Give Us Back Our Thoughts: The Hostile Colonization of Words and Symbols


Does history have a role in determining a symbol’s meaning–or does popular culture get the only vote?

Why should we allow those who would strangle free expression to impose perverse, ahistorical meanings on words and symbols, and then to shame us away from them?

I’m about twenty percent of the way through an ebook titled En el Haren de Estambul, by someone named Carla de la Vega.  I like to try to inform myself about the world while chipping away at Spanish or some other tongue: two birds with one stone, you know.  And yes, we might as well start learning Spanish, because with advocates for legal-resident interests like Boehner and McConnell, who needs Judas or Ganelon?  Maybe the evolving Mexamerican Republic can repel corrupt politicians of all stripes if its common citizens can collaborate—in two languages—on something radical like a constitution guaranteeing individual rights. I’d like to see my own senator, John Cornyn, learning Spanish in a cell with the mayor of Iguala.

But that’s a revery for another day.  The reason that Vega’s book provides an entry point to a discussion of the Confederate flag is that it so illustratively uses an indictment of John Doe as a pretext to pummel and cuff Joe Blow.  The book succeeds as a shocking exposé of how certain Turks abuse their womenfolk even in the twenty-first century; but I have yet to see Vega attribute the outrageous “honor killings” victimizing hundreds of Turkish girls a year to Islam, to radical Islam, to Kurdish tradition, to some other Paleolithic cultural conditioning, or to anything but… manhood!  Men are the problem.  Vega’s female protagonists are all desperately trying to secure a life free of and safe from… men.

This would be deeply insulting to any civilized male if it were not so willfully obtuse and patently absurd.  It’s the kind of thing that has made me tire of listening to the news or even, I confess, reading sites like Townhall or IC.  That is, I’m already so steamed up at our cultural epidemic of idiotic extrapolation that, much as I adore Michelle Malkin or Brent Bozell, my blood pressure just won’t withstand yet another column about our elite ruling class’s staging a whited-sepulcher outrage for political ends.  We all know that a lunatic who murders nine people in a church deserves to rot in a cage; but if he were Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the propaganda machine would be appealing to us to understand the pressures of his psychological state and cultural circumstances.  Since, instead, Dylann Roof is a young white male who asserts racist motives, he’s merely a projection of the hatred smoldering in the dark souls of bigots like you and me.

In the same news cycle, the same propaganda machine “cutely” circulates a photo featuring a huge pistol on a poster back-dropped so as to be pointing directly at Ted Cruz’s forehead.  Is the Machine hypocritical beyond the range of Hell’s Depravity Dial… or are these smirky, snarky mouthpieces of the Beltway simply too dull to perceive basic inconsistency?
I don’t like being accused of sympathizing with a child-murderer, whether the child is a Kurdish female or an American of African descent.  I don’t even like being expected to sign off on inane declarations such as, “I hate racism,” or, “I hate sexism.”  No, I hate cold-blooded murder, and I particularly hate violence directed at children.  As a man, I despise pusillanimous thugs who pick such targets; and as a human being, I am outraged at the arrogance of anyone hubristic enough to cut the thread of an innocent life on a whim.  Ever hear of partial-birth abortion?

Why do I need to specify the race or gender of the victims in these cases to define the quality of my outrage?  Why should there be any qualitative difference at all?

That’s precisely why the insinuation that I was spiritually pulling the same trigger as Roof or a Turkish “honor” assassin because of my genetic material makes me furious.  That’s an insufferably insulting charge to make.  It doesn’t deserve a reasoned response: it deserves a door slammed in the face.

Of course, because I am a gun-owner, I am supposed to incur a yet heavier measure of collective guilt—even though a concealed weapon pulled at the right moment probably would have saved any of Vega’s victims and all nine of Charleston’s human sacrifices without a shot’s having to be fired; for punks and thugs are cowards, and cowards are quick to run from the shadow of that ruin they intend to bring upon others.

I have used the word “thug” twice now—a noun of Hindi provenance, used to describe a ritualistic kind of robbery/murder that once prevailed when India was deeply infected with the social disease of somewhat formalized butchery.  Now I’m told I can’t employ the word—and told so by the same idiots in the propaganda machine who label the Tea Party “extremist”.  As designs are being pursued to take my guns from me, similar designs are being drawn up to rob words right out of my mouth.  The next time someone kicks my back door in and I happen to walk in on him (as very nearly occurred last November), I am to run out of the house dialing 911 and hoping that a bullet doesn’t find my back as a squad car tries to better the hour’s response time of the previous incident; and if I should so blunder as to describe the home-invader as a thug, I may expect to be prosecuted for racist hate speech.

Sooner or later, we must collectively begin to say, “No, enough,” to this mutilation of our rights as free human beings.  I’m tired of surrendering one word after another, one possession after another, to a centralized authority that is never sated on my offerings.  “Thug” is NOT a racist word, dammit.  Guns are NOT instruments in a race war; they’re aids for defending innocents when the police are not at hand. Hasn’t the recent spate of urban riots floated as one of its constant themes that cops don’t pay attention to poor neighborhoods?  Men are NOT predators who lay in wait to rape young cousins and then volunteer to shoot them for the family’s honor. Men, real men, are those who grind such vermin into the floorboards.

