December Voice of Sanity

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November, 2013


The Voice of Sanity

THE NEWSLETTER OF THE UPSTATE S.C. SECULAR HUMANISTS
Visit our web-site for current issues at:

CALENDAR

http://www.meetup.com/piedmont-SC-Humanists/

www.piedmonthumanists.org

Second Saturday Brunch, December 14th, 10:00AM to 12:00 noon, at Denny’s restaurant, 2521 Wade Hampton Blvd.

The Sunday meeting and discussion is from 11:00AM to 1:00PM every Sunday; location: the Earth Fare 3620 Pelham Road, Greenville

The Free-Thought group meets every other Thursday (December 5th, 19th and January 2nd), 7:00PM at Bailey’s; 2409 Laurens Road; Greenville.

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THE MASTER MENTALITY, FEAR…AND TREY GOWDY

by Tom Bentley

Before the Civil War, armed white men on horseback formed “slave patrols” to search for, intercept and apprehend any slave found where they felt that slave did not belong. Any free-roaming slave was a potential danger, ready to foment insurrection, murdering their white masters in their beds, raping their white wives and sisters and daughters.

After the Civil War, those bands of armed men became “black patrols”; the blacks were now freemen, but were seen in the same way, as naturally inferior and as a threat to the white man. The black man had to be kept “in his place” by any means possible.

This did not end with the coming of Reconstruction; rather, it was transformed into a band of “gun clubs,” performing essentially the same function: keeping the black man down. Wade Hampton’s Red Shirts were a politically connected outgrowth of the gun clubs, performing the same functions. When Reconstruction law demanded the disbandment of the gun clubs, they immediately reformed “band clubs,” musical organizations: one such club proudly advertised its “three 24-pound flutes”.

Whites still felt it necessary to use physical force to “protect” the white way of life. Whites were fearful now that blacks would not only be violently vicious when allowed freedom of action; but blacks now threatened the whites’ economic security, as southern economic society had been decimated by the War. Blacks, formerly slaves, remained “the other” for the white man–particularly for the poor white man, and there were a great many of those. So a means had to be developed to keep this threat at bay.

So Benjamin “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman ran for the Governorship of South Carolina on a platform of keeping the black man down by legal methods. It came to be known as Jim Crow.

In 1896, Tillman’s factotum in the State Senate, one Coleman “Coley” Livingston Blease, introduced into the Legislature the first law demanding the segregation of blacks from whites on all public transportation.

Coley Blease went on to occupy Tillman’s seat in the office of Governor in 1911. While in office Blease made a point of praising lynching as a justifiable means of taking revenge justice.

In 1913 Blease appeared before the US Conference of Governors, and said: “Whenever the Constitution comes between me and the virtue of the white women of the South, I say to hell with the Constitution!” He never shrank from endorsing the vigilantism of lynching–though always condemning, with a wink and a nod, “the violence of a few.”

In 1929, this same Blease, now U.S. Senator, introduced a bill to produce registration and identification cards for all non-native-born persons in the United States.  “A very dangerous bill,” according to The Nation magazine at the time, “…an infamous proposal, spelling police espionage and blackmail.”

Lynching, segregation, vigilantism–all are means of identifying “the other” and protecting oneself from the unknown, the feared.

Now comes Trey Gowdy, US Representative from South Carolina’s 4th District (Greenville/Spartanburg) introducing the SAFE Act — Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act– which essentially turns every local law enforcement agency into a vigilante posse, licensed to enforce national immigration laws and policy, in their own way and using such methods as they choose.

“The SAFE Act represents a common sense approach to the enforcement of our nation’s laws. Utilizing the law enforcement infrastructure existing in every state and community across this country to support enforcement efforts increases accountability and effectiveness, while using resources wisely,” says Gowdy, on his web site.

What this would do would be to encourage racial profiling to the extreme, creating a new class of people to be reviled and legally threatened, harassed and intimidated.

