Podcast

James Howard Kunstler: It's Time To Be Honest With Ourselves

The major systems our society relies on are failing
Sunday, August 27, 2017, 7:55 PM

The ever-eloquent James Howard Kunstler returns to our podcast this week to discuss the dangers of the 'comprehensive dishonesty' he observes in our culture today.

We occupy ourselves with distractions (e.g., the fear du jour that our media continually manufactures) and diversions (e.g., our empty social media addiction), while ignoring the erosion of the essential systems around us. Making matters worse, the leaders we assume are focusing on these issues aren't or are woefully out of their depth.

It's time for society to take a hard look in the mirror and be honest about the shortcoming it sees. Identifying them then opens the door to deciding what to do about them.

Without the courage to be honest, we condemn ourselves to a failing status quo that likely has little remaining time left:

What we’re seeing is the result of behavior of people who have no idea what they're doing. Most of the major systems that we rely on are entering a state of failure of one kind or another. And, of course, the larger problem is that they're interlinked, and that their failures will be mutual and self-amplifying.

These systems include the energy system that has powered industrial civilization, the oil and gas industries which you’ve talked about a lot and I think that our listeners understand pretty well -- although the finer points of it, like the 'energy return on investment', is something that’s certainly not understood by the general public, or most of the officers in our government, and certainly not in the New York Times, Washington Post or other major media outlets. They just don’t get that.

That energy problem is reverberating through everything, including agriculture and our inability to use the oceans in some way that's not going destroy them. And the medical system. The education system. All these systems are blowing up. In the absence of being able to run them coherently in any kind of economic way, they’ve turned in to rackets -- basically, people are trying to make a profit off of them dishonestly one way or another.

Because we’re immersed in comprehensive dishonestly in our culture, we no longer recognize what we’re doing or what the truth of our situation is. It’s pretty dismaying to see our culture flounder, particularly in trivialities and bad ideas(...)

My own guess is that the denouement to all this is going to involve disorder in the financial realm, because finance is the life blood of the techno-industrial society we live in. When that gets into trouble, the problems are going to thunder through all the other realms of our culture, and then we’ll be forced to pay attention. And I think that these financial disorders are not far off. When they happen, things are going to change.

You and I have been quite frustrated over the last eight years at the ability of certain authorities in our culture to manipulate prices and levitate markets and intervene in the physics of our economy. That just can’t go on forever. Even though it’s frustrating to watch, it looks to me like it’s climaxing. The disorders that are already present in our economy are manifesting now in our politics. And that to me is a pretty dangerous sign.

It’s like when you have a chronic metabolic disease that all of a sudden starts to present shocking and alarming symptoms. That should be an alarm to us that we’re really in trouble. 

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Jim Kunstler (54m:31s).

Transcript: 

Chris: Welcome, everyone, to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host Chris Martenson, and it is August 22, 2017. And today, I’m really happy to welcome back to the program my friend, James Howard Kunstler. You know Jim as a well-known author, social critic, whose ideas have been extremely influential to myself and the Peak Oil and Sustainable Living Movements. His best-known work, for myself, is The Long Emergency, which really got me kicked off in many ways thinking about the things that lead to the crash course. And in that book, he argues that declining oil production will result in the reversal of modern industrialized society and compel Americans to return to smaller scale. So, he also wrote the book series that brings that concept to life that began with World Made by Hand, it’s sequel, The Witch of Hebron, and A History of the Future. And most recently, The Harrows of Spring, which used fiction to really entertainingly transport use in to what a future of less might look and feel like. And that, to me, is a world with less net energy.

He also wrote Too Much Magic, Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation which is just a – reads like a complete prediction of what we’re in today as we look around the world. And, of course, he continues to write regularly at his excellent weekly blog found over at Kunstler.com where he now writes and posts twice a week. Jim, really happy to have you back on as a guest, particularly with everything going on today.

Jim: Well, it’s a pleasure to be here with you, and let’s get to it.

Chris: Well, let’s get to it. So, I think we just have to start on the social side of all of this. We’ve had the incidents at Charlottesville and the left and the right, Antifa, the alleged rise of Nazi’s – I say alleged because I’m not sure that there’s more than there ever used to be, but the media is focusing on them. We just, if you remember, you have to think way back, like a month ago it was Russia, Russia, Russia, Russia. It was everywhere. Certainly, we were about to – this was the biggest danger ever – and then almost without skipping a beat, it was North Korea all over the airwaves. Everybody’s getting really freaked out, and then it switched right over to Nazi’s, and here we are today. And I got to tell you, I know people personally who didn’t skip a beat just flipping from one of those traumas to the next, and focusing on them fully. And what do you make of that?

Jim: Well, a couple of things. The failure of the Democratic end of the political spectrum is pretty spectacular. And I say that as someone who remains, even now, a registered Democrat. And I just find the implosion of what used to be the middle to be spectacular. And the adoption of really bad ideas by the remnants of the Democratic Party to also be just astonishing. We’ve got people in that major party now who are affecting to believe that freedom of speech is no longer important, and that the violence on the left has no equivalent to the violence on the right, which I happen to believe it does.

I was not a Trump supporter, didn’t vote for the guy, I’ve been dissing him continually in my own blog, but I think he was correct when he said that the misbehavior on both sides was pretty much the same. We may deplore the ideas and the ideologies of the Nazi’s, but the first amendment is all about having to tolerate ideas that make you uncomfortable. That’s the whole point of it.

And the idea that the left is no longer willing to be uncomfortable with other people’s ideas is very troubling. So, I’ve said for a while now that I thought that both political parties were going down the laundry shoot of history, and it seems like a neck in neck race between who’s gonna get there first. But right now, it’s sort of looking like the Democratic Party wants to get there first in terms of just sheer irrelevancy and incredibly bad ideas.

Chris: I totally agree. And I wouldn’t want either of those two sets of characters who showed up in Charlottesville hanging out in my living room. I don’t really like extremists no matter where they show up. One side intolerant for different reasons than the other side, who is also intolerant. You put two mixers of intolerance together and you probably have a volatile mixture. So yeah, I agree with all that, and here’s the thing. You and I both know that if we back out a couple of steps. We know that both parties are completely irrelevant because they're still talking as if we live in a world of infinite resources and all we have to do is tweak a few policies, throw a little more money into the markets, goose the stock market a little higher, we’ll get jobs going and everybody will keep just on with the program as is. And I haven’t seen anything from either of the two parties that even remotely begin to align with the reality of the world that we live in right now, which is where, if you have my eyeballs, you notice a lot of the ecology is diminishing. It’s like Mother Nature is retracting her web of life, and that’s disturbing.

You will notice that specific central bank policies specifically enrich the already rich who have financial assets at the expense of everybody else, because if we were honest either party could come out and say, hey, the Federal Reserve is not a wealth creating organization. They are a wealth redistributing organization. And they've taken it from the many and given it to the few, and they think that’s a good idea. Both parties are thumbs up okay with that. That’s a shock to the system. Of course, these young people who grow up knowing that if they take on student debt, which is a requirement now to get ahead in this country, you will be the proud owner of the only non-dischargeable form of debt in bankruptcy court. That’s how we treat our young.

And on the other side, my Obamacare premiums are slated to go up another high double digits this year. That’s just gonna keep going until it literally breaks the entire back of the middle to upper middle class. These are, Jim, to me these are just shocks, shocks, shocks, shocks. And the tragedy is that you have these people who don’t know where the shocks are coming from, but they can look around and they see a Nazi or they see an Antifa leftist and they point their fingers at each other, and they get all mad. Both they're like two rats in a cage who just can’t unravel where the shocks are coming from, so they fight each other, but they would do well to notice that these are systematically delivered shocks, and neither party is even remotely addressing anything about that, Democrat or Republican.

Jim: Well, I see that also, and I have a way of looking at it. What we have here is – our system dynamics that are in the driver’s seat and not personalities or offices. And what we’re seeing is that the behavior of people who have no idea what they're doing. And the system dynamics can be discussed, I think, pretty specifically. Most of the major systems that we rely on are entering a state of failure of one kind or another. And, of course, the larger problem is that they're interlinked, and that their failures will be mutual and self-amplifying.

These systems include the energy system that has powered industrial civilization, the oil and gas industries, which you’ve talked about a lot, and I think that our listeners understand it pretty well. I don’t think we have to rehearse that necessarily. Although the finer points of it, like the energy return of investment, is something that’s certainly not understood by you, the general public, or probably most of the officers in the government, and certainly not in the New York Times, Washington Post or other major media outlets. They just don’t get that.

But all of that energy problem is reverberating in things like agriculture and our ability to use the oceans in some way that is not gonna destroy the oceans. And the medical system, the education system - all these systems are really kind of blowing up. And in the absence of being able to run coherently in an economic way, they’ve turned into rackets. And that basically means that people are trying to run them and make a profit off of them dishonestly one way or another. And because we’re immersed in comprehensive dishonestly in our culture, we no longer really recognize what we’re doing or what the truth of our situation is, so it’s pretty dismaying to see our culture to flounder, and particularly to flounder in trivialities and bad ideas.

Chris: Well said. So, we really have a pretty significant metabolic disease going on here, where the significant force of motivation for our body, the thing that animates us, our very life blood, has diminishing returns as you just wrote about in a piece titled Diminishing Returns. So we have that happening, and we should be detecting that and coming up with coherent strategies for that. And instead, people ask me, hey Chris, how are you doing, I’ll say, oh, I’m fine. But if you get a little deeper, I’m disturbed. I’m really disturbed that this many years of what seems to be a fairly easily analyzed system failure problem, right, which is that we have a complex system that requires energy to feed it, and we have no comprehension at any level of the power structure that says, wow, we can’t run that model forever. In fact, if we look at if properly, we might say, hey, we’ve detected the early symptoms of system failure, organ failure here. And so what are we gonna do about that? And the answer is shriekingly, more of the same with an extra heaping of divided and distract divisive politics thrown in just to make sure everybody’s not really paying attention.

