both parties. Nobody in the Union cared about his views on race and most people just remembered him as a great military leader. What’s the purpose of removing his statue now?

111. John Sidles Says:

jonathan attributes to liberals “But yeah, he [Woodrow Wilson] was a racist, so off with his head!”

With reference to Existential Comics’ recent, hilarious, SJ-positive, strip #185 “Philosophy News Network: Derrida Arrested“, isn’t it more fair to characterize progressive Wilson-recommendations as the Derrida-compatible view that:

“But yeah, he [Woodrow Wilson] was a racist, so let’s thoughtfully contextualize his writings and accomplishments!”

After all, philosophical humor is a universal solvent for ideologically ossified cognition, isn’t it?

As the above-cited Existential Comics #185 put it:

Willard Van Quine  “Derrida, you’ve been accused of undermining the very concept of truth, and claiming that all knowledge is relative. Is this true?”

Jacques Derrida  “No.”

The above Baltimore Commission comment (circa #101) provides pragmatic political flesh upon these funny philosophical bones. Not for nothing, did Spinoza rank “hilarity” as the highest human virtue! 🙂

112. Jim Cross Says:

Has anyone taken a look at how Confederate Monuments there actually are:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_monuments_and_memorials_of_the_Confederate_States_of_America

Even one in Arlington National Cementary unveiled by Woodrow Wilson.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confederate_Memorial_(Arlington_National_Cemetery)

113. Jim Cross Says:

To be fair, however, many of these are monuments to the dead more than they are glorification of the cause of the South.

So perhaps a distinction could be made with that.

Growing up in the South (not actually that far from Manassas), this stuff in one form or another was all over the place. You couldn’t drive 20 miles without passing a plaque about a battle or a gift shop stocked with Confederate flags, hats, and T-shirts. I mostly regarded it is harmless stupidity at the time and thought it would pass. Unfortunately it hasn’t and the bigotry still remains. The monuments now are rallying cries for racism, perhaps even more so than when I was child. It may be a slightly smaller group, perhaps a more fringy one, engaged with this sort of stuff so there is some solace in that.

Scott, I understand your insistence on maintaining a high standard of intellectual honesty, which includes allowing your opponents to speak, but I think that sometimes you just have to draw the line. Specifically, the vile antisemitic comment #39 by “Candide III” should not have passed moderation. Just my opinion, it’s your blog, of course.

115. Jim Cross Says:

Maybe Obama had the right approach to this. This is from the Wikipedia piece on the Arlington Cementary Monument:

Beginning with Woodrow Wilson in 1919, almost every President of the United States sent a wreath to the Confederate Memorial Day exercises.[168] This tradition was broken by President Harry S. Truman in 1949 and again in 1950.[168] Truman resumed the tradition in 1951, and a presidential wreath continued to be donated each year for the next four decades.[201] In 1990, President George H. W. Bush declined to send a wreath to the ceremony, citing infighting among Confederate groups.[202] Bush declined to send a wreath again in 1991 and 1992. But President Bill Clinton resumed the tradition in 1993,[203] and it was continued by his successor, President George W. Bush.[201]

116. dorothy Says:

It is curious that when a person has been dead a certain amount of time, we suddenly become happy to weigh good things they did against any evil, no matter how extreme. No one says in a murder trial that the accused shouldn’t suffer a life sentence because they gave a lot of money to charity or even also saved a lot of lives. But if you are a slave owner, rapist and/or other such charming person from 200+ years ago then the fact that in between these acts you also did good is suddenly deemed relevant.

117. Scott Says:

Vadim #112: Well, it’s clear from many comments that “Candide” has some sort of Jew issue. I bristled, in particular, at his suggestion that I don’t get a say about what should happen with Confederate monuments because “my people are not the conquerors.” Am I not an American, born and raised? And is arguing about what the government should or shouldn’t do not as fully American a pastime as baseball? (Also, there were apparently at least 7,000 Jews who fought on the Union side plus 3,000 who fought on the Confederate side, but no matter…)

On the other hand, given my own experiences with trigger-happy SJWs, I’m hesitant to call anyone an antisemite without clear evidence that they’re motivated by hatred, and I don’t find that Candide’s comments yet rise to that level.

118. Scott Says:

Charlie Croker #108: Thanks for raising interesting points. To me, though, there are countless things people did centuries ago that we could justly celebrate today, and which have basically nothing to do with “advancing progressivism.” A few examples:

Contributions to science, math, engineering, arts, literature, music, architecture, jurisprudence…

Founding a new city

Planting trees (Johnny Appleseed)

Feeding the poor, tending the sick, taking in orphans, etc.

Military action to repel a foreign invader

In general, I’m someone who believes that most of what humans do—including most of what they do that’s praiseworthy or blameworthy—doesn’t fit neatly into the modern left vs. right continuum, but points some other direction in the complex plane, or even quaternionic 4-space. It’s the SJWs, and their mirror-images on the far right, who constantly try to politicize everything, sometimes with comical results.

But there’s another relevant factor—one that I thought of making explicit in my reply to Richard about the Coliseum (comment #69), but should certainly make explicit now. Namely, Europe, unlike the US, is covered in monuments from many centuries or even millennia ago, celebrating causes that no longer have any active defenders, and that are therefore of interest purely as art or history, rather than as political statements. There’s no longer anyone actively seeking the greater glory of the Roman Empire. If there were, then monuments celebrating the Romans’ crushing and enslaving their various subject peoples might be as offensive to the subject peoples as monuments celebrating Confederate slavers are to the slaves’ descendants today. But since there aren’t, it’s as if those monuments are already sitting in museums, even when they happen to be outside in broad daylight.

119. Scott Says:

dorothy #114: Well, I would say that building a monument to someone is a fundamentally different activity from sentencing them for a crime! E.g., we don’t build monuments to the millions of people who live their lives without committing any serious crimes, but without doing anything else of note either.

120. Anonymous Says:

scott: as you indicate that someone who likes candide has automatically a problem with jews (I guess many French peoplewould disagree, though), how would you think about a monument for voltaire?

121. Scott Says:

Malamute #91:

Scott, I too would be interested why you you insinuate that “Hegel […] and Heidegger might have been wrong in nearly everything they said”. Could you give some substantial examples?

I doubt that you have studied their works (or Marx & Freud for that matter) in any serious form or shape.

