The temptation to continue to lie, to see yourself as the victim in a grand play is formidable
June 17, 2009 11:12 AM   Subscribe

Ta-Nehisi Coates reflects on social myth-making from the losing side.
posted by shothotbot (94 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is fantastic, thanks.
posted by nasreddin at 11:19 AM on June 17, 2009


A few years later I read (like many of you, no doubt) Guns, Germs and Steel and was, again, heartbroken. Here was a book with no use for nobility, but concerned with two categories--winners and losers. And I was the progeny of the losing team. I was not cheated of anything. I had simply lost.

For a piece that so hinges on the content and impact of this book, it sure avoids mention of any illuminating specifics about it.
posted by lumensimus at 11:21 AM on June 17, 2009


That was well worth the read.
posted by ob at 11:39 AM on June 17, 2009


But the clincher was sitting in my Black Diaspora I class and learning that the theory of white kidnappers was not merely myth--but, on the whole, impossible because disease (Tse-Tse fly maybe?) kept most whites from penetrating beyond the coasts until the 19th century.

But ... I thought the liberal academics were indoctrinating our innocent kids into blaming the white folks for everything!
posted by escabeche at 11:39 AM on June 17, 2009


This is a good post for Metafilter.
posted by The Whelk at 11:42 AM on June 17, 2009


Not to defend the Africans, black or Arab, who sold blacks into slavery, but they were probably not aware of just how horrible a situation they were sending their slaves in to. USian slavery is called the Peculiar Institution for a lot of reasons.

Still, plenty of blame and shame to go around, and he makes a good point about Southern whites, who really need to get over it.
posted by QIbHom at 11:46 AM on June 17, 2009


Really awesome article. Thanks for the good read, shothotbot.
posted by brand-gnu at 11:46 AM on June 17, 2009


Nathan Bedford Forrest (pictured above) is beautiful. Again, dig those steely eyes, that dead serious countenance, the warrior's beard.
I'm going to have to go ahead and disagree.
Not to defend the Africans, black or Arab, who sold blacks into slavery, but they were probably not aware of just how horrible a situation they were sending their slaves in to.
Oh come on. These people were slave traders. Do you really think they cared at all what happened to their merchandise?
posted by delmoi at 11:52 AM on June 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


I think the idea of blacks selling each other into slavery is both true and based on ignorance. If it was the English selling the Spanish into slavery it wouldn't be viewed as white people betraying white people it would be viewed as one distinct ethnic group selling another distinct ethnic group into slavery. People don't think of the war of the roses or the hundred years war as white people killing white people. It is only because slavery so decimated the sense of distinction between different African ethnic groups have (in the new world) that it is easy to take the idea of black people selling other black people as some sort of sanction. It's a good essay though.
posted by I Foody at 11:56 AM on June 17, 2009 [23 favorites]


Does anyone have a good article on what would make slavery as practiced in the American south worse than slavery elsewhere?
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:58 AM on June 17, 2009


Interesting political observation in the comments:

"Look at George W. Bush. The national media thought he was adored in the white South because he, unlike his father, was a real Southerner. That's wrong-- Southerners aren't that stupid. It was the fact that he WASN'T from the South, that he was a Connecticut Yankee who wanted to live in King Cotton's court, that he so desperately tried to become a Southerner, that endeared him to the white South. He was the foil to Clinton, who was a real, honest to God Southerner who wanted (so it seemed) to be MORE, to be a global figure, that pissed off so many conservative white Southerners."
posted by -harlequin- at 12:04 PM on June 17, 2009 [8 favorites]


he makes a good point about Southern whites, who really need to get over it.

While this is (sort of) his point, I think you're obscuring a lot of the complexity that I see him acknowledges in the article. (with the general caveat that I be reading in to what he's saying)

The story of the place that you're from is not something you can ever get over without losing the relationship between yourself and the place you're from. To tell me(as a white Southerner) to get over the Civil War makes as much sense as telling an African-American to "get over" slavery; the only way to get over it is to lose a core part of my identity. What he's talking about in the article is finding a way to integrate a realistic version of the history of your ancestors into that identity, one is that is not built on myths. In both the White Southerner and African-American stories, this is a myth of victimhood that is not totally true(which is obviously not to suggest that they contain similar amounts of falsehood).

Growing up in the South, I can tell you that this sort of mythmaking is strongly ingrained in the culture, especially when it comes to the causes of the Civil War. Even among people who weren't racists, the "Civil War was about States' Rights" story is dominant. Obviously this story is not in line with history, and ignoring either the role of slavery, or the evil of slavery, is to misunderstand the Civil War. That said, the people who fought and died on behalf of slavery are my ancestors, and I can't write them off as evil and "get over it" without losing my connection to the past.

What he's calling for(I think) Southerners to do is find a way to admit that slavery was wrong, that the South was wrong, and craft a new way of understanding their identity as Southerners. In much the same way that the author had to craft a new understanding of his identity as "African" because he learned of the role that Africans played in the slave trade.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:06 PM on June 17, 2009 [19 favorites]


Does anyone have a good article on what would make slavery as practiced in the American south worse than slavery elsewhere?

I am not sure what you mean by "worse". More physically or emotionally cruel? I am not sure it was. I doubt it held a candle to being a galley slave chained naked to your oar for your 6-18 months of life.

It was more extensive, in turns of numbers of slaves, and much more recent than other examples. To my mind when Americans were holding slaves makes it more reprehensible and less excusable as we had the benefit of thousands of years of moral, spiritual and even economic thought to make us see the errors of our ways.
posted by shothotbot at 12:09 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Growing up in the South, I can tell you that this sort of mythmaking is strongly ingrained in the culture, especially when it comes to the causes of the Civil War.

This is why as much as I enjoy Shelby Foote's civil war narrative, his basic attitude seems to be "We [the South] are fighting because you Yankees are down here" and that squicks me out.
posted by shothotbot at 12:12 PM on June 17, 2009


Excellent piece and post (and great comment, Bulgaroktonos). In case anyone doesn't know, Ta-Nehisi Coates pronounces his given name /ˌta-nǝˈhasi/ (tah-nǝ-HAH-see); I wrote about it here (lots of interesting discussion of Egyptian and AAVE in the comment thread).
posted by languagehat at 12:12 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


delmoi: "These people were slave traders. Do you really think they cared at all what happened to their merchandise?"

It's been a long time since I studied this, but the slave traders probably did. Well, not yes yes, but there were norms in traditional African slavery, and might better be compared to serfdom or indentured servitude in the English Colonies. It's reasonable to believe that those slavers would expect those norms to be recognized. Slaves were not considered property (chattel): they were paid for their service, they had rights for e.g. days of rest and they could buy their freedom or work towards emancipation. Maybe they picked this idea up from Rome, who treated their slaves similarly. The norms of Colonial and American slavery were radically restricted and more brutal in comparison.

The U.S. could be argued to be more progressive regarding slavery, however, than many African countries in one way. We outlawed slavery in the 19th century, whereas Somalia and Zimbabwe outlawed slavery in the mid 20th century; 1940 if I recall.
posted by boo_radley at 12:13 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm gonna go on out and talk about my wife and slavery; because she is one of these people who actually engages in pretend slave trading for entertainment purposes; this is an anecdote and place accept it as nothing more than that.

I've been observing the interplay of the slave and slaver relationships for about 2years now, probably more like 3 but 2 solid years of non-stop "I'm a slave" / "I'm your Owner" / "Let's catch some slaves" type relationships.

1. The Slavers are inevitably brutal. They will whip, degrade and or molest every captured slave. This is regardless of Gender or Sexuality. A heterosexual male slaver will sexually molest a male captive just as easily as he would a female, he may use a tamed slave as a proxy; but he encourages ill-treatment and dehumanizing of the captive as a matter of standard protocol.

