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Abraham Lincoln and the Confederate War of Independence

Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters.  ~African Proverb

Introduction

For years I’ve had an abiding interest in the underlying causes of that watershed event in U.S history, the American Civil War of 1861-1865 – also known as the War of the States or the War of the Rebellion. As a military study it is  no less fascinating: a grand sweeping saga of tragedy and triumph replete with the old world charms of another age. Yet it is the political intrigues, the motives and the unfolding clash of two New World cultural identities under one constitution that interest me most. In pursuit of a greater understanding of the events my habit is to search for truths often obfuscated by what the “Readers Digest” condensed version of official history invariably presents to the general public. Given this rule it would serve no purpose to be anything but totally objective if I am to arrive at honest conclusions. No expert or panel of scholars can ever provide a definitive analysis of such a complex event let alone a lay observer like  me. However an outsider’s impressions combined with an impartial approach to research may, hopefully, produce something a bit different; another way of looking at the subject. I have called this blog post, Abraham Lincoln and the “Confederate War of Independence” for a very specific reason that – if I haven’t bored you to death with Sainter speak – will soon become clear.   🙂

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Servitude

Slavery has long been considered the root cause of the American Civil War by mainstream historians and the popular press even when all other factors have been taken into account. In my opinion a closer examination from a different perspective suggests otherwise. Here it is not my intention to expound on the repugnance of slavery and its inherant racism – it is obvious to all of us in this day and age – but it does make sense to review past attitudes towards servitude as a whole, not only in the South but especially the North. To do this we need to explore a few harsh realities of 18th and 19th century America.

  Though the slave trade was officially abolished throughout the U.S in 1807, slaveholding still existed domestically here and there in some Northern states up until the 1840s, with New Jersey the last to effectively emancipate in 1865 when the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was passed that year. It should ne noted that both whites and free negroes used slave labour. Further to this the slave trade historically was not an all black and white affair. White indentured “servants” – slavery by another name – provided the main source of labour for the growing colonies, continuing well into the 19th century.

Redemptioners, also known as unfree labour, were forced to pay their passage to the U.S in wageless labour on arrival. These “White Cargo” servants were in the main  of  English, Scottish, Irish and German stock under the age of 21.  Redemptioners accounted for an estimated 80% of the total British and continental emigration to America prior to 1776. Abuse of the system caused many to die before either their 7 year contract was up or debt was paid. Some believe that at this time the term Redneck – akin to Redshanks or Redlegs in the Caribbean – came into usage to mock Irish indentured servants as “niggers turned inside out” because they’d been in the sun too long.

For the ordinary man in the street or on the farms, North or South, servitude was part of the fabric of their world. Secular and religious expediency saw to it that the future of the American colonies would be built on back breaking labour under brutal conditions, for black or white. In fact up until the 19th century, slavery (from the word Slav) was widely believed to be sanctioned by God in accordance with Old Testament scripture. The general attitude to negro slavery was thus, in truth, ambivalent, with the ordinary working class Protestant poor more concerned with large scale Catholic immigration or eking out their own meagre living. If a minority of Northern lower class whites backed black freedom it was generally out of self interest given that slave labour took jobs from free labourers and indentured servants. Slavery as a growing moral issue thus fell to a mixed minority of social reformers and upper class business elites  – the Abolitionists – with  backing from the Quakers and Baptists. The Abolitionist’s cause was noble but their motives were less so – only 30 years prior they had been exploiting the slave trade for profit. As Pennsylvanian historian and author, Douglas Harper, points out:

Early 19th century New Englanders had real motives for forgetting their slave history, or, if they recalled it at all, for characterizing it as a brief period of mild servitude. This was partly a Puritan effort to absolve New England’s ancestors of their guilt. The cleansing of history had a racist motive as well, denying blacks — slave or free — a legitimate place in New England history. But most importantly, the deliberate creation of a “mythology of a free New England” was a crucial event in the history of sectional conflict in America. The North, and New England in particular, sought to demonize the South through its institution of slavery; they did this in part by burying their own histories as slave-owners and slave-importers.

He goes on to say…..

Having solved its slavery problem by a very gradual emancipation, and by aggressively proscribing the rights of its free black minority, the North was content. Its ships continued to carry slaves to Southern ports, and slave-grown cotton to Europe. The North reaped the profits of the Southern plantations, and the federal government collected the tariffs. Any further effort made in the North toward resolving the slavery issue generally went into the pipe-dream of colonization and to making sure Southern blacks stayed there, or at least did not come north.

Historian Edgar J. McManus, author of A History of Negro Slavery in New York also wrote of motivating factors behind Abolitionism:

  “Upper-class whites were motivated by idealism, and their attitude toward the Negro was philanthropic and paternalistic. Members of the upper class supported Negro charities and schools much more generously than they supported organizations assisting poor whites.” This idealism, however, “had no counterpart in the lower classes, among whom could be found neither sympathy for the Negro nor understanding of his problems. From its inception, slavery had been detrimental to the working class. On the one hand, the slave system excluded whites from jobs pre-empted by slaves; on the other, it often degraded them socially to the level of the slaves with whom they had to work and compete in earning a livelihood.”

The salient point from those quotes is the clear divide in interests between the upper and lower classes. Abolitionism as proposed by a Northern patrician class was actually a vested interest not as altruistic as has been portrayed. Slavery as a factor in the conflict is not in doubt but it was far from being the sole motivator. As is nearly always the case in historic upheavals, trade and profit was also a major factor. In making this case the following extracts prove the folly of simplying the complex for the sake of a comfortable national mythology. 

