Monday, September 9, 2013

Libertarian, Quite Contrarian - by Caroline Gorman

My friend Caroline Gorman posted this on Facebook the other day.  It's about how some small government types will sometimes use symbols from the Confederacy, just to show that they, too, are rebelling against Washington.  Or are being iconoclasts.  Or just want to be controversial. 

I went to a school whose fight song was "Dixie".  I started playing that song (drums) in marching band in the 5th or 6th grade.  Then I went to Ole Miss, where the fight song was "Dixie".  Transferred to Delta state, where the fight song wasn't "Dixie", but we played it a lot just because we were in.... Dixie. 

For the benefit of the Brits, Aussies and Kiwis who visit this site, "Dixie" was the fight song of the Rebel/Confederate army during the U.S. Civil War. 

I played the drum part to "Dixie" after every touchdown, field goal, extra point, blocked punt, and kickoff for about 12 years.  I've played it in parades and during basketball games.  Some level of racial sensitivity kicked in about 1984, shortly after I left school, not just at Ole Miss, but at colleges across the deep south, and you never hear the song any more.  Therefore, I think I may have played the pro-slavery war song "Dixie" more times than anyone now alive.  I've also carried my share of rebel flags, so I was interested in Caroline's take on Confederate symbols.  (BTW, now that I've put away that childishness, you won't catch me within 20 feet of a rebel flag.  Symbols don't mean what you think they mean.  They mean what OTHER people think they mean.) 

Here's Caroline:

Background: Jack Hunter, director of social media for Senator Rand Paul, was ‘outed’ in mainstream news outlets as, variously, “a fan of the old Confederacy,” (Slate), someone who said “John Wilkes Booth’s heart was in the right place,”[1]“anti-Lincoln,” (Chris Hayes, both) and related slurs. It’s unclear why this became news now, since Jack Hunter’s past as an outrageous radio personality named The Southern Avenger is certainly no secret. In any event, all of these slurs were taken as indicators of the number-one accusation: that Jack Hunter is a racist.

In response to this, libertarians jumped in to defend Jack Hunter. My Twitter and Facebook feeds were crowded with libertarians who wanted to assure me that they’d “never met a nicer libertarian” than Jack Hunter, that he was “a pillar of the libertarian community,” a “real lover of liberty” and most importantly, a nice guy. Or at least, he had been nice to his white fellow libertarians. Then came the proliferation of articles in his defense. A post on Lew Rockwell added some venom, as usual, but nothing substantive, again as usual.

But the most stereotypically libertarian – and flagrantly wrong reaction – was fromTom Woods and his scathing article on ‘Sweetie Pie Libertarians.’

Tom Woods’ argument reads as a brilliant, brave stand for intellectual freedom against ‘zombies’ and other intellectual light-weights. He begins with a blazoning “Now there are perfectly good reasons one might have to oppose the Lincoln regime.” And then he lists several. Then he turns his attention to the Sweetie Pie Libertarians, those who cravenly rush to be in the good graces of “Mr. Nice Media Person, sir.” These Sweetie Pie Libertarians are “policing the thoughts” of the brave, noble libertarians, in a cowardly, backward attempt to be “more attractive.” These Sweetie Pie Libertarians are just caving in to public opinion. Fortunately, we have big strong brave men like Tom Woods to stand up to the Establishment and tell it like it is!

Tom Woods, answer me this question: What does wearing a luchador mask with the Confederate flag on it have to do with a rational, intellectually honest exploration of the historical issues concerning the advent of the Civil War?

Answer: Absolutely nothing.

Jack Hunter’s use of Confederate symbolism had nothing to do with bravely questioning standard histories. He was taking a side in identity politics – and on the side of violent racists and bigots (note: even if, for some reason, you think that the Confederates weren’t violent racists and bigots, note that in the 150 years since then, that symbol has been used by violent bigots from the KKK to the murderers of James Byrd, Jr., - which means that symbol is now a symbol of racism).

I thank Tom Woods for his article. He entirely missed the point about why Jack Hunter should not work for a politician, or anywhere that he has a chance to put his racist views into action, but he did highlight another problem in the libertarian community.

