So, I am sitting in the dentist chair for a deep cleaning, and the woman doing the procedure asks what I do? I tell her I teach.
“Oh really, what do you teach?”
I tell her its history. (It’s actually more complicated than that, but my jaw is sore, I’m stressed, and my whole mouth is numb, so this is more than I really want to say about this or anything else at that particular moment, really it is.)
My dental tech. (I don’t know her official title) then goes on to tell me that history has changed a lot lately. It’s one of those comments that could mean a few different things. Just too general to mean much to me, and I am still working on getting the ball back in her court, so I try to wrap it up with something equally vague and unworthy of follow-up commentary; “history is always changing.”
I know. That doesn’t mean anything either. What I really meant to say is; “Get on with it!”
I think she was waiting for the latest numbing shots to set in, so she added some commentary about how America used to be thought of as a good place, but now people thinks it’s awful, so they want to change history. She adds that some people should go back to their home country if they think America is so bad.
I didn’t respond at all this time, and she soon resumed her work.
Now before you imagine this woman in terms of redneck, xenophobic, white lady stereotypes, let me just add a couple important details. This woman was Asian. She had a very thick accent. I think likely that she is an immigrant. She probably finished her training as a dental tech. (or something like that) in a strange country speaking a strange language, and that HAD to be a Hell of a challenge. I will add to this that she did a good job and I am very happy with her work today. This woman is not an idiot, and I have no reason to believe her a bigot. She is an accomplished professional who has almost certainly experienced the difference between America and some other place in terms far more vivid than anything in my own background.
Still, muted as I was now by the sharp pointy things once again attacking the space between my teeth and my gums, I couldn’t help but think about her words. I couldn’t help but start down the paths toward answering her, the ones I would have taken had I more time, less stress, and a functioning tongue.
And also if I was free of the pointy things.
I wanted to tell her that I teach at a tribal college and that my indigenous students have legitimate complaints about America, complaints that are not well answered by telling them to go home. (Indeed, some of those students might suggest a fitting answer would be for me to go home.) Of course, I would want to expand on this by suggesting that “go home” or “go somewhere else” doesn’t really answer any questions about injustice or oppression, even when such arguments are not made with perverse irony. Sure, there may be some folks with less to complain about than they imagine, but there are also plenty with more cause to complain than they themselves imagine. And of course many with legitimate grievances of which they are quite well aware.
Whether or not this all adds up to America being a terrible place is another question. Being critical of America doesn’t necessarily entail such a sweeping condemnation, and in my experience, that sweeping condemnation has as much to do with the way some people hear the criticism as it does with the intent of the critics. Slavery, genocide, patriarchy, colonialism, and many other themes can be voiced with or without the rancor. For some these are causes to hate America; for others they are simply things that must be abolished, and that in and of itself is the point.
Bottom line is that I think there is more to the criticisms my dental tech alluded to than this she might have imagined. I could be wrong. I mean, details matter, but absent a specific reference to a specific complaint, I think it rather likely that I would be inclined to support at least some of the complaints she was unhappy about.
I do think it rather likely that this woman picked up on some of the recent right wing response to critical race theory (CRT). To be honest, I was never that keen on CRT, but I must say, the right wing effort to quash it, ban it from the schools, and use it to scare the shit our of parents and political donors all over the country has certainly given me good reason to reconsider my take on the subject. The right wing makes a good case for critical race theory. I don’t think they mean to. But they sure do.
All that said, I can imagine at least one line of thought that works positively in favor of this woman’s narrative. As I said, I do think she is an immigrant. Given her allusions to going back home, it seems pretty clear that America has been a positive experience to her, one that likely brought her increased possibilities and genuine improvements in quality of life. Maybe not, of course. But, given her comments, this does seem likely. I can well imagine that someone with such an experience would find those critical of the United States quite objectionable. I can well imagine that their narratives might strike her as wrong-headed, even as deceitful and clear evidence of bad faith. I can well imagine that her own life story, had she the time to give it to me, might well have served as a great reminder that there are some good things about this country, and that those good things are not limited to the experiences of the dominant white majority.
So, what am I left with? A sense that this woman was unfairly dismissing the legitimate grievances of people who have been treated unfairly in this country. It’s not that I think this woman is wrong to love America; it is that I think she is wrong to dismiss who seem to think otherwise. As I see it, she is right to think of America as a wonderful place. I also think that others are right to think it a terrible place. It’s not even that I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
I think both of these takes are true at the same time.
This last December (2021) I spent a few days in the Rasmuson library at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. They had an interesting display on statehood just outside one of their public entrances. It’s 21 total posters. (Is that the right word?) Kind of a nice tight introduction to the subject. I took pictures to share with my own students.
Thought I’d share them here too.
One of the more interesting themes brought to the fore in this series would have to be the complaints about exploitation by outsiders. The word “colonialism” even makes an appearance. Of course there is something more than a little ironic about the appearance of these themes in the rhetoric of whites just a few generations into America’s own entrance into the region, but then again, there is probably something ironic in my own swing at this issue, sitting as I am in Inupiat territory a couple generations further into that process colonization.
Meta-Irony, the white liberals burden!
I have enhanced the clarity of most of these pictures a bit and tweaked the lighting where necessary to try and reduce the light glare in a few of them. My main goal was to make the writing as clear as possible. I think you can make most of the main text out if you embiggen the pictures.