  • From an article in the Washington Times by the African American economics professor, Walter Williams of George Mason University:  Most historical accounts portray Southern blacks as anxiously awaiting President Abraham Lincoln’s “liberty-dispensing troops” marching south in the War Between the States. But there’s more to the story. Black Confederate military units, both as freemen and slaves, fought federal troops. Louisiana free blacks gave their reason for fighting in a letter written to New Orleans’ Daily Delta: “The free colored population love their home, their property, their own slaves and recognize no other country than Louisiana, and are ready to shed their blood for her defense. They have no sympathy for Abolitionism; no love for the North, but they have plenty for Louisiana. They will fight for her in 1861 as they fought in 1814-15.” 
  • And this statement by Abraham Lincoln made in a speech in 1858 at Charleston Illinois while debating Senator Steven Douglas before a crowd of 15,000 people: “I am not now, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social or political equality of the white and black races. I am not now nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor of intermarriages with white people. There is a physical difference between the white and the black races which will forever forbid the two races living together on social or political equality. There must be a position of superior and inferior, and I am in favor of assigning the superior position to the white man.”

 Cometh the Taxman 

Even from the time of Independence the U.S economies of both the North and South were becoming increasingly polarised, the North tagging onto the Industrial revolution while the South remaining largely agricultural. In the years leading up to the Civil War the main source of income for the federal government were taxes in the form of import tariffs – income tax did not exist. Import tariffs as an economic tool could be used in a variety of ways to benefit various sectors depending on tariff levels and who assumed the burden as a percentage of federal internal revenue. They also became an effective form of protectionism against cheaper products from overseas – mainly from Great Britain.

In the tariff of 1816, tariff structure changed from revenue producing to protectionist to assist the industrialization of the North. It was aimed at the lucrative Southern market. By 1832, and to protect Northern manufacturers from cheaper products being purchased by the South from overseas, the U.S  federal government had introduced a series of tariffs on many imported goods needed by the Southern business sector, effectively forcing the South to pay much higher prices while at the same time penalizing British industry. By this time the Southern states – 25% of the population – accounted for 87% of federal tariff revenue. Inevitably the tariff “war” came to a head with the introduction of the infamous Morrill tariff of 1861. Columnist for the Times Examiner Mike Scruggs explains the effects on the economy of the South:

U. S. tariff revenues already fell disproportionately on the South, accounting for 87% of the total. While the tariff protected Northern industrial interests, it raised the cost of living and commerce in the South substantially. It also reduced the trade value of their agricultural exports to Europe. These combined to place a severe economic hardship on many Southern states. Even more galling was that 80% or more of these tax revenues were expended on Northern public works and industrial subsidies, thus further enriching the North at the expense of the South. 
In the 1860 election, Lincoln, a former Whig and great admirer of Henry Clay,  campaigned for the high protective tariff provisions of the Morrill Tariff, which had also been incorporated into the Republican Party Platform. Lincoln further endorsed the Morrill Tariff and its concepts in his first inaugural speech and signed the Act into law a few days after taking office in March of 1861. Southern leaders had seen it coming. Southern protests had been of no avail. Now the South was inflamed with righteous indignation, and Southern leaders began to call for Secession.

On the other side of the Atlantic, British trade with the South was being seriously affected. Charles Dickens, then the publisher of a news magazine called The All Year Round, published the following perspective, further validating the view that the War Between the States was in reality a tax burden and profit issue:

If it be not slavery, where lies the partition of the interests that has led at last to actual separation of the Southern from the Northern States? …Every year, for some years back, this or that Southern state had declared that it would submit to this extortion only while it had not the strength for resistance. With the election of Lincoln and an exclusive Northern party taking over the federal government, the time for withdrawal had arrived … The conflict is between semi-independent communities [in which] every feeling and interest [in the South] calls for political partition, and every pocket interest [in the North] calls for union … So the case stands, and under all the passion of the parties and the cries of battle lie the two chief moving causes of the struggle. Union means so many millions a year lost to the South; secession means the loss of the same millions to the North. The love of money is the root of this, as of many other evils… [T]he quarrel between the North and South is, as it stands, solely a fiscal quarrel.

The “fiscal quarrel” would therefore appear to be the primary cause of the Civil War – the case that has often been put forward by the Southern side of the debate – except for one snag: the fact that the South’s economy was inexorably tied to slave labour, and that the States and Confederacy constitutions all included amendments invariably specifying that “…citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired”. 

Effectively, slavery and tariffs are bound together. The Southern States seceded to protect their standards of living (justified) but based on the institution of slavery (not justified). Unfair tariffs as an issue proved to be the greater of the two but it is fundamentally inseparable from slavery as the one issue. However, in my conclusion I put forward that there was something even more profound and elemental to the lives and sensibilities of the men and women of the Confederacy that ultimately caused them to take up arms, and that profound feeling is still evident today in the resentment the South has towards the North and the Federal Government: the sovereign right to self determination.

Lincoln

Up to this point I’ve said little about Abraham Lincoln and nothing at all about the military conflict. The war itself is a vast subject on it’s own and I don’t propose to get into it here, but Lincoln should be explored given his pivotal role before and during the war, but  without going into too much detail as so much has already been written about him.

Abraham Lincoln has been described as everything from the Great Emanicipator and the saviour of the Union to a dictator and a monster. I don’t subscribe to such extreme views of the man either way. Lincoln was a politician first and foremost who typically mixed lies with the truth to achieve a political end –  there’s never been a politician born who wasn’t hypocritical at some time in his or her career.