Jim: Well, it’s very easy to see how this moves thoroughly through all levels of the culture. And one of the examples that, I think, is most visible right now is the way we’re thinking about car culture and personal transportation. And the so-called solution to the problem of oil, the internal combustion engine pollution and climate change, the purported solution is electrifying the car system. And that’s something that’s seemed to be believed by people of all classes and the media and people in government. We’re all sort of striving to get to that point where the car system is totally electrified. That’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen for financial reasons, it’s not gonna happen for ecological reasons, but we never think about living in walkable communities. We never think about altering the living arrangement that we’re stuck with and that we’ve over invested in. And that’s really what’s going to – we’re gonna be compelled to do that whether we like it or not – to return to traditional living arrangements, but we’re not willing to think about it.

I just came back from France a couple of weeks ago, and I spent time in a small town about 60 miles from the Mediterranean. And it was a walkable community. You didn’t need to get in the car to get anything. They level of civilization there was demonstrably so much higher than anything you find in the United States. And the people, for all the troubles they may be having in Europe, the people generally seem better adjusted, happier, more content with reality and more likely to be able to continue living in the decades ahead. There was not even much of the visible pathology that you see in the flyover places that I live in. I live in rural, upstate New York, flyover America, where clearly more than half the people in the county are morbidly obese. You didn’t see that at all in France. Why is that? It’s because they don’t hop in their car 16 times a day, and they actually have to move their bodies around and they're not all going on 11-mile hikes or spending the whole day in the gym. They're just going about their daily life. But it hasn’t made them morbidly ill.

So, I don’t know. We’re really not able to think about any of the systems problems that we have. Agriculture is one of the more interesting ones because so much of our bad behavior in agriculture, industrial farming, mega farming, giant animal food factories, giant pig farms, all these terrible things are not sustainable, and they're heavily subsidized by the government. And nobody is really interested in the one thing that would do the most good, which is smaller farms, more localized agriculture done with more human attention, less mechanical intervention. And that’s where history is going to be taking us anyway, and it is pretty obvious. And we’re not getting any encouragement for the practitioners to get to that point, to go there. We’re just giving them incentives to stay away from that. So, I’m not very optimistic about the systems problems that we face.

Chris: That whole idea of we’re just gonna Elon Musk happy motor Tesla electric car our way into more brilliant future, I find that one really, really hard to swallow because all you have to do is literally spend ten minutes about the actual numbers involved, and you discover quickly it’s a delusion. And the ferocity with which most people cling to that delusion is telling. And so it feels to me like our country is really headed towards a mid-life crisis. And they talk about mid-life crisis as if it’s a bad thing. Crisis. It’s a crisis. But a good thing that can come from the mid-life crisis is you might wake up and go, hey, wait a minute, I’ve been doing everything I thought I was supposed to do, I’m not actually happy, I'm not actually healthy, maybe I should fix those things. I only have one life. Hey, maybe I should start leading it the way I want to.

So by the numbers, you talk about the number of morbidly obese. I recently wrote about the number of people – one in six, Jim, one in six – on psychoactive compounds in the United States. That’s a pretty high number. You look at how the opioid deaths have now overtaken auto accidents and gun deaths by both suicide and intentional homicide and things like that and accidents. So, it’s the number one leading cause, and there have been some – you know, this has been the market to me of a really sick culture. I think Trump said, oh, it’s an epidemic, and we’re gonna look at it. And various states and sort of said, oh, we have an opioid epidemic, but if you really peel that back, it’s very unsavory what you find under there. You find pharma companies that know they make a ton of money off opioids because they tend to be a lifelong addictive thing and you can make a lot of money selling them. And various companies that are in the business of manufacturing some of these drugs have specifically spent a lot of money in the anti-marijuana legalization campaigns in various states, because they know – the data shows clearly – when people have access to legal, very safe cannabis that they can get off the opioids. And this is all okay.

We live in a culture where it’s okay for a company that makes an addictive compound that kills people, to give money like that and nobody shames them and runs them out of the county club and they aren’t just pilloried as disgusting exemplars of humanity. Instead, I think they probably enjoy very comfy lives as genius executives of successful companies. And to me it just very emblematic of what’s going on here. But when you add it up we’re the most over medicated, most overweight, least happy by every measure, least satisfied, least content, so maybe a mid-life crisis would be a good thing right about now.

Jim: Well, the mid-life crisis is one model for understanding this, but there is probably another one. I have not really participated that much in therapeutic culture. I’ve never had to be a twelve-step program guy. I’ve never been a substance addict or anything like that, but it seems to me that probably a better model than the mid-life crisis is the model of the addict that has to hit bottom before they will make any changes in their life. And sometimes they don’t. In fact, probably more often than not, the morbidly addicted person just simply fails. They die, they lose their life, they're ruined.

But some people do hit bottom and find a way to bounce up. So what we’ve got, since I haven’t been involved in the twelve-step program, I do know a little bit about enabling behavior. And I think what we’ve got is enabling behavior that is combined with racketeering, which gives a tremendous amount of incentive to the enabling behaviors that you're describing in, for example, the pharmaceutical industry. So, those two dynamics form a kind of nexus of pervasive dishonestly in culture that can’t tell itself the truth about where it’s at.

Chris: But we’re number one in the United States. We know that.

Jim: Well, we’re number one in an awful lot of bad behavior that’s destroying our culture and destroying our economy. So, we can continue to believe that we’re number one, but it’s not gonna really help us get to where we have to get. It’s not gonna help us understand that the solution to our living arrangement problems is not gonna be more cars of a different kind, that it’s gonna be returning to tradition towns and neighborhoods, and that the solution to the agriculture problem is not gonna be bigger pig farms. It gonna be smaller farms distributed more equitably around the parts of the country where you can still do agriculture. And the solution to the medical problem is not going to be larger combined, corporate hospital chains and so-called provider services. But it’s probably gonna be more like local clinics with brave doctors who are willing to actually look at their patients and touch them and not spend their whole career buried in their laptop or dickering with insurance companies.

The solution to the college problem is probably gonna be that fewer people are gonna go to college, and that college is, once again, if it continues to exist at all, going to be a more or less elite experience. And we just have to understand that colleges may not be for everybody. That’s just a highly unrealistic idea, and there’s no evidence that sending more people to college is actually helping our economy. It’s only kind of furnishing a fantasy for politicians to hide behind while they try and figure out what else to do. And they don’t know what else to do. But a good thing would be if we were able to get regular trades going again in this country and revive local economies so that they had a finely grained, many layered system that there would be more jobs for people, that there would be more businesses that could be formed, there would be more social roles and economic roles that people could play.

There would be opportunities for kids to get into vocations that required something like an apprenticeship, so that they could learn from the people who are already doing carpentry, doing plumbing, doing things that are on the ground. Important things, rather than just getting into bureaucratic niches or marketing or shuffling paper or shuffling investment accounts or doing a lot of unnecessary and kind of dumb things that don’t really add anything to the economy. But we don’t want to do any of those things. We just want to kind of burnish this fantasy that if you just go to a community college you’ll come out and be able to work as a marketing drone for Old Navy. So our fantasies are really getting in the way of our ability to find a way to make the transition into whatever the next economy is gonna be. I think you and I would agree that it’s gonna be an economy of probably less stuff than we have been wallowing in for the last thirty years. But that might not be the worst thing in the world.

Chris: Well, let’s turn back to this college experience for a second. My wife and I, we homeschooled our children all the way up through high school, I guess, because they all went off to community college at the age of sixteen, each of them. But we did that because we looked at the way that the school systems were choosing to teach, and having read the books of John Taylor Gatto and really understanding that, school is, as it’s being practices, it’s oppression model, it’s very much designed to churn out people with a certain sort of bent with a certain amount of knowledge. And when you look at the way the do that and the various adjectives you would use to describe the creatures that come out of these public-school systems very often, or even good private school systems, they're obedient. They know that there are right answers and there are wrong answers. They’ve been trained to believe that what you have to do is prepare yourself to get a job. It doesn’t prepare you to be an entrepreneur necessarily although those are the people we look to most. Like, wow, look what Bill Gates did, or most of the people who we really look up to are entrepreneurial in mindset. And it really teaches a faith in authority. The right answer is at the front of the room, and you have to follow the rules and it does all that stuff.

So, it does all this wonderful, enculturating stuff that when my wife and I looked at it we looked at this future that you see, that I see, that many people see, and we go, wow, wait a minute. Some descriptors for that future might be that you want to be creative, adaptive, free thinking, really open minded in a lot of ways, and our belief, which is part of the home schooling belief system, is that learning is natural. School is optional. As long as you know how to learn, as long as your curiosity is there, listen, you can learn anything you want online. So you had some experiences going to colleges where I think you had a fairly successful, at least fairly full calendar, going and speaking at colleges, but that dried up on you at some point. And I think that’s, too, emblematic of a shift. Was it a shift in how colleges are operating, or was it an exposure of how they’ve been operating? And talk to us about that exposure.

Jim: Yeah. I’m not that special. I actually have a lecture agent, and I’ve been told that they're having a problem with many of their authors, especially their environmental authors, that the deans and the department chairs at the colleges just don’t want to invite speakers on campus who traffic in ideas that make the kids uncomfortable. Their experience with it has been so difficult and probably in some cases ruinous that they just don’t dare to do it right now. So people like me who are offering ideas that are not comforting, we’re just out of luck right now, and the kids are maybe out of luck too, because they're not hearing these ideas.

I do want to say something about a point you make a minute ago which is you kind of suggested there was kind of transect of work between being an entrepreneur and having a job. And that’s probably true. There are people who are absolutely self-directed and then there are people who are directed by others. But there’s something in between, too. It actually used to probably be, at some point in human history, and for a long time in human history, the larger group. And that is, there’s something called a vocation between being an entrepreneur and just having a job. And having a vocation means being something that you're interested in, that you're good at, that you worked to become good at, something that is of practical use to other people. And a dynamic relationship between you and the world that is comprehensible, understood, and productive, and allows you to thrive.

