Wednesday, 6 May 2009

"the greatest people that have ever trod this earth"

Brilliant piece by Atlantic blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates on nationalism, racism, and lazy thinking in the Southern United States. Money quote:

Of course the problem with mental corruption is that it doesn't really respect borders. There's a short step from Farrakhanesque numerology to believing in little green men. Likewise, a group conditioned to, at once, believe that they are "the greatest people that have ever trod this earth," that the stars and bars actually stand for barbecue, NASCAR and rugged individualism, that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery, are exactly the sort of people conditioned to believe that man once hunted dinosaurs, that Obama is (all at once) a radical Christian and a closet Muslim, that global warming is a liberal hoax, that a neurogical diagnoses can be done via video-tape. To be sure, history is littered with smart, well-read racists.But they weren't any smarter for it.


One doesn't need to have ever been to the Southern US to know exactly what he is talking about, he is talking about the desire, even amongst intelligent people, to use mental short-cuts whereby all the arguments one is inclined to disagree with the most can be waved into bins where they require no more attention. Intelligence doesn't make you immune to laziness, in fact it can often allow people to invent new ways to deceive themselves.

3 comments:

Charles Frith said...

A masterful piece of writing, I enjoyed that.

Rhodo Zeb said...

Year ago, when the stories about torture and illegal rendition first became credible, I went home for a visit.

I mentioned the word and my sister immediately turned and left the table to tend to her daughter, who was playing nearby. It was visceral, an intense desire to not confront some fact, rather than the baby suddenly falling or anything like that.

I think a lot of people are kind of trapped by their own realities, unable or unwilling to confront certain facts.

FOARP said...

@Rhodo Zeb - I am of the opinion that the majority of people - and I include myself in this - take years to come around to such facts, and that the minority are probably at least part way already prepared to accept them. There is a difference, however, between not giving in to justified doubt and blindly accepting an explanation which allows you to go on thinking the same things you always had. Especially given (as TNC points out) the ease with which such compromises poison all your other dealings.

Hence:

- The refusal to accept government wrong-doing and explain it away as a product of the 'biased western media' leads to a Mexican's (probably untruly) statement that China was the source of swine flu being touted as yet another example of the great foreign media conspiracy.

- The refusal to confront past racism allows some white South Africans to accept the totally groundless idea that mixed-race children are likely to be born deformed or "blue" as a "non-racist" reason to disapprove of mixed-race marriages.

And a myriad other examples the world round.