Lincoln was a man of his time: patriarchal, parochial, pragmatic. Convinced of the white man’s supremacy. He had no love of people of colour, believing they were morally and intellectually inferior to the white race. Nevertheless this didn’t stop him from taking up the abolitionist cause  – a fair contradiction it would seem. These character traits say plenty about the man and will always be of historical interest, but they aren’t all that relevant when asking the fundamental question of the Civil War: was the war justified.

 I believe that Lincoln was right insofar as wanting to preserve the Union for unity’s sake and the dream of a prosperous future. I believe such a vision is vindicated by the greatness of the United States today. But I do not believe his prosecution of the war was justified. In fact it could have been avoided all together by either letting the Confederate States go or reaching a fair and equitable economic compromise. On the issue of slavery, Lincoln could have waited until the South abolished it of its own free will. Lincoln may have preserved the Union in a political and geographical sense but from my perspective he went about it the wrong way – parochially advantaging the North to satisfy powerful business interests and Republican Party economic ideals to the ultimate detriment of the South. Lincoln became a captive of ulterior motives that had nothing to do with the emancipation of slaves and everything to do with generating national wealth via the Industrial North.

I am of the view that political pressures from all sides affected his judgement, leading to a war that cost the lives of 620,000 soldiers and countless Southern civilians. Time was what Lincoln had on his side and he didn’t use it. A more equitable tariff arrangement was within his power but he didn’t explore it. Lincoln’s gravest mistake was not putting the whole of the country’s welfare first – rather, he saw the nation’s interests through the myopic prism of Northern industrialisation, believing it to be the appropriate avenue to future strength and prosperity. This by extension meant favouring Northern interests. Not a monster, nor an emancipator, but a fatally flawed politician who’s legacy in the pantheon of American presidents has been air brushed and manicured for the sake of establishing a mainstream, populist mythology. 

 There is another matter that must be taken into account: the United States Constitution – whether the U.S was (and still is) a consolidated and permanent federation or a league of sovereign states who’s own constitutions can legally nullify federal statutes. Did the South legally or illegally secede? Was it a revolution? I wonder, does it really matter? Should the complex world of constitutional legalities take precedence over the spirit of freedom that underpins the constitution?  What happens to the unalienable right to self determination as the core principle of liberty? Perhaps the greatest loser of the war was liberty itself.

Conclusion

 As I write this conclusion a rhetorical question keeps going through my mind: what is freedom. Is freedom the right to liberate a people by subjugating an entire population? Is freedom the right to enslave a people while bemoaning the loss of one’s own freedom? Is it right to disregard one freedom in the pursuit of another kind of freedom? It seems to me that liberty as envisioned by the American founding fathers is immutable; a right that is beyond negotiation or convenient interpretation. If freedom is a person’s birthright then surely it is the birthright of a people. Liberty is explicitly the unalienable right to self determination; to find one’s own way in the world in search of a more enlightened, just, equitable society – the very thing that the colonies fought for during the American Revolution.

  The self evident proof of Liberty should not be confused with causes and motives in the name of freedom. If Liberty is reduced to a political device then the case can be made that Adolph Hitler was justified in annexing Czechoslovakia because a small minority of Germans lived under Czech rule. We must not accept that liberty is good for one but not the other. Just as servitude in the North was wrong, and slavery in the South was wrong, so too was the obstruction of the South’s right to secede. Liberty must be perpetual, fixed, sancrosanct. As a duty we should resolve never to pevert it. If we allow the exploitation of Liberty to accomodate partisan, political ideology then we stand for nothing. And no one is free. No one is free because we remain chained to the same arrogance of “I know what is best for you” that is at the very root of all the mistakes that have gone before and are destined to be made forever.

 Elsewhere in my blog I have referred to the self righteous “moral superiority” of elite minority views that insist on what is best for us; those who believe that “my way is the right way”. No matter the assumed righteousness of the cause, even with the benefit of hindsight, we cannot allow one side to ride roughshod over the other side. Consensus comes not from the intransigence of two polarized opposites but from the middleground working outward in search of commonalities. Without the one taking the other by the hand then liberty loses and self righteousness wins. Consider that most quintessential of Southerners, Robert E. Lee. General Lee, who openly and publicly stated that he detested slavery as  a “moral evil”, nevertheless  fought with great distinction on the side of the South. Why? Because he refused to “raise a hand against my family” who’s sovereign right to self determination was being taken away.

Time is not of the essence when the lives of hundreds of thousands of people are at stake. By 1890, slavery and indentured unfree labour had been abolished throughout the Americas: Brazil, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, West Indies, Cuba…everywhere. It was done peacefully, and there was no segregation because of bitter resentment over a civil war. This would have been the fate of the South too. 

While researching I luckily stumbled across a site with the first pages of the reminiscences of a Confederate officer. Written in 1903 by Major-General John B. Gordon, it is refreshing for it’s measured fairness and lack of bitterness. Written in the beautiful language of the old South it conveys a highly pertinent message for the reader to reflect on. I will end this rather long blog essay with an extract. Thankyou for reading my post. – Wayne 

 The causes of the war will be found at the foundation of our political fabric, in our complex organism, in the fundamental law, in the Constitution itself, in the conflicting constructions which it invited, and in the institution of slavery which it recognized and was intended to protect. If asked what was the real issue involved in our unparalleled conflict, the average American citizen will reply, “The negro”; and it is fair to say that had there been no slavery there would have been no war. But there would have been no slavery if the South’s protests could have availed when it was first introduced; and now that it is gone, although its sudden and violent abolition entailed upon the South directly and incidentally a series of woes which no pen can describe, yet it is true that in no section would its reestablishment be more strongly and universally resisted. The South steadfastly maintains that responsibility for the presence of this political Pandora’s box in this Western world cannot be laid at her door….