The notion that gun control was the key to Hitler’s tyranny (and in particular to the holocaust) has become a standard talking point among gun rights activists. To say that this is utter and complete bullshit is an insult to bullshit, which somehow ought to be accorded more dignity than this perfectly idiotic and highly deceitful bit of right wing rhetoric. It is, among other things, an effort to co-opt the story of an atrocity for the convenience of an interest group defined largely by those in positions of relative social power, and frankly, one that has historically included a rather large number of Nazi sympathizers. Simply put, those harping the notion that gun control is the gateway to the holocaust includes far too many people who face no such threats themselves, consistently show little to no concern for those that do, and who frequently express views which would put them closer to the guard towers of than the inside of any concentration camps.
There is nothing about this game that merits respect.
For the present, however, I wish only to remark upon one thing; a funny little made-up quote that features prominently in the babblerized politics of the gun lobby. Yes, it’s the quote of the meme to the left, which isn’t really all that funny after all, I suppose.
Except that there is no evidence that Hitler ever said it.
Of course, quote mining is a childish and deceitful enterprise to begin with. A single line here or there, presented entirely devoid of context, is no basis for drawing conclusions about anything. So, even when the quote is accurate, those passing these contextomies around like the tokens in a collectible card game are certainly not doing anything of merit.
But the whole pathetic project does get a lot worse when the quote itself is fake.
Excuse me, …spurious.
Oddly enough, Snopes thinks they have a candidate for something that comes close to this quotation, so they give it a mixed rating, saying that the claim that he said this is partially true. I think they are being overly generous, frankly, but anyway…
“The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subjugated races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subjugated races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the supply of arms to the underdogs is a sine qua non for the overthrow of any sovereignty. So let’s not have any native militia or native police.”
Of course, this passage does not match the wording of the quote in question, and those spreading that quote are not content to frame it as a paraphrase, so we probably shouldn’t let people get by with pretending to have an exact quote only to fall back on the pretense that it was only intended as a paraphrase.
It’s probably less helpful when someone else has to make that argument for them.
Snopes goes on to say that if you interpret “conquer a nation” in the spurious quote to mean making yourself a dictator over that nation, then sure, this actual quote from the actual Hitler would not fit the bill, because it is actually about the need to disarm peoples subjected by foreign conquest (eastern Europeans in this case).
If on the other hand, the phrase “conquer a nation” is taken to mean actually conquering another nation, then this quote might fit the bill after all because that is exactly what Hitler is talking about in the passage from the Table Talks volume.
The problem here is that the right wing use of this meme assumes the former definition, because the gun rights crowd is consistently using it as a means of commenting on domestic gun control. As always, the constant equation between gun control and disarmament is one of the central lies perpetuated by the gun lobby, but putting that aside, this quote doesn’t work at all if Hitler is really talking about how he means to treat subjugated populations of foreign countries, which Hitler is clearly doing in the table-talk passage. So, even if we grant the possibility that the quote could serve as a kind of paraphrase of the Table Talk passage, then the result is a passage that has no relevance to its present use by gun rights advocates.
So, even this bit of nothing much doesn’t mean what some folks might want it to mean.
Hitler simply didn’t say what some folks keep telling us he did.
At least, there is no reason to believe that he did.
Of course this is just scraping the surface of the garbage-heap that the present-day understanding of Nazi history among America’s ever-more fascist Republican base. Those closer America’s right wing gets to going full Nazi themselves, the more effort they put into redefining fascist policies and distorting the history so many of them now choose to emulate. Hell, I remember Glenn Beck once suggesting that empathy was the first step to the Nazi atrocities. If there was a time when America’s ‘conservatives’ would have known better, I can’t help thinking it is long since past. All of which is to say nothing of the not-even-post-hoc fallacy that goes with talk of a certain supposed gun control law, the Germans passed in 1938. In any event, the quote pictured above is fake.
Here is an interesting question (to me anyway). What legal mechanism prevents the Federal Government from banning your church?
(Hopefully, they don’t want to, but humor me…)
That would be the First Amendment, right, or more precisely the ‘free exercise clause’ of the First Amendment.
Okay, so what stops your state government from banning your church?
It’s not the First Amendment, not alone anyway. The relevant text of the First Amendment reads as follows; “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” So, that prevents CONGRESS, and by extension other Federal entities operating under the authority of Congress, from banning your church. It doesn’t say anything about the actions of state governments.
What would prevent a state government from doing such a thing?
That would be the Fourteenth Amendment, or perhaps the First Amendment, as incorporated into state jurisdiction via the Fourteenth Amendment.
Section I of the Fourteenth Amendment reads as follows (emphasis added):
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
This is significantly more ambiguous, of course, but I do believe most people, and more importantly, most of the relevant legal authorities, generally take this to mean that state governments have been operating under the free exercise clause (or some principle like it) since the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Okay, good fun, right?
Now here is a question, most Americans might not think about. What prevents a tribal government from banning a church on their own lands?
By tribal government, I mean the government of any Federally recognized tribe within the United States. We are talking about American Indians or Alaska Natives here. So, I am asking what legal mechanism would prevent a tribal government representing one of the indigenous peoples of the United States from banning a church under the own jurisdiction?
There is nothing specific in the text of the U.S. Constitution which limits the authority of a tribal government to restrict the religious activities of anyone subject to their jurisdiction. Congress has of course asserted plenary power to alter the relationship between tribal governments and the Federal Government at will since Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock (1903). (At least that is when the doctrine of ‘plenary power’ received its most explicit expression under the Federal courts.) Still, absent any explicit action from Congress restricting the authority of an Indian tribe, indigenous people are assumed under U.S. Law to retain any sovereign powers they had before colonization began. So, in the absence of any clear Federal statement to the Contrary, a tribal government may resolve the matter of religion and religious freedom as they deem fit. (Some would argue, that is exactly how it ought to work.) In any event, the Tenth District of the Federal Courts ruled in 1959 that no such law existed. According to the decision in Native American Church v. Navajo Tribal Council (1959), neither the U.S. Constitution nor any Federal Law obligates tribal governments to respect the free exercise clause or any principle like it.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, some would say that is how it should be. Let indigenous people settle any questions about religious freedom for their own members (or others subject to their jurisdiction) themselves! For good or for ill, it’s their business.
