Thursday, 4 June 2009

Hunting & Politics: Civil Wars

I went out into the field yesterday and sat around confused - not too sure why I was out there at all; I had food in the fridge - I'd been shopping - what did I need to go out hunting for?

Sometimes I go out there for no better reason than because I can; I don't have a job right now and there's only so much time I can spend alone in the flat before a variety of cabin fever pitches me into a lurid and obsessional melancholy: flicking through the same sites on the net; posting nonsense in turbulent forums; smoking too much; brooding pointlessly about imagined slights.

Sometimes it's fine to get out of the house and go hunting; sometimes the air, the daylight, the grass and trees, the sense of being about a task with a small but genuine and practical outcome - the getting of my dinner - allows me to let go of the inessential and trivial maunderings that so easily take occupation of my mind. Sometimes it's beautiful - grateful praise and thanksgiving is the obvious response to finding that I'm alive, out there in a green field, and that I have a job to do.

But just because I can go out, one day, and find with joy that what I'm doing is right - feels right - in no way means that hunting is always - each every day - the right thing to do; different things can be sought there; different things can be my aim; and it's the aim, it seems, which gives the 'rightness' to the enterprise: makes it right, or not quite right or - on occasion - just plain wrong.

Today, I didn't go out hunting; I voted (in our local and European elections), tinkered with websites, snorted a good deal of snuff and watched the last episode of a twelve-hour documentary - made nearly twenty years ago - about the American Civil War.

I know almost nothing about English and far less about American history - Fort Sumter, Gettysburg, Bull Run, Vicksburg, Petersburg, Lee, Grant, Jackson, Sherman, Lincoln, Union, Confederacy - if I knew of these at all then they were little more than words to me; so I learned a great deal; learned, for one thing, just how ignorant I am of history.

It's been very interesting to learn about all this at the same time as seeing the political situation here in England in the run-up to the elections. Stoke-on-Trent, just up the road from me, has, today, something like nine British National Party councillors. The leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin, is on record as describing the English Civil War - in token of his wish that a new war, a 'race' war this time, will again split the country in bloodshed - as the 'First' civil war. It is his hope, it seems, that a fresh war will bring about a selective reverse of emancipation: free, native-born citizens of this country will be consigned to become a dispossessed and servile underclass; their right to liberty and citizenship removed because it's possible to describe them as - in the words of the BNP - "Non-White".

The Google 'Adword' advertising that's on show in the borders of this blog - I put it there, I make a small amount of money each time one of these advertisements is clicked - included, until I noticed it and put a filter in place to bar them, 'advertisements' from the BNP: "Wake Up!", one fo them read, "50% of Babies Born in the UK are Non-White!"

What makes us human, I suppose, what makes it wrong to understand ourselves as merely animals, is that we are subjects of language; we are all of us under the bar of speech, and - because this is so, because for us the truth is something we can say or fail to say, know or ignore - we have the possibility to be directed by, in Lincoln's words, 'the better angels of our nature' or, again, to be directed in a wholly different direction. It's possible to describe someone as 'Non-White' - we have the words to say it - and it's possible to think that by doing so we name something essential and designate thereby a real difference, a meaningful distinction. It's possible to do this; we can say the words or write them. But just because it's in our power to do this - like it's possible for me, at the moment, to go out hunting every day - isn't quite the same thing as its being right to do this.

It's been an education for me in the last week to learn a very little about Frederick Douglass - I didn't know the first thing, until now, about this remarkable man. He wrote:

"No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.

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  1. To say the American War Between The States was about race or slavery is a horrible simplification, though that is likely how it was presented to you in a modern television program.

    Books have been written about it but you might find this worthy of perusal as a primer to some of the why behind the war. Lincoln himself was a racist and said on more than one occasion that blacks were inferior and should be shipped back to Africa, among other things.

    Some of the most racist behavior in the history of the US came AFTER (including LONG AFTER) The War, often in NORTHERN STATES.

  2. For whatever it is worth, you might find this of interest, because it's about your own nation's politics and may be a bigger issue on the same tangent as the BNP, but more successful. More dangerous than billboards. H/T to Mike V. for the story of these folk and their plans for the UK.

  3. WOW i followed the second link - how barking is Troy Southgate!
    Great find - I didn't think they made them like that anymore.

  4. Hi Tom,

    Sure, I agree with you. The question of 'States Rights' was obviously a huge one; political liberty and the right to self-determination also. I was very interested to unlearn as well some of the misconceptions I'd had regarding the roles of the Democratic and Republican parties in regards of slavery and emancipation: absolutely fascinating.

    The Ken Burns documentary didn't strike me as promoting a simplistic line on any of these matters, really - certainly not 'South: Racist & Bad; North: Saintly & Good', not by a long way.