 …slavery was far from being the sole cause of the prolonged conflict. Neither its destruction on the one hand, nor its defence on the other, was the energizing force that held the contending armies to four years of bloody work. I apprehend that if all living Union soldiers were summoned to the witness stand, every one of them would testify that it was the preservation of the American Union and not the destruction of Southern slavery that induced him to volunteer at the call of his country. As for the South, it is enough to say that perhaps eighty per cent. of her armies were neither slave-holders, nor had the remotest interest in the institution. No other proof, however, is needed than the undeniable fact that at any period of the war from its beginning to near its close the South could have saved slavery by simply laying down its arms and returning to the Union.

 During the entire life of the Republic the respective rights and powers of the States and general government had furnished a question for endless controversy. In process of time this controversy assumed a somewhat sectional phase. The dominating thought of the North and of the South may be summarized in a few sentences.

 The South maintained with the depth of religious conviction that the Union formed under the Constitution was a Union of consent and not of force; that the original States were not the creatures but the creators of the Union; that these States had gained their independence, their freedom, and their sovereignty from the mother country, and had not surrendered these on entering the Union; that by the express terms of the Constitution all rights and powers not delegated were reserved to the States; and the South challenged the North to find one trace of authority in that Constitution for invading and coercing a sovereign State.

 The North, on the other hand, maintained with the utmost confidence in the correctness of her position that the Union formed under the Constitution was intended to be perpetual; that sovereignty was a unit and could not be divided; that whether or not there was any express power granted in the Constitution for invading a State, the right of self-preservation was inherent in all governments; that the life of the Union was essential to the life of liberty; or, in the words of Webster, “liberty and union are one and inseparable.”

 To the charge of the North that secession was rebellion and treason, the South replied that the epithets of rebel and traitor did not deter her from the assertion of her independence, since these same epithets had been familiar to the ears of Washington and Hancock and Adams and Light Horse Harry Lee. In vindication of her right to secede, she appealed to the essential doctrine, “the right to govern rests on the consent of the governed,” and to the right of independent action as among those reserved by the States.

 There were those, a few years ago, who were especially devoted to the somewhat stereotyped phrase that in our Civil War one side (meaning the North) “was wholly and eternally right,” while the other side (meaning the South) “was wholly and eternally wrong.” I might cite those on the Southern side of the great controversy, equally sincere and fully as able, who would have been glad to persuade posterity that the North was “wholly and eternally wrong”; that her people waged war upon sister States who sought peacefully to set up a homogeneous government, and meditated no wrong or warfare upon the remaining sister States. These Southern leaders steadfastly maintained that the Southern people, in the exercise of the freedom and sovereign rights purchased by Revolutionary blood, were asserting a second independence according to the teachings and example of their fathers.

 But what good is to come to the country from partisan utterances on either side? My own well-considered and long-entertained opinion, my settled and profound conviction, the correctness of which the future will vindicate, is this: that the one thing which is “wholly and eternally wrong” is the effort of so-called statesmen to inject one-sided and jaundiced sentiments into the youth of the country in either section. Such sentiments are neither consistent with the truth of history, nor conducive to the future welfare and unity of the Republic. The assumption on either side of all the righteousness and all the truth would produce a belittling arrogance, and an offensive intolerance of the opposing section; or, if either section could be persuaded that it was “wholly and eternally wrong,” it would inevitably destroy the self-respect and manhood of its people.

 Truth, justice, and patriotism unite in proclaiming that both sides fought and suffered for liberty as bequeathed by the Fathers–the one for liberty in the union of the States, the other for liberty in the independence of the States.

 While the object of these papers is to record my personal reminiscences and to perpetuate incidents illustrative of the character of the American soldier, whether he fought on the one side or the other, I am also moved to write by what I conceive to be a still higher aim; and that is to point out, if I can, the common ground on which all may stand; where justification of one section does not require or imply condemnation of the other–the broad, high, sunlit middle ground where fact meets fact, argument confronts argument, and truth is balanced against truth.

  

14 Comments

July 6, 2011 · 11:10 pm

Offended!

Taking offence: the new universal right, delivered express by political correctness, now entrenched around the globe thanks to our delight in the sense of righteous indignation. Studiously offended by opinions, ideas, beliefs, behaviour, noise, names, jokes, books, shows, casts, podcasts, traffic, bikes in traffic…  Offended that you’re offended. Offended that you’re not offended. Taking offence has hit the big time.

But it does not walk the Earth alone.  Taking offence would not be complete without…. The Apology. “Sorry for that “meow”, sorry for sneaking a smoke during training, sorry for disagreeing, sorry for noticing your breasts, sorry for using the wrong word, sorry for not being sorry enough, sorry for being a happy housewife, sorry for owning a four wheel drive… Yes that joke had Jesus in it – sorry!  Sorry for the Holocaust, sorry for that tweet, sorry for hurting your friend’s friend’s friend’s feelings.  Hey don’t take away my sponsorship, I forgot my private life is everyone’s business – sorry!” The Apology is the big payoff for taking offence.