My basic problem is that, every time I try to read these sorts of authors,

(1) I find them impenetrable—dripping with pompous-looking pronouncements and wordplay not backed up by anything I can recognize as an argument, and
(2) if I’m right in my basic thesis, then time spent trying to digest the word salad will be like time spent studying astrology, or deciphering the Voynich manuscript.

But, OK, this is still consistent with there being profundity there that’s inaccessible for me for want of years of study, as is presumably the case with Grothendieck’s work on algebraic geometry.

So what’s the solution? For me, it’s to look to the great “pro-science” philosophers of the 20th century, like Bertrand Russell and Karl Popper and Rudolf Carnap. When those authors write about a topic that I understand, they’re clear and crisp and reasonable (even if I disagree on some particular). And they spent significant time engaging with Hegel and Heidegger. And their verdict is pretty much unanimous that the stuff is as sloppy and nonsensical as it seems.

And the fact that Hegel and Heidegger’s “philosophy,” by their own account basically inseparable from their moral views, led them to moral conclusions that today we consider monstrous or bizarre (Nazism; the 19th-century Prussian state being the perfect endpoint of history)? That’s kind of like having a physics theory with all sorts of elaborate internal structure that I don’t understand, but that (among other things) makes a firm prediction that the fine structure constant is 1/215. Once you see that the prediction that you understand is wildly wrong, your interest in studying the elaborate internal structure naturally lessens.

122. dorothy Says:

Scott #119 I think you misunderstood. The point is that you are discussing the merits of maintaining monuments for people who we all agree did terrible things at the level of committing (mass) murder. But you argue that in some cases this should be balanced against the good they did.

123. Scott Says:

Anonymous: What?? I didn’t acknowledge that commenter “Candide” had a “Jew issue” because of the Voltaire reference, but because of his many remarks (e.g., the US’s wars being fought for “tikkun olam”) that you can read for yourself above.

Also, while I wouldn’t choose to commission a Voltaire statue myself, I freely admit that other people might have reasons to honor him that are unrelated to his vociferous antisemitism.

124. Scott Says:

dorothy #122: Yes.

125. Scott Says:

Incidentally, one side benefit of these debates over monuments is that, to use the history teacher’s cliche, they “bring the past alive,” probably more directly than any other modern political disagreements. Like, I’ve already learned a few new tidbits from this thread, and been reminded about things I’d forgotten.

126. Anonymous Says:

well the commenter’s name is “Candice III” not Candice so I thought you referred to the novella (or the main character in it who killed a Jew but also a priest), sorry for the mix up

127. Aula Says:

Scott #87:

one of the world’s 167 other countries

Where did you get that number? The United Nations has 193 members, and then there are a bunch of other entities which may or may not be considered independent countries depending on who you ask. The last time your number was even remotely accurate was in 1991 before the Soviet Union dissolved.

128. Jr Says:

I appreciate the suggestions for Southern heroes, but I realized I should have expanded on what I was looking. The statues of Lee, Jefferson Davies and the other racist traitors are often placed in cities and states where they were not born or active. They are pan-Southern heroes (to a segment of the population.)

So ideally, I am looking for heroes who naturally are general Southern heroes, not just a hero who happens to be from the south.

129. Scott Says:

Aula: Thanks! Misremembered. I’ve now corrected to 195.

130. Choronzon Says:

It seems to me that we have two competing issues here. One, the right of people not to be confronted in public spaces with things a large number of them find offensive. Two, the desire not to live in a society where art is destroyed, and books are burned.

That statue of a Confederate general some people find offputting was carefully crafted by an artist, scaled up, and cast in bronze. Quite a bit of highly skilled work.

So while I do not object to the removal of Confederate monuments, I am concerned over what happens to them once they have been removed.

If they are donated to a museum’s Civil War collection, great. If they are smashed to bits and hauled to a landfill, not so great.

131. Scott Says:

Choronzon: Agreed.

132. John Sidles Says:

Jr says: “I am looking for heroes who naturally are general Southern heroes, not just a hero who happens to be from the south.”

When and where I grew up, honored heroes included … Jimmy … Johnny … June … Dolly. Last names superfluous.

This list is serious: there exist no small number of statues and/or monuments that honor these country-culture heroes.

133. Isotopeblue Says:

I gather you were bending over backwards to say something nice about “Social Justice Warriors” here, but perhaps that’s just showing the uselessness of that category. The struggle to take down Confederate monuments has been a long one, pursued in large part by traditional civil rights organizations full of people who aren’t just following the latest campus or online enthusiasm. Yes, there’s some overlap between the people fighting against Confederate monuments and the people fighting free speech they don’t like, but perhaps less than you think.

134. Candide III Says:

Scott #14:

Of course the First Amendment allows private individuals to buy t-shirts honoring Mao, Hitler, the Confederacy, or whatever else, as disgusting as the rest of us might find that.

That’s disingenuous. If a shop sold Hitler t-shirts openly, it would be picketed, vociferously protested and possibly destroyed through private action. Imagine what would happen if a person appeared in a Hitler t-shirt on a campus! On the other hand Che Guevara t-shirts are always in fashion.
Scott #104: Yeah, I know about the Chinese moving themselves and their money to U.S. Enjoy it while it lasts, because things like Merkel’s boner do create a very unfavorable impression in China. Also, the reverse trickle is not to be dismissed lightly for it may be a sign of things to come. As for moving, Seattle is a very unfortunate and expensive example, being both the site of Microsoft HQ and a prime target for Chinese parking money in U.S. via real estate. As for being an attractive place to move to, it helps when you are the ones defining what is attractive.
Scott #106:

If you want to be venerated for your service to the US military, I’d think it reasonable to ask that you at least join the US military, as opposed to a rebel military engaged in treason against the US.

