Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Has the South Won the Civil War Nearly 150 Years After Its Conclusion?

From BuzzFlash:

But, of course, even the federal government is siding with supporting the plutocracy and enacting policies that result in low-wage labor. Just replace the lack of accountability of corporations and Wall Street with the free hand of plantation owners.

Not that the South believed much in a centralized government that provided a safety net. The poor were poor; the sick were sick; and the wealthy were wealthy; that was the natural order of things.

The South wasn't just built on slavery, as BuzzFlash has pointed out before. Most whites were poor and worked as sharecroppers, indentured servants or plantation hands. Much of their belief in white supremacy came from the feeling that, although the majority of whites were economically poor, they were "superior" to black slaves. But the economy, overall, was built on cheap labor as compared to economic ingenuity and innovation.

Baptist Christianity was central to the South, a deeply religious section of the country. The authoritarian paternalistic hierarchy of the Confederacy was considered sanctioned by divine decree. Plantation owners and their extended "work forces" would be right at home with "creationism," because things didn't evolve in the South. The ultimate value was on preserving "the Southern way of life," not evolving. Progress was, thus, a threat.

More here.

I'm really starting to buy this argument. I mean, there's no way to really establish that the massive political divide of today has its roots in the North/South conflict that eventually became the Civil War, but it sure does feel right. I'm sure you've seen that map comparing the so-called red and blue states to Confederate and Union states in the 1860s. It might be coincidence, but I doubt it.

There's a reason I included the word "culture" in the title for this blog. I remember a few years back talking to a young soldier at a nightclub in Austin, telling him about my internet rantings. He asserted that art, politics, and culture don't really have anything to do with each other, and that I must have a difficult time writing my posts. Fearing a political argument might be on the horizon, I dropped the matter, but, of course, in a parallel universe I told him that he was wrong, that art, politics, and culture have everything to do with each other.

It's a fairly easy connection to make between art and culture; after all, most people recognize that art is a manifestation of culture.
But it's a bit more difficult to establish the connection between culture and politics. Not terribly difficult, mind you; it's just that it takes more than a couple of words to get it going. Here's how Wikipedia defines the word "culture" in a general sense:

Excellence of taste in the fine arts and humanities, also known as high culture

An integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning

The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group
So there you have it. Politics, art, and culture are then, in essence, different manifestations of the same thing. I mean, of course, they're all different concepts. Politics, for instance, deals ultimately with power in society, who has it, who doesn't, and how it is used. But there is massive interplay between these three ideas, art, culture, and politics: we see politics in art; we see politicians freaking out about certain kinds of art; we see cultural values debated endlessly in politics; we see art responding to cultural values. And on and on and on.

That culture has a huge role in both informing and shaping the overall power dynamic we call politics is non-controversial. We know this happens. A lot. It should therefore be non-controversial to postulate that cultural concepts dating back to the Civil War are alive and well today, even if we've forgotten exactly how they've been passed down over the generations, and that they might play a central role in modern politics. I mean, the GOP's infamous "Southern strategy" has payed off well for the Republicans in the years since the Civil Rights era, and that's exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about. But I'm thinking that it's much, much, much bigger than electoral game plans. I think this shit is deeply embedded in the fractured American soul, in ways we only dimly comprehend.

But like I said, there's no way we can really know. I mean, everybody's an individual, right? We can't possibly be at the mercy of historic cultural forces we barely perceive. Or can we? Increasingly, I'm starting to look at this unfinished Civil War model as a decent way to understand our fucked up politics. So far, it has a pretty good track record.