Notwithstanding the silliness of the offence-taking epidemic an important distinction should be made between genuine, intentional offensive behaviour – of which I do not make light of – and taking offence for use as a social or political weapon to shame people into silence.  To wit: a few years back I opened the door for a young lady with her hands full only to be rebuked in no uncertain terms: “I don’t need a man to open the door for me, thankyou” said she, munching on a green apple, a death stare delivered from over her granny glasses. I instantly realized that I’d disempowered the entire female population with one thoughtless gesture. Strangely enough, though, I didn’t feel sorry (Sorry!) just bemused by the pie-in-the-face rejection of what I believed was a courtesy.

Offence in that context is essentially a selfish act of censorship on the one hand and an attempt to enforce conformity on the other.  By censorship I mean the oppression of social values and behaviour deemed no longer acceptable by a “morally superior” politically correct minority. In the same context, apologizing for a trivial or unitintentional slight is to submit to compulsory blanc mange niceness or gender neutral uniformity – the dream of that same self elected elite committee of social engineers whose job it is to terra-form society in their own image. It’s clear that my finger is pointing at the political left – the wing I  lean to, though from the centre  – however taking offence to shut people up and/or conform is now right across the spectrum whether conservatives realize it or not. For example: “Are you disrespecting my religion?”

With the bewildering array of multimedia information now at our fingertips, more and more we seem to be locking ourselves into attitudes of sealed certainty to balance our   uncertain world. We’re scratching our name on the bark; wrapping our beliefs in cotton wool; putting a fence around our territory. Sensitivity manifesting as offence which in turn forms a barrier. Perhaps this mindset has developed in some people a sense of moral superiority.., that “my way is the right way”, taking offence being the tool used to browbeat people into obedience. It’s a form of emotional blackmail to quash dissent.  It is no surprise therefore that society’s intelligentsia, with their oft inflated sense of moral superiority, believe that they alone know what is best for the less educated, ignorant masses. In a twist of irony these same people who prosthelytize the virtue of tolerance and openness are the most sensitive to criticism. Education is a wonderful opportunity to open eyes, and something the world needs more of, but it is not a licence to pontificate from on high. 

It’s interesting to note the subjective nature of taking offence.  Such reactions are often caused by ideas, opinons and beliefs which themselves are often subjective. Let’s consider their nature for a moment.  Ideas etc are personal  dispositions held, but not strictly owned. Too often they end up as factual in the minds of people – our personal dogmas. In actuality they are conjecture, derived from our contemporaries or have been passed on by those who went before us. They are inherited, jointly developed, reshaped, shared and passed on again. Always, fundamentally, they are temporary states of mind that can change year by year or at any moment. Thus all of our ideas and opinions are part of a greater continuum; a great river of thought that everyone drinks from. It would be to everyone’s advantage to lower the barriers of offence-taking and engage more with those who are drinking from the same river.

When beliefs and attitudes are viewed in this light it makes little sense to take or give offence as a weapon of persusion. Rather than the righteous segregating along lines of moral superiority it should be acknowledged that those on the other side of their divide have as much of a handle on wisdom as they do. It is a wise person who can engage in free and open discussion without pride or prejudice. When it comes to ideas – no matter who you are – you are not right and they are not right, but if you put your heads together you might just be right. What is right for society comes from consensus and consensus can never be reached in an atmosphere of perpetual offence-taking.  With less offence-taking there would undoubtedly be a higher degree of constructive discussion, cooperation and progress. And all done with less pain.

Of course there are things to be offended by.  If we want to be offended, be offended by the body bags coming back from useless, unwinnable wars. Be offended by the same old populist spin that those bits and pieces of flesh that used to be somebody’s loved one “sacrificed” their lives for democracy. No they didn’t “sacrifice” their lives – nobody joins the military because they want to get killed for democracy – their lives were taken because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Be offended in Australia by the way a tiny percentage of refugees who make it to our shores on rickety boats, many of which sink without trace, are treated like criminals and locked up in detention centres for years. Be offended by the political opportunism that preys on an ignorance of the facts.  Be offended that in the U.S, 42% of the entire wealth of the country is controlled by 1% of the population who pay as little as 18% in tax. Be offended by the greedy drug companies and multi nationals. Be offended that 1.7 billion people in the world today live in absolute poverty, unable to afford even the most basic of human needs including fresh water, health care and education. These are the things to be affronted by. Why be offended because it’s raining or because that statue’s gonads are on show?

And the next time a guy opens the door for you, give him a smile and say thankyou. It helps the world go ’round.

🙂

6 Comments

June 26, 2011 · 11:55 pm

Gays Blamed For Church Pedophilia

No doubt you’ll all have read or heard about the Pope’s 2IC, the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and his claim that homosexuality is to blame for the ongoing pedophilia epidemic infesting the Roman Catholic Church. Despite the total lack of scientific evidence backing up his claim, Bertone took it upon himself to explain to the ignorant masses how misguided we are to think that clergy-life abstinence from sex could possibly have any influence on sexual deviants masquerading as priests carrying out their sickening perversions on innocent children in their care.

Of course the claim would be laughable if it wasn’t so cowardly not to mention politically devious. His use of the word “pathology” in describing homosexuality is telling – The World Health Organization calls homosexuality a variation of human behavior; it is pedophilia that is a pathology AND a crime. No, the real purpose of blaming gays is to divert attention away from the controversy of doctrinal celibacy in the Catholic Church. In other words, homosexuals have become scape goats- something well known to the world of religion.