So, the real question for young people right now is what can you do that will allow you to thrive in the years ahead? And I think they have to ask this question in a pretty clear eyed and hard way. And it’s probably not gonna be just going to college.

Chris: Well, particularly if college is going to be preparing you for a job set that doesn’t really exist out there. When I look into the future I see a future of less, and I know you think our audience is pretty well versed in this, but let me just cycle back to it really quickly, because it’s a very dominant narrative, a piece of programming that even Donald Trump said, the United States is now an oil exporter, which is false. We do export some oil, but we import even more than that, so on a net basis not a net exported, so kind of a faux pas there, but it’s okay. The marketing has been so good on this point that, I believe in his 2012 State of the Union, Obama said the United States is now energy independent because they lumped all the energy sources together and came out on a slight plus side on a BTU basis which is meaningless when you're talking about energy.

But one of the more important charts I’ve seen showed that for the shale operators every single year from 2012 on one thing has always been true. The revenues they’ve gotten from operations have been less than the cost to run their business. And so even though they say, well, we’re drilling successfully for forty now, but the cost of operations is still fifty. And they're still getting forty-five at the wellhead, or whatever. So, you look at this chart and it says they’ve been losing money every single year they’ve been in business, and so that’s the law of receding horizons. Like no matter what the horizon is, well, we’ll make tons of money when oil is seventy. Yeah, but it’ll cost you eighty to get it out of the ground. It’s the magic of the business. Whatever.

And we can detect that so easily when you look at the absolutely skyrocketing debt offerings and equity offerings they’ve had to put forward to stay in business. And Wall Street’s continued to funnel that. And, of course, Wall Street makes money at this, because they all pitch all of this. They help do the equity offerings, they underwrite the debt offerings, and then they sell them off to hapless future victims. And it’s just astonishing to me, Jim, that we have very intelligent analysts that look at this. How can you look at a chart that says a business that has lost money every single year that it’s been in operation is one you want to throw hundreds of billions of dollars of new equity and debt into on a yearly basis? It’s just astonishing to me. But the main point is this. The shale business is a bust, it has been, it’s produced a lot of oil, it’s produced it at a loss, and that’s not a healthy thing. That’s tied into the EROI story at a deeper level. But it’s just astonishing to me how many people think that shale has now saved the world, saved the bacon, we can safely go back to sleep forever or maybe at least another three decades.

Jim: Well what you're describing really is not so much the effect of the shale industry on the national psychology, but the effect of advertising. And I don’t think we pay enough attention to the fact that America is a culture that pretty much gave birth to the industry of advertising as a kind of national enterprise. And we’ve been sucked into believing our own advertising which, in many cases, is just dishonesty and nonsense. So, we have a giant industry that is dedicated to producing to disinformation and nonsense, and we’re conditioned to accept that nonsense. And I think that’s a simple explanation for it. And there are a lot of people who are employed at it, and there are a lot of people who benefit from that, and I think as a political question, it’s gonna be a threshold issue where, eventually, we reach a critical mass of nonsense and then stuff just flips. And then all of the sudden you're in a new world.

It’s the old Schopenhauer model, which is that new ideas are first greeted with ridicule, and next they are violently opposed, and next they are accepted as self-evidently true. And the flip is just so complete. There’s no cultural memory of left of when you believed something that’s not true. And so I think that’s what is gonna happen. My own guess is that it’s going to involve the disorder in the financial realm, because finance is kind of the life blood of this techno industrial society we live in. And when that gets into trouble the problems are gonna thunder through all the other realms our culture, and then we’ll be forced to pay attention. And I think that those financial disorders are not far off. And that when that happens things are gonna change.

You and I, I think, have been quite frustrated over the last eight years at the ability of certain authorities in our culture to manipulate prices and levitate markets and intervene in the physics of our economy. And that just can’t go on forever. Even though it’s frustrating to watch it looks to me like it’s kind of climaxing. What to me is the tail of the whole thing is just the present of the existence of Trump as president, the election of Trump. And what that tells me is that the disorders that are already present in our economy are manifesting now in our politics. And that to me is a pretty dangerous sign. It’s like when you have a metabolic disease, a chronic metabolic disease that all of the sudden really starts to present shocking and alarming symptoms. And that should be an alarm to us that we’re really in trouble. And that it’s the economy stupid.

Chris: So then Trump becomes the yellowish orangish hue on the skin of a sclerosis victim.

Jim: But also, he’s in a peculiar historic situation because he’s also gonna be the guy holding the bag for all this when it begins to seriously unravel. And he was kind of – history or fate put him in office as the designated bag holder – I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for him, but I do think that’s what’s gonna happen. And that’s how he’s going to be viewed. He’ll be left with this heap of smoldering problems and wreckage, and I think that’s how it’s gonna play out. I wouldn’t be surprised if it played out in the remaining five months of the year.

Chris: I don’t think he’s gonna make it through his whole term, obviously.

Jim: I don’t either.

Chris: He’s got the whole apparatus of the deep state against him. He’s got every major newspaper outlet. He’s got both parties. He really doesn’t have any allies that I’m familiar with at this point in time. And what’s astonishing to me is to just see the level of absolute hypocrisy – they're so transparent, of course – so we had John McCain come out and excoriate, like the president sided with Nazi’s, and I couldn’t find anything in Trump’s statements that said that. He said something that you harkened to which is like, hey, both sides got looks like they're at fault here. And I don’t know what he was supposed to say –

Jim: What he said – excuse me for interrupting – but what he said that was so obnoxious, especially to the mainstream press – was that there were “good people on both sides”. And you know there were Nazi’s on one side, and there were Antifa and Black Lives Matter and other players on the other side. And my guess is that there are probably a few people on the conservative side who are not terrible Nazi’s who had a sincere belief that the statue of Robert E. Lee ought to be allowed to remain in place for reasons that were not Nazi reasons, and there were people on the other side were people who probably had good intentions too. But there were a lot of other people who were interested in making trouble. But I don’t know. It was a hugely overblown conflict. And it’s, to me, just more evidence that this organism called the deep state really wants to run over Trump with the 25th Amendment, and they're pretty determined to do it. And they're just waiting for anything that he might possibly do to qualify him to be run over by the 25th Amendment.

Chris: And I’ll tell you so it’s somebody that has a slightly longer memory than the average, I guess. The person who really just sort of made this emblematic for me was John McCain. So John McCain came up and said, well, what the president said was the equivalency, blah, blah, we have to just condemn Nazi’s wherever they are, right. And of course, John McCain was the person who was seen in Ukraine in the fall of 2013 after Yanukovych failed to sign the association agreement with Europe, and it was only a couple months after that that Yanukovych was run out of town, hop, skip and a jump between Yatz and then now on to Poroshenko, and you have militia’s running all over Ukraine on the eastern side – sorry, on the western side – that are displaying opening waffen SS and swastika’s and the whole nine yards, right.

Jim: Yeah, but there are Nazi’s.

Chris: And nobody said boo about that. Not even the New York Times wrote one single article that I could find about that saying, hey, this is awful. We should condemn this whenever this arises, and is continuing to support the side that has open Nazi affiliations and with people whose prime hero on that side of the country, the Bandera, was a full-blown fascist Nazi kind of a guy. So at any rate, it feels to me like the thing that I find embarrassing about that is if you're a bully goes out and allows full Nazism somewhere else, and then there’s one tiny little rally by comparison in your own country and you flip a nut over that, you're the equivalent of the bully who says, only I get to throw punches, I don’t want any blowback, I don’t want anybody taking a swing back at me. I don’t want to experience any pain of my own. I just want to export pain. I don’t want any here.

McCain sort of symbolized that whole thing for me. He’s just an awful human being who has never seen a war he didn’t want to impose on somebody else, but then gets on his high, dunderous horse and really professes to be very upset when he sees similar things echo back home. Again, I think we need to take a good hard look that if you're gonna export this kind of stuff to the rest of the world you have to be aware that you're a violent culture and you got to look that in the face. You can’t say no, no, we only want peace, love and tolerance for all, and be who we are in the world.

Jim: It begs the question why we can’t examine that, why we can’t look at it. I think the answer is there are cycles in history and some of them follow sine, cosine waves of troughs and hills and troughs and hills. And one of the cycles I think we’re seeing here is that there are times when a culture or a nation or a people has a very poor sense of what’s happening to them, and has a very poor ability to articulate where they stand in history and the forces that are at work upon them. And that’s where we’re at. We’re at a low point in that sine, cosine waveform of a nation’s ability to understand what’s happening.

And there are times when countries have a better idea of what’s going on for various reasons. I think that we had a pretty good idea of what we were doing in the Second World War, and because of that we had a much firmer consensus about how we were gonna behave in society, and so people look back on the ‘40s and even the 30s, the period of the Depression, people look back on that, and they kind of marvel at the strength of the social consensus and the decency of the ordinary behavior of the people in the street and the social norms that existed then. And you look at our time and the social norms have deteriorated so badly and people don’t know have to behave in public and we clearly don’t know what’s happening to us.

As we started this conversation, talking about the systemic failure of all of the subsystems that we depend on, which are interlinked, I don’t think we have any understanding of that. We don’t have any understanding of the true picture in the energy scene, we have no sense of what we’re doing to ourselves with our terribly destructive industrial farming. We have no idea how we’re destroying the intellectual life of this nation in the universities with its Maoist, Fascist thought police and its antipathy to free thinking and free speech. We have no idea of the depths of depravity in the medical rackets that are going on. So, all these systems are in terrible condition, and above them all is the financial system that is full of corruption, dishonesty, accounting fraud, and racketeering. And we’re allowing all of these things to go on because we don’t know what else to do.

Chris: All the central banks can manage to do is just keep jamming the markets over and over and over again. And we know for a fact that you’ve got the Swiss National Bank, the Bank of Japan openly admitting that they step into markets and buy equities at key moments to make sure they always go in the right direction, which is up. And the level of pushback from the political class is zero around these activities, even though what’s happening is, what they're doing is, they're redistributing wealth aggressively and very, very rapidly to a very tiny elite.

