The chief philosophical sages of our age, obviously by that I refer to Matt Stone and Trey Parker of South Park, addressed this question somewhat in season 4 episode 7, Chef Goes Nanners. The relevant scene is at 7:44.
In this spoof of the state flag debates across the American South, in particular Georgia, Chef demands changes to the South Park flag because it is racist. To leave no doubt in the minds of the viewers that Chef is spot on, the flag is discovered to show four white people lynching a black man.
And yet, Jimbo and Nedd, the resident hunter rednecks of South Park disagree, offering what amounts to the same argument relied upon by most southerners who oppose changing their state flags: The flag is a part of our history, our traditions. While people in the past did racist things and perhaps some minority today holds racist views, the whole culture of the South was not built around racism, and the flag represents the whole culture, not just the sordid parts.
Now for a not so brief digression, I’m from Alabama. I confess I very much identify with Jimbo’s position at least regarding the flags of the southern states.
At my college, a history professor once posed the question, “Is Southern history inherently racist?” and after a particularly impressive display of heavy-handed sophistry, answered himself as “doubtlessly yes.” The redneck hairs stood up on the back of my neck and I felt myself trying to remember that line from Faulkner about it being 2 o’clock in the afternoon at Gettysburg, Pickett’s charge not ordered.
No one I knew growing up in Alabama thought a return to slavery was in order, yet to say something like Southern history is inherently racist, which is to say, the idea of the South itself is inherently racist, meaning that if I consider myself a Southerner or a part of that unique cultural, political region, that makes me racist. That’s incredibly offensive. What about all the African Americans and immigrants to the South who identify with the culture Are they by definition racists?
Imagine if the prof had said, “Are Jews greedy?” and then applied his syllogistic wizardry to a resounding yes, to which Cartman would applaud, or “Are all women secretly sluts?” or any other type of moralizing question that doesn’t accomplish the actual goal of a legitimate question. A real question unlocks the door to a new idea or shade of wisdom. When used as a tool to bludgeon people, it is amounts to pure sophistry, or in millennial dialect, “being a douchey blowhard.” I think most people would be as offended at such questions as I was. While I recognize the evils of slavery and the evils they wrought throughout the American South, I do believe that there is more to the South than racism. When I think of the South, I don’t think of plantation owning whites (of which I know zero), I think of all ethnicities, mini-cultures, genders, sexual orientations, etc who are living in the South and have lived there contributing to the constant evolution of its culture.
So it was with this mindset that I watched the protest of Chef (flag is racist) and the rednecks (flag is history, not racist), feeling sympathy for both sides. Then the Klan shows up.
I am not only from Alabama I am from the middle of nowhere northern hills of that state where one would expect to find the Klan if still extant. I never saw nor knew of any Klansman, which is not to say there were not any, but they were not exactly standing at the local gas station signing up recruits. Anything done must have been in secret because where I am from the Klan is not only considered a shameful, disgraceful thing, to say that you were involved in such a thing would be like saying you were in NAMBLA. I can’t really think of a modern day worse institution besides Al Qaeda or the Kim government in North Korea.
In South Park, the Klan shows up to defend the rednecks’ position, only with a twist. They want the flag to stay the same because it IS racist. When Jimbo explains that they don’t agree with the Klan, that they don’t think the flag is racist, the Klan leader says, “Well whether you like it or not, we’re on your side, brother!” And they join that side of the protest shouting “White Power! White Power!”
Rather than the South, this made me think of libertarians. Personally I largely agree with the political expression of libertarian ideals: individual rights, property rights, non-initiation of force or coercion, free markets, free trade, personal freedom and tolerance. But for a variety of reasons, I don’t always identify as a libertarian. One of the reasons is that so many fringe groups with bizarre ideas have identified with the libertarian brand. Now the general public seems to think libertarian means: pot smoking hippie, 9/11 truther, who believes Obama was born in Indonesia, that the world is going to end imminently, and that vaccines are giving us all autism.
Yet, I feel passionately about the ideas of liberty, that they are true, and that if put into practice would produce prosperity and well being for all humanity.
But what do you do if crazies who agree with some of your ideas go on local news shouting, “Ron Paul!” in one breath and “9/11 was an inside job” with the next?
Do we roll our eyes and tolerate that diversity of opinion, even if it sinks the chances of our ideas going mainstream to the depths of the Marianna trench?
Do we invent a new name and then become a parody of ourselves like Monty Python’s People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front?
Do we need to hire Don Draper for a rebrand? How can we prevent the same thing from happening again and again?
Ideally people should look past the motivations of those supporting ideas and look to the ideas themselves. What does it say about you when you are more concerned with who is expressing an idea over the idea itself? Doesn’t it in some ways smack of the same “racist” thinking we all object to? It need not be race. It could be stay at home, homeschooling Christian moms; oil barons; or conservative black men and women.
For those who would call the first “traitors to their sex”, the second “greedy planet-rapers”, and the third “Uncle Tom’s”; doesn’t it seem odd that you are more concerned with who these people are, than the logical coherency of their ideas or whether the ideas are supported by evidence?
In a perfect world, everyone would understand the logical fallacy of argument ad hominem and that the identity of the arguer does not impact or alter the merits of the ideas in themselves. But we are not in a perfect world.
So what do we do in the mean time?