Celibacy does not cause pedophilia – the pathology of pedophile priests is almost definitely  ingrained in the psyche before they join the church – but it does exacerbate and it can pervert. Weak willed, immoral men are that much more tempted to do evil when cloistered in such an unnatural environment and under such extreme, church imposed conditions.

The Church cannot afford to be seen maintaining an unworkable, embedded doctrine as this would force a massive upheaval within and without that would shake the church to it’s foundations – celibacy being at it’s core. Better to blame someone else and who better than “faggots” and “dykes”.. a pet target steeped in church orthodoxy for thousands of years.

I’m probably telling you something you already know..so why am I blogging it?  For me this latest episode in the sordid history of organised religion is another prime example of what happens when mankind aspires to absolute knowledge, absolute certainty; wraps itself in dogma that has no basis in evidence, and because of it, finds itself trapped and inflexible. The Church cannot reform  it’s basic tenets otherwise it would no longer be the church, so the church cannot hold itself accountable for the failures of it’s own system. In effect it is cocooned by it’s own dogma and as a result it’s crimes have to be covered up.

This is not a questioning of God or God’s will or whether there is a God ( which I do not believe in), it’s a questioning of the wisdom of placing trust in an organisation that takes for itself the mantle of the mouthpiece of God despite the obvious hypocricy of it all.  In so doing it betrays the trust of it’s faithful as it has done for time immemorial.

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April 15, 2010 · 2:46 am

Atheism, Human Nature, and The Death of Freud

SINCE THE ENLIGHTENMENT the towering works of three men in particular have stood as portals to the mindscape that is current scientific understanding: I speak of Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, and Albert Einstein.  Two of them were avowed Atheists, and Einstein was at best a Deist who scorned organised religion. An interesting symmetry of completeness is apparent when you compare their disciplines:  Darwin dealt with the outer world, Freud the inner world, and Einstein beyond the world.

Of the three men only Freud independently created a distinct branch of science in Psychoanalysis, and only Freud attempted a universal explanation – Weltanschauung in German – of the nature of man.  Because of this, and for other reasons that I hope to make clear shortly, I contend that he was the greater scientist of the three.  For me, Freud’s contributions to psychology and behaviouralism are of such scope that they form nothing less than a blueprint of hope for the future of mankind.  – A big statement? Isn’t he that dirty old man with the genitals fixation? Dismissing women as victims of penis envy and always chomping on a cigar that comedian George Carlin once laughed at as being a “big brown dick?”

When I was about 16 yo I attempted to read Freud’s seminal book ” The Interpretation of Dreams” from cover to cover. I very quickly realized – from the first page of the preface actually – that I wasn’t reading “The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe.”  It’s complexity was astounding.  From then on I was determined to come to grips with Freudian thinking.  At that age you tend to think you know all the answers but of course you’re only at the starting line of personal knowledge; old ideas fall by the wayside as you take new ones on board, usually reflecting the zeitgeist of the day.  However, one idea I had back then I still hold to this day.

I believe that the boogeyman of intolerance with regard to race, creed, class and social status, and fear of change, is in fact inherited ancestral conditioning imposed on us by the very first tribe, the biological family unit. Though these prehistoric predilections once had a practical use, namely survival, they are now unconscious biases projected into “reality.”   In this explanation I include the origins of evil spirits,  gods and religion.

In time I was amazed to discover that Freud had long held similar views, though obviously his observations were vastly greater, deeper, and immeasurably more developed than my stumbling amateur ideas. Nevertheless I felt like i’d found a home base.  It was like finding daddy.

It’s quite plain that a large proportion of life’s conflicts has it’s origin within the recesses of the psyche.  These conflicts come from an internal unconscious battle between basic instinctual urges/needs, and the need to repress, sublimate or fulfill  them in order for people and society to function effectively – psychological balance can only be achieved by the presence of conscience, a tool we learn during early childhood. Freud concluded that this battle or conflict is unavoidable and can never be completely resolved, therefore suffering is to be considered an inevitable part of the human condition. I think we all know this intuitively despite our best efforts to bring about change for the better. 

The “battle” gives rise to innumerable externalizations across the full spectrum of human behaviour: political, social, cultural, and individual. It is expressed in art and mythology as well as religion – “original sin” is one such intuitive glimpse, albeit expressed as religious myth. The crunch time is during one’s infancy up to around 5 years of age.

One of the most persistent of all these conflict-manifestations is religion. Personally I have always considered religious faith to be an emotional impulse driven by a deep seated need for a protective overlord or father figure who rewards, punishes and saves from fear and death, however it is not necessarily a product of irrational thinking as some would suggest. Some of the greatest rational minds in history have been religiously devout. It is though a psychological safety net for those in need. Nor do I believe for a minute that intelligent, well educated people literally believe all the stories of the Bible given it’s obvious flaws and contradictions, not forgetting recent archaeological findings, eg  scientific proof that the Exodus didn’t happen.

