“Dangerous Totems”, the Civil War and Slavery

I personally find the monuments to be dangerous totems. – Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, speaking on the Confederate Monuments

We remember the Titanic, but we don’t erect a monument to the iceberg. – Stephen Colbert

America is going through a difficult time as a result of the rise of white supremacist ideology and its influence on policy-makers. Epicureans are historically known for avoiding politics as long as it’s advantageous, but when Trump compares Robert E Lee, who fought a seditious war against our country in order to be able to continue lynching and enslaving human beings, with people like Thomas Jefferson, who was himself Epicurean, then we sort of do have a dog in this fight.

Justice is defined as mutual advantage in our tradition, and it’s difficult to argue that it is just to engage in terrorist acts or to promote the fertile ground for them to take place, or to allow violence to thrive on our streets where sentient beings are hurt or killed, for the sake of a statue or totem–which is not a sentient being, and in particular one that represents the belief that some people can be owned by other people. Can a totem of this sort be so sacred, as to require or deserve our blood libations?

Even General Lee himself–whose own monument served as an excuse for last weekend’s violence–spoke strongly during the latter part of his life against the erection of monuments to his seditious movement, aware that the country needed to heal. The statue itself, if it could talk, would ask to be toppled! This issue is simply NOT worth fighting over. Like the Nazis, the Confederates lost the war. That should have been that.

This is no longer an issue on which anyone with even a minimal degree of credibility and moral stamina should remain a silent bystander. White supremacists are opportunists, have hundreds of cells of armed terror sympathizers, and have a hard-on for their cherished dream of a racial civil war so that they can gain a chance to swiftly engage in random acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing, as they themselves frankly told the facilitator of this VICE special on the events of last weekend.

Jason, a SoFE member, had this to say about the Robert E. Lee monument that served as a lightning rod for recent Charlottesville violence: “To everyone who is claiming that the secession and Civil War wasn’t about slavery, from the horse’s mouth; VP of the Confederacy Stephen’s Cornerstone Speech delivered three weeks after Lincoln was elected and three weeks before the first shots of the war:

“The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions—African slavery as it exists among us—the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson, in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were, that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of the men of that day was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away… Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the idea of a Government built upon it—when the “storm came and the wind blew, it fell.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Further Reading:

Pondering White Supremacy

Recognizing the Real Robert E Lee – The Humanist

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My Favorite Free Speech Meme

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In Memory of Heather’s Legacy

“My child’s famous Facebook post was, ‘If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention,'” she said. “[Heather] paid attention. She made a lot of us pay attention.”

“Here’s what I want to happen,” she continued. “You ask me, ‘What can I do?’ So many people … I want this to spread. I don’t want this to die. This is just the beginning of Heather’s legacy – this is not the end of Heather’s legacy. You need to find in your heart that small spark of accountability. ‘What is there I can do to make the world a better place? What injustice do I see?’ … You poke that finger at yourself like Heather would have done. You take that extra step. You find a way to make a difference in the world.”

Susan Bro, mother of the Charlottesville terrorist attack’s victim Heather Heyer

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Despacito Sung in 40 Countries

I’m just catching up with my pop culture and am surprised to find the extent to which the song Despacito has caught fire on social media and is popular in probably most of the countries on Planet Earth. As a language nerd, it’s fun to see Asian and European people singing in Spanish. I’m not sure when was the last time that a Latin American song was this popular, perhaps during the Lambada craze (Brasil), or perhaps when Los Lobos sang La Bamba (California). This is a video of people from 40 countries doing covers of the song.

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The Havamal, on Loyalty

A man must be a friend
to his friend,
for himself and for the friend,
but no man must
be a friend of a friend
of his foe.

Havamal 43


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Happy Twentieth: Pale Blue Dot

This month, the Menoeceus Blog published an entry on Epicurean Extremes, and I published the piece “For the ARE Gods …” about Epicurean theology, finished a blog series in celebration of the Epicurean poet Horace, had the great pleasure of reading a book by Raoul Vaneigem titled De l’inhumanité de la religion, and published a book review on it. It was by far one of the most enjoyable and inspiring reads I’ve had in a long time, and my hope is that the review did it some justice.

Since one of the observations made in “For there ARE Gods” is that Epicureans seem to have been the Carl-Sagans of antiquity, this Twentieth I decided to share an inspiring sermon by Carl Sagan on our true place in the universe.

Further Reading:

Last Year’s 20th Message: “This May Have Happened in the Great All

Twentieth Archive from NewEpicurean.com

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America: “Out of Many, One”

The motto of our nation is E Pluribus Unum (“Out of Many, One”), and one can’t exaggerate the extent to which this motto defines America in all phases of its history. Many intellectuals, most prominent among them Locke, influenced the political ideas that gave birth to the federation of 50 states (soon to be 51, maybe 52 or even 53), a district and a few territories that make up the United States of America. When I visited the nation’s capital a few years ago and saw the dignified neo-classical architecture of the federal buildings, it seemed to me like America consciously sought to imagine itself as a continuation of ancient Rome and Greece. Being an Epicurean–and aware of fellow Epicurean Thomas Jefferson’s role in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence–I naturally felt that this way of imagining ourselves made sense. But the extent to which Native Americans influenced the idea of, and provided a model for, America since before its earliest conception is not known by many.

According to this teachinghistory.org piece, Canasatego, leader of the Onondaga nation and spokesman for the Iroquois Confederation, advised the British colonists in 1744:

“. . . We heartily recommend Union and a Good Agreement between you our Brethren. Our wise Forefathers established Union and Amity between the Five Nations; this has made us formidable, this has given us great weight and Authority with our Neighboring Nations. We are a Powerfull confederacy, and by your observing the same Methods our wise Forefathers have taken, you will acquire fresh Strength and Power.”

Benjamin Franklin later insinuated that if the Indians could have a federation, certainly the British colonies could do likewise. The Iroquois Confederation–the origins of which trace back to somewhere between the 12th and 15th Century–was made up of (initially five, later) six nations that shared linguistic and cultural similarities and occupied land east of Lake Ontario in what is today New York and Pennsylvania. They formed a federation of independent nations in order to secure protection from outside threats.

The Iroquois Constitution–known as the “Great Law of Peace”–provided for checks and balances in government in order to avoid too much concentration of power in one individual or group, and in order to secure individual freedoms. It also delineated processes of democratic decision-making and a “recall power” that allowed the clan mothers to remove unsatisfactory chiefs, which appears to have inspired the constitutional process of impeachment. This provided an early model for the sometimes complicated system of checks and balances that exists in the US Constitution between the federal government, the state governments and Indian Nations, as well as between the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government.

The Indian laws were superior to our post-contact laws in at least one respect: women had full participation in government. The suffrage would not happen until the 1920’s.

The paper American Indian Influence on the United States Constitution and its Framers argues that Thomas Jefferson admired and sought to imitate the minimal government of the Native Americans, their love of freedom, peace, and justice, and their lack of a monarchy.

It’s not easy for a country as large as the United States, with such a complicated history, with so many constituent populations and so many competing interests, to keep it together and remain stable and peaceful. And yet, in spite of many imperfections, we have managed quite well thanks, in part, to the framers of the Constitution and their openness to non-European, aboriginal American political ideas that remain useful and practical to this day.

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