    But would you think it's wrong to say that the war was one way in which powerfully conflicted attitudes to identity and liberty - both individual and group (state and nation) - found expression?

    One comment in the programme - made by Shelby Foote - I found very interesting. He said that before the war, when people used the term 'United States', it was "The United States are...", and after the war it became "The United States is...". 'We became an 'is'', he said.

    In a way, that's a part of the question to which the BNP is now making its own response too, over here. How do we make an identity? Does our identity contain conflict, difference, or is our identity something that's formed by the expulsion - the denial & supression - of difference and conflict?

    I write a bit here about identity and conflict; 'hunters' and 'anti-hunters' is one way it finds expression. Am I 'a hunter'? I don't know, I do it, but does that mean I *am* it? Would I agree if I were told that my attitudes on other matters could be determined by the fact that the word 'hunter' could be used of me?

    Mr. Southgate looks as though he's forged a way of responding to the question of difference - the notional differences and supposed conflicts between 'races' and 'ethnicities' - that's subtly different to that espoused by the BNP. National-Anarchists (and I suspect there's very few of them) probably wouldn't want to take seats on local councils and influence the way that towns and cities are run in the UK. The BNP do want to do that and are doing that. The BNP made an attempt to close down council translation services up the road from me in Stoke - there shouldn't be any language other than English spoken here, seemed to be their position. I read an account by a man in London yesterday that said, 'if the BNP get elected in this ward, then I'll probably have to move out' - this was a man who could be (I don't say 'should be') described as being 'Non-White'. They make real differences to peoples lives, the BNP.

    So it seems to me that the questions that were alive in the civil war are still alive. Even what those questions are - how to articulate them - is one thing, and no simple thing, either; how to 'solve' those questions - or even if they should be attempted to be 'solved' is another matter entirely.

    Thank you, as ever, for your very interesting comments here, Tom!


  5. I live in the middle of a racial/ethnic conundrum myself.

    Having spent most of my life in and out of Texas and time in California, we have Mexicans that were here before Anglos and I grew up where it was pretty normal for everybody to speak Spanish to some degree, but the Mexicans who were here spoke English too. They considered themselves US Citizens and were proud of it.

    The more recent influxes of illegals, the ones the Democrats want to give residency to to consolidate their power base, they show little interest in becoming Americans. It was one thing where it was different places of Sabbath worship. It's a different kettle of fish when the attitude of immigrants it to change the country they immigrated too rather than assimilate, which has been the American tradition. Kind of what y'all are dealing with regarding Islamists, I suppose.

    I like the older generation Mexicans that were either here first or assimilated. I dislike the ones that want to build a virtual country within our country. There's nothing wrong with keeping cultural ties to your homeland you left, but to move somewhere else and then try and make it be back like home, that doesn't work for me.

    Californians of all stripes that move to Texas do the same thing. They got sick of high taxes and socialist projects that made everything expensive and then they settled places like Austin and created socialist systems and high taxes that make everything expensive...

  6. We live in the middle of conundrums, indeed; nicely put.

    After scratching my head here a little in the rainy and, today, rather miserable West Midlands, I'm not sure that I'm up to putting forward my views on issues around the US-Mexican border; I'm not sure that I even have views worth a damn on the matter since I know - basically - nothing about it. All that comes to my mind with any clarity is the image of Josh Broslin staggering back and forth across that bridge in "No Country for Old Men".

    I'm not too sure what we are dealing with regarding what you call Islamists. I suppose that a fair proportion of the 'we' that is doing the dealing - the bona fide, card-carrying citizens of the UK, that is - are themselves Muslims. I'm a catholic and I used to think I was a Buddhist; an old colleague of mine used to be an Anglican and is now a Muslim; back in the day, I used to think that I was an anarchist and, these days, I'm happy to see coppers on the beat and I still - to the chagrin of my friends - confess a liking for that man Tony Blair.

    I think that 'loving one's neighbour' is a tricky thing to do. As if that wasn't, in itself, a tall enough order, 'love your enemies' crops up in the Gospels soon after.

    One of my neighbours is convinced that I'm a thoroughly bad thing and blows a gasket if I so much as make a squeak of noise. My feelings towards him could in no way be described as 'loving'. I think that he thinks I'm enjoying myself too much. Generally, I suppose I'd say, the things that piss us off the most about 'them' - those other people - is that they enjoy different things to the stuff that we enjoy. Other people's music - overhearing it - drives me absolutely bananas: I find it utterly intolerable; I struggle with meeting the way that they enjoy.

    I enjoy going out hunting. I don't 'enjoy' killing animals as such, but I do enjoy the satisfaction of getting my dinner from a field with nothing to help me but a hefty German air rifle and my own rather clumsy stalking technique. Friends of mine find my 'enjoyment' of this baffling and, to some extent, repellent; I certainly wish they didn't - but they do.