Wat? I’m talking about modern military. You’re not making any sense. Have you served in the military? These people were soldiers and generals from the American South, and part of the reconciliation process in the Civil War was that they were acknowledged as American soldiers and generals. Now by attacking their memory you tell new soldiers and potential generals that their memory can be dishonored and destroyed post factum based on the evil principle you enunciate in #10. That’s not good for morale at all. By the way, your seeing Southern generals as traitors is yet another sign that you’re only grosstopically a Southerner. Also, arguing about what the government should or should not do is the mark of belonging to the ruling class. Most Americans, in fact, think of government as “they”.
Sidles #107: Indeed. I’m sure there’s a lot of SJ-positive material in modern U.S. army reading lists, and that there is much more to come. You’re getting women “Marines” now and NYT is slobbering all over it.
Scott #117: My handle is a reference to Voltaire only through the Strugacki brothers, Soviet Jewish scientists and fiction writers of some fame in older Soviet intelligentsia circles. I don’t have a problem with Jews per se. I might have gotten carried away a bit mentioning tikkun olam when there’s a perfectly good Puritan tradition of the shining city on the hill (New England rules and saves!), but I do bristle when e.g. your co-ethnic B tells me that Ukrainians must not be allowed to venerate Khmelnitsky because he was the general in a war when many Jews were massacred inter alia. There is an equestrian statue of him in the center of Kiev — should they remove it?
Scott #121: if you mention that Hegel’s philosophy led to Nazism, you ought in fairness to mention that it also led directly to Marxism-Leninism. Do you know what were the three sources of Marxism-Leninism according to official doctrine of CPSU? German classical philosophy (meaning Hegel), English political economy and French utopian socialism (Fourier). Nazism’s connections to Hegel are rather more tenuous, owing more to his earlier contemporaries such as Herder. Nazism was never very intellectual.

135. John Sidles Says:

As a supplement to the above country-culture list (circa #132), please allow me to commend also J. D. Vance’s generally praised, and not-uncommonly damned — with ten thousand GoodReads reviews to date — Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (2016).

More generally, please let me observe too, that the discussion here on Shtetl Optimized amply illustrates a crucial feature of culture-war debates: the most vociferous culture-war participants read lamentably narrowly.

This too-common anti-literacy trait is what makes Existential Comics #195, “Philosophy News Network: Derrida Arrested“ so forcefully funny.

With a view toward encouraging broader reading habits among Shtetl Optimized readers, over the next day or so, I’ll pull together a (multi-linked) reading list, with a view toward demonstrating the shared trait of suppressive wasp-swarming outrage — per the wasp-swarming story of comment circa #24 — that nowadays comes equally from the outraged (yet too-often non-reading) ideological left, the outraged (alas mostly non-reading) alt.Right, and even from outraged (yet again, notably non-reading) rationalists.

Hoorah for broad-ranging, fearsomely Enlightening literacy! 🙂

136. Scott Says:

Candide #134: I can’t remember the last time I saw someone actually wear a Che t-shirt, but maybe I just don’t hang out with the right (wrong) people.

Yes, Marx drew on Hegel (though I suspect that, had there been some fashionable obscurantist German philosopher saying the opposite of what Hegel said, Marx could equally well have drawn on that guy). But I’m averse to blaming people for others’ misapplications of their theories: for example, people constantly try to say that there’s something bad about Darwinism, or about Darwin himself (who from what I can tell was an exemplary human being), because of the later Nazi perversion of Darwinian ideas.

So, particularly given the lack of a clear distinction between “is” and “ought” in this sort of philosophy, it’s enough for me that Hegel himself reached political conclusions (e.g. about the perfection of the 19th-century Prussian state) that we can clearly see are laughable.

Regarding the US’s wars being fought for “tikkun olam,” the issue isn’t just getting carried away but factual inaccuracy. Thus, to take one prominent recent example, Jews apparently opposed the Iraq war at a higher rate than any other major religious group in the US, not so surprising given their liberal Democratic leanings.

137. Bob Says:

How much of the racial arguments (e.g. whites are the superior race) behind slavery during the civil war started as a justification for free labor as a tool for the economy? (of course once the “theory” is out there, it takes a life of its own).

Even Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner, right? And it’s not like America (the West) started importing slaves by principle to demonstrate their superiority over other races.

Today, slavery is gone, but a big portion of the economy still relies on really low cost labor (i.e. illegal immigrants).

In contrast, the Nazis’ desire to eradicate other races was at the very core of their philosophy – even without any use for them as free labor (in war factories) they would still have gone after them.

138. Bob Says:

There’s also a quality to statues that makes them obviously way more “permanent” and “in your face” than what’s typically protected by “free speech”.
There are two ways to spread ideas – through dialog or through force. Statues fall somewhat more in the latter category.

139. TrumpSupporter Says:

Scott,

This post is the perfect example of the “over compensation” tendency of today’s Democratic liberals that I mentioned in the other post. The battle against slavery was fought in the late XIX-the century. Back then, the majority of Democrats were in favor of slavery. The battle against organized racism was fought in the 1960s. Back then, the majority of Democrats were against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Those battles (and wars) have already been won where it matters in addition to the legal arena: the public perception that any sort of discrimination based on race or ethnicity is profoundly wrong.

Instead of worrying about statues, I see a bigger battle to worry about the well being of 6, 7, 8, 9 month unborn babies who are slaughtered at the altar of choice every day in America with the support of liberal Democrats. The public has also become increasingly prolife since 1973, mostly because of advances in science and technology, like medical imaging and techniques that can ensure the survival of around one third of babies born 22 weeks after conception and older.

There is a name for what you are doing here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whig_history

140. Scott Says:

TrumpSupporter #139: If calling the Confederates traitors is Whig history, then saying that Democrats are “compensating” for their party’s past support of slavery is completely ass-backwards history. People identify deeply with their “tribes,” and only more shallowly with political parties that might take up the causes of those tribes for a generation or two. And whatever other psychological issues modern progressives might have, I can 300% guarantee you that guilt over the Democratic party’s racist past is not one of them. With some justice, they simply see their predecessors as whoever the progressives and radicals were in previous generations—whether they were abolitionists, suffragettes. Republicans, Northern Democrats opposed to southern segregationist Democrats, etc.

In many cases, we’re literally talking about the exact same people. Thus, you might have heard of one Hillary Rodham, who switched from the Republican to the Democratic party in the 1960s over the issue of civil rights. Meanwhile, of course, millions of southern whites, including Strom Thurmond, switched from the Democratic to the Republican party over the exact same issue, in one of the great political realignments of the 20th century. Given this well-known history, who do you think should have, or did, feel more remorse over the southern Democrats’ racist past: Hillary, or Strom? (Strom, to his credit, did express some remorse late in his life.)

141. John Sidles Says:

As Scott may have impishly intended, the story of Essie Mae Washington-Williams — who was Strom Thurmond’s biological daughter — as told in Washington-Williams autobiography Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond (2006), ranks as a paradigmatic chapter in American history.

