Saturday, August 18, 2012

A narrative that just doesn't fit

The narrative that the Confederate flag is flown as a symbol of racism and a sign of racial tension, that is.

Brad DeLong links to a good post* at The Atlantic about a sort of social equilibrium that is emerging around the flag, and its complex history. I've long protested the idea that Southerners who display the flag are somehow expressing racial animosity, treason, or anything other than a recognition of regional identity/heritage. People who claim otherwise generally don't have much personal experience with Southerners or with instances when the flag is displayed. I've seen it displayed in a wide cross-section of cases, and while there are obviously white supremacists out there who use it too (next to the cross and the American flag, btw), the preponderance of cases have exactly zero to do with that and are used by people with no racial animosity to express.

That having been said, the flag obviously means different things to different people (the fact that it's used by white supremacists is a clear example of that!). Most importantly, it is understandably viewed by the black community as a symbol of slavery or segregation.

So that puts us in a conundrum. How do you deal with a symbol that means such dramatically different things to different people?

The best solution, in my mind, is not to display it in public venues that are supposed to represent everyone, but to allow its display privately for those who wish. That's the equilibrium that the article describes, and it's the right one. Do you think it's a travesty that your statehouse doesn't display the flag? Too bad. You have no reasonable expectation that it should particularly given the other people that the statehouse is supposed to represent.

Now, of course because to a lot of people the flag has nothing to do with racial animosity (I personally don't look at it and see it as a hateful symbol), people can use it themselves. But even here, you have to be aware of the fact that different people interpret the symbol differently. My next door neighbor and my neighbor directly across the street are black. There's no way in hell I'd display the Confederate flag in my front lawn even if I had the inclination to. Why? Because different people interpret the symbol differently and I know my neighbors would not view it as benignly even if they knew I viewed it benignly. So even private usage isn't entirely private and people should be aware of this.

Ultimately I view the article in a positive light. We're reaching a social equilibrium that isn't obsessed with racial animosity, that is starting to recognize diverse views of the flag, and that is starting to act accordingly.

I have one piece of Confederate flag memorabilia, on a pin that used to belong to my mom when she was a waitress in a bar in Blacksburg, Virginia.

*One thing the article gets wrong is it's reference to "Massive Resistance" as something that segregationists generally did starting in the forties. This isn't true. Massive Resistance was a policy specific to Virginia, and it was initiated in the 1950s by Harry Byrd (the same Byrd that David Henderson points out was not a fan of Keynesianism) in response to the Brown ruling. Massive Resistance was the decision to shut down a school system in Virginia that had the audacity to integrate despite Richmond's resistance.


  1. It is worth pointing out that many US soldiers who fought in WW2 had the Confederate flag attached on their uniforms, which implies that they thought that

    a) US interests and Southern US interests were one and the same


    b) the racialist views of the regimes in Italy and Germany were not something that Southerners condoned.

    Let's not forget - how many of the soldiers fighting in the ACW actually had slaves? And if some materialistic interest like keeping free farm labour was their motivation, then why did they fight so hard and fight to the end? Throwing your life away in war is not a materialistic thing to do, is it?

    In the end, with Scientologists, Anton LaVey's Satanists, the Nation of Islam, and other fringe cults of dubious reputation being taken for granted in American life, one wonders why Southern US pride should be considered so ghastly?

  2. People who claim otherwise generally don't have much personal experience with Southerners or with instances when the flag is displayed


    I have never meet anyone flying or displaying the Stars and Bars battle flag who wasn't a racist and i have lived, gone to school, and worked in the Deep South or a border state all my life.

    The Civil War was 150 years ago. There was nothing honorable about the South, nothing to be honored and anyone who says they are honoring the South is a bold face liar.

    1. "I have never meet anyone flying or displaying the Stars and Bars battle flag who wasn't a racist and i have lived, gone to school, and worked in the Deep South or a border state all my life."

      Like Bryan Caplan's claim that nobody before college ever demonstrated any understanding about the potential negative effects of a minimum wage, I simply don't buy it.

      This unsubstantiated (and unsustainable) anecdote is far too implausible to be given any credence at all. The fact that you dismiss anyone in this comment section that doesn't hew to a far left line as reactionary only reinforces the implausibility of your claim here.

      Stop trolling. You were interesting at first, but please stop trolling. Open minds are strongly preferred here.

    2. Dan,

      List ten people who you know personally who fly the Stars and Bars who are not racist? I bet you can't.

      That means you don't now what you are talking about. As Kahneman explains your position isn't fact based; it is nothing but bias and projection on your part.

      You will notice that I don't "troll" on Noah or Brad. There is a reason. They know what they don't know and DeLong is strong enough to self-correct

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Daniel, BTW, I am not "far left." I do dismiss all whom you call "reactionaries," but not for ideological reasons.