And the Confederate flag, if I may be so bold, is NOT a banner around which Southern racists have conventionally rallied.  I was disappointed to read Derek Hunter’s characterization of attachment to the Stars and Bars published at on June 21: “I don’t get the concept of ‘southern pride’ to the point you’d embrace something [i.e., the flag] under which so much evil was perpetrated, nor do I understand why anyone would let a dead symbol have that much power over them [sic].” I was even more disappointed that Steve Chapman (a fellow Texan) would echo those sentiments in the same venue and on the same day.  By temperament, I am no more given to worshipping symbols than Hunter, so neither this flag nor any other is a quick fuse for me in and of itself.  Even the American flag now affects me in much the same way as a black armband, for the ideas it represents—and for which many of our progenitors died—have been terminally trashed by both parties.

But no, Messrs. Hunter and Chapman: the Confederate flag, as a matter of historical fact, does NOT represent the desire to keep black people in chains.  Most households in the South owned of slaves not a one—and no small farmer would be fool enough to prize the right of his wealthy competitors to use slave labor.  Even among slaveholders, the vast majority owned no more than two or three.  I have long suspected from my reading of slave narratives, though I cannot prove this objectively, that a few—perhaps quite a few—Southerners purchased slaves to keep them out of the hands of their more brutal neighbors.  A colleague of mine counters that this would merely have sustained the profitability of the slave trade and hence have deepened the captives’ misery; but when a family of refugees begs for help at your door as the hounds bay in the distance, are you going to explain the market economy to the terrified faces, or are you going to pull out your wallet and attempt to reason with their tormentors in the only idiom that brutes understand? Which of those two options would a warm-blooded human being choose?

Northerners certainly did little to keep escaped slaves from being transported back south.  There are disturbingly many instances, in fact, of freedmen up north being illegally kidnapped and sold back into slavery.  Buying Old Jim’s freedom and giving him some papers to carry would merely have put a bull’s eye on his back, and he wouldn’t find a lot of staunch defenders if he crossed into Illinois.  Speaking of Illinois… did you know that the sainted Mr. Lincoln deliberately excluded from the Emancipation Proclamation those northern states where slave ownership remained grandfathered into legality?  Where he could actually have freed slaves with the stroke of a pen, he didn’t bother to.

And I might note in passing, just because the moral posturing on this subject has increasingly irritated me over the years, that certain northern shipowners grew very wealthy off the slave trade, and that the industrialized north could not efficiently have used the slave system, in any case, to do the dominant variety of labor.  Instead, Yankee captains of industry hit upon a much more cost-effective mechanism: paying barely livable wages to immigrant laborers while incurring no responsibility whatever for their food, shelter, and safety.

So, no again, Mr. Hunter: to the Southerners who lost limbs and lives resisting the Union’s invasion, the Confederate flag did NOT symbolize a determination to keep Africans in chains.  It symbolized a desire for self-determination and local autonomy—a desire whose integration with slavery was admittedly an outright contradiction, especially if one considers all Southerners to have been slavery-supportive by association.  Yet this would be as crude an equation as was the South’s own oversight in allowing slavery to taint the case for freedom.  The issues were unhappily murky on all sides, and the thinking disastrously incensed by passion.  I doubt that a descendant of slaves today would see the flag as signifying his freedom to bear arms in defense of his home (though, for that matter, there were indeed black troops among the Confederacy’s soldiers).  To men of my grandfather’s generation, however, and even to those of mine who didn’t emigrate northward (like Mr. Chapman), the Confederate flag—perhaps clumsily, but evocatively—was the colorful face of the Bill of Rights.

It doesn’t matter to me that a moron whose meager brain has been further constricted by drug addiction views that flag as a call to race war.  Some people apparently have a similar view of the Cross.  If a mass-murderer of Muslim citizens burned a Crucifix into his victims’ bodies, should Christians everywhere renounce the symbol?
Why can we no longer define our own words and icons?  Why must we let our avowed enemies do so for us in most unflattering terms, and then oblige them by abandoning the offensive custom as if in guilt?  The Confederate flag did not stand for racism among those who actually knew the history of the South’s struggle; but now their heirs regard the acceptance of its demonization as a small sacrifice to make if quietly yielding will muzzle the slavering hounds of the media.  They’re wrong.  They’re wrong because the flag will now be yet one more falling domino in the progressive project to deprive conservative, traditional people of their power of expression.

I wrote earlier that flags don’t mean much to me… but the Confederate flag is becoming an exception.  As of today, it represents to me a hopeless-seeming struggle against unprincipled people who assign the most horrid of motives to all who stand in their way and then grotesquely distort the terms of any defense offered.  Even our conservative columnists seem so ignorant of their nation’s complex history that transforming an eagle into a vulture is just a flurry of feathers to them. Yet the day will come when they have to bow mutely and beg forgiveness for their existence if they do not begin resisting this hostile colonization of our words and symbols.

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