The book taught me not to make assumptions, that the truth is more complex. And the truth was almost sadder and more amazing than my preconceptions.

Here we have an informed contextualization, that is worthy of reflection for every Shtetl Optimized commenter.

142. TrumpSupporter Says:

Scott #140,

It says a lot about your way of thinking about these issues when your example of political virtue is Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton’s political affiliations throughout her life show statism at its worst, namely, the very reason people is cynic about career politicians. Hillary Clinton allegedly switched parties in 1968, when she was 21. Most people don’t become politically aware until they are in their late 20s and early 30s.

Hillary Clinton has only had one political interest in her life: herself. Her political positions have only changed as she saw fit to advance her political career. Thus, she was against gay marriage in 1996 when DOMA was passed and it had overwhelming support, just as she was for the war in Iraq in the aftermath of 9/11 when the nation went through a period of extreme fear. Later, she turned against the war in Iraq and traditional marriage, and in this order, when both became unpopular positions. She is now back in the public eye blaming everybody for losing the 2016 election except herself.

Here is a different take by Dinesh D’Souza https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ol7OMGBDMao . I hope you can engage his arguments on the merits, rather than issuing ad-hominem epithets. Basically, his argument is that the South began to move Republican as racism in the South began to become less popular. It might be an instance of correlation doesn’t imply causation but is hard to argue with the hard data: the less racist the South became -as measured by rigorous opinion polls-, the more Republican it became.

Finally, I am still asking the same question: what is the progressive/statist take on the constitutional rights of 6, 7, 8, 9 month unborn babies? Let me add some extra info here. The New England Journal of Medicine study I mentioned shows that more than 20% of babies born after 22 weeks (that’s below the second trimester mark) make it with the appropriate medical care. The survival rate for people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is 14%.

My 2017 pressing question is: why should we spend any money treating people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer if we say that 6 month old unborn babies, whose survival prospects outside their mothers’ wombs are higher than the aforementioned cancer patients, have no constitutional rights whatsoever. This is the 2017 moral conundrum I am interested in hearing progressives about, not about their over-compensating efforts on the issue of race.

143. Kavi Gupta Says:

#103 I guess I don’t see why there are so many strong emotional reactions around the taking down of these statues because I’ve never cared much about statues themselves, more about the message they send. If people legitimately feel that that it’s important to have a nice statue in their main square, perhaps the one built by their grandfather, I can see why they might be upset by it’s removal.

As a thought experiment to separate these individuals from the rest, why don’t we put up plaques prominently next to each statue saying, e.g., “Jefferson Davis: slave owner, traitor, and failed​ leader of a country founded for racist reasons and on racist principles”, and see who is still upset.

144. Candide III Says:

Scott #136:

I can’t remember the last time I saw someone actually wear a Che t-shirt, but maybe I just don’t hang out with the right (wrong) people.

Maybe, but they’re not a proscribed item by any means. If I came to your campus in a Che t-shirt nobody would bat an eye.

But I’m averse to blaming people for others’ misapplications of their theories

In that case you oughtn’t have mentioned Nazism in #121. As for my opinion of Hegel, I follow Schopenhauer’s, so, not a fan.

because of the later Nazi perversion of Darwinian ideas

There you go about Nazis again. There are more things in heaven and earth than Nazis. Check out what e.g. Margaret Stanger had thought on the matter. What you call “perversion of Darwin’s ideas” was extremely popular and fashionable in the whole civilized world, including Japan, from the turn of the XX century to around the beginning of WWII — the modern usage of “fit” is a leftover from those times.

Regarding the US’s wars being fought for “tikkun olam,” the issue isn’t just getting carried away but factual inaccuracy.

Exactly why I said that I got carried away. This isn’t a scholarly discussion. But do you really think the progressive enterprise would be better off without a club to wield, or threaten to, on the recalcitrants?

145. Kavi Gupta Says:

#142 I don’t think that this thread is the right place to litigate the issue of abortion, which to many people, including me, is a complex issue. However, the short (and necessarily oversimplified) progressive case: (1) fetuses aren’t considered full people for the purposes of all constitutional rights, (2) the principle of bodily autonomy applies: if someone else’s life depended on being physically connected to you, you would have the right to disconnect yourself from them; this same principle is applied even after death to allow individuals not to be organ donors. Some more extreme than myself would say that anti-abortion activists thus treat pregnant individuals as having fewer rights than the dead (I think the situation is more complicated for a variety of reasons).

Frankly, I don’t know what the statist response would be. Most liberals I know are civil libertarians. To speculate, statists don’t necessarily believe in bodily autonomy, so I suppose they might be more anti-abortion.

Also, you are right on the mark with correlation-doesnt-imply-causation and the Republican South. If you look at *any* data regarding race and party membership or racist attitudes by county vs Trump vote, you will see that your impression of the Democratic Party as racist is frankly absurd.

Finally, I don’t think that Scott probably mentioned Clinton just to trigger you, given your handle :-). Substitute “City liberals” or “Minorities” into that sentence for more or less the same message.

146. Scott Says:

TrumpSupporter #142: I answered your absurd claim about progressives opposing Confederate statues merely as a way to “overcompensate” for the past racism of the Democratic party. Then, rather than addressing my argument, you changed the subject to unrelated things that you don’t like about Hillary Clinton, as well as the completely unrelated topic of late-term abortions. I don’t know why you’re so unrelentingly focused on that: the law already allows late-term abortions only in situations of extreme medical need, and in any case, you’ve made it clear that you oppose all abortions, not just late-term ones. But more importantly, this tendency to lash out and change the subject when cornered in argument—reminiscent of Sean Spicer and the other Trump collaborationists—shows extreme argumentative bad faith, and makes debating you no longer of enough interest to be worth the time (if it ever was). So thanks for having participated here, and as Trump said to Comey, I wish you well in your future endeavors.

147. D Says:

Great article. I’m a fellow new Southerner, and I really hope that my town (liberal Decatur, GA!) takes down or modifies its obelisk honoring the Confederacy.

The one sentence I disagreed with:
“And today, incredibly, fascism and white nationalism are greater threats here in the US than they are in Germany.”
I get where you’re coming from with this, but I think that things are even worse in Germany. None of the groups in the US that are as extreme as AfD have anywhere near as much of a following.

