Doctor Science Knows

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Another old blogcomment record: The Rebel Flag

David Neiwert of Orcinus had a post in February 2008 on Those Confederate Values and the use of the Confederate flag as a symbol. He wrote:
Why would the Confederate flag be an issue in northwestern Washington? Because it is a symbol of white supremacism for people well outside the South as well. This is why phony arguments about its meaning are only cover for the stark reality that anyone -- particularly anyone of color -- who is confronted by the flag knows all too well: The Confederate flag is meant to intimidate -- to trumpet the values of white supremacy. The "heritage" which it harkens back to is mostly rife with the charred corpses of lynched innocents.

My comments:

I must respectfully disagree. My knowledge is second-hand, based on the experiences of my husband.

He grew up in Atlanta -- so he saw plenty of Confederate Pride first-hand -- but he is also Jewish and grew up very well aware of its dark side.

It's his opinion that the Confederate-flag-on-the-pickup-truck guys do not necessarily choose that emblem as a symbol of white supremacy, but because they think of themselves as "Rebels". It's not about *State's* rights, either, it's about their personal rights not to do what other people say. That's one reason the flag goes along with the gun rack on their iconic pickup -- both are there to demonstrate individualistic cantankerousness.

So when you say the flag can *only* symbolize racism, I don't think that's true.

My husband also believes haystack is incorrect, it's not about "a deep-rooted respect for my elders" -- because the self-styled Rebels don't have much use for judges, teachers, or anyone else who tells them what to do. And they're just as willing to defy their state government as they are to defy the Feds -- it's just that defying the Feds is easier. It's a poor, petty, basically cowardly symbol of rebellion -- but that *is* an important part of what the Confederate flag symbolizes, and why those guys get so mad when people say it's all about race.

But what are they rebelling against? Let's be honest here, they are rebelling against those so called P.C. special rights that blacks have.

My native informant is of the opinion that many of them are rebelling against *everything* -- it's a generalized, free-floating rebellion, for a generalized, free-floating resentment.

Yes, the racism is there, and the sexism, and the anti-Semitism. But that's not what they're *thinking* of -- they're thinking of the Dukes of Hazzard, just good ol' boys fightin' the System, as they see it.

Now the fact that their actions & rhetoric end up supporting the System is thorougly ironic -- but they're not really ironic guys and they're piss-poor at perceiving social structures. So telling them that the flag on their pickup or on the roof of the General Lee can only be an endorsement of slavery will make them mad, and they'll also think you're stupid for not understanding them.

They think they're just Rebels. It's more of an emotional stance than a political attitude: Don't Tread on Me is another popular symbol used in pretty much the same way.

Not Celtic, exactly, as we will learn if Mrs Robinson has time to get around to the next parts of Albion's Seed.

Briefly, people from the Scots & Irish border areas of the UK came to the US backcountry. For centuries they had lived in a region swept back and forth by wars over which they had little control, and the result was a culture xenophobic, resentful, organized around family bonds and feuds, and libertarian. Borderers cling to custom and the idea of the past, but don't treat elderly people particularly well. They're culturally conservative but resent authority, especially when it gets all up in their faces.

As for the “rebellion” pose, why do these supreme individuals use the Confederate battle flag instead of the Jolly Roger?

Well, some *do* use the Jolly Roger, and others use the "Don't Tread on Me" flag.

As several people in this discussion have suggested, outside the area of the old Confederacy the Confederate flag is more likely to be a purely racist emblem. Inside, it's all mixed up with "Rebellion Without a Clue" (*well* put, Mitch) and local pride.

It sounds like Doctor Science is saying that the “rebels’” adoption is as ignorant of the meaning behind the symbol as that of other “rebels” who buy scrawled circle-A gear at Hot Topic.

Pretty much. There's a stronger element of pride in one's own ignorance, of willfully ignoring what might make you feel bad about yourself or your ancestors.

The thing is, I predict that in November there are going to be a surprising number of guys who will drive to their polling place in a truck with a Confederate flag decal -- and vote for Obama. And they will do this with no particular sense of dissonance, even if it makes *my* head explode thinking about it.