In other words, the answer to my third question is The Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968.
What stops a tribal government from banning a church is The Indian Civil Rights Act. This was part of a larger Federal Law expanding civil rights in a number of areas (most of which were of more direct concern to African Americans at the time). The Indian Civil Rights Act applies most of the provisions of the Bill of Rights to the actions of tribal governments. Significantly, it does not incorporate the establishment clause of the First Amendment into tribal jurisdiction. Tribal governments are free to establish their own religions, but they are not free to restrict the religious activities of those subject to their jurisdiction.
You can see this in the relevant text.
“No Indian tribe in exercising powers of self-government shall—
make or enforce any law prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition for a redress of grievances…”
Note that there is a clear reference to the principle of free exercise, and yet, there is no mention of establishment. So, you can see it in the text. The Indian Civil Rights Act only incorporates 1 of the 2 basic religion clauses of the First Amendment into the context of tribal government. This somewhat belies the thinking of America’s founding fathers who might have suggested that the two clauses work together to ensure that religion will not become a source of abuse, or more to the point, to prevent an establishment of religion from becoming the reason religious freedom is restricted, but of course all of this ignores the context of colonialism here. The power of any religious establishment that might occur under tribal jurisdiction is significantly blunted by the presence of a larger Federal government which has already compromised a great deal of tribal sovereignty,not to mention state governments eager to eat away at what might be left of tribal sovereignty. In any event, the thinking at the time the ICRA was passed is that traditional tribal government is far too entangled with the ceremonial systems and spiritual narratives of the people in question to introduce the proverbial “separation of church and state.”
Of course, the ICRA has other significant limitations, particularly insofar as anyone might attempt to apply it to civil disputes, but that’s another matter.
All of this is to say nothing whatsoever about the religious freedoms of Native Americans facing regulations by the Federal and State governments. That’s a whole other messy history in itself.
Damned ugly one at that!
Finally, one reason I think this little exercise is worth doing is it helps to illustrate the way that religious freedom sits in the context of American law. Most people just think they have a right of religious freedom. They don’t really distinguish the establishment clause from the free exercise clause much less think about how these measures relate to one another. More importantly, folks tend not to think very carefully about the way that concepts of religious freedom play out in different layers of American government. Of course far too many people, think government is government is government, until they are pushed to start making distinctions, but the point at the present is this, religious freedom is not simply an abstract concept under the U.S. Constitution. Religious Freedom takes different forms in relation to different layers of American government.
“Are white South African or Mississippi sharecropper, or Mississippi sheriff, or a Frenchman driven out of Algeria, all have, at bottom, a system of reality which compels them to, for example, in the case of the French exile from Algeria, to offend French reasons from having ruled Algeria. The Mississippi or Alabama sheriff, who really does believe, when he’s facing a Negro boy or girl, that this woman, this man, this child must be insane to attack the system to which he owes his entire identity.”
God damn that James Baldwin!
He was right about far too many things.
He was right about them in 1965, and speaking as he was in 1965, he is just as right about them today, damn it anyhow. It’s enough to make a white guy raised on stories of progress feel all somehow!
This Baldwinization of Lovecraft effectively transforms the literary themes of a known racist into a meditation on the nature of racism in American history. You can see Lovecraft in the monsters. You can see Baldwin in the protagonists.
Lest one miss the connection to Baldwin’s speech in 1965, one has only to think about a few more of his words;
“We talk about integration in America as though it was some great new conundrum. The problem in America is that we’ve been integrated for a very long time. Put me next to any African and you will see what I mean. My grandmother was not a rapist.”
Now just think about the plot-line for the male lead in Lovecraft country, a back man (Atticus Freeman – played by Jonathan Majors) turns out to be an heir of a rich white explorer. Far from being a blessing, this proves to be a terrible curse.
Lovecraft Country, is James Baldwin’s critique of American racism transformed into a horror story. Just how much of a transformation that took is another question. It should come as no surprise to find Jordan Peele listed as one of the show’s producers. It wouldn’t be the first time, he mapped the patterns of racism directly onto a horror story and left some of us more than a little disturbed at how easy and obvious the connection turned out to be. It’s also fitting that Lovecraft, in particular, would be the vehicle for this narrative, not just because of the delicious irony, but because so much of Lovecraftian horror resides in the prospect of insanity. In Lovecraft, this horror is about the encounter with horrors such as C’thulhu, in the consequence of knowing one day a monstrous God will destroy everything and there is nothing we can do about it. In Baldwin, this insanity the consequences of racism. It is about the perception of whites threatened by those challenging racism, and about the impact of racism itself on the minds of white people struggling to rationalize our own privilege. As Baldwin suggests, white privilege leads us to think of those who challenge it as insane, and yet that same same privilege cannot skew the reality of those who benefit from it. Racism, as Baldwin describes it, does merely enable one segment of society to oppress another; it twists the minds of each into a distorted of reality.
“I suggest that what has happened to white Southerners is in some ways, after all, much worse than what has happened to Negroes there because Sheriff Clark in Selma, Alabama, cannot be considered – you know, no one can be dismissed as a total monster. I’m sure he loves his wife, his children. I’m sure, you know, he likes to get drunk. You know, after all, one’s got to assume he is visibly a man like me. But he doesn’t know what drives him to use the club, to menace with the gun and to use the cattle prod. Something awful must have happened to a human being to be able to put a cattle prod against a woman’s breasts, for example. What happens to the woman is ghastly. What happens to the man who does it is in some ways much, much worse.”