And that’s not a good recipe for social cohesion and stability or even the primate, primal sense of fairness that’s really important for us to not be – a lot of this anger I see going on out there is really because we know – the people are right – is because it’s a deeply unjust system. I think they’ve misdiagnosed the cause. I think they’ve been a little shallow in their thinking. But yeah, this is a decaying, decrepit sort of a system, and we need to face that up. It’s terrifying to know you're in a rusted-out buckle bolt of a car that’s careening down a slalomy mountain course. That’s terrifying.

Jim: That’s why I said that Trump represents the political manifestation of all that discontent. And the apprehension, the recognition that there are things that are very wrong. And as I also said, having lost our ability to articulate what that is at this particular moment in history. I do think that the deformations and interventions of the central banks are eventually going to have a consequence. And I listen to a lot of financial podcasts, and what’s missing in many of them is the sense that any of that activity actually does have consequences.

And to me it pretty clearly points in one direction, and that is the destruction of currencies. And I do think that’s gonna be the next thing on board. It may initially manifest as a bond market calamity, or a bond and stock market calamity. But eventually I think it’s gonna manifest in people simply losing their faith in what passes for “money”. And money will lose its legitimacy, just as politics is now losing its legitimacy in the USA. So that points to two directions. One is a real global and worldwide currency fiasco and a great deal of political disorder. And they're not mutually exclusive. In fact, they're more likely to happen in concert than one or the other. So I think that’s pretty much where we’re headed.

Chris: And of course, all of this can go on a lot longer than we think because this isn’t just a bubble that’s popping. So bubbles go further than you think. There were railroad bubbles, tulip bubbles, real estate bubbles, you name it, and each of them had a certain arch and a trajectory, but this is the mother of all bubbles. It began with a delusion that was instilled in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, which was that we could grow our credit markets at twice the rate of our underlying economy. And it was a grand experiment. And everybody’s sort of participating at this point, and China really just roared into the story and said, yeah, man, we can show you how to really do this right. And of course, it’s a mass delusion because debts represent something that you have to pay back in the future or you face a currency crisis. Those are your options. And the whole world is now participating in this idea that somehow the world is gonna be able to meet the needs of a financial systems that really lost its moorings a long time ago.

And that’s a hard thing to swallow and it’s very, very difficult to give up the dream of the bubble because the root of a bubble, always, for humans, is not a financial thing. It’s a sociological condition and it says this: there is such a thing as a free lunch. You don’t have to pay stuff back. You can live beyond your means forever, right, and you don’t have to ever question if tulips are actually – what the intrinsic value of a tulip really is or any of that.

So here we are, and that’s why this bubble isn’t one just sort of began a few years ago. The so-called housing bubble, that wasn’t the bubble. It was a side bubble. It was a bubblette on the side of this credit bubble that has been going forever and ever. And so that’s the only delusion that needs to be pierced. People need to be able to square up to this one idea – can you constantly compound your claims on the future forever? The answer is no, it’s a finite planet. But can you do it even more rationally at twice the rate that your underlying economy is growing forever? The answer is no. But that’s the story that the entire financial market has been attempting to perpetuate and doing a reasonable job at it by the numbers, but a terrible job by any sort of logic in this story. We live in an illogical world where if you dare to think about it for a minute it falls apart pretty quick.

Jim: Well, I think what we’re seeing is more like the master bubble of industrial civilization, and that’s what makes it so dangerous and foreboding because it’s really the climax of about three hundred years of a particular phase of human history that seems now to be coming to an end. We’re going to be moving into something new. I don’t think that’s it’s going to be the Ray Kurzweil singularity era of transcendent machine intelligence and endless energy and expansion into all the parallel universes. I personally think it’s gonna be world made by hand. And by that, I mean a significant time out from our idea of what progress has been.

Whatever historical experience we had as a species for what preceded the techno-industrial fiesta and the things leading up to it has been kind of lost. So we really don’t – we can’t imagine that there’s any other way to behave. The debt bubble of the last 40 years, which is like a giant car bungle on the techno-industrial world was, at first, something that seemed like a good idea. But then something that seemed to be imperative to keep on doing because if we didn’t keep on doing, the system would collapse. And I think that’s exactly what we’re seeing with that. And that really has lost any kind of coherent reason other than desperation. So when desperation is the only thing that is propelling you forward, that’s not a very good thing. We don’t have a plan. We don’t even have mini-plans for the various parts of our culture that might even be fixable. And so we’re just sleepwalking into the future.

Chris: Very well said. And let me wrap this up by saying that I think that as a social animal that humans, like sheep that can smell wolves over the hill, we’ve detected something. And a lot of people are reacting to that. And that’s where I feel the anxiety and the energy and the emotional content is really coming from. And shame of the media for just running with that and whipping it into frantic, useless directions on –

Jim: It’s really tragic. It’s tragic. What we call the news media really, in the best times and in the best sense, has functioned as the sensory organs of our culture, giving us a clear picture of actually what’s out there. I personally think that it’s a manifestation of the diminishing returns of technology that now that we have all of this information supplied by the web and computers that we’re absolutely unable to make any sense about where we stand. And especially in those organs that are supposed to provide it, the news media. The failure is really epoch. So, that’s another tragic element of the diminishing returns of technology and another thing that – another system that we’re usable to pay attention to.

Chris: Absolutely. And the more you watch television probably the less well informed you are, particularly CNN and those other things. So, I don’t know what they're doing. Whether they are actually maliciously and perniciously horsewhipping people around just for sport or because of some other ulterior aim that’s provided by that.

Jim: I’ll tell you one thing that’s clear that’s going on. I can’t be the only one who’s noticed this, but have you noticed that the major cable news networks no longer have correspondents in the field? When you used to turn on Huntley and Brinkley or Walter Cronkite back in the 70s, the news was about what was going on in the world and in the nation. And they had people around the world and around the nation who, they would tune in to and they would report about what was going on. They don’t do any of that anymore. All they have are these panels of people who are giving their opinions. So every night CNN or FOX news says, and now it’s time to turn to our panel. After reading a couple of headlines. And that’s all it is.

They tried to downsize their operations so severely that there are no correspondents left and there’s nobody out there collecting real news. There’s nobody out there really observing it on the ground. So it’s no wonder that we don’t know what we’re doing and what’s happening.

Chris: I think that they also have noted their increasing irrelevance there over at CNN et al, and one response to that is to say, tell us what works. And the only spaghetti that’s sticking to the wall is the one where they basically inflame things. So, they’ve basically just become just like stage operators whose only job is to get any reaction they can.

Jim: Yeah, I’m actually surprised that a guy like Anderson Cooper is not ashamed of what he’s doing because he’s clearly not a stupid person. It may be the so-called Overton window of acceptable thinking that prevents him from seeing it, otherwise known as the echo chamber of received ideas. But it’s hard to understand why some of these people who are intelligent don’t get the nature of the echo chamber they're serving.

Chris: Well, we’ll probably see Anderson do one of my least favorite things. We’ll call it the reveal all retirement speech, you know. Now that I’m on the retirement dias giving my last speech let me tell you what I really think. Like, thank you very much. That would have been awesome years ago, but now you're irrelevant so shut up. I hate that particular speech.

Jim: Well, the thing is that this is essentially dishonorable behavior. And there doesn’t seem to be any interest in calling out dishonorable behavior is our culture. That’s something that has to happen. There had to be a general recognition or a consensus about what actually is decent behavior, what actually is okay. And the only things that we’re interested in right now are meaningless platitudes like you're a racist, you're a Nazi, you're a Fascist, you're this, you're that. And those things are no longer meaningful.

Chris: Good point. Well, with that, let’s direct people to your excellent website and blog so that they can read you and follow you if they don’t already.

Jim: My website is www.kunstler.com. Kunstler dot com. I actually have a new book out called A Safe and Happy Place. And it’s a departure from what I have been doing, but I wanted to do it. It’s a novel set on a hippie commune in Vermont in the late 1960s and it’s narrated by the 19-year-old girl at the center of the story. And I think it’s good summer reading. I’m a full-service writer. I like to do a lot of different kinds of things, and I wanted to write that novel, so there it is.

Chris: Excellent. All right. Well, with that, Jim, thank you so much for your time today.

Jim: It’s a pleasure talking to you, as ever.

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35 Comments

pat the rat's picture
pat the rat
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Lee Stays

I think that general Lee should stay on his monument he served!

Christopher H's picture
Christopher H
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Let me complete that statement for you

I think that general Lee should stay on his monument he served!

Let me complete that statement for you.

I think that General Lee should stay on his monument, he committed treason by serving in an army that took up arms against his own nation.

There, fixed it.  Doesn't sound so cut-and-dried when placed in the proper historical context, does it?

Only in a nation and culture that completely disregards any understanding of history could the honoring of individuals who engaged in treasonous behavior be deemed somehow "patriotic".

Jim H's picture
Jim H
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Christopher...

I think the situation with Lee is much more complicated than you make it out to be.  He was fighting for State's rights... was that anti-patriotic?  Has a structure of Federal mission creep really served us in the US or has it sunk us?

Nothing is simple when it comes to Lee;

There is a terrible war coming, and these young men who have never seen war cannot wait for it to happen, but I tell you, I wish that I owned every slave in the South, for I would free them all to avoid this war.

dcm's picture
dcm
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poetic irony

There is something poetically sad and symbolic when we invoke the civil war. Not for the usual reasons but perhaps for the current. As our guest speaker points out, we are facing common global problems and very likely, common global enemies. As the stress begins to show, we seem to be fighting amongst ourselves over race, useless political labels and other limitless categories that should instead be working together to face challenges the human race has never faced before.  I hope we can come together. 

Christopher H's picture
Christopher H
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"States' Rights" is completely against the facts

Jim H wrote:

I think the situation with Lee is much more complicated than you make it out to be.  He was fighting for State's rights... was that anti-patriotic?  Has a structure of Federal mission creep really served us in the US or has it sunk us?

