All posts by spdonlan

LOOK AWAY: MOTHERS, MONUMENTS, AND MYTHS

The march of Providence is so slow and our desires so impatient; the work of progress so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.
– Robert E Lee

(Originally published on The Moderate Voice)

Much of the work of writer and philosopher Albert Camus (1913-1960) explored the complexity of moral judgement and action in the face of human suffering. This reflected his wartime experience in the French Resistance, as well as his upbringing. Born in French Algeria, the global South, his parents descended from colonists. They were poor, but, as European stock, remained a caste separate and above native North Africans. Camus understood compound, competing loyalties from the inside.

Shortly after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, Camus was asked about the struggle against French rule in Algeria. He is frequently, if apocryphally, cited as answering that ‘[b]etween justice and my mother, I choose my mother.‘ His actual response was more subtle. He condemned the terror of anti-colonialism, not the equity of the Arab cause. He feared, not without reason, that independence would erase his people from North Africa.

Camus’ comments, and his writing, came to mind as the Confederate monuments in my native New Orleans came down. Like the racism they celebrated, intentionally and incidentally, the monuments should be things of the past. They should be in our museums, not our main streets. But the words attributed to Camus are wise. They suggest the deep, felt priority of familial affection, and indeed national or communal allegiances, over abstract principles. The failure to attend to such nuances of identity and morality is a central cause of our current political impasse.

Each of us must balance our pasts and presents in contexts not entirely of our choosing. Born in the Crescent City and raised in rural Louisiana, I confess that I had a small Confederate flag on my wall as a teenager. I placed it next to my picture of Martin Luther King. To my immature mind, this was an attempt to marry my peoples and principles. I knew even then that even a symbol like the Stars-and-Bars is ‘a complex tangle of ideas‘ that may have anodyne associations for specific individuals. The (aging) fans of The Dukes of Hazzard needn’t be devotees of David Duke.

But such private subjective views, however sincerely felt, are insufficient to alter the meaning of Confederate symbols for too many of our fellow citizens. The presence of the monuments in the public spaces of New Orleans is an obvious, standing insult to black Americans. To them, such images are more likely to represent the worst acts of injustice and degradation: kidnapping, forced transportation, and the ongoing violence – battery, murder, and rape – of race-based, perpetual chattel slavery. The fact that many of the memorials were explicitly erected to defend Jim Crow makes them still more odious. It was, to mangle Faulkner, a past ‘never dead. It [was] not even past.’

Slavery is our nation’s original sin, and is visited on us all. It was the root and trunk of our uncivil war. If other American groups and individuals have also suffered, the African-American experience was of an entirely different order of repression and pain. Only bigots or fools could deny this. Sadly, we have too many of both.

The greater number of these simply shut their ears to present prejudice. A smaller number who’ve actively protested the removal of the monuments haven’t hidden their hate. Or their weapons. And this week saw Mississippi State Representative Karl Oliver suggest that those removing the monuments should ‘be LYNCHED!’ Representative Oliver is, of course, an honorable and a Godly man. And a Republican.

But in addition to the deplorable and the deluded, there are many other plain folk entangled in their cultural attachments, affections nearly as natural as family. Democrats and Republicans, they might acknowledge the equity of the removal of Confederate monuments and flags if it didn’t mean, at the same time, ratifying a portrait of their predecessors as entirely depraved. And they may be right to rebel. Despite the simple stories we tell ourselves – in our popular films, political platitudes, and judicial decisions – composite causes and mixed motives are the historical norm.

Beyond the opinion pages, too many progressives too rarely engage with the cultural and moral middle. Anyone who hesitates to condemn the monuments, and the flag, is labelled an apostate, a slack-jawed yokel who confirms the Left’s moral superiority. Many of these liberal foot soldiers, not least across social media, engage in little more than name-calling. Southerners were ‘losers’ and ‘traitors’ (though rebellion is only treason when it fails). And Confederate monuments are so many ‘participation trophies’.

Such arrogance is inappropriate. American history is no simple morality play of good versus evil. It’s nonsense to suggest that, to a man, Northerners fought as abolitionists to ‘forge a more perfect union’ while every rebel rallied to slavery, rather than to his homeland and his neighbors. To project into only one side what Lincoln called ‘the better angels of our nature’, is a sort of collective hagiography, not history. It substitutes one morally-abridged myth with another.

Condescension is also obviously unwise. It does progressivism little good to confirm the long-standing stereotype of liberal ideologues more concerned about the abstract than the actual. It was, in part, such cultural dismissal and tone-deafness that ensured a victory for the champion of white identity last year. And this either/or ethics even cheapens the sin of slavery, the horror of which is magnified, not minimalised, because ordinary men and women were its agents.