My thinking on the religious impulse is rooted in Freudian analysis so I think the best way of explaining it is to quote Freud himself  –

“One can only understand the remarkable combination of teaching, consolation and precept in religion if one subjects it to genetic analysis. We may begin with the most remarkable item of the three, the teaching about the origin of the universe, for why should a cosmogony be a regular element of religious systems? The doctrine is that the universe was created by a being similar to man, but greater in every respect, in power, wisdom and strength of passion, in fact by an idealised superman.  It is interesting to notice that this creator of the universe is always a single god, even when many gods are believed in. Equally interesting is the fact that the creator is nearly always a male, although there is no lack of female deities, and many mythologies make the creation of the world begin precisely with a male god triumphing over a female goddess, who is degraded into a monster. This raises the most fascinating minor problems, but we must hurry on. The rest of our enquiry is made easy because this God-Creator is openly called Father. Psycho-analysis concludes that he really is the father, clothed in the grandeur in which he once appeared to the small child. The religious man’s picture of the creation of the universe is the same as his picture of his own creation. If this is so, then it is easy to understand how it is that the comforting promises of protection and the severe ethical commands are found together with the cosmogony. For the same individual to whom the child owes its own existence, the father (or, more correctly, the parental function which is composed of the father and the mother), has protected and watched over the weak and helpless child, exposed as it is to all the dangers which threaten in the external world; in its father’s care it has felt itself safe. Even the grown man, though he may know that he possesses greater strength, and though he has greater insight into the dangers of life, rightly feels that fundamentally he is just as helpless and unprotected as he was in childhood and that in relation to the external world he is still a child. Even now, therefore, he cannot give up the protection which he has enjoyed as a child. But he has long ago realised that his father is a being with strictly limited powers and by no means endowed with every desirable attribute. He therefore looks back to the memory-image of the overrated father of his childhood, exalts it into a Deity, and brings it into the present and into reality. The emotional strength of this memory-image and the lasting nature of his need for protection are the two supports of his belief in God.”

THE ABOVE excerpt taken from a Freud lecture illuminates one of the many unconscious sublimations that make up human consciousness.  Intolerance towards others of differing race, heritage or culture is another example of the inner child’s need for security in the comfort of familiarity. The child knows only that it needs to identify with it’s immediate surroundings and feel protected by them. Anything out of the norm constitutes a threat to varying degrees. Everybody is afflicted by this tribalist impulse. We are prejudiced by nature, and only lessons learned in society and the strength of our conscience corrects this to a socially acceptable degree. So often that degree isn’t acceptable.

So to the death of Sigmund Freud. Hopefully the following reflections will put this blog into sharper focus. Firstly though it needs to be understood that Freud saw the human dilemma in fatalistic terms – consciousness being subject to forces largely determined by the unconscious. However, he was at heart a life affirmer. In fact his whole career in neurology and psychology is testimony to that. He believed that humanity could rise above it’s problems if it understood the nature of those problems.

 Complex issues can sometimes best be defined in simple terms, like headlines in a newspaper.  Behind the authority and enormous depth of Freud’s life work lay three simple propositions he was putting to mankind:  #1 Know who you are. #2 Face up to your fears, and #3 Overcome your  inner child and grow up. This third proposition Freud saw as crucial to the mental  health of the world, vital in securing a progressive future free of childish insecurities, irrational fears, and baseless superstitions.

In 1939 Sigmund Freud was facing an ignominious death. In the last year of his life his mouth/jaw cancer, despite 30 operations, had become incurable. His daily routine now included round the clock morphine injections and cleaning the huge prosthesis that fitted inside his mouth. The pain was extreme and yet it hardly slowed down his prodigious work output. He was determined to fine tune his legacy for the benefit of us all. His decision to leave Vienna for London in 1938 was expedited by a lovely bunch called the Nazis who’s hatred of Freud was not only due to his jewishness but of course his theories expounding on sexuality and the aggression impulse of the unconscious. These ideas didn’t exactly fit in with the image the Nazi regime had of it’s master race, nor was it what they wanted the people even thinking about. 

Freud had often warned about the masses’ natural leaning towards authoritarianism. A strong leader. A demi god. A father figure to keep us safe! The Nazis in fact were living proof of everything he warned about, particularly the aggression impulse. At the station to board the Orient Express  he was forced to sign a document asserting that he had been treated by the authorities, especially the Gestapo, “with all the respect and consideration due to my scientific reputation, that I could live and work in full freedom”. He signed, adding, “I can most highly recommend the Gestapo to everyone.”  Fortunately the sarcasm was not picked up by the morons that surrounded this wizened “jew boy” from Vienna. Vienna’s official Nazi organ, the Voelkischer Beobachter, in reporting  Freud’s departure did not mention his name but referred to the Freudian psychoanalytic school as a “pornographic Jewish specialty.”

Freud was resigned to his death but of course he was as human as the rest of us: he was frightened of the pain and the uncertainty that lay before him, already being well aware of his body shrivelling before him. At least he had the satisfaction of finally being lauded for his achievements as the London establishment fussed over him. Finally, when the pain became too great for him to work he asked his doctor to administer a lethal injection of Morphine. In his own words:  “It is only torture now, and it has no longer any sense.”

His death, though not heroic, has a Socratic feel about it. He faced the end true to his convictions, accepting that all that consciousness of his would soon be no more. I cannot help but feel that Freud was something of a secular prophet. He laid before us a map of the mind and gave us the tools to advance the human race in harmony despite the inner disharmony. His work must also be seen as a sharp warning to us all about the human prediliction for fascism and fundamentalism.

On the 3rd of September 1939 Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Three weeks later on the 23rd of September Sigmund Freud died. Then. After decades of ridicule for his controversial theories – throughout his life right up to the present day – leading neurologists in 2002 released findings that they had begun physically detecting areas of the brain that corresponded with Freud’s original map of the mind. Accordingly  they began a new branch of science: Neuropsychoanalysis. It has taken 80 years but perhaps finally his ideas will be vindicated.

