About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Racism is not a State issue
It was therefore a bit shocking that, when was asked what he thought of the issue, Huckabee answered “You don’t like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag ... if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we’d tell them what to do with the pole; that’s what we’d do.” Shocking words from a former Baptist minister, I tell you! But the problem, Mike, is that this is precisely the sort of issue that should be of concern to the nation as a whole, not just the State of South Carolina. Let me explain.
Suppose the debate was not about the confederate flag, but about what colors or patterns to choose for the South Carolina flag. That, truly, would be a State issue. The federal government has no business getting involved in aesthetic choices. Do South Carolinians like their flag blue? Yellow? Fine. Do they want to put a palmetto on it? A yellow jessamine (the State flower)? Go ahead. But the confederate flag is an in-your-face symbol of oppression directed against a historically clearly identified minority of people in this country, and if some white southerners think that this is the sort of “cultural heritage” they want to display they should consider taking History 101 or, better yet, an ethics and cultural sensitivity class or two.
Should the federal government prohibit the display of the confederate flag? Nope, for the same reasons it shouldn’t pass any silly law prohibiting the burning of the federal flag, or endorsing any other limitation on freedom of speech. I think Germans and Canadians are wrong in enacting so-called “hate speech” laws: the best way to foment hate speech is to make it illegal (just like marijuana).
But contrary to what Huckabee said, it is very much the business of the President of the United States to weigh in and shame the people of South Carolina in taking the stupid flag off their Capitol grounds. That is precisely what “moral guidance,” of which the Republicans talk incessantly, means.
John McCain had a different take on the issue, when he said “my answer, sir, is that I could not be more proud that the overwhelming majority of the people of this state joined together taking that flag off the top of the [Capitol].” The good news is that a majority of South Carolinians ended up voting for McCain, getting Huckabee one step closer to going back where he came from. Presumably, he’ll be able to play with his own flag poles back in Arkansas.