You can see the psychological impact of racism all over Lovecraft country. The horrors faced by the central characters in this story are consistently brought to them by white people. For their own part, the world of the white characters in this series appears to be quite insane.
But of course!
How could the white characters in this world not prove insane. They are on the back end of the cattle prod, so to speak, and that, as Baldwin warns us, has its own hazards.
This same theme, the psychological effect of racism, also plays out in yet another contemporary series, The Good Lord Bird. Ostensibly a story about John Brown, the series turns into a meditation on the insanity of slavery, and in particular of its effect on those who benefit from it. There are few well-grounded characters in this story. Most of them are slaves. Even Frederick Douglas comes across as a man spoiled by privilege, one whose sense of reality is distorted by his own fame as an abolitionist, and whose commitments to the abolition of slavery are compromised by that very fame. To say nothing of John Brown himself! As he is portrayed in this series, Brown is an absolute lunatic. We love him, of course, at least in the end, but there is little question about his sanity. He doesn’t have it. No. To find a sensible character in this story, one has to look with the characters held in bondage. The slaves in this story are the only characters with the good sense to look after themselves. The rest are either too busy defending slavery and exploiting it or spiraling into ever more crazy schemes for opposing it. For those held in bondage, slavery in the Good Lord Bird is a force which keeps subjected to it well grounded; it is a force which sends those free of it into ever more bizarre flights of fancy.
The Good Lord Bird follows the story of an adolescent boy, Henry Shackleford (played by Joshua Caleb Johnson). Henry is labeled a girl by John Brown himself and Christened with a new nickname, ‘Onion’. When Brown proves incapable of correction, Henry simply accepts his new identity and thus becomes ‘Onion’ for the rest of the series. Henry knows who he is of course, but this is what it takes to get along in a world driven mad by people high on the privilege of freedom denied to others.
There is something especially interesting about the insanity of Brown and Douglas in the Good Lord Bird. It is as though the series producers believe you would have to be a little crazy to cut so far against the grain of the society in which you live, to seek to act effectively in opposition to slavery, to actually do what it takes to end it. Brown is typically regarded as something of a lunatic or a fanatic in history. (As I recall, this was one of the gripes mentioned by James Loewen in Lies My Teachers Told Me.) But how does one oppose an institution as powerful as slavery without becoming a lunatic or a fanatic. You can mumble, “oh that’s wrong,” or speak of some day overcoming the institution, but systemic oppression is not so fragile as to be threatened by expressions of passive regret. To actually confront the institution is to wage war against so many other things right along with it, even to risk bringing about harm to many people. That would of course include friends, and family, and even those one might seek to help in the end. You’d have to be a little crazy to want to do such a thing. Ethan Hawke is a lot crazy as John Brown in this series, and (for some of us anyway) it is a truly lovable performance.
James Baldwin reminds us that it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see a man confronting slavery treated as a crazy person, not at the time, not the history books, and not now on screen.
Damn that Baldwin!
His ghost is writing scripts for cable television.
But of course Baldwin wrote one other script with his speech back in Cambridge. He wrote the script for his debate opponent. You see, Baldwin was there in Cambridge on that day in 1965 to debate William F. Buckley, Jr. The topic for the debate was the proposition; “The American dream is at the expense of the negro.” Baldwin was to take the affirmative and Buckley was there to oppose it.
Two things are particularly striking about this debate: the absolute brilliance of Baldwin’s own speech, and the utterly pathetic response that Buckley makes to it.
It’s worth noting that two separate publications haunt the debate. (See, I haven’t given up the horror references.)
The first of these writings was an article published in 1957 by William F, Buckley entitled “Why the South Must Prevail.” In this publication, Buckley, argued in defense of segregation, suggesting that white southerners needed to maintain segregated institutions and reserve power to whites until such a time as African-Americans (‘negroes’ in Buckley’s article) would prove worthy of it. Now some have suggested Buckley had changed his mind by 1965, but at least in this debate the difference is little more than a courteous veneer. Buckley was always capable of being courteous (though Gore Vidal might have thought otherwise); he was always capable of putting a polite face on his life-log defense of elitism and privilege. The second of these publications was book Baldwin had published in in 1963, The Fire Next Time, which is said to contain a warning that violence could well be the result of continued injustice. Buckley would have described it as a threat. Buckley’s article is the reason he was invited to debate Baldwin. Baldwin’s book is the key to Buckley’s response.
That and Baldwin’s tip that opposing racism must seem like insanity to those whose identity is tied to it.
It’s worth noting that Baldwin makes a point of personalizing the issue of race in his own speech. He claims that he built the infrastructure of the American south, that he himself is the subject of discrimination and racist policies. In effect he makes of himself an indexical icon (as my old professor would have put it), through which to contemplate all of the implications of racism. This offends Buckley a great (as it often seems to offend many today to hear that racism has a negative impact on persons of color). So, Buckley’s first move is to deny it. He suggests that he is going to treat Baldwin as though he were white, and that he will do so, because Baldwin’s race is irrelevant to the matter at hand. He does this in order to deny Baldwin the protections afforded to him as a public speaker making use of a negro identity.
And thus, Buckley’s own speech begins in a world where in Baldwin’s race is irrelevant to the topic of racism; a world in which being black is a privilege, one to which Baldwin is not actually entitled.
But that’s not insane is it?
(Of course it is.)
It gets worse from there!