Lesson Learned: Slavers dehumanize their captives. Thus the fate of the slave is not a concern of theirs, it isn't human.

2. Slaves are traded for anything, goods, services, armistice, diplomatic reasons, money. Whatever value the Slave has as a person is not equal to their actual value as an object (no matter the purpose of said slave).

Lesson Learned: Slaves have relative value, but their value doesn't have anything to do with the person inside.

3. Slaves are always persons that are dominated physically by their captors, even if the slave could easily best the Slaver individually, the slaver will utilize technology or greater numbers to subdue the slave.

Lesson Learned: Slavers ply their trade on brutal terms.


In 2 years, I've watched my wife play a slave and a hunter as well as a free woman. It is a behavior style that is opposite of how she is normally (obstinate and uncooperative "like a mule" in her own terms)

However, it's the behavior of the slavers that I'm trying to highlight, even pretend slavers tend to dehumanize and devalue their playmates, as if the reducing their value as people makes the brutality of it acceptable.

Just my 2 cents.
posted by NiteMayr at 12:15 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


I didn't think anybody would take Depeche Mode that literally, but damn.
posted by Spatch at 12:19 PM on June 17, 2009


You guys should know that Ta-Nehisi is often, and I mean often, exactly as on-point as you see in that article. His blog is definitely worth following. All the posts he's been writing on the Civil War for the past few weeks are worth checking out.
posted by creasy boy at 12:23 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm gonna go on out and talk about my wife and slavery; because she is one of these people who actually engages in pretend slave trading for entertainment purposes

I am really confused after reading your comment. More than my usual background confusion, I mean. Is this some kind of weird online game I'm not aware of? A fetishy sex thing? Wacked out LARPing? So confused.
posted by Justinian at 12:25 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


has anyone called Mythbusters on this one yet?
posted by Xoebe at 12:26 PM on June 17, 2009


Great article, shothotbot -- not only well-written and intelligent, but short and to the point.

I'm going to echo Justinian's confusion at NiteMayr's story. I don't think I'm familiar with this game. Is this like some demented version of fantasy football? Are safewords required?
posted by Edgewise at 12:30 PM on June 17, 2009


For example, this and this are also good.
posted by creasy boy at 12:30 PM on June 17, 2009


On a side note, as someone of color, I consider this a very important message, but one that doesn't go far enough. I've had the experience of visiting a high school friend in the south who's friends are through and through "southern".

To believe that if we deliver the message of truth then people will see the light, we'll live in harmony, etc...

Doesn't work that way. During conversations about the Civil War (one which turns into a half-joking "y'all only won because..."), I'm appalled at how so many of them have been indoctrinated by the belief that any concession on the role slavery played in the war is a direct threat of southern culture. At the mere suggestion that "states' rights" could have been a red herring, white cheeks become very red.

I don't get mad at these people. I can see fear of disillusionment in their eyes. Their teachers, their dad and his teachers, their grand-pappy and his teachers, all the way up the tree were taught that their pride rests on their history (not strictly their lineage) and the stars and bars holds a piece of that history together. With any suggestion that there was something severely wrong with the ideals of a specific time in history, they have been taught to believe everything else will unravel. This is the pea under decades of mattresses. I see this when the following exchange occurs:

He: Well, the conditions in the factories up North weren't exactly all that great. What's the difference between that and indentured servitude? (distilled quote)

I: The workers could leave whenever they desired. Granted, they would have probably starved, but they could've thrown their corpse on any state they pleased.

He: *shakes head, changes topic*

It's that shake of the head. A way of saying "Does not compute. Ignore, retry, abort?" There wasn't supposed to be an argument to their position because nobody had ever given them that.

I consider it an insult to southern culture to rest so much of it on the rationalization of its most despicable element. Germans have been able to preserve their rich culture with a simple "I'm sorry. We lost our heads. Get drunk with us every Oktober." Why is it so hard for people to say "Sorry, we are a culture that went through a detestable period of human exploitation and racism, but with this discord came some wonderful things. A cornflower on a turd, if you will. Please, accept the apology and take this country fried steak, bottle of bourbon, rock and roll, Mark Twain, and chitterlings as our gift to American culture."

I'd accept that apology.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 12:38 PM on June 17, 2009 [24 favorites]


To tell me(as a white Southerner) to get over the Civil War makes as much sense as telling an African-American to "get over" slavery; the only way to get over it is to lose a core part of my identity.

How fucked up is it that a hundred and fifty years later, an act of treasonous insurrection intended to protect the institution of slavery and mass dehumanization is still very important to the identities of the descendants of the traitors?

Yes, get the fuck over it. It was a horrible crime against humanity, there is nothing about it to be proud of, and it wasn't done by anyone still alive. That you would somehow make it "a core part" of your identity is disturbing beyond words.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:39 PM on June 17, 2009 [8 favorites]


Anyone interested in the Myth of the South ought to read Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War, which is for a large portion of the book about the construction of this myth (as filtered through the specific myth of Jesse James). The understanding of just how consciously constructed the myth was has been illuminating to this quasi-Southerner.

To me, it's not a matter of "getting over it." It's a matter of accepting your myths as myths, and then understanding why they matter, and (just as importantly) what both the lies and the truth say about you, your people and the country.

As they say, I love Paul Revere whether he rode or not.

And now I'm going to use the word "myth" a few more times: myth, myth, myth.

On preview: I consider it an insult to southern culture to rest so much of it on the rationalization of its most despicable element. Germans have been able to preserve their rich culture with a simple "I'm sorry. We lost our heads. Get drunk with us every Oktober." Why is it so hard for people to say "Sorry, we are a culture that went through a detestable period of human exploitation and racism, but with this discord came some wonderful things. A cornflower on a turd, if you will. Please, accept the apology and take this country fried steak, bottle of bourbon, rock and roll, Mark Twain, and chitterlings as our gift to American culture."

Yes.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:40 PM on June 17, 2009


TNC writes regularly about *not* knowing about X, or re-thinking it, and seems admirably unafraid of being seen to learn something. Whereas many blogs are about how Current Event X is good or bad, Coates takes a different approach: What does X teach me, or how does it change my perspective?

On a consistent basis, his work is really interesting.
posted by darth_tedious at 12:44 PM on June 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


I consider it an insult to southern culture to rest so much of it on the rationalization of its most despicable element. Germans have been able to preserve their rich culture with a simple "I'm sorry. We lost our heads. Get drunk with us every Oktober." Why is it so hard for people to say "Sorry, we are a culture that went through a detestable period of human exploitation and racism, but with this discord came some wonderful things. A cornflower on a turd, if you will. Please, accept the apology and take this country fried steak, bottle of bourbon, rock and roll, Mark Twain, and chitterlings as our gift to American culture."

I agree one hundred percent. However, the big difference is that the Nazi didn't remain in power after WWII. In the South, after the tiny bit of upheaval and change that Reconstruction brought, those in power before the war went right back into power. And in the few instances where the Mighty White Southerner was brung low by the Evil Carpetbaggers, it only added to their "nobility" and sense of victimhood.

That sense of victimhood is essential in maintaining the power structure. Not only does this Lost Cause give the elite whites a reason to glorify an outdated and corrupt system, it encourages the poor whites (who weren't really invested in the whole system as much as they like to think they were) a piece of emotional capital.