This right here is one of the great myths of the Civil War, that somehow the cause of the antebellum South was in any way, shape or form related to their defense of states' rights.  The reality is literally 180 degrees from that idea.

It was the Southern states that tried to use the Federal government in order to force their "peculiar institution" founded on normalized murder and legitimized rape on the rest of the Republic.  It was the Southern states, and their representatives in government, who pushed for the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which compelled residents of Northern states to capture and return escaped slaves to those who claimed to own them in the South.  It was the Southern states who rejoiced at the Dred Scott decision in 1854, which effectively extended the rights of slaveholders into those states and territories that had rejected slavery.

States' rights did not become a thing in the South until the segregation battles nearly 100 years later.  The South has always been, in a word, hypocritical about this cause.  They rejected it when doing so supported their goals, and they embraced it later when it was fashionable to do so. 

This is not a snap judgment on my part, it is born from studying the period of the Civil War and Reconstruction as a history major at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.  I can fully appreciate the complexity around the South, especially with regards to the legacy of the yeoman freeholders there (the proverbial baby that got thrown out with the bathwater), but that's not what we're discussing here.  We're discussing maintaining memorials to the high officials of the Confederacy, and the Myth of the Lost Cause of the South.

My father's family is from the border region between WV and VA, a town called Moorefield about 40-50 miles from Winchester, VA.  It was a staunchly Confederate region during the Civil War (see: McNeill's Rangers), despite being forcibly torn away from the rest of VA and incorporated into WV.  My grandmother kept a portrait of Lee hanging on the wall at the bottom of her stairs.  After she died, it was the one thing of hers that I received, and I still have it hanging in my basement office today.  Not out of any kind of affinity for Lee, but because it is something that reminds me of my Nana every time I see it.  Yet, each time I look at it hanging I feel conflicted because I'm reminded of what it represents.  It represents the segregated town that my dad grew up in, a place where a not insignificant portion of the population was given no opportunity to live out their life in accordance with their God-given gifts and talents.  It represents the campaign of terror, exemplified in lynching, that carried on after the war in order to keep that population in an inferior social and legal status.  It represents the fact that so many of these men decided that the cause of chattel slavery -- and all its attendant evils with which they were intimately familiar -- was more important than the cause of national union (despite what ills we can now see as being attributable to it).  The continued veneration of these men -- monuments and commemorations that came about during the height of Jim Crow and, later, desegregation -- is designed as a wink and a nod to that poisonous past, a continual reminder to the disenfranchised portion of their population to "remember their place"... or else.

As for Lee himself, perhaps he was in a position where he could only be swept up in the tides of history, condemned to a role assigned to him by America's original sin committed generations earlier.  What we do know about him, though, is that he was hardly a kindly slavemaster.  He was known to be on the cruel side, and even administered whippings to his slaves with his own hand.  He broke with tradition in his wife's family and regularly broke up slave families.  And he took up arms against the nation he had previously sworn to protect in order to preserve this arrangement, one that he saw as being divinely ordained.

I fail to see what is worth honoring here, to be honest.  Especially when those former Confederate generals who later took up the cause of reconciliation and black enfranchisement have been literally whitewashed from Southern history.

RoseHip's picture
RoseHip
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True and vision

Great conversation, much needed truths are what is missing. And we've got a metabolic disease, that isn't being addressed. Are 2 important take aways. What I found missing from these ideas and concepts for its application, as these ideas elude to an important reality. We are all one! As anyone in a mid life crisis is able to restructure to the discomfort because all cells have a shared vested interest. How can we can talk about ourselves as if we are one metaphorically, yet we can't say it, as if it isn't true? How do you reason that this discomfort gets encoded for change with a money'd, political reality that refuses to acknowledge this reality? How can you charge people for peakprosperity premium content when this is one reality that keeps us all divided? That isn't an actual criticism, because I would do the same as you. As to do it any other way probably wouldn't work well and then there would be no messages. Yet still needs to be questioned.

robie robinson's picture
robie robinson
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Victory

dictates History.

we only know the version we were taught

LesPhelps's picture
LesPhelps
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Succession is treason?
Christopher H wrote:

... he committed treason by serving in an army that took up arms against his own nation.

I haven't found succession specifically prohibited in the constitution.  I'm not a lawyer.  Perhaps I missed something.

If succession is not prohibited, perhaps the confederate states were within their rights to succeed?

If so then President Lincoln is responsible for declaring war on a neighboring country.  Perhaps the Lincoln memorial should be torn down.

Clearly, any monuments for or references to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson need to be removed, since both of them owned slaves.  Who needs Mt. Rushmore? 

Actually, I don't have a horse in this race, so to speak.  I think it's a shame that people need to destroy history to feel better about themselves, but that seems to be the condition we have degenerated into.

To my knowledge there is not a slave owner or former slave alive today.  My ancestors were not, but I am a native american.  I was born here.  When do we let go of the past and learn to live together.  Apparently, the melting pot is broken.

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Christopher H
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Historical fallacies debunked, part deux

I haven't found succession specifically prohibited in the constitution.  I'm not a lawyer.  Perhaps I missed something.

If succession is not prohibited, perhaps the confederate states were within their rights to succeed?

No, secession is not specifically prohibited in the Constitution.  But to set the historical record straight, what started the Civil War was NOT the North declaring war on the South.  Rather, it was the Confederates' bombardment of the Union garrison at Ft. Sumter that was the opening salvo of the Civil War.  Now, we can fault Lincoln for his call for volunteers to put down the rebellion, but the fact remains that this was a response to aggression from the South, and not the other way around.

If so then President Lincoln is responsible for declaring war on a neighboring country.  Perhaps the Lincoln memorial should be torn down.

Clearly, any monuments for or references to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson need to be removed, since both of them owned slaves.  Who needs Mt. Rushmore?

Now this is false equivalency between monuments to those who were fighting to preserve the institution of legalized murder, legitimized rape, and normalized violence that was chattel slavery with monuments to those who are memorialized for other reasons central to our nation's founding (or other achievements).  In short, Confederate monuments have been erected solely on the basis of fighting to preserve chattel slavery.  Monuments to Jefferson and Washington were erected for their contributions to the founding of the nation, not for the fact that they owned slaves.  Furthermore, Jefferson himself wrote extensively about the conflict he felt about owning slaves, and that he hoped that the institution of chattel slavery would come to an end much sooner rather than later.  The Confederates memorialized, on the other hand, commonly referred to slavery as being ordained by God.  Huge difference.

I think it's a shame that people need to destroy history to feel better about themselves, but that seems to be the condition we have degenerated into.

Another false equivalency.  Monuments do not equal history.  When I was in my university history programs, we did not learn history from monuments.  We learned it from books and primary documents.  No one is saying that those should be erased in any way.  What people are asking is whether we should really be venerating these individuals through monuments.  They're asking what the motivation was behind putting the monuments up in the first place (hint: they were pretty much ALL put up during the height of Jim Crow and again during desegregation).  Another HUGE difference.  My personal thought on all of this is that for every monument to a Confederate hero, there should be an additional monument alongside it or across from it that commemorates someone who contributed to the struggle against slavery.  Frederick Douglass alongside Robert E. Lee, Nat Turner alongside Nathan Bedford Forrest, Robert Smalls alongside P.T Beauregard, and so on -- and if people don't want to go along with that then take them down.  But I also don't live in those areas so it's not my call.

To my knowledge there is not a slave owner or former slave alive today.  My ancestors were not, but I am a native american.  I was born here.  When do we let go of the past and learn to live together.  Apparently, the melting pot is broken.

Wait, wait... in the previous paragraph you decried how history is being destroyed, and now you're decrying why people can't just let go of it?  Your logic here is wholly inconsistent.  Americans are not born with a tabula rasa, rather it is our history that informs our outlooks and how we approach the world.  Unless we are willing to not only explore it, but to do so from the multiple points of view that are present within it, we will never be able to move beyond any of these problems.

America's original sin continues to plague it to this day.

Tim Ladson's picture
Tim Ladson
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Secession

Hi Les,

I believe you are referring to secession, which is different than succession.

Tim

Christopher H's picture
Christopher H
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When the center no longer holds....

I have to say that I was clenching my teeth for the first couple of minutes in this conversation when it seemed that Jim was drawing an equivalency between Neo-Nazis and Neo-Confederates on the right and Antifa on the left.  Personally, I'm not one who buys into that notion, and although I have issues with Antifa tactics, I view those forces on the right as way, way worse.  However, the conversation quickly moved beyond that and I found much to agree with.

One thing that I think needs discussed in greater detail -- and acknowledged no matter how dire the potential outcome -- is what happens when the old institutions start to fail because they long ago removed the possibility of reform.  That's where we're at right now.  The primary political and economic institutions have broken down, with insiders using them primarily to perpetuate their own power and wealth.  On the outside of those circles, we then have traditionally marginalized groups AND a growing pool of the marginalized who find any attempts to reform the status quo blocked at every turn by that same inner circle.  The end result is a constant ratcheting up of tensions to the point at which when they finally break, it is almost as if there is an immediate sigh of relief before plunging into a paroxysm of violence and bloodshed.  The most recent time we experienced such a sea-change on a global scale was likely the period from 1914-1945.  I also agree with one of the posters above that it's somewhat apropos that we're discussing memorialization of the Civil War so much right now, as we're going through a similar process.

Truth be told, I don't think there's anything we can really do to stop this.  It's baked into the cake by now, the result of an accumulation of consequences from past decisions.  We can only prepare and try to weather the storm.  One trap I think that people of middle age and older fall into, though, is denouncing the "extremism" on opposing sides of such conflicts without a full accounting of, and understanding of, how those directly involved have reached this point.  I say this not as any kind of indictment of Chris or Jim, but rather an acknowledgement considering that I now find myself in middle age (albeit a little bit earlier).

