|Montreal, July 6, 2002 / No 106|
by Scott Carpenter
I don't get to comment on other people's issues or writing very often but once in a while I step up to the plate and take a swing whether I'm invited or not.
Of course that's what freedom of speech is all about. I don't have to be an ivy league professor to tell someone I think they're full of it and, because my income doesn't come from a think tank or academic institution, I don't particularly care whose toes I stomp on in the process of unravelling shoddy arguments or shooting down stupid statements.
And that's not to say I don't make mistakes too. But it's not my job to
rein myself in when I get carried away... that's why we have editors. Alas,
if only some of them did their jobs, eh?
Now. Where to start...
Under the Flag
How about this: I know I'm a Canadian and I probably don't understand the emotion and zeal involved in the whole Lincoln/Civil War/Flag debate but I have to tell you, it's getting old. And the crap I'm hearing from all sides of the debate is starting to irritate me. At least just a little.
From flags and songs hung and sung in public places to arguments over who or what Lincoln was the whole thing is getting tired. The funny part is there seems to be arguments – credible ones – from all sides of the different debates. And therein lies the problem. The debates rage uncontrollably without any side granting any concessions. Why? Because, at least from an outsider's viewpoint, most of the arguments I've seen presented are argued with too much emotion and from a primarily collectivist mind set.
You're probably wondering what I'm talking about when I call the debate collectivist. Well, stand by and allow me to explain.
Consider that in the debate over the nature of Lincoln's character it is entirely possible that all sides may have some valid points. Who was the man? Well, I suspect he was pretty much human like the rest of us and – being a politician – lacked a consistent set of principles. Thus, it is also possible that although Lincoln was a power hungry old codger who was unable to recognize that the southern states had a legitimate constitutional right to separate he could at the same time believe deeply in the emancipation of blacks living in those same states.
Of course coming to common ground (or the truth) on issues like these isn't easy when you call yourself a "Southerner" or a "Yankee" (when you define your character/nature based primarily on your geographic location) to start. That's a collectivist mind set and a collectivist mind set forces logic or any semblance of truth to take a seat at the back of the bus – so to speak.
In addition to that finding the truth is made even more difficult when guys like Jude Wanniski of Townhall.com attempt to wade into the debate without bothering to think first.
A right is a right, right?
Indeed, enter the ultimate collectivist, the moral nihilist. In his analysis of the right of any political entity to secede from a larger or smaller entity Wanniski has this to say:
That is that "might makes right" and "to hell with the constitution." Well. It's not my constitution but I like to admire it, and I get pretty ripped when supposedly bright guys like Jude are able to come to the conclusion that because you get beat up by the bigger, meaner state you don't deserve to "exercise your rights" (a right is a right after all, one does not have to "try" to exercise it, one simply does exercise it without getting thumped on). More to the point, Wanniski doesn't seem to have any moral problems with the fact that such an approach requires individuals to pay for their political convictions in blood. I mean, if it's good enough for the Chechnyans and Russians it should be good enough for us right?
And in a twist of irony "prosoutherners" (a group which I have traditionally sympathized with) don't seem to be able to get on the right track either. While they criticize the black/liberal community (and rightfully so) for demanding reparations for crimes committed against their ancestors over a hundred years ago we still have to read about them complaining about what a tyrant Lincoln was and how he started the megastate and how they should be free from Washington and so on and so forth. Well yes. Good point, we can see where it began, both the good and the bad. But hey. Guess what? It's been awhile. It's time to move on and to work towards a freer world for us all. And let me tell you, that world isn't found in some romanticized or distorted view of the past. Nor is it found in policy rooted in historical precedence.
Symbols send messages
And finally, what about the Confederate flag?
Well, I reckon if you actually know what it stands for you should fly it high and proud. But don't take this to mean I think you should lobby your state capital to run it up the flag pole either.
Indeed, symbols like flags send messages – political ones specifically – that vary depending on your perspective on history etc. And as such the state – any state – shouldn't be in the business of flying them. Period. For instance: ask yourself how you'd feel if your local community decided to raise the UN flag in the town square. Wait a minute, they already have you say? How does it make you feel? Does your neighbour admire it while you despise what it stands for?
Get my point?
The way I see it most of history's and thus man's problems are created by government, preceded by the inability of people to separate what should be public from what should be private. I mean, as libertarians isn't that why we're here? To push for the smallest most ineffective government possible and to separate those two concepts? That's why flags and other symbols should dwell strictly in the realm of the private. When it becomes otherwise we reduce ourselves to the level of bickering lobbyists waiting in line to kiss some overpaid politico's behind.
Of course all of this is coming from a guy whose countrymen hold Molson's beer commercials in high esteem and who gallantly salute a stupid maple leaf every 1st of July.
And maybe that's the point. Governments and their vehicles – flags, beer commercials and historical figures like Lincoln included – are relative, destructive or nihilist entities respectively. That's why, strictly speaking, we shouldn't be using our particular view of history (be it right or wrong) as a tool to drive public policy. Indeed, one man's hero is another's despot.
In the end public policy (like hanging flags on State Capital buildings) should be determined not by historical precedence but by how it effects the rights of men. That's a matter of reason. Thus if a policy steps into the realm of the private it should rightfully be terminated.
See what I'm saying? See why I get upset? Oh well. It's not the first time I get to be the first guy to open his big mouth where it's not wanted. But what the hey, being unpopular ain't no hill for a stepper.
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