No longer are you some shoeless hick from the hills that can't read and can at best hope that most of your children live to adulthood...nope, with the Lost Cause you are the rightful owner of land and a life that has been denied you. Through no fault of your own, you failed to win. And the absolution of blame is the most seductive thing ever. You aren't successful not because you don't try, but because you have been denied the chance.
posted by teleri025 at 12:50 PM on June 17, 2009 [9 favorites]


I know I always bring things back to the Motherland, and maybe there's no call for it here, but this post really resonated with me because of the way it connects with the historical experience of Russians. We sense that we have been for centuries the losers of Europe. While the rest of the continent developed socially and culturally in the Middle Ages, we were under the Mongol yoke; while they saw the rise of a middle class and a civil society, we had only the grip of absolutism; while they saw the economic takeoff of capitalism, we had serfdom, and most of us were illiterate peasant farmers. Stalin put his finger on it in 1931:
To slow down our rate [of development] would mean to fall behind. And those who fall behind are beaten. But we do not want to be beaten. No, we do not! The history of the old Russia consisted in part of its being constantly beaten for falling behind. It was beaten by Mongol khans. It was beaten by Turkish beks. It was beaten by Swedish feudal lords. It was beaten by Polish and Lithuanian nobles. It was beaten by Anglo-French capitalists. It was beaten by Japanese barons. It was beaten by everyone--for falling behind. For falling behind militarily, for falling behind culturally, for falling behind politically, for falling behind industrially, for falling behind agriculturally. It was beaten because it was profitable and went unpunished. Remember the words of the pre-revolutionary poet: "You are the wretched, and you are the bountiful, and you are the mighty, and you are the powerless, Mother Russia." These gentlemen learned well these words of the old poet. They beat us and said, "You are bountiful"--and thus we can profit at your expense. They beat us and said, "You are wretched, powerless"--and thus we can beat and loot you, unpunished. Such is the law of the exploiters--to beat the weak and those who fall behind. The wolf's law of capitalism. You fall behind, you are weak--that means you are in the wrong, and so you can be beaten and enslaved. You are mighty--that means you are in the right, and thus you should be feared.

That is why we can no longer fall behind.
And the mythmaking that we do to deal with the reality of being losers is always bound up with war: World War II--or the Great Patriotic War, as it is called--and the war against Napoleon--or the Patriotic War, as it is called--and Peter the Great's war against the Swedes, and the liberation struggle against the Mongols. All of them wars in which we losers managed to get our own back. Inevitably these myths of war become the intellectual property of the State, and so it becomes impossible to disassociate the myth from the leader who enabled it. Westerners who comment sarcastically about our devotion to autocratic rule, like Yankees who ridicule the South for clinging to the Confederacy, don't understand the significance of this fact, or how difficult it is to disentangle this knot of myth and power. I don't think there are any simple answers, but it is clear to me that there are few people who can follow Coates in owning up to the historical reality of always being beaten, without hedging against it with a layer of myth. That takes a lot of courage.
posted by nasreddin at 12:50 PM on June 17, 2009 [18 favorites]


@Justinian & @Edgewise

It's Second Life in the "Gorean" sims... it's more about Misogyny than anything else; but the overarching point was about the cycle of dehumanizing nature of the Slaver, Slave and eventual Master - Slave relationship

You can see the psychology at play there even in the game world that led to the South thinking that they were justified in their behavior.

If Linden Labs abolished even pretend non-consensual slavery, the Gorean Playtime Pals would be up in arms over it in mere moments.
posted by NiteMayr at 12:53 PM on June 17, 2009


"I'm gonna go on out and talk about my wife and slavery; because she is one of these people who actually engages in pretend slave trading for entertainment purposes;"

What?

Can we get some more background on this? I am totally befuddled...
posted by Irontom at 12:55 PM on June 17, 2009


That'll teach me to refresh before I post...
posted by Irontom at 1:01 PM on June 17, 2009



I (as a Brit) always had the impression that the States' rights view was the more balanced one and that slavery was the issue important in retrospect. Clearly I need to do some reading.

I think there is some natural human tendency to view things in terms of just two sides, one purely good and one purely evil. I think it's kind of insulting to the people involved but also exceedingly difficult to overcome (I recognise myself doing it frequently).

The whole myth of it simply being white oppressors vs poor black people can be demolished simply by looking at the case of Liberia, where freed slaves lorded over Africans and deemed themselves superior.

On the notion that the South should just square it's myth with history, because it's been 150 years already...you might have to wait considerably longer. I mean views on the British civil wars (ok I'm mainly just talking about Cromwell et al) are still mythologised, sometimes heavily and that was even further back.
posted by Erberus at 1:14 PM on June 17, 2009


Pope Guilty, I think you're deliberately misreading what I said. The thing that is a "core part of my identity" is being from the South, not specifically the Civil War. I also didn't "make" it part of my identity, that was pretty much decided when I was born in the South, to a family that has lived in the South as far back as anyone can remember. Maybe some people can separate themselves and their identity from their families and their history, but I'm guessing those people are few and far between.

Now, because being Southern is part of my identity, I have to deal with what role the Civil War plays in that, because it's too big an event to be ignored. In fact, I think you're completely wrong when you say that it's "fucked up" that the Civil War is still very important to the identities of Southerners. It's not only not "fucked up" I can not imagine a world in which the event of a large scale war, fought for any cause, disappears from the identity of the people on whose soil it was fought, in a mere 150 years.

Dealing with the fact of the Civil War is obviously going to be complicated for me because of the fact that my ancestors participated in the institution of slavery, and fought to defend it, two actions which are indefensible, in any century. That said, telling me to "get over it" means effectively telling me to separate myself from my history, which is something that I can not do, and can not be reasonably asked to do.

The solution is, I think, for the individual Southerners, and the South as a whole to craft a narrative of being Southern that neither ignores the past, nor glorifies it. Instead, it must acknowledge past sins, while maintaining the connection to the people who committed those sins.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:14 PM on June 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yes, but play S&M "slavery" is very different from a situation where your chattel slaves are the most valuable pieces of property that you own. If you had a slave who was, for instance, a blacksmith, then they are producing wealth for you, and they would tend to be treated well. They weren't free, couldn't choose what they were going to do, but they weren't going to be raped from sun-up to sun-down - that's more a fetishy online role playing thing.

Where you saw the most abuse was in the semi-skilled slaves, the field hands and such, where their actual value as property was less, and so abuse was more rampant.

The economics of slavery meant that some slaves were incredibly valuable to their owners - that's not irrelevant when looking at treatment and psychology. I'm not sure that roleplaying applies. You rape your money-maker all day long, they don't make you money.
posted by MythMaker at 1:25 PM on June 17, 2009


Great article.

As a white southerner myself, I've always wondered along the same lines as Bathtub Bobsled up-thread, why can't the South just move on already, and embrace it's inner Mark Twain?

What's greatest in Southern culture is great on its own terms, and only suffers for the misguided efforts of certain holdouts intent on fighting history to preserve or defend moral defects in the South's past.

...natural human tendency to view things in terms of just two sides, one purely good and one purely evil. I think it's kind of insulting to the people involved but also exceedingly difficult to overcome (I recognise myself doing it frequently).

Yep, and it's a tendency doubly difficult to overcome because the other guy has it, too, and is likely to persist in viewing the situation in terms of Good v. Evil even if you've managed to overcome this childish view. And if that other guy persists in viewing the situation in those terms despite your best efforts, eventually the only way to survive (or "win" to pick up that theme from the article), for all all practical purposes, is to descend back into the mindset yourself.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:30 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]



It's true that S&M slavery is different from chattel slavery. But your man didn't say that all the slavers did was rape their slaves all day. He said:

They will whip, degrade and or molest every captured slave...regardless of Gender or Sexuality. [A slaver] encourages ill-treatment and dehumanizing of the captive as a matter of standard protocol.