In The Plague (1947), Camus created a fictional epidemic in the real city of Oran in French Algeria. The work, written only two years after the Second World War, is widely understood to have been a metaphor for the Nazi occupation of France. But it also reflected Camus’ central theme: the Sisyphean human quest for meaning and belonging. In the midst of the plague, the two main characters had the following exchange:

‘I feel more fellowship with the defeated than with saints. Heroism and sanctity don’t really appeal to me, I imagine. What interests me is – being a man.’

‘Yes, we’re both after the same thing, but I’m less ambitious.’

Rieux supposed Tarrou was jesting and turned to him with a smile. But, faintly lit by the dim radiance falling from the sky, the face he saw was sad and earnest.

It is our lot, not least those in and of the South, to deal with men rather than saints. We needn’t coddle or capitulate to the Olivers of the world, but we can’t erect a wall between Left and Right. We can’t afford to treat those who aren’t already true believers as so many lost souls or lost causes. We must instead proselytize among them so that we might all be saved.

We must, to coin a phrase, ‘hate the sin, but love the sinner.’

Keep on Trumpin’

Donald Trump recently acknowledged that he was responsible for the phrase ‘priming the pump’. While it’s not always acknowledged, the President has enriched the English language in ways so profound it’s almost impossible to fully gauge his impact. He’s given us uniquely vivid ways in which to express hope and despair, sorrow and rage, love and lust. And even if you think he’s a short-finger vulgarian, you’re likely to have quoted him unwittingly. It’s almost impossible to avoid. Here are a few examples:

  1. Show me the money!

  2. I am Who am.

  3. When you’re in a Slump, you’re not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.

  4. The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.

  5. Keep calm and carry on.

  6. Neither a borrower nor a lender be.

  7. Hang in there, baby.

  8. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

  9. All we have to fear is fear itself.

  10. Here’s looking at you, kid.

  11. Greed is good.

  12. Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.

  13. Only you can prevent forest fires.

  14. And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

  15. Keep on truckin’.KeepOnTrumpin

  16. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

  17. There’s a sucker born every minute.

  18. And they lived happily ever after.

  19. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

  20. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

  21. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done.

  22. Say hello to my little friend.

  23. I got my mind on my money and my money on my mind.

  24. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

  25. I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another… then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

Who Will Replace Comey?

With James Comey ousted as FBI director, President Donald Trump will have an opportunity to select a replacement for a new 10-year term.

The FBI in the interim will be led by Mr Comey’s top deputy, Andrew McCabe. But Mr Trump is likely to reach outside the bureau to find someone to run the storied law enforcement agency.

“The FBI is one of our nation’s most cherished and respected institutions, but today will mark a new beginning,” Mr Trump said in a statement issued by the White House.

Here are some possible candidates:

Joe Arpaio

The former elected Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona (1993-2016), Arpaio styled himself as ‘America’s Toughest Sheriff’. He was especially well-known for his support of Arizona’s SB1070 anti-illegal immigrant law, largely struck down by the US Supreme Court. Arpaio was also a notorious birther and investigated President Obama’s birth certificate, claiming it was a forgery. In addition, Arpaio has been accused of various types of misconduct, including abuse of power, misuse of funds, failure to investigate sex crimes, improper clearance of cases, unlawful enforcement of immigration laws, and election law violations. The Department of Justice concluded that Arpaio oversaw the worst pattern of racial profiling in US history, and subsequently filed suit against him for unlawful discriminatory police conduct. He would seem an ideal candidate.

Chris Christie 

Though his relationship with Trump has been topsy-turvy, the Governor of New Jersey has known the President for years and could bring law enforcement bona fides to the job. Christie is a former Republican-appointed US Attorney in New Jersey, and he cited that background time and again during his failed 2016 presidential campaign. His legacy as Governor took a hit, however, with a Bridgegate scandal that was investigated by the FBI, prosecuted by the Justice Department, and brought down some of his allies. But the President would find the Governor’s complete lack of personal integrity, as demonstrated in last year’s political campaign, a plus.

David Clarke 

A wild-card, but the outspoken and polarising Wisconsin Sheriff has been a fierce supporter of Trump and even landed a speaking spot at last summer’s Republican National Convention. A conservative firebrand known for his cowboy hat, Clarke has called himself “one of those bare-knuckles fighters” and has been critical of what he called the “hateful ideology” of the Black Lives Matters movement. But he’d be a long shot given that a county jury recently recommended criminal charges against seven Milwaukee County jail staffers in the dehydration death of an inmate who went without water for seven days. In addition, it seems highly unlikely that either the President or the Attorney General would actually want to work with a black man.