Buckley does not defend segregation here, nor racism. Instead he dissembles his way through the topic, describing segregation as a ‘dastardly situation’, mocking the excessive concern about racism in American Universities, and suggesting in the end that it is negroes themselves that have failed to advance themselves as a people. In Buckley’s narrative, Segregation appears to be a ghost in the machine, a presence over which no-one takes responsibility, except as it seems, those oppressed by it. If only those gosh-darned negroes and their rotten liberal friends could just get over the whole thing and get on with their lives! As Buckley would have it, the only reason racism is still with us, is because it lives in the efforts of those actively opposing it. You can hear people saying similar things, today of course. It’s just a little more jarring to see someone saying this in the very era in which buses were burned, bombs, were set off, and children spat upon while going to school, all over the topic of racism. …but wait! Dammit! It’s just as jarring to hear it in the era when cops put a knee to man’s neck in broad daylight and on camera, when the Republican Party actively works to deny African-Americans the right to vote, and when white supremacists openly mix their own flags and symbols with those of mainstream American politics.
That Baldwin guy just keeps getting righter and righterer!
It’s almost like he’s had some personal experiences with racism or something.
And what about this segregation anyway!?! Buckley’s vision of segregation is a monster worthy of Lovecraft country, one which somehow appears to the majority of us only in hindsight, but which haunts the lives of those afflicted with it. One must think those who complain of racism terribly insane to be afflicted by a demon that exists only in their own politics! Buckley certainly seems to think so. Those telling us “liberalism is a mental illness” today surely do, but of course the brunt of their criticism falls less on liberals than on those in need of remediation. We get insulted; they get to go on living with the with the demon folks like Buckley and his modern descendants will neither claim as their own nor confront in any meaningful way. Buckley did a lot to set ‘conservative’ politics on this course through his publication, National Review. That his vapid waffling response to racism could be considered intellectualism, as it has for so many calling themselves ‘conservative’ has always been a mystery to me. Buckley, never really had anything to say about anything, but he could sure as Hell take more words to say nothing than most any other public figure in modern history. Most particularly, he had nothing meaningful to say about racism or segregation in response to Baldwin.
Buckley concludes his meandering speech by warning Baldwin and those who sympathize with him of an apocalyptic scenario worthy of modern horror films. If, Buckley suggests, folks such as Baldwin insist that the American dream itself is antithetical to the justice which they seek, then he and others who love their country will be forced to fight over it, “on the beaches,” so to speak. Oddly enough, they would be doing so, even for for the benefit of the negro himself, as Buckley would have us believe.
Thus, Buckley ends his speech by imagining, not how segregation might be ended, but how the call for it threatens everything he loves, and how the defense of segregation under the pretense of basic patriotism is in the end, all for the benefit of those oppressed by it.
As beautiful as Baldwin’s speech was, Buckley’s own efforts are sickening.
What’s worse! This debate hasn’t moved a whole Hell of a lot since 1965. In this Debate, Baldwin struggled not to impress the audience with the notion that racism is wrong, but to get people to give a damn about it, to act meaningfully against it. For his part, Buckley struggles to hide it, and to hide the degree to which racism was always central to the world he defended throughout his life. Buckley has a lot in common with an awful lot of people today.
Small wonder that the script for this debate can still be found on your cable television networks.
Those present voted 544 to 164 in favor of Baldwin as the winner of the debate. For his part Buckley, bragged that he “didn’t give them a goddamned inch,” or something to that effect.
So, I am still on TikTok. It’s actually kinda fun. In the native language, I guess I am mostly on ‘political TikTok, but I pretty much talk about whatever I feel like at the moment, just like I do here. I don’t dance though; that does not happen.
It’s an interesting challenge, trying to make a point in 1 minute or less.
Ironically, I am experiencing this constraint as a sense that the format is too long. See, I’ve never prepared my speeches or classroom lessons on a word-for-word basis. Some technical points, sure, I spell them out precisely and read them off a note, but most of my public speaking is off the top of my head. I have a general script in mind and improvise my way through the details. If I feel like I flubbed a point, I just take a minute to restate it. That’s what I normally do. With only 1 minute per video, however, that just isn’t an option. So, every word counts. The trouble is that I can’t seem to speak for 1 whole minute without screwing something up. So, the fact that I have only 1 minute means I have to make it through a whole minute. Oh the paradox!
So, Moni comes up wondering what I’m mad about. It’s my own fumbling tongue.
Yes, I know, you can record a TikTok in segments. I still think the better vids are all-in-one takes, and anyhow, I like the challenge. …except when I flubbed it for the umpteenth time in a row.
Anyway, one thing I do not like about TikTok is the lack of any useful curating features. I might be missing something, but at the moment, I don’t see any means of organizing vids and bundling them up into themes, etc. So, I am going to do that here, at least with a few selected vids. Yes, Isome of these may appear in more than one category. I plan add to this page from time to time, unless I wake up one day and say to Hell with all of it.
I am mostly doing this for myself, just to keep track of what’s what, but I sorta hope, someone finds a few of my vids amusing at least. If anyone is curious, I hope you enjoy the content.
So, I sometimes make a point to call out the spurious quotes thriving all over the net these days. It’s not the most noble of personal callings, I know, but I noticed a long time ago that the information correcting some of this stuff isn’t often found in the same electronic neighborhood as the political pornography in which these bullshit quotes normally reside. So, I reckon it ain’t the least useful thing a guy could do with a spare 15 minutes or so to introduce the author of an un-sourced quote to a well reasoned debunkitation.
I’m often fascinated by the responses I get.
I was quite interested when Pinterest suspended my account for a few weeks, …I think over this. I could be wrong, but I do think this pastime is what did it.
