In response to my article, “The Division That Unites Us,” one reader, Old Friend, offered a rather long and well-written, opposing response, for which I’m deeply appreciative. After all, we need “iron sharpening iron” type challenges, and the concomitant liberty to make those challenges. When we begin to censure opposing points of view, or shut our minds off from critique and differing perspectives, we then truly do sacrifice our freedom. Of course, Old Friend’s response calls for more than an acknowledgment and kindly “thank you;” however, the ensuing dialogue seemed to me too long for the “response” section of this blog … and too important, considering the issue. Therefore, I’ve moved it all into this blog, beginning with Old Friend’s remarks:
You state a case that is not new, but it is well written and clear, old friend. However, I think that folks may be missing the point. This is not at all about what it appears to be about – legitimate grief and grievance. Satan had control of that young man in Charleston, no doubt, but I wager he is also in control of many of those who are battling to have that symbol removed.
Personally, I have ancestors who fought, and I honor their efforts. They were courageous. And I don’t look at it through the lens of racism and hatred, I admit. After all, Mr. Lincoln himself did not want to end slavery for he felt that those blacks were not ready. And of course the last minute compromise he tried to make that would ensure that slavery remained an institution in the country attests to that as well. But that is really not the point. But you make whatever attributions you wish – it is your privilege. I think that had I or you been around at that time and lived in the South, there is a very, very good chance that we would have ended up fighting for the South (unless of course we lived in Crossville!).
One thing is clear – this is an issue for the state of South Carolina. The issue will be resolved by South Carolinians. I am very much in favor of states resolving their own issues without outside interference. And it is interesting to me to hear the clamor of voices from all over calling for this flag to be removed. Your reasoning and your wonderful, heart-wrenching poetic tribute, for example, are valid and moving, but, ultimately, it is for the people of South Carolina. When Mitt Romney out nowhere (or somewhere in Utah) calls for the removal of the flag, I have to wonder what his motivation is, as do I wonder about Gov. Jindall and others. Even SC Gov. Haley’s actions are somewhat odd in that it is the prerogative of the General Assembly. She is prohibited from running again, and, as an immigrant herself, has no real appreciation of the history. Of course, in India, there is caste system into which people are born and from which they are unable to free themselves, so she may have that appreciation. But, when you look deeper, the motivations are mixed and really politics and the votes for 2016 seem to be reasons (and) close cousins to the outrage and empathy elicited over the shootings.
On the other side, the Al Sharptons and others are motivated in similar ways. That same flag in SC was at issue back in the year 2000, and at that time Thomas Sowell, the renowned economist of African heritage, gave his view on the matter, and 15 years later it still has a ring of truth. To me, that flag is simply a flag, and one which very easily could be taken down and removed from the public square never to offend again. But if it is removed in what to some is a knee-jerk reactionary fashion to a real tragedy, what will be next? Will the expediency of votes be the impetus for seeking the removal of certain passages from the Bible that are offensive to some people? We can’t say for sure, I know. But, I wonder. Though I may yet end up seeking forgiveness for an arrogant or unsympathetic view, I leave you a link to one perspective – Thomas Sowell (http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/sowell012000.asp) from the year 2000. Please let me know if link doesn’t work and I’ll send you the article directly.
Thank you, Old Friend, for your well-written and poignantly challenging remarks; they are much appreciated (and I do actually pray for more of this sort of sapientes dialogi.) Specifically, let me thank you first for your reference to Dr. Thomas Sowell, someone whom I read and followed for many years. Less than half-way through his commentary, I remembered reading it some 15 years ago when, as you’ve reminded us, the same controversy raged. In addition to this upstanding and erudite, African-American scholar, I believe I remember Dr. Walter Williams also making commentary on the issue, although I cannot find such at the present time. (Another editorial by Dr. Williams that at least “brushes” the subject and might be of some interest is that of the alleged “black Confederate.”)
(One quick note on Dr. Walter Williams, who is lesser known than Sowell: He has earned M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in economics from UCLA; also holds a Doctor of Humane Letters from Virginia Union University and Grove City College, Doctor of Laws from Washington and Jefferson College and Doctor Honoris Causa en Ciencias Sociales from Universidad Francisco Marroquin, in Guatemala, where he is also Professor Honorario. Dr. Williams has served on the faculty of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics, since 1980; from 1995 to 2001, he served as department chairman. He has also served on the faculties of Los Angeles City College, California State University Los Angeles, and Temple University in Philadelphia, and Grove City College, Grove City, Pa.)