"Regardless of." Dehumaization is a necessary and inevitable requirement, because dehumanizing the other is how you justify your brutality to yourself and how you exercise your power over the other. That, I think, would be the same, regardless of the slave's relative worth or the purpose for which you intend them. To keep a slave you must literally beat into them the idea that they are worthless and cannot resist you, that they have no power.
posted by Diablevert at 1:34 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


USian slavery is called the Peculiar Institution for a lot of reasons.

actually, it was pretty much just one reason: as a political euphemism. "peculiar" in this instance means "particular to us" as opposed to "strange" or "odd."
posted by beukeboom at 1:34 PM on June 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


NiteMayr You can see the psychology at play there even in the game world that led to the South thinking that they were justified in their behavior.

The Stanford Prison Experiment continues to work. Online simulators are a special case, of course, and I'd be hesitant to draw many conclusions from them. There are no more real consequences to a character sold into slavery in Second Life than to a sniper character shot in Team Fortress 2. Any real consequences occur in the heads of the players, who--although they may be extremely annoyed, and take it very personally--are actually neither enslaved nor shot and can turn the game off or resume as a new character any time.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:36 PM on June 17, 2009


saulgoodman But your man didn't say that all the slavers did was rape their slaves all day.

This is Second Life he's talking about ... what else is there to do?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:37 PM on June 17, 2009


misattribution there, aeschenkarnos.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:46 PM on June 17, 2009


although if i played second life, i'd probably concede the point.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:47 PM on June 17, 2009


@saulgoodman and @aeschenkaros

Well, right now on SL my wife is raising Chickens and has slaves to tend her store, they meticulously write out all the steps in the care and feeding of these clucking pokemon and then sell them to other people...

As a courtesy to me my wife refrains from being willingly or unwillingly raped or engaging in sex play online, but ever so often she slips it in there, which I disapprove of vociferously.

(they have a form of limits that they are supposed to agree too)

Other slaves will spend days setting up and performing long form "Service" rituals where they describe in text how they serve food and drink and then tend to their masters needs (like bathing and new clothes)

It's sickeningly banal but at least I don't have to read about my wife openly fantasizing about being gang banged by lonely men like Mike Riddell (not the photographer) or Marcus Eklund eewwww


However, this discussion of my Wife's Second Life habits detracts from my original point; The Salve/Slaver/Master relationship corrodes the social contract in ways that appear to be deep-seated and have far reaching effects; much like those that we see today in America.
posted by NiteMayr at 1:48 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is Second Life he's talking about ... what else is there to do?

Anyone who finds a Lego set boring is, I think, missing something.
posted by Malor at 1:48 PM on June 17, 2009


Anyone who finds a Lego set boring is, I think, missing something.

Hands?
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 1:58 PM on June 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


Yep, and it's a tendency doubly difficult to overcome because the other guy has it, too, and is likely to persist in viewing the situation in terms of Good v. Evil even if you've managed to overcome this childish view. And if that other guy persists in viewing the situation in those terms despite your best efforts, eventually the only way to survive (or "win" to pick up that theme from the article), for all all practical purposes, is to descend back into the mindset yourself.

I'm reminded me of this fora talk in which Reza Aslan argues that the Bush administration approached the issue of jihadists in fundamentally the wrong way because they turned it into an unending "cosmic war" between good and evil. Which is exactly the kind of conflict the jihadists want to fight and believed they are engaged in. His response is that you should simply refuse to engage on this level and treat terrorism simply as a criminal act.
posted by Erberus at 1:59 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Great article. Wish there were a lot more of it, to be honest. Will have much more to say tonight when I have time to write.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:09 PM on June 17, 2009


Anyone who finds a Lego set boring is, I think, missing something.

It's only a Lego set if you have 3D modeling and script coding skills. Otherwise it's just WoW without any classes, levels, spells, monsters, or anything else to do besides chat and cyber.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:18 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


aeschenkarnos : Any real consequences occur in the heads of the players, who--although they may be extremely annoyed, and take it very personally--are actually neither enslaved nor shot and can turn the game off or resume as a new character any time.

My Daughter and I both have a differing opinion on this than you do; but that's not the point I was making. The point was that even while pretending and knowing that there are no consequences people will attempt to ensure that the slave is totally degraded, totally subverted if only to ensure that the act of bartering for them is easier.
posted by NiteMayr at 2:20 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


It may be that I have to "give up some part of myself" to free myself from identifying with slave-owning (or slavery-condoning) Southern ancestors. But while I can't help but love my immediate, somewhat racist, family members, I am totally ok with this negligible "sacrifice" on my part.

There was a lot of mistaken nobleness and sacrifice by certain southerners in the Civil War, because in their minds they were fighting a good war for a just cause. But it was all a sham, a bloody waste of lives in defense of the indefensible. And worse was the actions of the South in taking their revenge on the black population in their midst afterwards.

If I found out that an ancestor of mine fought on the side of the South or owned slaves or belonged to the Klan, I would find that sobering and frankly, shameful, even though it might be entirely understandable in the context of their times. It was still an unmitigated evil.
posted by emjaybee at 2:36 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not sure that a discussion of the Gorean lifestyle/fandom is really relevant here.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:37 PM on June 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


If I found out that an ancestor of mine fought on the side of the South or owned slaves or belonged to the Klan, I would find that sobering and frankly, shameful,

That makes it sound like you haven't freed yourself from identifying with those ancestors at all, which was my point. Your past is with you everywhere you go, including your ancestors. Most people can't help but identifying with their ancestors.

I for one do know that my ancestors owned slaves(well, actually only one slave that we're sure of) and at least one member fought for the South. My point was that I, and every other Southerner in a similar situation, has to find a way to reconcile the fact that my ancestors did something evil with the fact that I am proud of who I am, and that part of who I am is is my ancestors. Being told to "get over it" amounts to being told to forget the second half of that reconciliation, and that's neither helpful, nor appropriate.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:01 PM on June 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


The social relationship we call 'slavery' isn't identical in all cultures. In many cultures, where perhaps it is more embedded, there may be more protective conventions. In traditional Islamic culture, slaves had rights of various kinds. I'm not saying 'oh, great, it was really enlightened', I'm just saying that it's not a simple term which means the same thing in every culture.

I feel the concept of property has particular social strength in the USA (and to some extent the rest of the West) and is seen as prior to, or independent of, other social obligations and institutions. I wonder whether the dehumanising characteristics of Southern slavery are linked to this convention of absolute ownership.
posted by communicator at 3:05 PM on June 17, 2009


@Hallowe'en Jack

I agree, I was simply using an anecdote to discuss the relationships of slaves to slave masters and so on, but the concept of internet cybersex overwhelmed the substance of my point. Oh well.
posted by NiteMayr at 3:28 PM on June 17, 2009


Pope Guilty: Does anyone have a good article on what would make slavery as practiced in the American south worse than slavery elsewhere?

"Slave = black (or at least, not white)" was the major innovation. Also, making it hereditary. This is not an article, but pp. 66-68 talk about reasons for the shift from indentured servitude to race-based slavery.

Of course what with white masters' prerogatives over slaves' bodies, there came a point when they had to go through all sorts of contortions (eg, one drop rule) to keep the simplistic categories from collapsing altogether in the face of those who could "pass" for white (the entire Cheryl Harris article, "Whiteness as Property," is a must-read for people interested in this stuff, if you've got access to a research library).
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:59 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine has spent his post-undergrad academic career studying slavery in South America and the Caribbean . . . The stories he tells of the treatment of the slaves there, and their punishments, are just absolutely fucking terrible, so much worse that the worst abuses I've ever heard of in the US slavery tradition. So as horrible as the American slavery system was, I don't know whether you can claim it was the absolute worst.
posted by schroedinger at 4:22 PM on June 17, 2009


Thanks so much for the post, and for introducing me to this writer.