It’s unfortunate that this law has already been approved and passed out of the House Judiciary Committee.

While the Orwellian-named “SAFE Act” will probably never get past the Senate — so long as that body is controlled by the Democrats — it is chilling to consider that the same fears of “the Other” are even today being manifested, and from the same area of the country that brought us all the joys of Jim Crow.

Sources:

“Editorial Paragraphs,” The Nation, Vol CXXVIII, Feb. 13, 1929, New York, N.Y., pp175-176.

The Governorship of Coleman Livingston Blease of South Carolina, 1911-1915, by Ronald Dantan Burnside. Unpublished PhD thesis, Indiana University, 1963.

“The Appeal of Cole Blease of South Carolina: Race, Class and Sex in the New South” by Bryant Simon, in The Journal of Southern History, Vol 62, No.1 (Feb. 1996), pp 57-86.

Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War by Nicholas Leman, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2006.

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A LOOK AT AMERICAN VOTERS

This is a report on the book: Just How Stupid Are We? By Rick Shenkman (2008, Basic Books)

I wasn’t too far into this read before remembering Alvin Greene and the anomaly of the 2010 election for Senator in South Carolina. Alvin Greene won the primary as the Democratic candidate for that office against Vic Rawl a former state representative. Before the primary it was impossible to find any information about Greene on the internet or in the local newspaper. I later discovered local party members had not met him and he hadn’t attended any of the Democratic events or stump meetings. Greene later lost the race to Jim Demint.  The surprise was that Greene won the primary by a whopping 59%. How could he get elected when nobody knew anything about him?

There was plenty of speculation about how it happened. One idea was that voters just choose his name because it appeared alphabetically before Rawl’s on the ballot. Another was that many might have thought he was Al Green, a 1970s soul singer. A third tentative explanation was that he was a plant by the Republican Party.

Shenkman seems to give a better answer to this. He feels voters are both politically uninformed and at the mercy of their own uncritical thinking. He lists five voter characteristics that lead to situations like Alvin Greene in local and national politics. They are:

1)      Ignorance about how the government functions and a spotty awareness of important events in the news. The first could be corrected by the study of civics, a course that is lacking in curriculums of public schools and universities. The second can be put at the door of poor reporting by the media.

2)      A disinclination to seek reliable sources of information about important news events. This could be corrected by use of the Internet, but the voter is at the mercy of:

3)      An unconscious desire to believe what he wants to believe regardless of the facts. An example here would be global warming, where many still doubt it exists in spite of research in unrelated scientific fields pointing to the same conclusion.

4)      Support of public policies that are mutually exclusive or contrary to the nation’s long-term interests. The lack of a long-term plan for reducing the deficit fits well as an example of the latter

5)      Susceptibility to meaningless phrases, and simple diagnoses and solutions that are only hopeful at best. “Read my lips- no new taxes” and “if you like your current insurance, you can keep that insurance” come immediately to mind here.

Most polls show that people have only a tentative awareness of how the government functions. Shenkman’s off hand remarks about the history of how our democracy was put together sent this writer nosing through her copy of the Constitution to find that, originally, neither senators nor the president were elected by popular vote. Most people today, at least know about the Electoral College for the President. Here is what the original constitution says: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.” The responsibility of electing the President was set clearly in the hands of the states legislatures back then and remains the constitutional method today. The popular presidential elections we are familiar with are run by the individual states, but really have no constitutional foundation.  Here is what it says for the election of Senators: “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, [chosen by the Legislature thereof] for six Years; and each Senator shall have one vote.” It wasn’t until 1913 that the Seventeenth Amendment was passed allowing the people to vote for senators.

Regardless of statements in the previous paragraph The People as whole have attained more control over government with the inventions of the primary, referendum and initiative. We have more responsibility but most of us have neither been educated enough nor know where to find information about a candidate or an issue. Also, as mentioned before, we have an irrational side that can easily be manipulated. Couple this last with an assortment of politicians aided by skilled marketers and the ability of a person to make a sound decision is seriously compromised.

