“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

About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' (Humanist Press, 2014), 'How to Live a Good Life' (Penguin Random House, 2020), and Epicurus of Samos – His Philosophy and Life: All the principal Classical texts Compiled and Introduced by Hiram Crespo (Ukemi Audiobooks, 2020). He's the founder of societyofepicurus.com, and has written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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