Deputy Dawg

Another outsider, Deputy Leonard ‘Lap” Dawg has served in a variety of law enforcement positions across the Southern United States, including the states of Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee. In those posts, he accumulated extensive experience protecting his produce from Muskie and Vince, battling peculiar locals, and trying to please the Sheriff. But Dawg’s often overly-friendly relationship with criminal elements should also come in handy in his exchanges with White House personnel. On a personal level, he and the President are already known to golf together frequently and to engage in Dawg’s favorite pastime, fishin’ for catfish.

Rudy Giuliani

The former New York Mayor is a close campaign ally of Mr Trump. While this would appear to put him among the President’s top choices, his clear partisanship would make it difficult for him to be confirmed by the Senate. Democrats were certainly not impressed by his anti-Clinton comments before the election. He noted, for example, that “When I see her, I see her in an orange jumpsuit, I’m sorry. Or at least a striped one.” One former FBI official doubted Giuliani would get the nod. “The White House has to avoid all the politicos if they are going to get a nominee through the Senate. Plus,” the official said, “he’s mad as a hatter.”

Trey Gowdy 

The South Carolina Republican led the partisan House committee investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s actions surrounding the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya. Gowdy is also a former federal prosecutor who boasts of his work on drug trafficking, bank robberies and child pornography cases. He was among partisan lawmakers critical of Comey’s decision not to prosecute Clinton in the email server investigation. Gowdy said after Comey’s firing that though he had partisan differences with the former FBI director on some matters, he “never lost sight of the fact that he had a very difficult job.” “I remain grateful, too,” Gowdy added, “that he cost Clinton the election.”

J Edgar Hoover

As longtime Director of the FBI (1924-1972), Hoover’s credentials are obvious. Indeed, he may be an ideal fit. In his first forty-eight years as Director, Hoover did much to combine modern police techniques with political propaganda and paranoia, not least the harassment of political dissenters and activists. While he has expressed no opinion on Trump and Comey before now, they are widely believed to have similar views on a number of issues. Like the President, he has shown little concern about violating civil liberties for the sake of national security rooted in alternative facts. And while Hoover may formally be prohibited from being chosen by the rule limiting the directorship to a single ten-year term and by his death, such facts have not previously stopped the President from acting.

Andrew Jackson

Jackson is a well-known soldier, lawyer, and statesman. He is also exceptionally qualified. He served as an Army General, Congressman, Senator, and Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court before his election to the presidency. As a Democrat, indeed the founder of the Party, Jackson might even get some support from across the political aisle. The current President has long viewed Jackson as a real problem solver. But while Jackson has a common touch, his support of slavery and his role in the forced removal of native Americans are widely viewed as deplorable. In 1830, for example, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, relocating most members of tribes in the South to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). The relocation process dispossessed the Indians and resulted in widespread death and sickness.

Ted Nugent

A musician and political activist, Nugent has served as a special deputy sheriff in Michigan since 1982 and a reserve deputy constable in Texas. Like the President, his mindless support for the National Rifle Association and gun rights, including open and concealed carry laws, would seem to conflict with such a role in law enforcement. But his anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic, and racist views would also win him much support in the current administration. In addition, Nugent called former President Obama “a Chicago communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel,” as well as “a piece of shit [who should] suck on my machine gun.” Nugent received a visit from the Secret Service for these remarks, but dined at the White House just last month with Kid Rock and Sarah Palin.

(The original story appeared here.)

Laws and Norms in the Colonial South Pacific (Final Call for Participants)

FINAL CALL FOR PARTICIPANTS:
Laws and Norms in the Colonial South Pacific

I’m submitting a funding proposal to bring together scholars (historians, anthropologists, jurists, post-colonialists, etc, etc) from across the Pacific to

-consider the historiographical challenges of research on normativity (both expressive and justice-oriented custom, Christianitiy, etc) and legality in the Pacific (ie, how do we best capture norms and laws from our past, given the biases of the written record and unreliability of oral history)
-generate, in the short term, publishable case studies (either applying different historiographical approaches or engaging in research on the meeting or mixing of various laws and orders)
-establish, over the longer term, a network for future research

The event is likely to be held in Fiji early in 2018. It would be a combination of a training workshop (on state-of-the-art historiography) and conference (sharing of case studies).

The proposal will be sent on Monday morning, 24 April. If you’re interested, let me know here or at sean.donlan@usp.ac.fj