The thing is, you can find the same spurious quotes in countless memes all over Pinterest. It’s just so damned easy to spread information when all it takes is the click of one ‘save’ button. The net is full of ccrap, I know, but the political hashtags at Pinterest are a particularly bullshit rich environment.
I can say it in a few different ways, but what needs to be said in response to these fake quotes is usually pretty simple, and I can’t help thinking a good link to Mount Vernon or Monticello.org ought to find itself somewhere in the response. The link alone really ought to suffice. The trouble is that these misquote-laden memes are distributed through a variety of different accounts on Pinterest. If I’m posting a lot of links to the same page correcting them, then of course I am the spammer.
Don’t get me wrong, the principle in question makes a kind of sense, as does its application. You don’t want someone posting the same link over and over again on a social media platform, but it does create an ironic outcome. In this instance, at least, it seems that’s a lot easier to spread disinformation than it is to counter it.
Before moving onto the more personal responses I’ve gotten over the years, I must admit that my own tone here varies. If I think the person passing along a fake quote has done so accidentally, I try to just call attention to the problem. Hell, I reckon I’ve probably made this mistake myself once or twice. It ain’t no hanging matter; I just want to correct a (hopefully honest) mistake. If, on the other hand, the fake quote is accompanied by narratives about how teachers, media, and liberals are too damned deceitful to share the ‘truth’ of the quote, I must admit, my own response is likely to come with a little sarcasm on the top. There are of course other signs of bad faith that I typically meet with a more combative tone.
Sometimes I’m nicer about this than others.
Also, sometimes, I just ask people for a source to see what they come up with.
Oh yeah, my first post on this topic, the one about Abe Lincoln, has a couple rich responses of its own. Still kinda chuckle about those.
By far and away,, the most interesting response I get is the occasional effort to document the quote by linking me to the ‘spurious quotes’ pages at Monticello or Mount Vernon. Seriously, this has happened a few times.
“Did you read it?” I ask.
At least once, someone realized their mistake at that point and owned up to it. She gets props for doing the right thing.
Once I was assured by someone that clearly hadn’t read the material that he totally had read every word of it. He also assured me that he understood what ‘spurious’ means. Yep! Definitely! We went a few rounds on that, before he dropped out of the conversation. A ‘block’ button may have been pushed. I dunno…
Others simply stopped responding immediately.
Someone else told me I was being rude.
…which was of course true.
Several people have tried to tell me that the quote in question may have been undocumented, but that it accurately reflected what the person to whom it was attributed really did believe. I got this at least once with a popular bastardization of George Washington’s first address to Congress.
…right after I had explained in detail exactly how the quote misrepresented him.
It seems that to some people making this argument these quotes are a kind of Kantian thing-in-itself (a truth truth-in-itself?). The truth as they envision it rests over and above the facts, even the facts of its own expression. If you can’t find one clear expression of that truth in the messy real-world of the historical record, that doesn’t matter, because we know the truth and the source to whom it has been attributed must have known it. So they might as well have said it.
It’s all true anyway, so what’s the problem?
This is one of the more disturbing responses I get, because it reveals an air tight echo chamber in the thinking of the person in question. They love America’s founding fathers and they love their guns and such, and two things they love must love each other, and so when the real-world George Washington doesn’t live up to their masturbatory fantasies, well then, they can just speak up and say what he woulda said anyway.
The rationale also works for any number of subjects certain people feel America’s founding fathers must certainly have loved every but as much as they do.
…even if those founders didn’t actually say so.
Not much to be done about folks who reason like that.
Another common response is to ask how I know the quote isn’t real.
A related tactic is to assure me that the quote is real and tell me to do my own research. Faced with credible sources that claim the quotes can’t be found in any known archives, those using this tactic assure me that the quote is real and that we skeptics really ought to work harder.
…which brings to mind words like ‘gaslighting’, ‘trolling’, ‘asshole’, and a quick end to the conversation.
Sometimes people complain that my efforts to check them reveal a character flaw on my own part. Don’t I have anything better to do?
No such questions seem to have been asked about the time it takes the individuals in question to pass along a spurious quote. But of course, we all have much more important things to do when the one we are presently engaged in turns out to be a little frustrating. It’s human nature.
Probably the most common response I get to declare the source of the quote irrelevant. It’s the idea that matters, I am told, and surely that idea is true. So, it doesn’t matter if Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin or any other made up source didn’t really say what they were supposed to have said. That’s not the point. The point is it’s true.
I must say that it’s an interesting coincidence that so many timeless truths that could come from any source really, seem so often to be attributed to sources of great political value. It’s also an interesting coincidence that so many of them seem quite useful to specific political agendas today, agendas which often sail under the banner of faithfulness to American principles and respect for the wishes of America’s founding fathers. It’s really quite convenient that so many questionable quotes would seem to provide the politics of the people in question with the authority of a voice from the founding fathers. The sources really don’t matter, so it seems, not after the source has been debunked.
Perhaps I could be excused for thinking the source mattered, at least a little, before that source came into question.
What I always find most interesting about this tactic is how seamless the transition is from presenting an undocumented quote to declaring the named source irrelevant to its content. People employing this tactic rarely take so much as a moment to acknowledge their error. Often they avoid conceding the point altogether as they shift from a historical claim about who said what to a kind of Platonic reasoning in which the idea itself is all that really matters.
And thus a person wholly unconcerned with the falsehood of a factual claim suddenly becomes the priest of a timeless truth.
Oh yeah, some people don’t respond at all. Some just keep right on producing the bullshit quotes too. This is particularly true of some websites like BrainyQuote. It’s also true of some dedicated ideological warriors. They just keep right on posting the fake quotes long after a reasonable person might have at least quietly deleted the material from a blog or a social media account.