Now, on to Dr. Sowell’s editorial: Here in an “article” of mere responses, it doesn’t seem suitable to offer more than some summary remarks; perhaps an entire essay critiquing his perspective on the issue would be more appropriate? Notwithstanding, I’d like to lift a couple of paragraphs of his that, as I believe, exemplify his overall perspective and approach:
Personally, as a black man, I am not thrilled at the sight of a Confederate flag. On the other hand, I am not thrilled at the sight of professional wrestling or Alan Alda, but I don’t demand that they be banned.
Any association of human beings – from a marriage to a nation – involves putting up with things we would rather not be bothered with. Only children insist that everything must be done their way.
Here I believe Sowell both makes a hasty generalization and, perhaps, at least insinuates that the opponents of flying the Confederate battle flag are committing either the fallacy of division or composition (or both.) Yet he himself may very well be committing the fallacy of false equivalence; after all, Alan Alda and professional wrestling are not at all of the same species as the Confederate battle flag. In short, scholarly and adept as he is, I believe Dr. Sowell’s case falls short. (Perhaps more on this later, especially if there is some interest.)
On a more personal note, I’d like to respond to your statement that you had ancestors who fought for the Confederacy (though I note you don’t mention the Confederacy specifically), and that you honor their efforts. Doubtless, “they were courageous,” and likely more so than I am; after all, fighting an undeniably horrendous, bloody war in close quarters requires some real brass and backbone, to be sure. So far as honoring their memory, however, you will observe that I specifically made exception for museums, memorial parks and such, i.e. those places most appropriately set aside specifically for the preservation of history and heritage. However, the flying of the battle flag atop a state capitol or any government building is a widely different matter altogether. Of course, you know that government buildings – federal, state and local – hypothetically, at least, are for and the property of all of the people of whatever community – again, the nation or state or municipality.
As for the idea that South Carolina ought to be left alone to determine its own answer to the issue of the Confederate battle flag and the display of such: If concerned Americans are not allowed to weigh in on an issue that was, has been, and is demonstrably national in scope, then we really have no “United” States at all, do we? And here is precisely one of the important bones of contention historically: The Southern states of the mid-19th century – and doubtless many Southerners today – would, I do truly believe, have much preferred existing under the Articles of Confederation. Certainly, they assumed an extremely strong states’ rights position that they believed was fully, constitutionally based. One of the problems then was that there existed such an enormous portion of the Southern population – the poor whites along with the enslaved blacks – who were effectively unrepresented. There really is no historically denying the rule of the Southern aristocracy … even long after the Civil War, well into the 1960s. (Even after this decade, the old aristocracy retained a great deal of power and influence.) So the issue is, yes, most specifically South Carolinian, yet it is also most certainly a regional – the old Confederacy – issue, and to some reasonable extent even a national issue by virtue of the fact that all this is rooted in the Civil War, that is, when this nation was torn in two… The Confederate flags represent all of this as well.
Finally, you ask, “if it is removed in what to some is a knee-jerk reactionary fashion to a real tragedy, what will be next?” In response to those “some” who believe this is a “knee-jerk” reaction, I would simply point them back to the beginning of your own response. This is not new. This has been protested and debated before. This has been written about, spoken about, and agonized over well before the year 2015. No, this is not a “knee-jerk” reaction; it is merely an old and very painful, unhealed wound reopened again by this very sickening tragedy. Now, of course, you present another valid concern here, but I believe you’re falling into the slippery slope argument. Is there really any realistic fear that “the expediency of votes (will) be the impetus for seeking the removal of certain passages from the Bible that are offensive to some people?” Perhaps. Of course, I’m fully aware that there have been protests against not only the public display of, say, Nativity scenes in public places but even in privately-owned front yards.
Should one have the right to, for example, fly the Star of David as a symbolæ forté of their support of Israel? Or should one have the right to erect a moderately-sized statue of the Buddha amidst their flower garden? Or, again, should one have the right to hang the flag of the United Nations from their front porch, thus displaying their ideological perspective of the unity of humanity? Many examples come to mind of which not one is truly egregious. Yes, there will, it seems, always be some extreme minority that is supposedly “offended” by one symbol or another, but one would hope that as an heterogeneous, still mostly-democratic society we will be able to judge between what is truly, gravely offensive, belligerent and needlessly provocative and that which merely represents some political position, religious belief, ideology or whatnot with which a few disagree and are made to feel uncomfortable. Here I agree with Dr. Sowell: “Any association of human beings … involves putting up with things we would rather not be bothered with. Only children insist that everything must be done their way.” We just need to make certain it’s only “putting up with” that which merely “bothers” us, which is not the case regarding the Confederate battle flag.