148. John Sidles Says:

Candide III broadens his horizons (circa #144) “There you go about Nazis again. There are more things in heaven and earth than Nazis.”

Matt Russel and Nick Gibb’s web-comic Dead Philosophers in Heaven provides a gently hilarious, SJ-positive, follow-on to Candide III’s worldview in their most recent strip “The Rand Scheme of Things.”

Ayn Rand “Today’s heartless political go-getter does not aspire to be an Übermensch. He has no interest in ascetic overcoming, or transcending his baser nature — such things are to him the weak and tedious ideas of a beta cuck. … He knows that it is inevitable that the gears of capitalism will be lubricated with the blood of lesser people, and that isn’t racist, because nothing is.

Shades of “the peaceful pursuits of a planter” named Jefferson Davis (assisted by his 113 unworthy-of-mention slaves).

149. Michael Says:

By the way, contrary to #139, the Civil Rights Act vote of 1964 was divided along North-South lines, not Democratic-Republican lines:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_Rights_Act_of_1964#Passage_in_the_Senate

150. Jim Cross Says:

Off topic, Scott, but I noticed some comments from you over in Quanta about causal emergence at macroscopic scales.

https://www.quantamagazine.org/a-theory-of-reality-as-more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts-20170601/

Any chance you might post something on that?

I would rather not get into the Tononi consciousness thing again which I think you already pretty went over but there does to me some things on this topic that don’t require dragging in the consciousness discussion again.

151. Anon. Says:

>There’s no longer anyone actively seeking the greater glory of the Roman Empire. If there were, then monuments celebrating the Romans’ crushing and enslaving their various subject peoples might be as offensive to the subject peoples as monuments celebrating Confederate slavers are to the slaves’ descendants today. But since there aren’t, it’s as if those monuments are already sitting in museums, even when they happen to be outside in broad daylight.

What about causes that do have active defenders? One can easily imagine an anti-Zionist Palestinian identifying with the people the Jews conquered in ancient times. Let’s focus on one personage to keep things clear, Moses. If we believe the OT, he ordered the mass murder of children (Numbers 31), took slaves from conquered populations, etc.

Should we tear down Michelangelo’s Moses?

152. John Sidles Says:

Compatible ideas to Hoen’s are found in (Physics Nobelist) Robert Laughlin’s article — alas, unreferenced by Hoen — Physics, Emergence, and the Connectome (Neuron, 2014).

Without reference to high-level philosophical abstractions — which (to me) can be even more off-putting than high-level mathematical abstractions — the way these ideas work in tensor network coding-practice is broadly as follows.

Suppose that we are designing a device, with a view to demonstrating some emergent phenomenon. Concrete examples might be the go-playing capacity of AlphaGo, or scalably-dimensioned permanent-governed BOSONSAMPLING statistics, or scalably-dimensioned error-corrected qubit dynamics.

Nowadays we invariably begin by coding-up a simulation (indeed in AI the simulation is the experiment). As we are coding, all of our cognitive attention, and all of the training that we use to tune the code, is focussed upon, and described in terms of, emergent macroscale phenomena. The microscopic dynamical details (how many neurons? how many levels? what tensor rank? what tensor order?) are treated as allocatable computational resources.

With a confidence born of recent (gratifyingly astonishing) experiences in both AI and quantum simulation, we can be reasonably assured that far fewer microscopic resources will be required, than previous generations of STEAM-workers have assumed.

Yet disappointments attend this emergence-centric worldview. AlphaGo magister “plays go like God”, but cannot explain its moves in any terms that allow humans to “play go like God”.

Similarly, quantum simulations of large-scale hot and/or noisy systems (like biological molecules) work amazingly well in predicting (for example) thermodynamic properties, yet are not so effective in helping humans to appreciate how complex systems work. Moreover, whenever we attempt to simulate (or operate) devices that demonstrate quantum Supremacy, we invariably find (to date at least) that including realistic levels of QED noise in our simulation, reduces the required allocations of microscale quantum dynamical resources (tensor rank in particular), to a degree that precludes “God-like” demonstrations of Quantum Supremacy.

In a nutshell, there are pretty good pragmatic reasons to pretend that Hoen/Laughlin worldviews are, for STEAM purposes, effectively correct. And yet at the same time, we have every reason to continue the search for feasible experiments — none being known so far — that demonstrate the “God-like” property of scalable Quantum Supremacy, even in the hot, noisy, wet, QED-dominated universe that we humans have been born into.

Needless to say, along the way to better understanding of these emergent phenomena, we’ll all of us be learning a lot more (e.g.) algebraic geometry and KAM theory. Ouch. And at the end of the day, our own cognition isn’t likely to be appreciably more “God-like”, and neither is the cognition of our AlphaGO-class AIs. Dang.

Ouch … dang. Perhaps the alt.Right isn’t the only social cohort that is pretty well-justified in feeling hard-pressed by emergent STEAM-y worldviews?

———

@article{cite-key, Author = {Robert B. Laughlin}, Title = {Physics, Emergence, and the Connectome}, Journal = {Neuron}, Number = {6}, Pages = {1253 - 1255}, Volume = {83}, Year = {2014}}

153. John Sidles Says:

Correction  An in-queue comment (circa #150) refers to neuroscientist (Erik P.) Hoel as “Hoen”. The Enlightenment regrets the error.

PS  Today’s Google Doodle (for June 2, 2017) marvelously celebrates Gilbert Baker’s 66th Birthday. As the originator of the LGBTQA+ Rainbow Flag, and as a native son of Chanute, Kansas, Shtetl Optimized readers can appreciate that statues of Gilbert Baker, suitably adorned by Rainbox Flags, would make a FABULOUS 🙂 replacement for statues of Jefferson Davis!

154. Scott Says:

Anon. #151: I’m rapidly losing interest in this topic, but it’s an amusing exercise to list the differences between your Moses example and the Confederate statues we’ve been discussing.

1. I never suggested that Confederate statues be destroyed, only that they be moved from places like city squares to museums or private property.

2. Michelangelo’s Moses is in a church in Rome, which having toured Rome, I think more-or-less counts as being in a museum.

3. The consensus of modern archaeologists is that the Exodus from Egypt never happened, or certainly on nothing like the scale described in the Bible. Instead, the Jews were mostly natives of Canaan, who ironically appear to have invented stories about conquering the land and murdering and enslaving people because at that time, that was the way to glorify yourself.

