Good morning all-
Regarding the recent protests, counter-protests and violence in Charlottesville. This is disturbing news and I have been struggling to find ways to see such serious political action as legitimate separate from racism because this seems just too much to take seriously. After searching through some of the organizations involved it appears that this was a legitimate expression of bigotry and intimidation that should be denounced. I deplore the violence on both sides, respect the freedom of speech (even of views which I find abhorrent) but find no legitimacy for white supremacist groups, or any which seeks to diminish the benefits of multiculturalism. We should acknowledge that this event is not normal and not representative of Americans.
The protesters in Charlottesville were mostly incoherent with a mismatched collection of organizations and identities present. According to this piece by the Southern Poverty Law Center there were representatives who fly the banner of Kekistan (a made up idea used to troll liberals) ranging across the spectrum to Socialist movements. This latter category is an odd identity in the far right because many critics of Obamacare and the liberal agenda cried “socialism” using the moniker as a protest. However, whatever is to be assumed under “white supremacy” or “white nationalism” or the various memes now used to invoke this confused bunch, the essential idea seems to be a rejection of immigration, multiculturalism and globalization. If there is any legitimacy to the far right protesters then it is that indeed globalization and the like have not benefited everyone equally BUT the benefits are still genuine and there is no rolling back the tide.
In a video from the National Policy Institute (it sounds way more legitimate than it is. This “institutue” is mostly the work of white supremacist Richard Spencer) Mr. Spencer ridicules the multi-culturalism of the United States to say that a “country for everyone is a country for no one.” The obvious problem with that idea is that white identity has little historical claim over its identity in the territory of the United States given that a population preceded the Europeans who came late to the party.
A preface, the statue of General Lee in Charlottesville was chosen to be removed by the Charlottesville City Council in February. This came after a 2016 petition to the city council. A local high school student collected signatures and petitioned the city council stating “my peers and I feel strongly about the removal of the statue because it makes us feel uncomfortable and is very offensive.” The unrest this week follows an earlier similar protest broken up by police action in May.
It is not my place to choose what is and what is not offensive. But if we assume that slavery was the central ideological departure in the Civil War with the Confederate states supporting slavery then I believe that we should be skeptical of the way in which we celebrate (immortalizing in statuary) southern generals such as Robert E. Lee. When we change the name of a public place from “Lee Park” to “Emancipation Park” then we are, to my mind, not erasing history or diminishing the southern states or those who died, or the tactical actions of generals separate from ideology (a point I mention because General Lee has a great reputation within the military as a commander. The Army still trains its logisticians in Fort Lee, VA.) Rather, I think we are acknowledging that there are black marks in our history and it took decades to place figures on the right or wrong side of history. We are allowed to reinterpret our history as the paradigm shifts. A city council vote will not satisfy everyone but it is hard to support the idea that history is being systematically dismantled by pernicious forces.
I am most confused on where to draw the line. When is it justified to shout down an idea because it is so offensive or objectively wrong that such activity is justified. I think that I have very little sympathy with the likes of Jason Kessler and Mr. Spencer, but (in the second video here from Business Insider) I disliked the protester who shouted “Indict for murder now” into his microphone, and I certainly disliked the acts of violence towards Mr. Kessler. It appears, glancing across the internet, that there were plenty of activists celebrating the fact that he was chased out of town but using intimidation is just as bad as any other act of bullying. Perhaps there is no point in which a point of view is so offensive that we have to censor it completely. For clarification I am hypothesizing about a point in which political/ideological disputes take the form of peaceful debates that makes extreme viewpoints unnecessary. This would quickly deligitimize bigotry once it is apparent there are no grounds on which to take the “alt-right” and its affiliates seriously.