There is one response that gets me every time, and that’s the one where somebody simply acknowledges the mistake. Often this is followed by a ‘thank you’. Maybe they take down the quote. Maybe they just let their acknowledgement of the correction stand for itself in the discussion. Either way, it’s a class move.
These days, such responses surprise me a little more than they ought to.
…and that’s kinda sad.
I suppose it doesn’t really surprise me that people would respond defensively to such things. People don’t usually like to be corrected. I know I don’t. And of course, any of us could get things like this wrong. That’s not terrible. It’s human. Still, some of these rationalizations do seem to give you a peak behind the curtain, so to speak, into the mind of someone for whom due diligence is simply unthinkable. They must be right one way or another, so they seem to think.
So what has me thinking with my keyboard again after such a long absence from the blog? It’s the latest dust-up over Candace Owens’ comments on Hitler. Owens was recently called to testify as a witness for congressional hearings on the topic of hate crimes by white nationalists. Expressing contempt over the decision to bring her in for such testimony, Ted Lieu opted to play ‘the first 30 seconds’ of comments she once made on the subject of Adolf Hitler. He then moved on to ask another witness about the significance of those comments, leaving Owens without a chance to respond and the rest of us without much sense for the context in which her comments had originally been made. Given the chance to respond shortly thereafter, Owens charged asserted that Lieu had assumed African Americans wouldn’t look into the matter further, suggesting she had been taken out of context.
…and the fight was quickly farmed out to various social media platforms.
Such is modern politics!
First let me say that this was not one of Lieu’s finer moments. It’s hard to get past the sense that he left out critical information about the context of Owen’s remarks or the sense of unfairness that goes with attacking someone in their own presence without giving them a chance to respond. I can think of all sorts of reasons why he might have chosen to do this, and yes, I want to support his efforts here, but this falls short of certain minimum standards that ought to guide someone’s conduct. Lieu can do better than this. He normally does.
That said, I can certainly empathize with Lieu’s unflattering take on Owens’ credibility. She is not an expert in politics, crime, or anything else coming up in that hearing. It’s tough to say just how we came to the point where Candace Owens counts as having something important to say at a congressional hearing on racially motivated hate crimes.
Answering that question was actually the first thing Owens herself addressed at the hearings. Why was she there? She told us. Her answer just wasn’t all that helpful. What Owens said was that she has herself been the target of racially motivated hate crimes. She said this in order to establish a personal connection to the issue, then went on to talk about anything but that very issue. The rest of Owens’ opening remarks were spent reminding us that words like ‘racism’ meant something in the context of segregation in the old Democratic South while the real threats to African-Americans today come from Democratic policies purportedly aimed at helping them. In short, Owens was there to minimize the significance of racially motivated hate crimes against minorities and shift the discussion to something that might embarrass the Democrats.
You can see all of this for yourself in the video from C-SPAN presented below. Owens’ opening statement begins at around 47:40 and ends at 53:42. Lieu’s remarks begin at around 2:33:14 and end at 2:38:27. Owens reply occurs between 2:38:50 and 2: 40:38.
Much of the subsequent discussion has focused on the question of whether or not Lieu misrepresented Owens in suggesting that she had tried to legitimize Hitler. For her own part, Owens told the committee that she had done no such thing, that she had in fact been trying to suggest that Hitler wasn’t really a nationalist. “A nationalist,” Owens, tells us, “would not kill their own people.”
So what did Owens actually say at the event in question? Her comments can be found here from around 38:45 to around 40:55.
So, did Lieu misrepresent Owens?
Only if we allow the context to swallow the text entirely, and even then, only if we don’t think very hard about that context itself.
What do I mean?
We can start by looking at aspects of the message that appear to support the claim that Owens was defending Hitler. Here it is!
But if Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine. The problem is that he wanted, he had dreams outside of Germany. He wanted to globalize.
Owens’ and her own defenders have reassured us that these remarks were made in an effort to distinguish Hitler’s actions from those of a proper nationalist. On one level, this is fair enough. That clearly is Owens’ main point, and her remarks are in fact consistent with that point.W should not lose sight of the larger goal of Owens’ remarks even as we ask ourselves why she chose to pursue them using the particular set of claims she did on that day.
The problem is that point isn’t inconsistent with a defense of Hitler, half-assed though it may have been. The odd description of Hitler as someone who might have “just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well” does suggest a sympathetic understanding of Hitler’s motives at least insofar as they applied to Germany. Adding to that, the sense that Hitler’s actions only become a problem when he goes global and you have a point that does more than distinguish Hitler’s politics from those of an idealized nationalism; you end up with a point that suggests his internal policies were in themselves just fine, that his politics becomes a problem at precisely the when when those politics cross the border. While we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Owens is indeed trying to distinguish Hitler from nationalism as she would have it understood, her actual argument leaves plenty of reason to believe that she is in fact sympathetic to aspects of Hitler’s agenda.
Simply put, Owens’ speaks approvingly of Hitler’s domestic agenda, condemning him only when his ambitions cross the border. In subsequent remarks, she may have acknowledged his murderous actions, but in the immediate context of her remarks at the time, Owens shows no awareness of anything worth condemning in Hitler’s domestic policies? Does she think his crimes began on the other side of the border? Does Owens think Hitler did nothing wrong inside of Germany?
In effect, Owens was praising Hitler with faint damn.
All of this brings us to a much larger point; why was Owens trying to distinguish nationalism from the actions of Adolf Hitler in the first place? The simple answer is because that is something key parties in right wing politics want to do at this point in history. Owens is not the only person pushing the idea that nationalism isn’t always a terrible thing. Charlie Kirk’s own comments in that clip push that very theme. It’s a talking point that someone in right wing circles has clearly seen fit to push onto the public stage and the folks at the event in question were hitting their marks quite nicely on this talking point.