4. Still, if we do want to apply the standards I advocated in this post to the Biblical story, taken at face value, one can easily find positive achievements of Moses (freeing his people from slavery; giving them what in the context of the story is the divine law) to balance against the bad.

5. Dude, Michelangelo. Some allowances need to be made if the artist is famous enough to be a Ninja Turtle.

6. In the US, such a statue couldn’t be displayed on public property in the first place, because of separation of church and state. In Israel, or in Muslim countries for that matter, it would be unlikely to be displayed because of the prohibition on graven images (which, you might recall, was Moses’ commandment #2).

Did I miss anything?

155. dorothy Says:

Scott #154

“[…] it would be unlikely to be displayed because of the prohibition on graven images (which, you might recall, was Moses’ commandment #2).”

Moses would be grateful for the promotion!

156. Sniffnoy Says:

So, uh, hey, unrelatedly, anyone know what’s happened to the blog’s background…?

157. hlynkacg Says:

I know I’m late to the party here and I’m not sure if it’s been brought up in the intervening 150 comments but I feel like your ignoring a critical issue.

Louisiana was/is conquered territory. There are World War II memorials all across Germany, Japan, or Russia glorifying people who fought for genocidal regimes that make the CSA look positively fluffy by comparison. Any argument for tearing down confederate memorials in Louisiana applies 10 fold to those and vice a versa.

As UltimateShipThe2nd pointed out in the SSC discussion. The Nazis were only in power for twelve years, All but youngest adults and children could remember a time before Nazis yet removing their influence took years of work. The antebellum south other hand was an organically developed culture and economic system which had existed for close to two centuries.

Now it could be argued that Lincoln and Grant made the wrong choice in welcoming the southern states back into the union. That every man who’d pledged allegiance to the Confederacy ought to have been executed for treason,thier families stripped of thier property and shipped west, because that’s what it would have taken to “de-southerner” the south.
If aren’t willing to endorse that position, perhaps you should consider the possibility that letting southerners have thier heroes was/is a small price to pay for national unity.

158. Scott Says:

Sniffnoy #156: I changed the background to mourn the thug’s pulling the US out of the Paris agreement—and my own failure, and the failure of the rest of the sane world, to figure out how to stop this from happening. I’ll change it back to gray if and when I see any reason to feel optimistic about the future of the human race.

159. Sniffnoy Says:

hlynkacg: Scott’s original post didn’t distinguish between purely military leaders (such as Lee) as opposed to government leaders, but other commenters have; I notice your comment doesn’t distinguish either, and I’m wondering how that distinction would affect it.

160. hlynkacg Says:

Sniffnoy: It’s hard to say, in part because the distinction between them is not particularly clear. Where does Beauregard the general end and Beauregard the statesman begin? Hell the fact that they targeted Beauregard’s statue in particular, one of the few Confederates to openly support giving freed slave the right to vote, shows us just how screwed up this whole controversy is.

161. Michael Says:

@hlynkacg#157- but the point is that it WASN’T just the statues. The convict labor system- used to keep freed blacks “in their place”- cost tens of thousands of lives, for example. And the Lost Cause mythology was used to justify that.

162. Douglas Knight Says:

dorothy #116,
people argue virtues at trials all the time. Mother Teresa urged the court to show clemency on Charles Keating because he gave her his stolen money.

Scott 154,
not to imply that it is a big part of your argument, but (6) DC has a couple of statues of Moses, in the Capitol and the Supreme Court.

And (3) what is the significance of historical truth? Don’t you concede in your original post that these questions are all ultimately purely symbolic? So what does Moses symbolize? History is important because you don’t trust people in their claim about what the Confederate flag symbolizes, or even if you do, you might fear that history will affect its future meaning. But that same line of reasoning says that the true meaning of Moses is Exodus, not the empty set.

163. Jewbroni Says:

not to imply that it is a big part of your argument, but (6) DC has a couple of statues of Moses, in the Capitol and the Supreme Court.

In the Library of Congress too.

164. Keith McClary Says:

Other countries have statues and memorials to their racist, terrorist founders.

165. Jr Says:

The Supreme Court has a statue of Muhammad as well, as part of a collection of statues of great lawgivers.

I think it is rather dubious whether Muhammad should be honored as a great lawgiver, but perhaps he was a step forward at the time. I do think it is amusing that the statues are of lawmakers, not law-interpreters, you might think something about the conception of the Supreme Court’s role.

166. Scott Says:

OK, thanks; I stand corrected on that point. (I seem to remember that there were court cases that said statues of religious figures on public property are OK as long as the display is “primarily secular” in purpose–e.g. celebrating legendary lawgivers throughout history—rather than contributing to the establishment of a particular religion?)

167. JimV Says:

Thanks for another interesting post on a messy subject.

All I can say is that sometimes decent people get sentimental attachments to bad things – but of course bad people do so even more so.

When I got a job as an engineering contractor in Mount Vernon, Ohio in 2004, I was surprised to find a large statue of a Confederate soldier in the middle of the town square. You could see it from a mile away along a street that ran straight east-and west to the square.

The inscription read: “In memory of the honorable citizens of Knox County who lost their lives in the Great Rebellion, 1861-1865.”

It was a bit of a shock to see the Civil War called “The Great Rebellion” on a public monument. I can imagine kids fantasizing over a “Great Rebellion”, fought by their heroic ancestors. I would like an addendum, “They died in defense of slavery” to balance that out. But the town’s people seemed decent.

168. NopeNopeNope Says:

According to the L.A. Times link the decision was made by a task force appointed by the University president
Was the idea of putting the matter to a vote of all stakeholders (in this case staff and students) even considered or is it deemed be too naive these days ?
Had a decision to remove the Davis statue been made with the backing of a popular vote it would have had much more effect on the underlying issue, it would also send the message that vandalism doesn’t remove statues but votes do which as it stands was definitely not the message that went out.
And if a vote did take place and it turned out that there is majority support (among the staff & students of a major uni. !) for keeping the Davis/Lee statues then you’re not dealing with the real issue here by removing them by decree but instead just end up suppressing common knowledge of wide support, did this *ever* work longterm for changing established public sentiments as opposed to, hindering growth of nascent ones ?