And holy wow, you must read this, which he links in a subsequent entry -- an 1865 letter from an escaped slave to his former master, politely declining his offer to return. It's goddamned amazing.
posted by Kat Allison at 4:46 PM on June 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I meant to add in my previous comment that the info was to illustrate different manifestations of perniciousness, not to demonstrate objective worstness. Thanks for catching that.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 4:46 PM on June 17, 2009


I don't know, Bulgaroktonos...I cannot say that I believe that my ancestors are part of who I am, except in the genetic sense, more than 2 generations back, i.e., the ancestors who were alive after I was born for any length of time. Anyone before that is a stranger to me, and though it's possible that, were we to meet, I would recognise some part of their talents or appearance in myself, I cannot think of that as an actual connection--far enough back, and you're related to almost everyone, after all. I share a fair number of personality and appearence traits with the family I married into, even. More than with some of my actual family members.

Any shame I would feel would be more in fear that someone else would think of me in terms of those who defended slavery, or lynched people, in my family tree, or mistakenly think I was proud of that.

I think what I was trying and failing to say before is that the whole focus on heritage, bloodlines, etc. is a social fiction and we'd be better off not using our ancestor's actions as any sort of meaningful guide or prediction of our own.
posted by emjaybee at 4:56 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


To tell me(as a white Southerner) to get over the Civil War makes as much sense as telling an African-American to "get over" slavery

More like telling a German to get over WWII.
posted by delmoi at 4:58 PM on June 17, 2009


I came to understand that there really was no cosmic justice, that I should just be happy to be alive. Moreover the truth--Harriet Tubman and Ida Wells--was sustenance enough.

This is the best bit. Like Guru said, "There's no justice/ it's just us."
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:58 PM on June 17, 2009


The U.S. could be argued to be more progressive regarding slavery, however, than many African countries in one way. We outlawed slavery in the 19th century, whereas Somalia and Zimbabwe outlawed slavery in the mid 20th century; 1940 if I recall.

There was no Zimbabwe in 1940, it was called Rhodesia and it wasn't exactly run by Africans.

Talking about German and WWII the interesting reason is why the Germans were accepting of what happened, and don't seek to downplay it. It's basically because we forced them to acknowledge it. People were taken up to the camps to see what had gone on. We ran the country for many years and required that people learn about what happened.

In contrast with Japan, none of that happened, and the Japanese are very amnesiac about what really went on in the war. But they are very pacifist now mainly because we put that into their constitution.

So I guess the lesson is, that kind of social engineering can work, or at least in those cases where an enemy is completely defeated and society is rebuilt from scratch.

I (as a Brit) always had the impression that the States' rights view was the more balanced one and that slavery was the issue important in retrospect. Clearly I need to do some reading.

It's completely reversed. The south didn't give a damn about states rights when it came to northern states freeing their slaves, and they demanded things like the fugitive slave act and so on.

Also, is anyone else sick of hearing about "NiteMayr"'s wife?
posted by delmoi at 5:19 PM on June 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


There are more slaves now than any time in the past.
Slavery is legal nowhere, yet it is practiced everywhere. With an estimated 27 million people in bondage worldwide, it is the second or third most lucrative criminal enterprise of our time, after drugs, and maybe guns. More than twice as many people are in bondage in the world today as were taken in chains during the entire 350 years of the African Slave Trade.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:35 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]



I think what I was trying and failing to say before is that the whole focus on heritage, bloodlines, etc. is a social fiction and we'd be better off not using our ancestor's actions as any sort of meaningful guide or prediction of our own.


Not to make this too epic in scope, but isn't all self-identity a social fiction? I don't think that makes it any less important in the lives of the people who have those identities, and it doesn't make it any more likely that people will ever stop identifying themselves because those identities are social fictions.

Also, maybe I'm an outlier here, but I can't imagine having your connection to your family be limited to those who are alive. The people who are alive were raised by the people who were dead, and my experience of family life was always filled with stories about the people who'd been dead, including people who were alive during the Civil War(seriously, the story about how my ancestor was left for dead on a battlefield was told plenty of times at family gatherings, and I'll probably mention it to my kids too). Maybe this is not the case in every family, but I definitely had a sense of my family as extending back much further than the people alive.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:40 PM on June 17, 2009


Also, maybe I'm an outlier here, but I can't imagine having your connection to your family be limited to those who are alive. The people who are alive were raised by the people who were dead, and my experience of family life was always filled with stories about the people who'd been dead, including people who were alive during the Civil War

Same here. I grew up hearing about the Civil War, and I had more ancestors on the Southern side than the winning one, and while I regret that they fought for an indefensible cause, I'm not about to disavow them. Family is family. If someone else chooses to limit their definition of "family I care about" to "family I've met" or "me and my parents and siblings" or "family members I feel lived lives of acceptable rectitude," that's their business, but don't go around telling other people how to feel about their kin.
posted by languagehat at 5:53 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


There are more slaves now than any time in the past.

FYI, as a percentage of world population, number of slavers is it at it's lowest rates ever. Not that the current situation isn't horribly fucked up. But there is reason for hope.
posted by nooneyouknow at 6:07 PM on June 17, 2009


I don't know, Bulgaroktonos...I cannot say that I believe that my ancestors are part of who I am, except in the genetic sense

I can't even say that I consider my own father or biological grandfather to be a part of who I am, except in the genetic sense (which unfortunately brings with it an awkward resemblance), so I'm with you. The two of them interest me only to the extent their medical histories may have some bearing on my health, and that of my son, and that's as far as it goes.

But then, personal identity is an illusion in my religion anyway.

Also, maybe I'm an outlier here, but I can't imagine having your connection to your family be limited to those who are alive

I will say, though, that I do feel a strong connection to a different part of my family. My family on my mom's side (who are all German, like my mom) traced their lineage directly back to the Huguenots; my grandmother's maternal lineage was likely ethnically Jewish. On both sides, my ancestors tended to be craftsmen, engineers, and skilled laborers.

None of my American ancestors, as far as I know, played any particular role in the civil war. The most distant ancestor I can trace here appears to have first immigrated from Canada in the 1820s, and his occupation is identified on the immigration records simply as 'Engineer.'

So I guess I do feel a connection to my family roots after all. There's just a couple of nodes in the network I could do without. But I don't have any misgivings about severing those connections. All the people who really formed a crucial part of my identity--the people who raised me--are dead. So I have only my own faulty memory to rely on to tell me the important stuff about who I am.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:31 PM on June 17, 2009


I've got so many thoughts about this that it's probably going to be folly to try to put them into any real order or construct, but here I go anyway...

The article was amazing for, well, it's general brilliance and insight obviously, but also for it's compassion in espousing the link between the thought processes of the black and white descendents of that part of history, without any judgment at all. Hell, I'm white and find it hard not to judge any white southerner who talks up Southern Pride while sugarcoating or whitewashing the sins of the past. That Coates does so, and so naturally, here speaks volumes as to his empathy and humanity. I'm astounded, and will certainly keep up with his blog now.

That letter Kat Allison linked to is also phenomenal, and made me want to cry and cheer at the same time. That letter should be taught in schools.

I've been thinking a lot about history recently, what we learn from it and our attachments to it. I think, first, we must realize that while parts of history can educate or entertain us, we will feel most powerfully about that which is most connected to us, where we came from, and truly, why we are here and alive at all. It might be a fiction, but the circumstances that allowed for our existence are most certainly part of our identity, if only as elucidating background.

And that's a great deal of what Coates is getting to, not that we should reject our family histories, but that we need to be honest about them. Should white southerners reject that they're ancestors were slaveowners (or more likely for most, were complicit in and fought for the continuance of the slave trade)? Of course not. Everyone has atrocities in their past and in their histories. Owning up to them is good for knowing not only what brought us here, but what we're all capable of if we don't pay attention.