Shenkman takes a close look at our search for information and finds that we do it passively. He refers to it as the “drunkards search”, in which the drunk looks for his keys at night under the lamp post because that is where the most light is. We also tend to fasten on to the personal lives and appearances of candidates more than their legislative history or their understanding of issues. There is a reason why an opposing party is more likely to present scandalous personal information on a candidate late in an election. The people will remember this and forget his previous political record no matter how good it is.

Television and now the Internet are notorious vehicles for blurring hard political information. The visual usually overrides the ability to reason when it comes to a good picture. When we see something, the context of what is said accompanying the image is mostly forgotten, but the image lasts a long, long time. Shenkman writes about a TV feature by Leslie Stahl during the Reagan campaign. Several minutes of pictures of Reagan were run along with critical remarks about his budget cuts for the disabled and housing for the elderly. She expected a backlash from his campaign managers for what was said, but they called to thank her. Their explanation was that the public doesn’t hear the words when the picture says something different, and they got four and half minutes of great pictures of their candidate. This writer finds that TV commercials for drugs use this technique constantly. The printed information is small and the accompanying warnings are droned, but the picture is always happy and peaceful.

Perhaps the worst part of grappling with political questions is the inability to connect cause and effect. Some government legislation doesn’t immediately have results. One or more terms of office can pass before its effects become clear. The problem is that we tend to blame present office holders for something that might have been done in the far distant past and visa versa. A president can take credit for economic prosperity that occurred because of what was done in a previous administration. Conversely, members of congress can complain about the malfunction of a subsidy without admitting that the funding for it was cut off in a previous congressional assembly. If we look back farther into US history we can see that good major legislations were rarely recognized as such by contemporaries, but history eventually showed their true worth.

Political problems are complex and people are busy making a living and raising the next generation. But we are mistaken if we believe we can do without a formal education in the workings of government and that we don’t need to demand better information on what our representatives are doing. We live in a democracy with a constitution. This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. When we say ‘of the people’ we should not mean representatives whose skills are limited to campaigning for office, but representatives who are talented, skilled, and interested in solving the complex problems of legislation and budget. When we say ‘by the people’ we should mean responsible people who seek knowledge about candidates in order to elect the best local, state and federal representatives, and people who should be interested enough to keep an eye on what these representatives do while in office. If these two responsibilities are carried out, then it’s also a government for the people.                            JB

This letter recently appeared in the Greenville News in response to an earlier letter. Roger Rollin heads the humanist group recently organized for people in Pickens and Oconee Counties. Read on:

This “ungodly humanist” would like to answer the wild attacks and ugly insults leveled against people like me contained in a Nov. 7 letter to The News. Readers may recall it: It was the one that whined about how more than 230 million American Christians are being “persecuted” by some 23,000 American humanists.

Where to start? It’s easy to dismiss as mere rant the writer’s vituperation against “atheistic college professors” (I’d be glad to introduce him to scores of Christian faculty of my acquaintance), and against “their prodigies” (I think he means “progeny”) —apparently everyone in “mainstream” media and all federal judges. In logic such grossly exaggerated and unproved statements are called “sweeping generalizations” and they are fallacious.

The writer apparently desires that there be no separation of his Christian church at least and state, thereby ignoring settled constitutional law which holds that government may not favor or further any religion over another or over no religion. He would be well advised to read “Church and State in America” by Edwin S. Gaustad, which will provide him with Establishment Clause historical and legal facts about which he is sorely confused.

Finally, the writer needs to meet and talk with some actual humanists rather than conjuring up imaginary villains. Both Greenville and Clemson have humanist organizations that warmly welcome civil discussions of important philosophical and religious questions. From them he would discover that humanism is a rational philosophy that affirms human dignity, compassion, freedom and responsibility.

Roger Rollin

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