    We seem to have to rub along with other people enjoying different stuff to the stuff that we ourselves - or we as a group - enjoy. Not hating that seems to be the challenge for us - as, perhaps, it's a challenge for my friends to understand why coming back from the fields with a dead rabbit is a thing that makes me happy.


  7. There's a split, especially in Central, West, and South Texas between Texan Mexicans and the new waves of immigration of the recent past.

    I like the music, the food, the culture, and most especially the Mexican families I know that were here before there even was a US-Mexico border as well as the ones that want to or have become Americans, not just make better wages to wire home to their families in Mexico and then usually go home after they've earned enough to start a business of some sort back home.

    I look at them the same way I look at Mining Engineers that work outside of their home country. They're digging for whatever "gold" they can get and then they are going back where they came from, in the interim they create parallel societies in the host countries. In this case, it drives wages down and most of them don't pay much if any tax but use all the state services they can.

    That attitude creates in many a near BNP/Neo-Nazi hatred of them. I don't harbor that sort of feeling but I'd like people to come to America to either visit or to become Americans, not for what I see is plundering a very forgiving nation.

    As far as Islamists, I also am a bit queasy about Islamists coming hear to learn to fly jets :-)

    Many Alaskans dislike Texans because a lot of us went up there and took "their" jobs when the Alaskan oil patch came in, because we had the technical people and they didn't much at all. Texans that are watching their 15-20/hr jobs become 9/hr cash under the table jobs for people who wire the money out of the country and get free medical care and schooling whilst not citizens feel about the same as the Alaskans did, I suppose. But more so, because of the extra tax burdens.

    I'm sure you can find a La Raza "economist" to tell you different, but I went to college for economics before gunsmithing college and I don't see the mass immigration mailing money out of the country while using services they don't pay for as a net benefit for the US or Texas.

    Pensamientos de un cazador y un loco cabron de Tejas.

  8. Hi Tom,

    And thank you, as ever, for your interesting comments.

    There's an unusually good set of contrasting & conflicting comments attached to an article in the Guardian today (a not-unusually weak article, sadly). I can't post a direct link in this comment box (irritatingly) but here's a link you might like to copy & paste:

    I'd quibble about one point you raised: I can see why tax-paying citizens would be irritated to see people who are not paying taxes working alongside them; I can see why that might generate resentment. I think it's quite another thing, however, to think that if this resentment then organises itself into a 'racially'-segregated organisation devoted to supremacist hatred then this development could be understood as being 'created' by the non-tax-paying illegal immigrant. I think that's a mistake.

    I'm not saying that I am above such feelings myself, by the way; I'm a sinner, and if I look around me and imagine that there are depths of evil to which I cannot personally sink, then I'm deluding myself. I don't say, either, that an illegal immigrant is ethically stainless, but choosing to respond to the non-tax paying illegal immigrant with hatred - rather than, say, a commitment to securing political and legal justice for both parties - is simply an ethical failure on the part of hater and in no way 'created' by the 'illegal'.


  9. I see the points and agree with some and disagree with others but Texas isn't NYC. Some of my neighboring ranchers family got their land as grants from the Spanish many an eon ago. Growing up under such circumstances and in communities that were and are about 50/50 people of Mexican heritage and Anglos, I would never lump all Mexicans together. But I do lump the non-tax paying ones that mail most of their wages back to Mexico as a category I am less than happy with.

    FWIW, Chicago, Illinois has more people of Mexican heritage and illegals than San Antonio, Texas. In Chicago there's a huge area called "Little Mexico" that's a city within a city. Signs in Spanish only many places, many that don't speak English. San Antonio has no "Little Mexico" as the people of Mexican heritage are about half the city. Signs are in both languages but most everybody speaks English on the Mexican side of things and a slightly lesser percentage of Anglos speak Spanish well. But it's an integrated city through and through, unlike the Chicago or NYC models of ghettos.

    Maybe the author of that article chose poorly as to what part of America to move to?

  10. Here's how poorly we treat our Texans of Mexican heritage:

    URL Back at you and I'm voting for him in the election :-)

  11. Forgot to add, as the wiki article doesn't mention it, his father came from Cuba but his mother's family are Mexican.

    So I guess that's two strikes against him in the eyes of the English/Mexican editorialist.

    I'm still voting for him, not because or in spite of those heritages, but because of his accomplishments and abilities.

    Half the votes I've ever cast in my life in State and Local politics, the years I've been in Texas, have been for Mexican and Hispanic Texans I agreed with. I'd wager on it.

  12. Thanks for that link Tom. I've gained a lot from our exchanges here and certainly learned a few things.


  13. Glad to be of assistance. One of your Brummies just made my day because his new book is coming out, FINALLY. I posted about it on my corner of the world. Birmingham did a lot for the hunters and Boomer people of the world over then years.

    Best Regards,