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ecb
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Deep breath

For those who pronounce treasonous the actions of Confederate Soldiers in fighting the war between the states, I suggest taking a deep breath and realize how fatuous such a statement is. We weren't there, and can only imagine what was going through the minds of those unfortunate men. The fact is that over 75% of those in the south held no slaves, so I would think that wasn't their main cause. It is not difficult however, to understand their desire to defend against an invading northern army that is burning down your house and pillaging your neighborhood. Certainly, such defense cannot be called treasonous. It is not our place to judge or minimize or shame their actions, but rather attempt to empathize and learn from them. We are becoming the rats in the electrified cage, lashing out at each other. There is enough of that on countless other forums. Please, not here.

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Jim H
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Thank you Christopher..

For the well reasoned arguments.  I looked more deeply and did find evidence of reprehensible behavior on the part of Lee;

So Mr. Norris said he, a sister and a cousin tried to escape in 1859, but were caught. “We were tied firmly to posts by a Mr. Gwin, our overseer, who was ordered by Gen. Lee to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each, excepting my sister, who received but twenty,” he said.

And when the overseer declined to wield the lash, a constable stepped up, Mr. Norris said. He added that Lee had told the constable to “lay it on well.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/18/us/robert-e-lee-slaves.html?mcubz=3

In a later post, you seem willing to apologize for Jefferson because he at least wrote of being conflicted.. but where does one draw the line really?  

In any event, the earlier quote I posted, unless it is simply wrong, suggests that Lee himself was not fighting to perpetuate slavery.  Maybe this quote from Lee helps to explain better why he would not fight for the North;

With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore resigned my commission in the Army, and save in defense of my native State, with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword...

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Christopher H
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But we aren't talking about Confederate "soldiers"

We're talking about the leaders of the Confederacy.  The slaveholders themselves.  And the cause of chattel slavery for which they fought.

We weren't there, and can only imagine what was going through the minds of those unfortunate men.

While we weren't there, it's wholly inaccurate to say we can only imagine what was going through those men's minds.  This is what historians do -- plow through the primary sources of the past in order to reconstruct past events as viewed from particular perspectives.  There are literally thousands upon thousands of letters from Confederate (and Union) soldiers home to their families that tell us EXACTLY what was going on in their minds, along with scores of very talented historians who have gone through those letters in order to tell us their story.  I seem to recall Ken Burns doing a little film about this very topic some time ago....

I'm actually all for humanizing the soldiers who fought on both sides of this terrible war.  And having studied the period in a considerable amount of depth, I actually have a considerable affinity for the "common" southerners who were caught up in it all (and bore a much heavier price that the planter class).  They were truly the last vestige of the old Revolutionary yeoman ideal before it was swept away in the oncoming tide of industrialism, formerly proud men transformed after the war into "po' white trash" to be denigrated by southern elites and northerners alike.

But that ain't what this argument is about.

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Christopher H
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Thank you in turn, Jim

Thank you for keeping this conversation civil, in spite of the fires around the topic that seem to be raging right now.  Much appreciated.

I was actually not apologizing for Jefferson.  Rather, I was stating that our monuments to Jefferson, Washington, and other founders who owned slaves are for their contributions to the founding of the nation, as opposed to their defending a society that was founded upon the lash.

Confederate figures are memorialized for defending a society that was founded upon the lash.  Period.  Full stop.  I've read numerous statements from Lee regarding his reasoning for resigning his commission and then accepting command over the Army of Northern Virginia.  However, at the heart of it all is the fact that in defending his relatives, his children, and his home he was defending a society founded upon the lash.

I'm not saying that the man should be condemned to the ninth circle of hell for his decision.  In many ways, he was little more than flotsam and jetsam swept up in the tides of historical events -- as pretty much all of the participants in that terrible war.  I'm just saying that defending a society founded upon the lash is not something we should erect monuments to, nor glorify.  And when we do so, it's done with a specific purpose of reminding the descendants of former slaves to "know their place."

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RoseHip wrote: Great
RoseHip wrote:

Great conversation, much needed truths are what is missing. And we've got a metabolic disease, that isn't being addressed. Are 2 important take aways. What I found missing from these ideas and concepts for its application, as these ideas elude to an important reality. We are all one! As anyone in a mid life crisis is able to restructure to the discomfort because all cells have a shared vested interest. How can we can talk about ourselves as if we are one metaphorically, yet we can't say it, as if it isn't true? How do you reason that this discomfort gets encoded for change with a money'd, political reality that refuses to acknowledge this reality? How can you charge people for peakprosperity premium content when this is one reality that keeps us all divided? That isn't an actual criticism, because I would do the same as you. As to do it any other way probably wouldn't work well and then there would be no messages. Yet still needs to be questioned.

If Chris and Adam don't charge for premium content, they don't eat. They will starve, dry up and blow away and be unable to be part of the greater whole. 

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agitating prop
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ecb wrote: For those who
ecb wrote:

For those who pronounce treasonous the actions of Confederate Soldiers in fighting the war between the states, I suggest taking a deep breath and realize how fatuous such a statement is. We weren't there, and can only imagine what was going through the minds of those unfortunate men. The fact is that over 75% of those in the south held no slaves, so I would think that wasn't their main cause. It is not difficult however, to understand their desire to defend against an invading northern army that is burning down your house and pillaging your neighborhood. Certainly, such defense cannot be called treasonous. It is not our place to judge or minimize or shame their actions, but rather attempt to empathize and learn from them. We are becoming the rats in the electrified cage, lashing out at each other. There is enough of that on countless other forums. Please, not here.

 

if you read about pre-war Europe it is very easy to empathize with the German people, too. Their lives were terrible.  And then someone came along who promised jobs and 'respect' after what had been a long sorry humiliation after the First World War. Should we refuse to judge Nazi war atrocities because we understand how they felt?  

Rallying around symbols of slavery is just plain wrong, a total disrespect for blacks.  

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agitating prop
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LesPhelps
LesPhelps wrote:
Christopher H wrote:

... he committed treason by serving in an army that took up arms against his own nation.

I haven't found succession specifically prohibited in the constitution.  I'm not a lawyer.  Perhaps I missed something.

If succession is not prohibited, perhaps the confederate states were within their rights to succeed?

If so then President Lincoln is responsible for declaring war on a neighboring country.  Perhaps the Lincoln memorial should be torn down.

Clearly, any monuments for or references to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson need to be removed, since both of them owned slaves.  Who needs Mt. Rushmore? 

Actually, I don't have a horse in this race, so to speak.  I think it's a shame that people need to destroy history to feel better about themselves, but that seems to be the condition we have degenerated into.

To my knowledge there is not a slave owner or former slave alive today.  My ancestors were not, but I am a native american.  I was born here.  When do we let go of the past and learn to live together.  Apparently, the melting pot is broken.

you think it is wrong that black people and those who sympathize with their current and former plight would like to see the most offensive symbols of their oppression removed?  

You will learn to live together, for starters,  when you become aware of systematic repression.  I am not talking 'snowflake.'  Look way beyond the nonsense that distracts, coming out of academia and look at the criminal justice system you CURRENTLY have. 

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States rights is supported by the facts

The name "Civil War" is in itself a myth.  By definition it wasn't a civil war because civil war is when two groups fight over control of the same nation.  It was a war of secession.  

It is not clear that the root cause was slavery.  There is much evidence that the root cause was economic as the north pushed through severe tariffs which significantly harmed the south.

A good overview of the alternate arguments can be found at http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2017/08/23/know-called-civil-war-not-sla...

Others have written at length about the tariff issue.

The war did have the laudable result of ending slavery.  Unfortunately it came with the not so good side-effect of a much stronger federal government.  Our economic manipulation by the US government is a common theme on this site.  I therefore find that part of this history very relevant to today.

Monuments are generally built to perpetuate myths.  Most Confederate monuments were built comparatively recently and were almost certainly done to intimidate the black population.  As such, I agree that they generally ought to come down.  

My take on the discussion between Chris and Jim was that they felt there weren't many Neo-Nazi's and their presence, regardless of how reprehensible their beliefs might be, didn't justify a violent response by the "Antifa".  Their other point, at least what I understood, is that the overblown coverage was another way the powers that be keep the masses focused on the wrong thing.  Everyone up in arms about Neo-Nazis is spending emotional energy they could be venting on the Federal Reserve and its destruction of our economic lives.  The Fed has much more negative impact on the average black person in this country than the all the Neo-Nazis put together.

My own opinion is if they had been ignored they would have gone away and we'd all be better off.  The fact that they had to recruit people from a dozen or more states to get a crowd of less than 1,000 speaks volumes about how ignorable the entire thing should be.

These bozos crave attention.  Don't give it to them.  Next time they march don't cover it on TV, don't march against them (at least not the same time and place) and arrest them if they resort to any violence or destruction of property.  

 

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Doug
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Slavery

The argument that the Civil War was not about slavery is a little silly. Even the opponents of that notion admit it was about the economy. The southern economy was absolutely dependent on slavery. Witness the fact that the southern economy was in the dumper for a century after the war until the advent of widespread air conditioning and union busting.

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issues with tactics

ChrisH-

I have to say that I was clenching my teeth for the first couple of minutes in this conversation when it seemed that Jim was drawing an equivalency between Neo-Nazis and Neo-Confederates on the right and Antifa on the left.  Personally, I'm not one who buys into that notion, and although I have issues with Antifa tactics, I view those forces on the right as way, way worse...

"Issues with tactics?"  For me, tactics are everything.

From external observation, the uniforms and conduct of antifa and the KKK are identical.  They both wear masks, they both use violence, they both show no interest in being tolerant of another's free speech.  They both look a whole lot like Nazi stormtroopers did back in Germany in 1932.  Both groups represent a mortal threat to civil society.

If it walks like a stormtrooper, and if it quacks like a stormtrooper - its a freaking stormtrooper.

There are no "friendly stormtroopers."  Stormtroopers have no place in civil society.

It fascinates me how people who are nominally "liberal" and "tolerant" will end up tacitly supporting the use of violence and terror as long as it is employed to suppress speech that they don't happen to like.  "Tsk-tsk, finger-wag, I have issues with your tactics."

