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Letter: Black History Month

This Black History Month, I’ll be remembering the four people most responsible for stamping out slavery: the journalist William Lloyd Garrison, the Quaker preacher Ellias Hicks, the parliamentarian William Wilberforce, and the ceramics manufacturer (and grandfather of Charles Darwin) Josiah Wedgwood. Like most of the tens of thousands of men who died fighting in the Civil War for the Union and the Royal Navy’s sailors who enforced the outlawing of the slave trade on the seas, these people were white Anglo-Saxon, Protestant males.

If many young people are unfamiliar with these men - and, indeed, all-too-many are - it’s because the historical facts don’t fit the current politically correct orthodoxy: that white people are inherently racists, that Western culture is intrinsically oppressive, and that Christianity is an apologia for racial discrimination. But, indeed, slavery was abolished, ultimately, by the very society that practiced it in the first place. Ralph Waldo Emerson, speaking on August 1, 1844 about the emancipation of slaves in the British West Indies noted, “Other revolutions have been the insurrection of the oppressed. This was the repentance of the tyrant.”

Moral repentance is not very popular in 2012. We’ve evolved into a society in which demanding the individual, or society writ large, conform to an ethical standard of conduct is considered quaint at best, narrow-minded and judgmental at worse.

Recently, I employed my Facebook account to test the moral waters by posting the suggestion that the U.S. was potentially a greater threat to world peace than Iran. The U.S., I advanced, has, since 1980, attacked Granada, Panama, Serbia, Iraq, and Libya even though those countries never attacked it; that the U.S. encouraged Iraq to wage war on Iran back in the 1980s and subsequently armed both sides; that the U.S. has amassed a significant nuclear arsenal; that the U.S. has its military forces in a score of nations.

By contrast, I continued, Iran has not attacked anyone, has no nuclear weapons, and no troops beyond its own borders. My Facebook friends responded: how great the U.S. Constitution is, how awful the leaders of Iran are, and how we need to support the troops who are protecting our freedoms.

  In another posting on my “wall,” I not only attacked Penn State coach Joe Paterno the day after he died for protecting a child sexual predator, but went on to say that the Penn State case was an example of America’s institutional corruption. The problem, I observed, is not that most police officers and judges are corrupt (they aren’t), or that most Roman Catholic priests are child molesters (they aren’t), or that most businessmen are unscrupulous exploiters (they aren’t). The problem is, I said, that police departments, courts, churches, and businesses ignore, lie for, and cover-up for those in their ranks who are guilty of these things and they sick their lawyers and public relations people on victims and whistle-blowers. I also gave a few specific examples. Again, I was told that my remarks about Joe Paterno were unseemly, that no society is perfect, that at least America is better than North Korea, and that I should apologize for saying such things about this nation’s respected institutions. Denial, denial, denial. (Maybe America should change its name to “Egypt”).

It’s not that my Facebook friends are bad people. Far from it. It’s that they have come to accept institutional corruption as the norm, come to consider truth to be in the eye of the beholder, and have come to see passing moral judgments on others as intolerant. A generation of hippy-pop counterculture psychobabble has created a nation of philosophical philistines and morally retarded individuals. They have been schooled in the sophistries of political correctness’ cultural and intellectual relativism to such a degree that they fail to see the logical conclusion.

If life is “all about choices,” and preferences, and “to each his own,” and “who’s to say what’s the truth” and “what might be right for you may not be right for some” (the theme song of Different Strokes) than what possible moral arguments could we raise against slavery? Or the society that practices slavery? If keeping African people as property was the choice of the plantation owner of the South and part of his culture, than who are we to judge? If America can invade countries that never attacked it or endangered it, than who are we to judge the Nazi blitzkrieg into Poland or the Japanese “rape of Nanking?”

If truth is largely subjective and dependent upon one’s perspective, than what possible moral objection could there be against fraud, slander, or theft? And what rational reason would exist for having laws against those things?

The abolition of slavery by white people in the 19th Century, Emerson’s “the repentance of the tyrant,” is worth considering when dwelling upon how much our civilization has degenerated in the march of “progress,” “freedom,” and “tolerance.” Slavery, were it practiced in 2012, would probably find no suitable abolitionist movement to challenge it.

And that’s our biggest challenge.

Paul Manton