Understanding the Antebellum South is tricky because we must at once be truthful about the "unmitigated evil" of slavery (only in quotes because it's a phrase used upthread) and also be, I guess this is the word, sympathetic to how a group of not-inherently-evil people could've been a part of it for so long, and even fought and died to defend the institution. And so we come to the old quote about how it's nearly impossible to make a man accept a truth when his job depends on not accepting it. In this case, the truth is that the life, liberty and happiness of an African person is equal to that of a Caucasian, and the entire economy of the South was built around having to deny that. That, my friends, is what makes all of this so difficult, and also so ingrained in the minds of some people.

The comparison (or rather contrast) has been made between the South about Slavery and Germany about the Nazi period. delmoi made some good points about why the two are so different, but there are quite a few more important differences than that. I (and I imagine a great many of us) first came across that comparison in the South Park episode about the flag debate, and in that framework it makes sense. The CSA lasted a very short time, historically, as did the Third Reich; any adult coming out the other side would've been alive and conscious of the time before their inception.

But the atrocities committed by Germany can more or less entirely be filed under Hitler whereas slavery can't be nearly so easily filed under "The Civil War." (Side note, my roommate and I were discussing this, and having a wonderful time doing so. He's from small-town Georgia, and has often used the term "War of Northern Aggression" because it can't be a civil war when it was between two nations. We agreed upon "War Between the States," when I countered that no one would call the American Revolution the "War of British Aggression" and he agreed that it was a disingenuous and loaded term.)

But the circumstances of The South and Post-WW2-Germany were also diametrically different. Germany industrialized like mad during WW2 in order to execute blitzkrieg. When the war was over, they were defeated, of course, but they had one of the most solid manufacturing infrastructures in the world, and were kept from using it for military purposes anyway. They had something they could put the masses to work doing and the infrastructure there to do so (as did Italy, turning their aircraft plants into Vespa plants). The South had an infrastructure built on slavery, which they were fighting to keep. When they lost, that structure was gone (which is good, obviously, in case anyone is misreading me) and then reconstruction and carpetbagging destroyed what was left. And Idle Hands are the devil's playthings.

Stories pass down, and great swaths of the South are left without the economic benefits that Atlanta and Houston and Dallas are seeing, and the whites in those areas are left not only with the racism passed down from their forefathers, but with the talisman that things could've been great, they would've been nobility, if not for Carpetbagging and Reconstruction.

The Great Devastating Loss can be seen throughout history, with The Alamo and 9-11 being particularly relevant to my own history. It's the thing you Remember; the thing that you Never Forget. It's the thing that eventually becomes a source of pride for those reasons. But it's also the thing that - though it has the ostensibly righteous justification of memorializing the lost - becomes the instrument of crystalizing hatred. Remember the Alamo. Never Forget the towers burning. Hold onto how much you wanted revenge at those moments. I had ancestors at the Battle of San Jacinto, who won the war there by killing the Mexican Army as they slept. I'm sure they were Remembering the Alamo as they did so.

But I also have ancestors from West Virginia, the one state that seceded in the name of abolition... from Virginia. Hell, my ancestor Henry Hatfield was a popular governor there, defending organized labor and other good causes. Of course he himself was descended from the same Hatfields who battled the McCoys in the most famous of all redneck wars, and if you go far enough back in my history, you reach English Kings, I'm told, which sounds cool until you think of what they must have committed without much thought as to the consequences. History is a mixed bag at best.

But I digress. The point is that Reconstrustion is the talisman of defeat that keeps certain parts of the South going, and angry, if only because, for all of the advancements of the 20th century and beyond, they've never really recovered from it. So they Remember Reconstruction; They Never Forget the Carpetbaggers. And, of course, the South will rise again, because there's a certain victory in never letting go of defeat.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant, though, and that's why I love the article so much - because it begs for acceptance of truth. This is way too long already, so I'll end by asking everyone to check out what five fresh fish linked to, to remind us all that we still have most of our clothes made by slaves in horrendous conditions, but don't really think about it (and I'm no better than anyone else in this regard) and that maybe mythologizing goes both ways, at least a little bit, and we'd do best to both examine our current complicity with atrocity as well as empathizing with those who did the same in the past.

I barely even know what my coherent thesis on all of this was by now.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:42 PM on June 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


So much good stuff to comment on, so sorry in advance for tracking so many tangents in one post!

I can't imagine having your connection to your family be limited to those who are alive

I think that we are connected to our past whether we are consciously aware of our ancestry or not. When our family started digging back it was fascinating to see how many stories were repeated in different generations, and to learn just how many family traits had been passed on.

I'm gonna go on out and talk about my wife and slavery; because she is one of these people who actually engages in pretend slave trading for entertainment purposes.

One of my buddies just broke up with his boyfriend of many years after the boyfriend ordered a slave online. Literally. He set the slave up in the guest bedroom. I'm not sure how this story, or yours, relates to the discussion.

it is easy to take the idea of black people selling other black people as some sort of sanction.

I never thought that this was used to sanction the idea of slavery, so much as to negate the simplistic idea of white:bad and black:good.

I (as a Brit) always had the impression that the States' rights view was the more balanced one and that slavery was the issue important in retrospect

I (a Yankee) was taught that the real issue was economic development, and that it was a case of the industrial north fighting the agrarian south over the status of the new western states.


Does anyone have a good article on what would make slavery as practiced in the American south worse than slavery elsewhere?


Sorry, I don't have a link, but my impression was that, while US slavery was brutal, it paled in comparison to the practices in the Caribbean and Brazil.
posted by kanewai at 7:43 PM on June 17, 2009


TNC is not always right but he is always awesome. Good post. I will always love The Atlantic.
posted by IvoShandor at 11:38 PM on June 17, 2009


If I found out that an ancestor of mine fought on the side of the South or owned slaves or belonged to the Klan, I would find that sobering and frankly, shameful, even though it might be entirely understandable in the context of their times. It was still an unmitigated evil.

Every single person alive today is descended from murderers and rapists. Which is a sobering thought.
posted by atrazine at 4:06 AM on June 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Sorry, I don't have a link, but my impression was that, while US slavery was brutal, it paled in comparison to the practices in the Caribbean and Brazil.

U.S. plantations were usually much, much smaller than Caribbean/Brazilian plantations, which led (some historians argue) to a greater degree of casual brutality, dehumanization, and death in Caribbean/Brazilian slavery. Life as a slave in Bahia or Saint Domingue could be hellacious -- but there was an incredible diversity of slavery "types" throughout the Americas. Urban slavery is very different from rural slavery, and it is tricky to make facile comparisons between a lot of wildly different experiences. (Take, for example, the ex-slaves of Rio de Janeiro who proudly owned their own slaves...)

There are hundreds of scholarly works and comparative studies, but the tip of the iceberg: Eugene Genovese wrote a lot of comparative studies of slave societies in the Americas; Sidney Mintz has written about sugar plantations in the Caribbean, and Mary Karasch and Stuart Schwartz have written extensively about Brazilian slavery. (Also, as far as the sheer variety of slavery experiences go, there's The Virgin, the King, and the Royal Slaves of El Cobre: Negotiating Freedom in Colonial Cuba, 1670-1780, which discusses a community of Cuban slaves with an unusual degree of "freedom." )
posted by cabezadevaca at 4:23 AM on June 18, 2009


Two more thumbs up for TNC. I don't have a lot of time for reading blogs anymore, but I still visit his daily.
posted by K.P. at 5:23 AM on June 18, 2009


> Every single person alive today is descended from murderers and rapists. Which is a sobering thought.

Just wanted to highlight this for general meditation. It's too easy to single out a designated group of Bad People and say "Thank god I'm not part of that bunch!" Humanity as a whole does not have a good record. Lead the best life you can and try to be understanding about those who fail to live up to the highest standards.
posted by languagehat at 6:12 AM on June 18, 2009


Does anyone have a good article on what would make slavery as practiced in the American south worse than slavery elsewhere?
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:58 PM on June 17 [+] [!]