The goal in this agenda is of course to distinguish nationalist politics from the horrors of the Nazi regime and leave us with a reassuring notion that nationalists just want secure borders and lower crime rates in the nations wherein they live, etc. They aren’t, we are supposed to believe, the kind of folks to exterminate 11 million people. No, that was just the Nazis, and they were actually globalists not real nationalists. Real nationalists, true nationalists, would never do that!
The problem of course is that this is utter bullshit, and the reason it’s bullshit is exactly the reason for the hearing Owens had come to troll. Nationalist movements always bring with them a degree of violence, xenophobia, and terrorism, and that means people get hurt at the border. It means they get hurt on the other side of the border. It means they get hurt well inside the border.
…and, yes, nationalists do kill their own people. Hell, they do it all the time!
Also, oh yes, nationalists always seem to have global ambitions as well. You can see this, not only in Hitler’s own plans, but also in Trump’s many ties to Russia, to Saudia Arabia, and to countless other international entities. Hell, you can even see it in Owens and Kirk going to England to help promote nationalist politics across the pond. If what makes a nationalist is a politics that stops at the borders, then Hitler may not be a true nationalist, ok, but then neither is Owens, neither is Kirk, and neither is the Manchurian Cheeto.
Few movements have ever gone global quite like the wave of nationalism presently sweeping the (ahem!) globe and drawing shameless opportunists like Owens into the picture. Her efforts to distinguish the politics of Nazi Germany from the kind of nationalism she herself promotes is little other than a parlor trick. She is telling us to ignore the genocidal maniac behind the curtain even as we look right at him. For that matter, she is also asking us to ignore the countless nationalists who dragged Europe into World War I, because frankly Nazis aren’t the only nationalists to leave a body count behind them. There is a reason ‘nationalism’ has been a dirty word in politics for some time, and that reason isn’t something Owens has even begun to address with her half-assed efforts to address the issue. She may not want us to think there is any connection between nationalism and crime, but her efforts to distract us from that connection are the very problem with her remarks on this subject.
In short, Owens’ own agenda is in fact a lot closer to that of Hitler than she wants us to believe. That’s why her critique of the man falls well short of anything a thoughtful person would produce, even on the spur of the moment.
Should we pay attention to the context of Owen’s comments?
Moni and I are back in the icebox now, having just returned from a relatively short bout of southyness over the Christmas break. Didn’t get to see near enough of our loved ones, but it was good to connect with those we could.
We made a stop at one of my favorite haunts in Vegas, the Neon Museum, otherwise known as The Boneyard. This is the afterlife for many of the old marquees used on the strip and throughout town. It’s strange for me, because I used to live in the Vegas area (Boulder City, to be exact). I remember some of these signs when they were alive and in the wild, so to speak. I should say that I sort of remember them. The Strip and much of what most people think of as Vegas was always just as foreign to me as it might be to the tourists coming through town. I don’t think that’s an unusual perspective for locals, but it does give Vegas nostalgia an interesting mix of oddity and familiarity. One of the cultural consequences of tourism, I suppose, a past rendered both intimate and alien. Of course, in this case, the whole thing comes surrounded with the faint glow of neon lights.
Moni and I took a daytime tour of the museum a couple years ago, and we’ve been planning to go back ever since. This time, we made it! Thanks to Mark Thiel of Powel’s Camera Shop for helping us to figure out a few things about our new(ish) cameras. Moni and I made the Neon Museum our testing ground, so to speak. Looking at the photos now, I can see that I have a lot of practice to do, but anyway, the place is cool enough to overcome my clumsy camera skills in at least a couple pics.
The guided tours are an interesting mix of commentary on the signs themselves and stories about old Vegas. One minute you are learning about how they bend neon tubes to make the signs, and the next you are hearing about the role of divorce tourism in the mid-century development of the city. The tours are at their best in those moments when the two themes come together in a single narrative. The stars on the old Stardust marquee are a good example of that. As I recall our old daytime tour-guide related a rumor he couldn’t quite vouch for that they might have been meant to reflect the fall of radioactive dust in the days of nuclear testing. Our night guide on this tour was content to connect them to the era of space exploration. Either way, it’s interesting to see larger patterns of history in the very objects in front of you, or at least in the stories told about them.
My favorite story would have to be that of the Moulin Rouge accord. It’s hard to get a good picture of the Moulin Rouge sign, because it’s so big and distributed in with so many other signs, but the casino played an interesting role in Vegas history. So, it features prominently in the tours. As the first of the Vegas casinos to desegregate, it quickly became a Vegas hot spot, a place where the you could see Frank Sinatra hanging out with Sammy Davis Jr. after doing their own shows. So, it was fitting that the Moulin Rouge would pay a role in the civil rights movement. Facing protests in 1960 over segregation throughout the city, hotel owners met with civil rights leaders at the (already closed) Moulin Rouge. The resulting agreement desegregated the Las Vegas strip.
The tour guides have lots of other stories, of course. I wish I could remember them all.
(Anyway, …click to embiggen!)
Beginning of the tour (You can see the Moulin Rouge sign, sorta)
Whole lotta pink going on here.
Vegas Vic is kinda fuzzy here. (I think he’d been drinking.)
The Lucky Duck
She’s just relaxing
This was the first openly gay bar in Vegas
Vegas Vic in a clearer moment
Sometimes the neon light takes a back seat to the sunlight
From a dry-cleaner, I think
The end of the tour
Cruelty to tourguides. I am guilty of cutting this one in half. (So sorry)