Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Chasing the toy rabbit

Sadly, but not surprisingly, I see massive moral confusion on the Confederate flag issue, including evangelical "leaders."

i) To begin with, politicians cynically exploit issues like the Confederate flat as a diversionary tactic to deflect attention away from real problems and real solutions–not to mention insoluble problems. It covers up real issues which politicians either won't solve or can't solve. 

It's striking how easily many voters allow themselves to be manipulated by decoys. A politician puts his fingers between his teeth and whistles. Having gotten their attention, he points them in a particular direction, and off they go, in lockstep, chasing the toy rabbit around the track. 

Suppose the Confederate flag is "taken down." Then people who supported that initiative will go home with a sense of accomplishment. But what did they really accomplish? Nothing. It changes absolutely nothing of consequence. 

ii) There's the fundamental distinction between what a person should do and what they should be permitted to do. A distinction between morality and legality. Between what you ought to do and what gov't ought to allow you to do. That's the difference between a free society and a police state. Between the Bill of Rights and a totalitarian regime. We need to resist the heckler's veto. 

iii) One of the complications is that some cemeteries, memorials, and historic sites are technically gov't property. Maintained by Federal, state, or municipal authorities. 

Unlike the cross, I don't think the Confederate flag, in itself, is with fighting for. And there are many contexts in which the Confederate flag isn't worth fighting for. However, the Constitutional right of private citizens to display the flag is worth fighting for. 

In addition, there are historic sites where the Confederate flag fits in (e.g. Magnolia cemetery in Chas, SC). 

iv) Although the Confederate flag is morally different from gay wedding cakes, it raises the same civil liberty issues. Freedom of dissent. 

v) Cemeteries are morally indiscriminating about who gets buried there. In the average cemetery, you will find the graves of very good people, very bad people, and morally middling people all mixed together. 

Should we pave over cemeteries which contain Confederate graves? If so, why stop there? 

What about monuments and historical sites honoring or commemorating Founding Fathers like Washington and Jefferson. They were slaveholders. Should we demolish Mount Vernon, Monticello, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument, the University of Virginia? 

Ted Kennedy is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He's as morally odious as any Confederate. Harry Blackmun is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He's as morally odious as any Confederate. 

vi) Not only do Klansmen fly the Confederate flag, they also indulge in cross-burning. Should the cross be classified as symbolic hate-speech? Remember, speech includes nonverbal communication. Crusaders who sacked Constantinople marched under the cross. 

Should we ban the cross from Arlington National Cemetery because some people find that symbol offensive?

What about the Star of David? If Muslims find that offensive, should we remove it from Jewish graves at Arlington National Cemetery? 

vii) A symbol is intended to send a message. But the viewer controls how he will respond to the message. A viewer can disregard the message. A viewer can ridicule the message. A symbol has no inherent power. It is only powerful to the degree that we empower it, to the degree that we allow it to wield power over us. 

It's like what Paul said about meat sacrificed to idols. There's a circular dynamic in which something that's essentially unimportant acquires importance if we act as thought it's important. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent recent posts (esp. the one above re: Moore). I've said some similar things in a recent post:

    Ultimately, I take the symbolic power of the flag a tad more seriously than you do, and that's because I care about America's self-presentation moving forward. I make a distinction between backward-looking objects, e.g. monuments, memorials, and museums, and identity-heralding objects such as flags that, when flown on state grounds, are instances of forward-looking announcements. The issue isn't that important in any event, IMO.