I saw what antifa did at Berkeley to stop Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking there.  Milo's speech was so dangerous that violent tactics needed to be employed in order to stop it.  Antifa was there to make it happen.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/01/milo-yiannopoulos-uc-berkeley-event-cancelled

Speech = dangerous = violence required to stop it.

Tactics are everything.  They're the difference between a peaceful protest and a terrorist who will happily run over a bunch of people with a truck in support of his cause.

Tactics are everything.  Tactics are what separates Ghandi and MLK from a Jihadi suicide bomber.  The tactics of terror mean the end of civil society.  Employing the tactics of terror lead directly to civil war.

KKK is a terror group.  Antifa is a terror group.  That's because both groups use the tactics of violence and terror.

Period.  Full stop.

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LesPhelps
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Monuments
Christopher H wrote:

No, secession is not specifically prohibited in the Constitution.  But to set the historical record straight, what started the Civil War was NOT the North declaring war on the South.  Rather, it was the Confederates' bombardment of the Union garrison at Ft. Sumter that was the opening salvo of the Civil War.

Ft Sumter was a Unions facility in Charleston South Carolina.  South Carolina seceeded before the attack.  I'm not familiar enough with details to know if Union forces were asked to vacate before the attack.  Regardless, the attack took place on land that South Carolina no longer considered part of the United States.

Lincoln made a decision to oppose the succession.  Enough on that.

You are clearly wrong.  A monument is itself history.  The Lincoln Memorial was finished 30 years before I was born.  It is part of what I think about when I think about DC, the same as the Statue of Liberty and NYC.  I'm sure some people feel the same about the Robert E. Lee Sculpture which has been in place since 1924.  Monuments are history.

The point I was trying to make is that holding grudges and carrying guilt over multiple generations isn't working so well for humanity, either here or abroad.

Personally, I won't sholder any guilt for events that happend hundreds of years ago.  If you want to bear that unnecessary burden, be my guest.

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chipshot
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Incredible and sad how...

...a podcast that addresses many of the most serious issues facing us is followed by a debate over the Lee statue, slavery and the constitution.

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Thoughts on ascribing meaning to sculptures

While I rather hesitate to wade into the discussion here as I really don't care much one way or the other regarding the monuments.  It reminds me of the arguments regarding the use of the flag that was a big thing years ago when I was in art school.  I feel a need to point something out though that I haven't seen mentioned yet in this discussion.  Monuments and other sculptures have many different meanings to different people.  There is no one "right" meaning or message that they convey.  The artist who created them, or the people who commissioned them might have had a concept they wished to convey, but this in no way means it's what viewers take away from a piece.  Frankly it would take a surreal amount of talent for an artist to craft a visual work that conveyed one and only one message to all who viewed it.

The point I want to make with this is that it would be a mistake to think that everyone interprets a monument the same way you do.  To you a piece might be all about glorifying slavery.  If you think that is the one true meaning of the piece then anyone who is in favor of the piece must be all about glorifying slavery.  Yet they might well think the piece is all about states rights, and if they think that is the one true meaning then your dislike of the work means you oppose states rights.  Someone else might well just associate with the piece as a decorative statue that has overlooked many a wonderful afternoon spent with friends or family playing in the park.  To them it may have become a symbol of good times in their community, a sort of inanimate "friend" they've grown up with.

We may all have a sole meaning attached to such works, or more likely we will have complex, nuanced or even conflicting reactions to something like this.  What I highly doubt we have is the same understanding of a single piece.  As such I feel like it's important to always remember that others are not reacting to things for the same reasons you are.  If someone likes something you hate that doesn't mean they are liking it for the reason you hate it.  Odds are better they are liking it for a reason that doesn't resonate with you and what you hate doesn't resonate strongly with them.

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and that's why it works

chipshot-

Incredible and sad how...a podcast that addresses many of the most serious issues facing us is followed by a debate over the Lee statue, slavery and the constitution.

I agree with the sentiment.  But try this on.

Instead of feeling sad, perhaps you can view this as a great local case study of just how powerfully such subjects can distract people away from critical issues that really need our full attention, and instead towards "wedge issues" that can never be resolved satisfactorily.

That's because a) humans just work this way by default, and b) someone else out there knows this, and is making good use of that information.

If (with all due humility) we see ourselves as the smart, rational ones in the world, and we get sidetracked by this stuff, how must the rest of the country be faring?

Neurobiologically, "true belief" sits in the amygdala.  The "Backfire Effect" studies tell us (via MRI scans) that if you challenge any of those true beliefs, you get a "my personal survival is at stake" response from that part of the brain.

If my group was making a shitload of money running the various rackets, and didn't want anyone paying attention, the very first thing I'd do would be to assemble a list of left/right non-monetary issues that would hopelessly trigger the true believers on both sides, and for which there was no "split the difference" compromise available. 

And then, every single time my cartel had its gravy train threatened, I'd make sure to launch an event that would blow the cartel-income-threatening issue completely off the airwaves.

"I am never upset for the reason I think."

All we can do to protect ourselves is to become conscious of the fact that we are upset about something, and then ask the question, "might someone else be profiting by me getting upset?"

Anyone hear about Bernie Sanders' "medicare for everyone?"  What with statues, Nazis, and other important things, there's just no energy left to talk about an issue that more than 60% of Americans support.

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Uncletommy
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Obviously, stupidity is contagious!

Peace, Order and Good Government. . . only in Canada, you say? Pity! 

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/justin-trudeau-john-a-macdonald-name-1.4265561

The advantage America has is that some Presidents name their buildings before they're dead.

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thc0655
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We're in the Crazy Years according to Heinlein

http://www.scifiwright.com/2010/01/the-crazy-years-and-their-empty-moral-vocabulary

The main sign of when madness has possessed a crowd, or a civilization, is when the people are fearful of imaginary or trivial dangers but nonchalant about real and deep dangers. When that happens, there is gradual deterioration of mores, orientation, and social institutions—the Crazy Years have arrived.

Craziness can be measured by maladaptive behavior. The behavior the society uses to solve one kind of problem, when applied to an incorrect category, disorients it. When this happens the whole society, even if some members are aware of the disorientation, cannot reach the correct conclusion, or react in a fashion that preserves society from harm. As if society were a dolphin that called itself a fish: when it suffered the sensation of drowning, it would dive. But a dolphin is a mammal, a member of a different category of being. When dolphins are low on air, they surface, rather than dive. Putting yourself in the wrong category leads to the wrong behavior.

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TIKI
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Kunstler

About time you both admit the left lost their mind and are on a Horse shit propaganda binge. There is nothing wrong with our President Trump and if you can't say that Obama was a disgrace your part of the problem of what is wrong with our country. That being Bullshit for his 8, 8 from Bush another 8 from Clinton.. Neither of you really knew about oil as you both never saw fracking coming and bought into peak oil. Reminds me of the population bomb that so many bought into and became the chicken littles of today. 

I've been into oil since I was 18 from a childhood friend who studied Chemical Engineering and filled my head with cracking oil and a ex who was a Geology Major.  I believe in a large motion of business that will guide us no matter what we do. I've followed Jim for 20 years who is 9 months shorter in the tooth and yourself Chris since you showed up. I grew up in Cleveland and we were all about oil at a time in N.E, Ohio. Jim spoke at the Cleveland Library and I wonder if he knows was built by steel and oil money and that the wood was steel as everything was made of marble, stone because of fire. 

A epiphany came walking point in Vietnam and taking a break and lifting a branch as I checked out the stop to be safe like not next to a trail and below in the valley was Papa San plowing his rice field behind his water buffalo. I lit up a smoke and observed the varying colors of green that nestled him in his small valley. I saw a beautiful scenery that was as magical as one could ever see. My thoughts were at the time how much more does a person need . Later reading about the Nearing's when I came home and actually Picking up the first issues of Mother Earth News. They were published not far from me in N.E. Ohio. They were a few years old in 1972  on the Drug store rack.    

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ezlxq1949
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Trump used by Deep State?

Are we quite sure that the Deep State wants Trump out? He's been co-opted by the D.S., and being a first-class distraction keeps everybody looking the wrong way while the D.S. carries on. How much stage-management has taken place after his election is anyone's guess.

One could argue indeed that both Hillary and Donald are prize-winning distractions. No-one seems to be attending to what really matters at all.

 

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aggrivated
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Are we far from slavery?

One of the most resonant statements in the Crash Course was Chris' saying that each of us uses the daily energy equivalent of 60 slaves. I didn't go back to get it verbatim but that is what stuck in my mind.

Out of all the discussuon above there was no mention made of what we can do to prevent a return to slavery when all that excess energy plays out. Kunstler's World Made by Hand does NOT assume that the 0.1% could well end up with 90+% of the farm land and housing realestate. That will put most of us on the downstairs side of the upstairs/downstairs equation.

Moral indignation reflects the time we live in more often than absolutes. Years ago I visited Lincoln's log cabin birthplace. The docent remarked that a next door neighbor of the Lincoln family had borrowed money and were shunned by the other neighbors for this.

At a time when people owned other people, it was personal debt that elicited moral indignation. In the near future when all of us are lashed as the Mother of All Bubbles bursts society may well end up viewing debt as more onerous than slavery again.

Is that where we want to go?

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Mohammed Mast
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The Russians

Look can't we all just  get back to what is really, really important and realize the Russians did it

 

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Rick Singer
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RE: Robert E Lee "I wish I could free the all southern slaves"

Robert E. Lee never said this. This is a misquote from an "interview" that a reverend named John Leyburn claimed to have had with Robert E. Lee in 1869, several years after the war was over, and a year before Lee's death.

John Leyburn had been born in Lexington, Virginia, and was a Presbyterian pastor. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Leyburn left his church and joined the South. He became Secretary of the Board of Publication for the newly-founded Southern Presbyterian Church, since the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America had become officially pro-abolitionist. (The two churches continue to be separate today.) After the war, Leyburn resettled in Baltimore, where he claimed to interview Lee.