Slavery in the southern American states wasn't worse than slavery elsewhere in the New World - it was a lot better than slavery in sugar plantations of the Carribean, for example.

What people are talking about is Plantation slavery, which was practiced by Europeans of all kinds in the New World, and yes, that was very different from and, one could say, worse than slavery as practiced on the African continent. We shouldn't get rosy about African slavery, or the trade of slaves into the Middle East, but plantation slavery was a particularly horrific institution which treated people as more disposable than animals, because they were cheap to replace. I remember reading this very good book about slavery in Demerara In Demerara, where conditions were so horrible slaves refused to have children, because they didn't want to bring them into such a world. After the end of the slave trade in the early nineteenth century, this began to change because slaves themselves became more valuable.
posted by jb at 6:36 AM on June 18, 2009


I can't believe that people are making an argument here for metagenetics. Who your ancestors were has no reflection in current reality, except genetically. My (northern) ancestors included slave overseers, murderers, drunks and thieves. None of that reflects on me at all.

The stories you grew up hearing, those might have some effect on who we become, but part of being an adult is weeding out the lies and the shit.
posted by QIbHom at 7:10 AM on June 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


How on earth do you have pride in your ancestors? You didn't choose them. You didn't create them. You never even fucking met more than a couple of them. It's absolute pure chance- you're not responsible for them in any way. How can you possibly take pride in something that you didn't have anything to do with?
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:56 AM on June 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


How on earth do you have pride in your ancestors? You didn't choose them. You didn't create them.

My mother went to anti-war rallies back in 2002 and 2003 and I was proud of her. I hadn't created or chosen her or her actions.

I'm proud of my nephews sometimes, and they are not the work of my hands or mind.

I've been in Germany for a long time now, and often I feel pride in the English language when I read or hear things that are beautiful and could only be said in English -- turns of phrase, bits of dialogue, jokes, whole poems. I didn't choose or create the English language.

I've heard this a lot -- that it's irrational to have pride in something you didn't make -- but it's a philosophical prejudice and not an accurate picture of how pride works. Our pride runs along lots of different associative lines; pride is pretty much as fluid as personal identity is. Feeling pride in something you haven't made or chosen is only an error if pride is somehow supposed to be a relation only to things you've made or chosen, but why would we think it's supposed to be that? This thread is evidence that pride works differently.

How can you possibly take pride in something that you didn't have anything to do with?

But I have something to do with my ancestors -- they are, after all, my ancestors.
posted by creasy boy at 8:15 AM on June 18, 2009


kanewai - One of my buddies just broke up with his boyfriend of many years after the boyfriend ordered a slave online. Literally. He set the slave up in the guest bedroom. I'm not sure how this story, or yours, relates to the discussion.

Wait, what?

This guy actually contacted someeone on the internet, gave them money then, in return, an actual living human was forcibly delivered to his house to be kept there against their will and made to work?

What country and culture did this happen in? Given that you and your friend know about it, is the slave now free and being offered support while that guy is sitting in jail? Also, I'm weirdly curious about the economics of this. Do you have any idea what this guy paid for a human life: I know you won't know exactly, but based on the guy's income was it likely closer to a month's wages or a year's? $100 or $10,000?

I know that slavery still goes on in developed countries - a largeish slave trading operation was exposed in the UK within the last few years and I assume others have sprung up in its place - I just get re-shocked every time I hear about it.

...or am I massively over-reacting to a joke or one of these "meme" things that the cool kids keep muttering about?
posted by metaBugs at 8:41 AM on June 18, 2009


creasy boy, there is a difference between being proud for what someone you know has done, and pride about who someone you didn't know was. The latter is the kind of thing that is common to the Sons of Norway and the White Pride folks.

It isn't a philosophical prejudice. It is having learned to be leery of attempts to control based on illogical "relationships."
posted by QIbHom at 8:51 AM on June 18, 2009


How fucked up is it that a hundred and fifty years later, an act of treasonous insurrection intended to protect the institution of slavery and mass dehumanization is still very important to the identities of the descendants of the traitors?

How on earth do you have pride in your ancestors? You didn't choose them. You didn't create them. You never even fucking met more than a couple of them. It's absolute pure chance- you're not responsible for them in any way. How can you possibly take pride in something that you didn't have anything to do with?


Wait. Tell me again who it is that's still fighting the Civil War?

(There's a lotta good folks down here, Neil Young just wasn't around)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:53 AM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


But I have something to do with my ancestors -- they are, after all, my ancestors.

The only connection you have is infinitesimally more common DNA than you have with the people you spend your time around. You do not have anything that is relevant to anything to do with them that isn't about genetic predispositions to various medical conditions.

Feeling pride in something you haven't made or chosen is only an error if pride is somehow supposed to be a relation only to things you've made or chosen, but why would we think it's supposed to be that? This thread is evidence that pride works differently.

Well alright, what else do you feel pride in? Your skin colour? Your country's long history of imperialism and mass murder? What? I guess you just get to pick and choose things to be proud of based on what makes you feel good? You don't have any consistent theory of pride beyond "it makes me feel good about myself to be proud of this, so I'm proud of this". If your choice or causal relationship isn't necessary for pride, then it's just whatever makes you feel good. That people feel pride in things doesn't mean they're right to, or that they have any right to- people shoot people in the face all the time but it doesn't mean that "people shooting people in the face is how it works" is any kind of a sane or rational argument.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:06 AM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Generally speaking, agricultural slavery was much, much worse than the sort of "household slavery" (slaves as personal servants, caretakers, etc.), whether the society in question was the American South, the Greco-Roman Mediterranean, or sub-Saharan Africa. Not sure why exactly, but it's probably a bit harder to absolutely dehumanize people you encounter as something more than rows of bent backs every day....
posted by AdamCSnider at 9:40 AM on June 18, 2009


For me, the pride in ancestor thing is complex. I am related to an individual who was vital to the Confederacy. Not only was this individual a slave owner, but he was, by all documentation I've read, quite a racist man. At the same time, he was deeply convinced that what he was fighting for was right and towards the end of the war was even seeking compromises to stop the fighting and maintain some sort of dignity for the South. However, despite his racist views and the role he played in the War I do feel some kinship towards him.

From his biographers and his writings I've learned that he thought Milton was boring, and always felt uncomfortable at big parties. I can relate to that. I can relate to the idea that this man just wanted to preserve the status quo, however wrong that status quo may seem to us now. He did have questions about the righteousness of slavery and wrote about them, but he rationalized them away like we all do when faced with an uncomfortable truth.

BUT, I do not go about mentioning his name as if it some sort of talisman. I do not brag about my ancestry, in truth, I often hide it when possible. Mainly because when you say "I'm related to Jefferson Davis." people assume that you agreed with him and you're a member of the UDC or some such. And I'm not. I've worked very hard to reconcile my very liberal views of race and human rights with my Southern-ness. To come up with a personal story that accounts for my family's overwhelming history of racism and benefiting from white privelege but still allows for me to be as guilt free and yet aware of the problems as possible.

And it's hard. I still bristle when I hear statements referring to Southerners as racist rednecks, even when I know some of us are. Hearing the Confederacy called traitors still burns a bit, even though I fully understand that they were. And I have to bite my tongue nearly off every time some Southern friend asserts that the Civil War was all about States' Rights because I've read the history and I know better. It's a delicate balance between being proud of what the South is and can be, and understanding her flaws. I love the South, and I really do think it's a lovely place to live. But at the same time, I know we've got a long damn way to go before it is a righteous place. But the same can be said for this whole country. Or the whole world.
posted by teleri025 at 9:42 AM on June 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


The only connection you have is infinitesimally more common DNA than you have with the people you spend your time around.