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April 1, 2010 · 2:04 am

Avatar- My Review

What better way to spend my day off than to see a movie? So much has been said about James Cameron’s Avatar that I had to see for myself what all the fuss was about, so dutifully I waited in line for my ticket well aware that these blockbusters have an exponential way of sucking people in, even blockbuster sceptics like me. 

What did I witness? Well..visually it was absolutely stunning, there’s no doubt about it. The graphics were beyond “state of the art” and into tomorrow. The creature animations while “realistic” were unfortunately typical of a populist movie money spinner: among others, dinosaurs passed off as alien fauna, nasty wolf-like critters baring their saliva dripping fangs, and blue aliens that conveniently had very human characteristics.  With a little tweaking of my imagination I could get the distinct impression I was watching giant blue South American Indians spliced into “The Land That Time Forgot.” The dialogue was urban speak 2009 in a 2154 setting which I found to be annoyingly trite. 

The storyline was tired and predictable and the actors’ characters were in the main stereotypical. I won’t be a spoiler so i’ll just say that the political overtones were more like a sledgehammer, so blatant was it a take on the War in Iraq. Combined with this was the old chestnut of multi-national corporations raping mother Earth, aided and abetted by the military/Marines. (The greenies will love it ) – Like all of us i’m concerned for the environment and wary of corporate greed but on these problems there needs to be far more expansive, measured thought put to the public rather than through the black and white stereotypical vehicle that is Avatar. In my opinion movie plots like this do us all a disservice by feeding people overly simplistic political notions.
 
It’s not all bad of course and well worth seeing for the visuals but by and large I was not impressed – I lament the passing of adult science fiction. The bar was set by Kubrik’s 2001 and it still hasn’t been challenged. Sadly these days Hollywood film producers insist on bleeding worn out formulas dry- no wonder it won the Golden Globe Award.
By all means go see it, the special effects are worth the price of admission..but do yourself a favour and leave your brain at home.
 

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January 26, 2010 · 4:46 am

The Convict Grave – A Perspective

Perspective inspired by the photo beneath.

Mortar, clay and cedar, tarnished moist and dead. No grass, clover, dew or air. Despoiled of distinction for an age. Prying shards of lamp light slash the aperture where no epitaph can be found, carved for the wretched anon beneath the crumbling brick sod. The hand that struck to snatch the life – for whatever reason – we cannot know. No purpose acquaints us, connects us with her humanity. No birds sing blissfully unaware of what travesty may have befallen, what tragedy may have ensued for peering eyes to bare witness to in perpetuity. Only nameless silence, solitude, bound to hidden remains forever unsung with nary a crusty word chipped into rock. What history was lived will remain obscured: the lineage, the trials and tribulations, the injustices or just desserts. No dignity here, only inevitable death and peering eyes, calculators, slide rules, plans. Lamp light. Ignominy in life and death. RIP.

 

In 1991, Sydney Town Hall underwent major restoration works. During excavations to lay new stormwater pipes under the Lower Town Hall, workmen discovered evidence of burials. Archaeologists were employed to excavate the site and record their findings.

Of the four graves discovered, only one was relatively intact. This grave is shown in the photograph. Excavation revealed a brick vault enclosing the remains of a wooden coffin set in clay. The coffin was made of Australian red cedar, and fastened with iron nails and brass tacks. Forensic examination of the skeletal remains revealed that the bone fragments belonged to a woman. Following the excavation, the remains were re-interred during a simple ceremony conducted by the Anglican Dean of Sydney. The grave was filled in with sand and the bricks rebuilt across the top of the vault.

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January 25, 2010 · 11:40 pm

A footprint In Every World

How often do you hear the line “I can’t be in two places at once?” The internet’s functionality is so broad and all encompassing that it makes this line virtually redundent. We can be and ARE in several places at once. With the click of a mouse we can move from one window into a favourite world to another. But a question comes with this. Why do we feel the need to spread ourselves so far and wide? What drives us to put our footprint in so many turn offs along the super highway?

Human interaction: it is a compulsion that cannot be denied us. Unless one is a hermit or a monk, we all insist on having our say on matters of personal interest/importance or simply relating our daily lives to others. To deny this is to deny the ego impulse that shapes who we are. Ego is not a dirty word in this regard. Our lives would lack direction without interacting with others because to each other we are yardsticks and life belts.

The speed and proliferation of information in the 21st century makes it almost essential for us to have a foot in many camps because of this inner drive to know and relate. Information overload? Perhaps but there is no sign that people are turning away from it, quite the reverse, we are embracing this new technology that opens the many worlds of interconnectivity to us. Each world serves a purpose. We compartmentalize them, we sort, collate and assign to each  so that we can interact and reflect ourselves effectively. And for the most part we do it well.

Multi-faceted we are but not only out of neccesity but from need. Herein lies a beauty, rare in past times, but now laid before us in commonality. The opportunity for a collective social bonding without parallel in history; to be flung further and wider in the coming years as China and Africa come further into the social networking mainstream.

Me? I write, and I make videos, and I compose, largely to please myself. But behind this is a need to be accepted as a worthwhile contributer to online global information chatter. Whatever that chatter is, we all want to be a part of it to make our mark no matter the size or impact. WE ARE SOCIAL ANIMALS. We must never withdraw from expressing this for fear of losing the simplicity of the past. Thx for reading. Enjoy your pie. 🙂

NOTE: Subject suggested by  @SixPaws

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January 5, 2010 · 1:50 am