Also please consider having the blog issue looked into, beyond the immediate problem of disclosure of pseudonymous commenters emails is most likely a symptom of a bigger issue that could indicate a security breach of the WordPress installation and the server/network on which it is running.
Also also, HTTPS.

169. John Sidles Says:

JimV says: “When I got a job as an engineering contractor in Mount Vernon, Ohio in 2004, I was surprised to find a large statue of a Confederate soldier in the middle of the town square.”

That is surprising, since Ohio was a free state— it’s where Huck and Jim were headed on their raft — that fought hard on the side of the Union.

The history of the Mount Vernon (OH) Soldiers’ Monument (as it is properly named) is as follows:

In 1863, a group of young women from Mount Vernon created the Young Ladies’ Union League. This organization wanted to erect a monument to memorialize the soldiers and sailors of Knox County, and instigated several fundraising ventures for this purpose.

The Soldiers’ Monument, under the efforts of what became the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Monument Association, was erected and officially dedicated on July 4, 1877, to honor the men of Knox County who fought for the Union in the Civil War, in remembrance of those who perished, and in celebration for those who survived.

Interestingly (to me anyway), the Soldiers’ Monument was erected largely with the organizational and financial support of Ohio’s (anti-slavery) Freemasons.

Hmmmm … so what’s the alt.Right dogma with respect to the free-thinking science-respecting, slavery-opposing FreeMasons? Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the alt.Right just plain despises the ((Freemason community)), for being covertly allied with the Jews in a multi-century-old cabal of Enlightened seekers after tikkun olam. Who knew? 🙂

—-
In a related vein:

Scott says  “I changed the background to mourn the thug’s pulling the US out of the Paris agreement—and my own failure, and the failure of the rest of the sane world, to figure out how to stop this from happening. I’ll change it back to gray if and when I see any reason to feel optimistic about the future of the human race.”

Motivated by similar values and feelings, and appreciating the value even of small, symbolic advances in human civility, I have pledged to neither spend nor accept US $20 bills — bills that bear a portrait of the slaveholder Andrew Jackson — until such time as the US$20 bill bears a more worthy portrait. We can hope for a replacement along the lines of like this Enlightenment-celebrating \$20 bill (which I designed, for fun, entirely to my own tikkun olam-esque taste). It’s more cheerful than a black blog-background, at any rate.

May America’s day of tikkun olam-inspiring pecuniary Enlightenment arrive soon! 🙂

170. Raoul Ohio Says:

An ironic aspect of the Civil War involves how southern states voted to succeed, often on a county by county basis. Those
in favor of succession were mostly large slave owners, which might have been 1% or less of the population of the South. Slaves were counted as 60% of a vote, and the owner did the voting. Most of the poor white people living in the South, often in the highlands, voted against succession. This is how West Virginia left Virginia. Also Kentucky worked out a deal to stay in the Union, and the owners got to keep the few slaves there until the end of the war. There was a recent movie about some counties in Mississippi who tried to stay in the Union. But in most of the southern states, the very small minority of slave owners carried the day.

The rich slave owners themselves did not fight in the war, it was the poor highlanders, who largely had voted against succession. Furthermore, everywhere in the world, people living in the mountains make better soldiers than flatlanders do, and at this point in time, highlander hunted a lot, and were good shots. This helped the Confederate cause a lot, as did the incompetent officers the Union featured.

So now, 150 years later, the yahoos driving around with Confederate flags on their pickup trucks are probably descended from people who opposed the Confederacy.

The end of the Civil War came about because the best and most Union soldiers were coming from Ohio and Illinois, so eventually they got some generals, particularly Grant, who did not try to outsmart Robert E. Lee, and instead took advantage of numerical superiority.

171. Jewbroni Says:

In light of this issue, I wonder if many of those calling for removal of these monuments to deplorable Southern figures would feel as strongly about a community that honors and celebrates people who unabashedly killed innocent people, non-combatants, many of them children? Would they feel similarly that those who defend such monuments are motivated by, and complicit, in the hatred and bigotry, and should therefore be condemned for their actions? And unlike the complicated Confederate figures, what about if this act of murder was the one and only thing the person was known for? What about if the act of murder happened, not over a century ago, but in recent decades, with the wounds still fresh? Would those champions of social justice still be clamoring for those people to abandon their offensive worldview?

Like for instance, these people, or these people, or this leader?

(Note: Scott is not the intended target of this comment.)

172. Douglas Knight Says:

Raoul 170, do you have a source for that? Numbers? I’m pretty sure you’re at least mangling a lot of the details. I’m not sure, but I think only South Carolina had the 3/5ths rule. I’m 95% sure that slave owners did not vote for their slaves. So slave plantation counties got extra votes, but slave owners were a minority of whites even in those counties. However, an important consideration was the lack of a secret ballot.

173. Scott Says:

Jewbroni #171:

(Note: Scott is not the intended target of this comment.)

It’s worth having consistent principles about everything your entire life just for the occasional parenthetical comment like that one.

174. Michael Says:

Raoul, the 3-fifths compromise only applied to apportioning Representatives in the House, presidential electors and taxes, not voting within a state:
http://constitution.laws.com/three-fifths-compromise
According to Wikipedia, the secession ordinance in Virginia passed by a vote of 132, 201 to 37, 501.
According to this website, one third of Texans supported secession, one third was neutral and one third opposed it:
http://www.txcwcivilian.org/id32.html
Finally, slaveholders and their children were overrepresented in the Confederate army:
https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/08/small-truth-papering-over-a-big-lie/61136/

175. John Sidles Says:

At the meta-level:

Case A  Students of climatology, who cherry-pick the weakest climate-science, end up knowing no climatology.

Case B  Students of mathematics, who cherry-pick the weakest mathematics textbooks, end up understanding no mathematics.

Case C  Students of literature, who cherry-pick the weakest works of literature, end up appreciating nothing of literature.

Case D  To the degree that students of psychiatric neuroscience focus chiefly upon the literature of psychotherapy, these students end up knowing relatively little of psychopharmacy (and vice versa).

Many more such STEAM-y, ideology-induced, cognitive impairment syndromes could be cited (obviously).

— — — —

Exercise A  Why is the civic embrace of broad-spectrum contextualization necessary — both morally and pragmatically — to the peace-seeking objectives of Enlightened progressivism (see e.g., comment circa #101)?