Obama appeals to these guys, because he makes them feel good about being American -- he makes them feel hopeful, he makes them feel like they can walk away from the past. That feeling is more important to them than the color of his skin.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Torture, various

So I've been spending *way* more time than is comfortable reading about the unfolding torture memos saga. At Obsidian Wings, hilzoy posted about the "Perfect Storm" of policy-making ignorance. In the ensuing discussion, I wrote:

I agree with Nell that Shane & Mazzetti's "ignorance" explanation makes no sense.
they make it a technical, bureaucratic, institutional kind of failure rather than what it clearly is: a complete failure of moral judgement and courage on the part of powerful people
-- but I don't think the institutional/bureaucratic failure and the moral failure should be contrasting explanations. When Gary says:
most personnel working constantly with classified material tend to disregard material in the public domain
-- that's IMHO an extremely believable and important point. The allure of having the Special Classified (hermetic, esoteric) Knowledge makes people lose track of the fact that it isn't as good -- it's not been gone over by as many minds, it hasn't been looked at from as many sides. It will tend to be tactical and technical rather than strategic, or strategic rather than meta-strategic -- which is usually the level where moral thinking comes in.

Meanwhile, over at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, E.D.Klein was writing about how long it might take the tide to turn for current torture apologists. My comment (re: discussion):

I’d also like to know where this “recruiting tool” meme comes from.
From logic. … Do you not think the countrymen of the men we’ve wrongly tortured (and sometimes killed) would not have similar anger against the country that did that to them?
I would take it even further than that. Torture is *evil*, it is what the Bad Guys do. When we do it — when we excuse it, when we *endorse* it — we become Darth Vader, the obvious embodiment of Evil. We make people opposed to us look like the Good Guys. Of course it’s a wonderful recruiting tool — lots of people (especially the young kind who make good soldiers) *want* to fight Darth Vader, they *want* to be a Good Guy and fight the Bad Guys.

How could you expect it to be otherwise? Unless, of course, you yourself would rather be on the winning side than on the side of undoubted moral Good.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Medical insurance

Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings posted on Why We Need Universal Health Insurance, pointing to Kate Michelman's account in The Nation of what her family has gone through. In the ensuing discussion, I wrote -- in response to one of the local libertarians:


What I honestly don't understand is why you're more frightened of the government than you are of the medical insurance industry. I wrangle with some government agency maybe once a year, twice if you count taxes automatically; I wrangle with a medical insurance company or their effects at least once every six to eight weeks.

I have not been personally *afraid* of what the gov't will do, even when we discovered we owed $2K for last year -- they can cope, they'll listen to reason. I have been *afraid* of insurance companies, I have had to experience direct physical pain because of their decisions -- like, for instance, not approving a medication I need before a weekend. Or the time when my coverage lapsed for a month, and I had to cut back on my meds to skirt the edge of illness. Or my husband being in constant knee pain but the company not having agreed to surgery for him, because it hasn't hurt *enough* yet.

You say the government works by coercion and the frequent threat of violence, but I honestly do not see that as realistic threat. The threat I feel from medical insurance companies is direct and personal, a matter of my daily health. What Kate Michelman is experiencing -- what Gary Farber here is, for another -- is closer to a literal life-and-death struggle.

Are you saying that this isn't familiar to you, either personally or in people close to you?

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Domestic violence

Over the past week or so there's been an interesting and emotional series of posts in the political blogosphere about domestic violence, which I guess kicked off with :Linda Hirshman talking about Morgan steiner's book Crazy Love.


Why do they stay? (April 10) Must-read.

Battered Women: The Sequel (april 13)

And another thing (April 15).

Ta-Nehesi Coates:

When You Love Someone Who Chokes You

Abuse and Responsibility (april 9). Must-read.

Battered Women and Responsibility, Pt. 2 (april 14)

Rambling, rambling, and more rambling (april 15)

On Last Note on Spousal Abuse (April 15)

I can't remember if I posted multiple times, but I've certainly read a lot -- these posts, and their *voluminous* comments. My comment on hilzoy's latest post, for the record:

It's not often that I disagree with Jes[urgislac] by being the *more* radical feminist one, but this time I do.

in any discussion of partner abuse, domestic violence, I agree it's probably better to attempt gender-neutral language - difficult though that is.

Abuse of women by male partners is objectively worse (=more likely to lead to murder, for instance) but also *different* from abuse of men. It is different because it has been -- historically, and in many cultures or subcultures still is -- endorsed. It is expected, it is normal, it is something (some proportion of) men feel entitled to do. They feel that way because other people back them up.

The problem of humans getting violent with their intimate partners is probably eternal. The super-problem here, the over-arching problem, is that one particular sort of violence is tolerated, endorsed, classified as "chastisement" or business as usual. IMHO treating female-on-male abuse as the equivalent of socially-endorsed male-on-female abuse is a way of directing attention away from the social factors, and in particular from the way that *we*, the rest of society, are complicit.

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