      I dismiss them because of their open incentive caused bias (take Don, who writes solely to draw attention to himself, for a you have point out, often, what is says makes no sense whatsover), for the same reasons that Buffett and Munger don't read reports from brokers touting stocks (the bias to misstate).

      A second example. Noah just wrote a nice piece about Cochrane and others throwing spaghetti against the wall. You treat what Cochrane etc has honest. I saw it for what it was, a deliberate attempt for partisan purposes to mislead for personal advantage.

      If you read my comments in detail you will see that I am critical, on the merits of the far left. Noam Chomisky, etc. are wackos. Further, much of the the left is incompetent and doesn't have a clue about 2nd, third, or 4th order effects.

      I will give one example. Take Thurgood Marshall, a great American who with others carefully planned the legal battle for Civil Rights for Black Americans. Contrast that with the current drive for "civil rights" by the Gay and Lesbian community. I have a deed suspicion, having seen the Chick-Fil-A day in action, that such isn't going to work out the same way at the end of the day.

      If you read with care you will see, repeatedly, where I have commented that Brad and Krugman are wrong, that stimulus isn't enough and that their thinking is too narrow. We have far deeper and more fundamental problems, some of which is obviously really really bad government and regulation.

      The guys who get it are real world people like Soros, Munger, and Buffett, all of whom model and accept the world as irrational and who spend all their time looking for pragmatic answers, as do I.

      Confidence is not built on ideology, it is built on re-enforced foundations that are proven to hold heavy weights without shifting or cracking.

      I will close with an example. A few days ago you wrote a silly comment that the 10th Amendment was the foundation of the government. B.S. The foundation of the gov't was Hamilton's plan to sell federal bonds to repay the debt of the Revolutionary War. This, and the First National Bank, made the Federal Government work. The World is driven by great men doing something.

      The silly 10th amendment people like Madison promptly gutted the gov't and damn near lost it all in the War of 1812.

  3. Your solution is to not display the flag in public venues that represent everyone, but what if it came down to a democratic vote to allow the flag to be displayed in public venues ?

    1. Well that's still my solution in the case of a democratic vote.

      Unfortunately, it might not be all voters' solution.

    2. Here is the handiwork of your typical Stars and Bars type family, mostly the product of Hayak and Libertarians:

      In a 2010 report, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that the group is 'hundreds of thousands of far-right extremists who believe that they - not judges, juries, law enforcement or elected officials - get to decide which laws to obey and which to ignore, and who don't think they should have to pay taxes.'

      Read more:

    3. As you can tell, I've begun to ignore comments coming in on this thread from you.

      But here I want to give you a chance to explain yourself (and I WON'T call you a liar, although I may have grounds to):

      Could you explain why you say this is "your typical Stars and Bars type family"?

      Do you have any evidence at all that this is "typical", AH?

      Or are you completely bullshitting us and then bitching about other people being liars?

      Because I have suspicion you are bullshitting us - but I wanted to give you a chance to justify the use of the word "typical". Because I mentioned white supremacists and the like in the post. So you're clearly not bringing those types of people to my attention for the first time.

      So clearly the emphasis of this post is that one word: typical.

      Now justify it, or else you're really forcing me to think that you're a troll as bad as Silas Barta or Gary Gunnels.

    4. Daniel,

      Now, getting the FBI on record to say how many domestic terrorists we have like the family who killed to two deputy sheriffs in the story I mentioned is impossible. I doubt the FBI either knows or is willing to tell the truth and I expect you have the same POV. However, this "movement" has been around for at least 30 years (I attended high school in southern Missouri with some wack jobs that went off the reservation (to federal prison, etc) 30 years ago.

      The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates several hundred thousand, in the story. I am not around law enforcement as much as I was 15 years ago, but then it was well known that there are tens of thousands of these people, based on conversations with the FBI and other law enforcement people. A universal symbol for them is the Stars and Bars. You seem to have just forgotten Tim McVeigh.

      I just got back from my annual vacation drive through the SE. Just along 1-75/I-16, from Atlanta to Savannah there are at least 5 paramilitary appearing "camps" on the interstate flying the stars and bars. The largest flag I have ever seen on an interstate is another stars and bars and its is often displayed elsewhere. Get off the interstate and you will see it much more frequently.

      One can go to their websites, like Freerepublic, or any newspaper that permits free comment and you will see that we have a very large population, all under the Stars and Bars.

      OTOH, there is no reason for anyone, today, to fly the Stars and Bars. The flag stands for nothing positive or good about our history. It is the last relic of a poor policy of healing the nation---people seldom admit they are wrong---which tried to give the South something by honoring the valour of its Soldiers.

      So me you add abundunt use by wacos and no good reason for displaying the flag, well I am very comfortable with sayng that, typically, anyone who displays the Stars and Bars is a racist.

  4. SPLC listing of active neo-confederate hate groups

    1. OK, once again you are confusing the question here. Yes, there are neo-Confederate hate groups out there. And I'm well aware of the resources out there on them. That's not the question, AH.


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