Exercise B  What are some of the chief social costs and induced cognitive impairments, that are associated to ideology-driven cherry-picked surveys of history and economics (see e.g., comment circa #171)?

176. hlynkacg Says:

@ Michael

How is that relevant?

177. Peter Donis Says:

Scott, before condemning Robert E. Lee, I strongly suggest that you read “Lee at Appomatox”, by Charles Francis Adams, Jr. It can be found on Google Books. It makes a strong case that it is to Robert E. Lee that we owe the fact that there was not (as many predicted there would be) widespread guerrilla warfare in the South after the Civil War ended. Lee basically told his soldiers that they had done their best, but their side had lost fair and square, and now it was their job to go home, lay down their arms, and be good citizens. I don’t know of any other case in history of a losing general doing that.

(Btw, in the same book where I found this essay, there is another one by Adams entitled “Shall Cromwell have a Statue?” that explicitly makes the case for having a statue to Lee in Washington, DC. Bear in mind, also, that Adams himself was a Union general in the Civil War, and his father was the US Ambassador to Britain during the War, so he knew firsthand what he was talking about.)

178. dorothy Says:

“people argue virtues at trials all the time. Mother Teresa urged the court to show clemency on Charles Keating because he gave her his stolen money.”

This is true. However, in real contemporary trials, character witness statements make only a limited difference to serious crimes. For example, if someone is convicted of a sadistic murder, the fact that they also set up a wonderful hospice service will not save them from prison even if it might reduce slightly the total amount of time they spend locked up. And think about the balance here. It is certainly never the case that we would build a monument celebrating such a sadistic murderer no matter how wonderful the other parts of their life had been.

For better or worse, living people are judged by the worst act they have performed, not by the mean of all their actions.

However, give it a few hundred years and suddenly the balances swing. Sure they killed and raped a few people but look at the *good* they did in the gaps in between!

179. Aviti Says:

I completely agree to Scott’s arguments to erecting monuments to people like Noether, Asimov, Knuth, Feynman, Sagan, … Saying this while not American may sound strange. But since the world over we copy what Americans do I believe it can trickle down to the third world countries to erect monuments to their BEST daughters/sons and inspire the younger generation to know and respect the might of the brain. This instead of erecting monuments to dictators and tyrants.

180. John Sidles Says:

In support of Scott (in his OP) and also Aviti (comment circa #179), here is the introduction to the Intrepid Mathematician weblog essay “Emmy Noether’s statue?

Non-existence theorem

There is no statue of Emmy Noether. Yes, she’s had a Google doodle. Yes, there is a bust of her in the Hall of Fame in Munich. But no statue.

The following is a statue-ready quotation from Hermann Weyl’s “Funeral oration by for Emma Noether” (which is available on-line in a translation by Peter Roquette).

Your heart knew no malice; you did not believe in evil, indeed it never occurred to you that it could play a role in the affairs of man. …

When you were not allowed to use the [Heidelberg] institute’s lecture halls you gathered your students in your own home.

Even those in their brown shirts were welcome [here Weyl refers to the Sturmabteilung (SA) uniform that was worn by Noether’s student Ernst Witt]; never for a second did you doubt their integrity.

Without regard for your own fate, openhearted and without fear, always conciliatory, you went your own way.

Many of us believed that an enmity had been unleashed in which there could be no pardon; but you remained untouched by it all.

Here we have an instance of the Enlightened maxim “Better to erect a single monument to Emmy Noether, than to curse the alt.Darkness”. 🙂

181. TheDividualist Says:

Dear Scott

I never really thought about this in these terms, but I think I will accept the definition that I am a “worshipper of blood and land and race and hierarchy”. Not American and caring little about the Civil War, but you too know that this was an episode in a longer, global struggle. (I think ours was WWi. Not WWII. WWI.)

Because you see blood, land, race and hierarchy sound a lot like a description of how humans, human animals, the homo sapiens species functions. Precisely because before the Enlightenment i.e. before intellectuals trying to take over the world everything generally worked like that, that is ample evidence that our instincts are best adapted to living like that, and that is where we feel right at home at.

The Enlightenment, then, is in a sense transhuman, post-human. All head and no body, the intellectual is himself a transhuman, posthuman figure. While a normal human uses intelligence to figure out what to fight, fuck, feed and flee from, the intellectual questions the body’s urges to live a life defined by these.

It is the old mind-body dualism, gnostic to boot, that is so intertwined with Protestant Christianity and prophetic – not rabbinic – Judaism.

I am an animal and nothing more than a smart animal. Hence the enemy of the Enlightenment, and an enemy of the intellectual who wants the brain to override the desires of the flesh.

I can tell you why. It is all due to my desire to feel right at _home_, to live a life in a niche I was naturally molded to fill. But what is your explanation? Why do you see the human animal and its desires as something to overcome?

182. John Sidles Says:

It is instructive to translate “TheDividualist’s” alt.Right-positive worldview (of comment circa #181) into a Tinder profile:

AlltRighty seeks soulmate   “I am an animal, and nothing more than a smart animal … so let’s get together to f*ck, feed, or flee!”

(note: these are “TheDividualist’s” own phrases).

Something tells me that “flee” is the overwhelming consensus choice among modern-day Enlightened young women … with the result that cultural and even genetic selection against alt.Right cognition is becoming ever-stronger … which in turn explains why the alt.Right ever-more-vociferously opposes Enlightened female access to education and the vote.

It’s incredibly obvious, isn’t it Mandrake? 🙂

183. Harv Says:

Hey, what about the huge statue of Judah Benjamin??? Tear that down as well? Or let it stand as a monument to “cultural heritage”????

184. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

Harv #183,

Which statute of Judah Benjamin are we talking about? Is this a specific one on public land? If so, by all means, let’s remove it. I don’t think Scott would argue otherwise. What precisely do you think Scott would find any different about him?

185. Scott Says:

Harv #183: To be perfectly honest, I had to look up who Judah Benjamin was. Yes, if there’s a statue of him on public property, then obviously the comments I made about the other Confederate ringleaders apply mutatis mutandis.

186. PG Says:

Very interesting conversation that I discovered again because of current events.
I assume the advocates of the removal of statues, will agree to the further take down the statues depicting the ones that fought in the American Indian Wars or every statue that has to do with the Indian Genocide in America

187. Sept Says:

John Sidles #183, this is my absolute favorite of your long catalog of works here in the comments section of SO.