I'd imagine the connection might that you grew up hearing stories about them, you inherited their ways, etc. Maybe your family got to its affluence because of what they did. Maybe who you are is shaped by growing up in a very multi-cultural environment, say Brooklyn, and you very strongly identify with the values of tolerance this taught you, and you only ended up being born in Brooklyn because your great-grandfather fled persecution back in the home country -- so you have a very rich story connecting you to your ancestors. I don't know, I could think of other examples.

I myself didn't grow up in a very large or close family, didn't grow up hearing any stories, and as a result I don't give a shit about my ancestors. In my case, the connection isn't at all relevant to my identity. But the connection could be relevant in many ways. DNA is the last thing I would think of.

I guess you just get to pick and choose things to be proud of based on what makes you feel good?

Well, there's no picking and choosing, is there? Nor does it necessarily make you feel good. This very FPP is strong counter-example to both claims.

Look, just to clarify: is it your position that I could choose to be proud of anything -- so I could choose to be proud of a rhino in Zaire, or my neighbor's doorknob, or a cloud -- and the only problem with doing so is that it's irrational? If you try to feel proud of a cloud in the sky, the problem is that it's an illogical choice? Because I don't think it can be done, period. But if it could be done, I'm not sure what principles of choice would be the most "rational" to use. If you think I could be proud of anything, then the principle: only be proud of things you made strikes me as rather arbitrary.

You don't have any consistent theory of pride beyond "it makes me feel good about myself to be proud of this, so I'm proud of this"

I don't have any theory of pride. There are some things people can feel pride or shame in, other things they obviously can't. I don't know of any one definition that connects all these things. People can be proud or ashamed of things they've done, things they've made, and also things that have made them, things they identify with, things that are personally close to them, etc. It's obviously impossible to feel pride in a random cloud, unless you can hypothesize some very compelling reason -- that's not how pride works. It's obviously possible to feel pride in one's heritage -- the evidence is right here in the FPP.

You think people shouldn't feel pride in their ancestors. OK. Is it because you think people shouldn't identify with their heritage? What should they identify with? Just their own actions? But how do they know how to act unless they have some sort of identity? Maybe you think that people should only identify with their own thoughts? But what if identity shapes our thoughts? Is it because you think identifying with one's heritage has tended to create disaster? That would be a good argument, but that still doesn't make the existence of pride or shame in one's heritage simply irrational straight off the bat.

I'm proud of my mother, and I didn't make her. You say I shouldn't be proud of her -- the rational principle is to be proud only of things you've made. What makes that principle "rational" besides you saying it is? If you want to say "that's how pride works", I'd say: no it doesn't -- your theory of how it works is overly narrow. I am a counter-example. If you say "that's how it should work" -- well, maybe. It requires a bit more argument than you've given. We're a long way away from having rational principles for when exactly which emotions are appropriate. And no I don't think that means that "anything goes as long as it makes me feel good."

And no, I am not a white supremacist.
posted by creasy boy at 9:56 AM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


MetaBug - I had never even heard of this until last month, but it sounds like an S&M thing taken to extremes. Right here in the USA.
posted by kanewai at 10:04 AM on June 18, 2009


"All America lies at the end of the wilderness road, and our past is not a dead past, but still lives in us. Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves, the wild outside. We live in the civilization they created, but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream."

T.K. Whipple
posted by Bookhouse at 10:21 AM on June 18, 2009


How on earth do you have pride in your ancestors?

Let's switch this around a bit and tell someone, living in the United States, but whose ancestors are from China, or Mexico, or Africa that they shouldn't have any pride in their ancestors because they share nothing in common with them. I imagine you'd get shouted down in pretty much any discussion outside of meeting of closeted white supremacists, and rightly so.

The truth of the matter is I share so much more with my ancestors than DNA that's its hard for me to imagine that you really believe that's all we have in common. My ancestors raised the people who raised me, their beliefs, their ideas, their culture, is the culture in which I was raised. I can stop believing wrong or incorrect beliefs I was taught, but I can't change the fact that the culture of my upbringing is different from other people's. Sure, culture changes over time, my culture is not the same, even as my parents, but there are commonalities between the way I was raised and the way my great-grandfather lived his life that I don't have with my wife, who's my age, but was raised in Rhode Island.

The fact that I have something in common with my ancestors means that I have a relationship to them that I don't have with a long dead person in Russia; their story is not part of my story. That relationship with the past that made me who I am must include some element of pride, because I am proud of who I am. By the way, I'm also using ancestors in a looser sense here, meaning the people who made the place that I'm from what it is, even if they're not related to me. Like how the way I was raised made me who I am, where I was raised made me who I am. I have to be a little proud of it, because I am proud of myself.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:16 AM on June 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


I find most of the ideas being expressed here baffling and ridiculous to the point that I can't understand how anyone could possibly say them in jest, let along mean them, so I'm pretty much going to bow out at this point.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:37 AM on June 18, 2009


There are up to 50 000 slaves in America.

Those who fail to remember the past are doomed to repeat it, true. At the same time, those who remember the past and take it personally are a large part of why stupid violence continues.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:30 PM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


kanewai - so it was consensual? That's ... a little weird to my mind, but far less horrifying than what I'd thought.

fff - At the same time, those who remember the past and take it personally are a large part of why stupid violence continues.
Yes. A thousand times yes.

So many long-running conflicts seem to drift away from the ideological differences to both sides just simultaneously shouting "His predecessors did terrible things to my predecessors! We must have justice before peace!", and each attack becomes justified as revenge to the opposition's last attack. It's the political equivalent of yelling "but he started it!" and would be recognised as laughably childish if it didn't involve killing people.

It runs from racial tensions up to full-blown wars: Israel and Palestine have both justified strings of exchanged attacks in recent years by saying they're simply fair retaliations against the other's recent actions. Regardless of where you stand on their ideological differences, if you saw 10 year old kids spouting the same logic you'd tell them to grow the hell up.

/rant
posted by metaBugs at 1:10 PM on June 18, 2009


On the opposite side of the fence, a lot of my family willingly forgot their history, or rather, chose not to pass it on. My grandfather's father refused to tell him anything beyond the name of the Irish town he was from. On my mother's side, most of whom arrived in the late 19th Century, the record just goes blank. We know the name of the ship and the country of embarkation, and that's it. The ones that immigrated to the US in the 20th Century kept contact with Europe, and the ones that immigrated prior to the 18th Century passed on stories.

I used to think this was a quirk in my family, but the more history I read, the more I think that this was common among late 19th Century immigrants. They wanted to forget Europe and her wars and famines.

I still think that cultural and social traits can be passed down, whether we are aware if it or not. Not genetically, just simply this: our parents left their mark on us. Like it or not. Their parents left their mark on them. And so on, and so on. And so our family history absolutely has an impact on the present.

side to MetaBugs: I'm honestly pretty freaked out by the whole situation, and now avoid the people involved.
posted by kanewai at 1:34 PM on June 18, 2009


How on earth do you have pride in your ancestors? You didn't choose them. You didn't create them. You never even fucking met more than a couple of them. It's absolute pure chance- you're not responsible for them in any way. How can you possibly take pride in something that you didn't have anything to do with?

Well, despite not choosing to be one, I assume you take a good deal of pride in being an American. After all, you have ideas about somehow existing 'apart' from your ancestors that I've heard expressed by many of your countrymen, but never anywhere else in the world.
posted by atrazine at 11:30 PM on June 18, 2009


The T-NC post was one of the results of a bunch of reading he was doing, but also watching the lectures for the Yale course The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877 taught by David Blight. Video here, audio here. Free for nothin.
posted by shothotbot at 1:21 PM on June 23, 2009


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