An article by Leyburn was printed in 1885 in Century Illustrated magazine, so the quote itself is second-hand knowledge many years after the fact. Leyburn claimed to have asked if Lee had fought the war over the issue of slavery, and he said that Lee denied it. Leyburn claimed that Robert E. Lee told him:

"So far," said General Lee, "from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the South. So fully am I satisified of this, as regards Virginia especially, that I would cheerfully have lost all I have lost by the war, and suffered all I have suffered, to have this objective obtained." This he said with much earnestness.

After expressing himself on this point, as well as others in which he felt that Northern writers were greatly misrepresenting the South, he looked at me and, with emphasis, said:

"Doctor, I think some of you gentlemen that use the pen should see that justice is done us."

So it would seem that this was in part an effort by Lee to resurrect his reputation after the fact. Or, it never happened, and it's something that Leyburn made up himself in order to resurrect Lee's reputation and promote Southern apologist sentiment.

There is a bit of truth to this view of Lee, however. In 1856, several years before the war, Robert E. Lee wrote a letter to his wife that explained some of his feelings on the subject of slavery, and this letter is used by most biographers as the cornerstone of Lee's personal views on slavery (123):

"There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil. It is idle to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it is a greater evil to the white than to the colored race. While my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more deeply engaged for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically, and socially. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things. How long their servitude may be necessary is known and ordered by a merciful Providence.

Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influences of Christianity than from the storm and tempest of fiery controversy. This influence, though slow, is sure. The doctrines and miracles of our Saviour have required nearly two thousand years to convert but a small portion of the human race, and even among Christian nations what gross errors still exist! While we see the course of the final abolition of human slavery is still onward, and give it the aid of our prayers, let us leave the progress as well as the results in the hands of Him who, chooses to work by slow influences, and with whom a thousand years are but as a single day."

In other words, though Robert E. Lee felt slavery was a "moral and political evil", he also felt it best to leave it in the hands of God to decide, and that slavery would end, eventually, on its own accord, even if that meant a thousand years hence. His letter goes on to say that the abolitionists should know that the way to end slavery is not to "excite angry feelings in the master" and that this would only make things worse. Lee's was not an unusual "moderate" point of view on slavery in the South in the 1850s.

Yet, even though Robert E. Lee may have felt slavery was morally and politically evil, he was not against perpetuating the institution himself. In 1856, his father-in-law, George W. P. Custis, died, and on his death bed, it was reported that he told a group of his slaves that he wanted them emancipated upon his death. But no white person was in the room, and Custis's will stated that they should be freed five years after he died.

This story reached the Washington D.C. correpsondent of the Boston Traveller newspaper, who printed an article about it on December 24, 1857, with the further claim that there were plans to sell some of the slaves down South before the emancipation date came.

Robert E. Lee responded by writing to the New York Times on January 8, 1858, denying that Custis had ever said such a thing, that the slaves would be free in five years' time according to the will, and that he had no plans to sell them "on South":

"What Mr. Custis is said to have stated to the Washington correspondent of the Boston Traveller, or to his assembled slaves, on his death bed is not known to any member of his family. But it is well known that during the brief days of his last illness, he was constantly attended by his daughter, grand-daughter, and niece, and faithfully visited by his physician and pastor. So rapid was the progress of his disease, after its symptoms became alarming, that there was no assembly of his servants, and he took leave of but one, who was present when he bade farewell to his family."

Was the Boston Traveller passing along false information or was Robert E. Lee telling the truth? It couldn't be proven in a court of law because "the testimony of negroes will not be taken in Court." So it wasn't until 1866 that the testimony of any of Custis's slaves was ever taken, and a former slave named Wesley Norris refuted Lee's version of events.

This had led Norris and several other slaves to try to escape in 1859, but they were caught:

"We were tied firmly to posts by a Mr. Gwin, our overseer, who was ordered by Gen. Lee to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each, excepting my sister, who received but twenty."

So although Robert E. Lee professed a hatred for slavery before the war, and denied he engaged in the war over the issue of slavery after the war, he nonetheless was willing to participate and help preserve the institution both before and during the war. Though he freed some of his slaves before the war, he did not free the last of them until the war was over.

Lee's views on slavery have continued to be debated by biographers and historians. A century ago, the assessment by pro-Union authors was not kind. In a book about abolitionist John Brown, historian Franklin Benjamin Sanborn wrote of Lee's "lost cause" fight for slavery and printed the alleged Leyburn quote. 

Rick Singer's picture
Rick Singer
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Snoping out the Robert E Lee quote above.

Robert E. Lee never said this. This is a misquote from an "interview" that a reverend named John Leyburn claimed to have had with Robert E. Lee in 1869, several years after the war was over, and a year before Lee's death.

John Leyburn had been born in Lexington, Virginia, and was a Presbyterian pastor. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Leyburn left his church and joined the South. He became Secretary of the Board of Publication for the newly-founded Southern Presbyterian Church, since the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America had become officially pro-abolitionist. (The two churches continue to be separate today.) After the war, Leyburn resettled in Baltimore, where he claimed to interview Lee.

An article by Leyburn was printed in 1885 in Century Illustrated magazine, so the quote itself is second-hand knowledge many years after the fact. Leyburn claimed to have asked if Lee had fought the war over the issue of slavery, and he said that Lee denied it. Leyburn claimed that Robert E. Lee told him:

"So far," said General Lee, "from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the South. So fully am I satisified of this, as regards Virginia especially, that I would cheerfully have lost all I have lost by the war, and suffered all I have suffered, to have this objective obtained." This he said with much earnestness.

After expressing himself on this point, as well as others in which he felt that Northern writers were greatly misrepresenting the South, he looked at me and, with emphasis, said:

"Doctor, I think some of you gentlemen that use the pen should see that justice is done us."

So it would seem that this was in part an effort by Lee to resurrect his reputation after the fact. Or, it never happened, and it's something that Leyburn made up himself in order to resurrect Lee's reputation and promote Southern apologist sentiment.

There is a bit of truth to this view of Lee, however. In 1856, several years before the war, Robert E. Lee wrote a letter to his wife that explained some of his feelings on the subject of slavery, and this letter is used by most biographers as the cornerstone of Lee's personal views on slavery (123):

"There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil. It is idle to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it is a greater evil to the white than to the colored race. While my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more deeply engaged for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically, and socially. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things. How long their servitude may be necessary is known and ordered by a merciful Providence.

Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influences of Christianity than from the storm and tempest of fiery controversy. This influence, though slow, is sure. The doctrines and miracles of our Saviour have required nearly two thousand years to convert but a small portion of the human race, and even among Christian nations what gross errors still exist! While we see the course of the final abolition of human slavery is still onward, and give it the aid of our prayers, let us leave the progress as well as the results in the hands of Him who, chooses to work by slow influences, and with whom a thousand years are but as a single day."

In other words, though Robert E. Lee felt slavery was a "moral and political evil", he also felt it best to leave it in the hands of God to decide, and that slavery would end, eventually, on its own accord, even if that meant a thousand years hence. His letter goes on to say that the abolitionists should know that the way to end slavery is not to "excite angry feelings in the master" and that this would only make things worse. Lee's was not an unusual "moderate" point of view on slavery in the South in the 1850s.

Yet, even though Robert E. Lee may have felt slavery was morally and politically evil, he was not against perpetuating the institution himself. In 1856, his father-in-law, George W. P. Custis, died, and on his death bed, it was reported that he told a group of his slaves that he wanted them emancipated upon his death. But no white person was in the room, and Custis's will stated that they should be freed five years after he died.

This story reached the Washington D.C. correpsondent of the Boston Traveller newspaper, who printed an article about it on December 24, 1857, with the further claim that there were plans to sell some of the slaves down South before the emancipation date came.

Robert E. Lee responded by writing to the New York Times on January 8, 1858, denying that Custis had ever said such a thing, that the slaves would be free in five years' time according to the will, and that he had no plans to sell them "on South":

"What Mr. Custis is said to have stated to the Washington correspondent of the Boston Traveller, or to his assembled slaves, on his death bed is not known to any member of his family. But it is well known that during the brief days of his last illness, he was constantly attended by his daughter, grand-daughter, and niece, and faithfully visited by his physician and pastor. So rapid was the progress of his disease, after its symptoms became alarming, that there was no assembly of his servants, and he took leave of but one, who was present when he bade farewell to his family."

Was the Boston Traveller passing along false information or was Robert E. Lee telling the truth? It couldn't be proven in a court of law because "the testimony of negroes will not be taken in Court." So it wasn't until 1866 that the testimony of any of Custis's slaves was ever taken, and a former slave named Wesley Norris refuted Lee's version of events.

This had led Norris and several other slaves to try to escape in 1859, but they were caught:

"We were tied firmly to posts by a Mr. Gwin, our overseer, who was ordered by Gen. Lee to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each, excepting my sister, who received but twenty."

So although Robert E. Lee professed a hatred for slavery before the war, and denied he engaged in the war over the issue of slavery after the war, he nonetheless was willing to participate and help preserve the institution both before and during the war. Though he freed some of his slaves before the war, he did not free the last of them until the war was over.

Lee's views on slavery have continued to be debated by biographers and historians. A century ago, the assessment by pro-Union authors was not kind. In a book about abolitionist John Brown, historian Franklin Benjamin Sanborn wrote of Lee's "lost cause" fight for slavery and printed the alleged Leyburn quote. He followed it with his own assessment of it:

newsbuoy's picture
newsbuoy
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 10 2013
Posts: 204
General Lee is Dead--so might we be, forgotten that is.

"The Arctic Sea may be ice free in the next six weeks".

due diligence

Grab that Johnny Walker pour a tall one, add ice. Hold it until the last bit of ice is gone, notice the phenomenon of rapid climate change in you hand.

Rest in Peace.

Keleven's picture
Keleven (not verified)
Case in point

Hilarious that Kunstler and Martenson talk at length in the podcast about how the coverage and aftermath of Charlottesville is emblematic of the degree to which media is successful in distracting the populace from discussing the structural, systemic problems causing our country's deterioration by fanning the flames of tribal conflicts and controversies... and then commenters launch right into a debate about the civil war. Case in point?

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