He exemplified the‘Libertarian, Quite Contrarian’ Syndrome.

What is the "Libertarian, Quite Contrarian" Syndrome? It presents in the form of people who, if told to do one thing, will do another. These people are more predictable than zombies. Zombies at least have desires of their own (well, one desire: delicious brains). The Contrarian Libertarians don’t know what they want until they hear what they’re not supposed to want. They are individuals! They do what they want! Which is always, without fail, the opposite of what you are telling them to do.

Libertarian, libertarian
Quite contrarian
How does your movement grow?
When they say yes, you say no
They go left, you go right
Always spoiling for a fight
They say up,
you say down,
Turn that argument around!
They say red, you say blue
You can’t tell me what to do!

How is this relevant to the Jack Hunter situation? Jack Hunter, and the libertarians who support using Confederate imagery, just want to do something controversial. They want to use that word because they’re not supposed to. They want to say inflammatory things. And they want to pretend it’s brave.

Using Confederate imagery has nothing to do with historical revisionism, with individual rights, with states’ rights, with anything libertarian. To use the Confederate flag is to prove, supposedly, that you support freedom – by using a symbol of a time when human beings were enslaved.

Instead, using the Confederate flag is a perfect example of the dark side of individualism: relentless contrarianism. This contrarianism has nothing to do with questioning standard histories (perfectly admirable), taking a moment to reconsider childhood lessons (absolutely necessary) or understanding that few issues areas clear-cut as we would like (I wish more people understood that).

The use of Confederate symbolism which has swirled around the libertarian movement and the more populist elements is only a base childish desire to do something ‘naughty,’ dressed up in libertarian colors. Let’s stop protecting these people just because they know enough to use the language of liberty to justify their immaturity.

The irony is that being a Contrarian Libertarian is about as anti-individualistic as you can get. It also involves the same actions they so disdain in the mainstream media: race-baiting, kneejerk reactions instead of measured debate, and a profound acceptance of authority.

Because if you’re wearing the Confederate flag to prove that Civil War historical revisionism is necessary, you have lost. You have let the mainstream media put you in one of two boxes – for or against the Civil War. For or against the Confederacy. If you want to dislike Lincoln, go for it. If you want to question the cause of the Civil War, go for it. But accepting that questioning the traditional account of the Civil War equates to supporting the Confederacy (and wearing a flag is a pretty blatant symbol of support) is accepting their rules.

Why don’t you take the unusual third position of opposing the Civil War and opposing the Confederacy?  Of exercising your intellectual freedom to question the traditional Civil War narrative while also refusing to emotionally ‘take sides?’ That would be truly individual, and truly unusual!

Caroline K. Gorman is the Chair of the Travis County Libertarian Party in Austin, Texas. She also serves on the State Libertarian Executive Committee and is heavily involved as an activist at the local level.


MingoV said...

"Why don’t you take the unusual third position of opposing the Civil War and opposing the Confederacy?"

Ms. Gorman is right on the money. I believe Lincoln damaged freedom and liberty more than any other president. The unnecessary Civil War was brutal to soldiers and civilians. The formation of CSA didn't bother me, but its legalization of slavery did (Historical note: slavery was legal in four of the Union states during the Civil War, and Lincoln's propagandistic Emancipation Proclamation didn't free any slave in those states.)

Radical Rodent said...

If you want to look for a contrarian, consider this: I have recently heard of a man who insists that the blacks are ineffably inferior to the whites. Because of this difference, blacks have to be given preferential treatment so that their inferiority does not hinder their progress. That he should be allowed to say this in public, and to be lauded by the media for saying, I do find puzzling, unless you consider contrarianism. The gentleman’s name? Rev. Jesse Jackson.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

This is why almost ANY discussion of race in the USA gets toxic, and fast.
I've got some opinions, but I'll be damned if I'll risk sharing them. Heh....

More on this subject later.

Radical Rodent said...

Please have a look at this site, to understand the puzzlement about "racism" in the UK: