The Pinterest and Plantation Wedding kerfuffle shows how the Left preys on American’s ignorance to destroy both the beauty and the lessons of history.
Immediately after Thanksgiving, I headed to Charleston with my Little Bookworm, who had asked to see a true Southern city. She originally suggested Nashville, but I’m more of a history buff than a country music buff, and there’s no quarreling with the fact that Charleston is one of America’s most historic cities.
You can’t go to Charleston, of course, without being reminded that the British brought African slavery to America. This is not to say that slavery was unknown on the American continent. America already had slavery because the Native Americans, as is true for all Stone Aged people, enslaved those few war captives whom they did not kill. The exception was small children, whom they adopted into the tribe to replenish the ongoing population losses caused by accidents, disease, and chronic warfare. In addition, the Spanish military had enslaved any Native Americans who survived the European diseases to which they had no resistance.
But back to the main point: Charleston and slavery were a matched set from the colonial era through to the Civil War. While America was statistically insignificant in the African Slave trade, receiving only 365,916 African captives compared to the Caribbean’s 5,089,010 and Brazil’s 3,519,910, these relatively small numbers do nothing to erase the fact that, even as the Western world was experiencing the Enlightenment and beginning to recognize that slavery was morally abhorrent, the South kept importing those Africans unlucky enough to have been kidnapped by rival African tribes and then sold by Muslim slave traders.
(Just for a little more perspective, Muslims enslaved – and killed, through maltreatment and castration – as many as 140 million Africans and several million Christians from Europe and the Slavic areas. But I digress.)
Incidentally, America’s slavery was not originally race based. The British in America and the Caribbean originally tried to enslave the Irish, but those stubborn Irish just kept dying like flies from malaria. It was the Africans, who had developed some resistance to malaria’s ravages (with the exchange being sickle cell anemia) and were able to survive the hostile climates in which they were enslaved. Moreover, in colonial America, there were African-Americans who owned African slaves. The first slave-related litigation in America involved a black man asserting his rights over his African slaves.
The racial aspect to American slavery developed as the Enlightenment changed Western attitudes about owning people. If owning people was bad, the only way slave owners could justify their immoral conduct was to claim that Africans weren’t quite human. And if they weren’t quite human, to Hell with the rising belief that slavery was immoral.
Anyway, I’m wandering afield again. My point is that when African slavery was normative throughout both the Christian and Muslim worlds, Charleston was a big player in colonial America. During the height of slavery importation, as many as 35-40% of Africans brought to America passed through the Charleston slave market. Everything that is old and beautiful in and around Charleston, whether the city’s exquisite historic buildings or the remains of surrounding plantations (including Drayton Hall, pcitured above) was the product of slave labor.
My Little Bookworm, being a good human being, was troubled by the fact that she was enjoying beauty that arose from human suffering. I explained to her that the human history of the world, from human origins to the Enlightenment and somewhat beyond, has been composed almost entirely of pain, suffering, and exploitation.
I keep harking back to Steven Pinkers’ The Better Angels of Our Nature : Why Violence Has Declined, because it so beautifully elaborates upon the indescribable (to us) cruelty of the pre-modern world. From Stone Age tribes around the world; to sophisticated Pagans, whether Mesopotamian, Roman, or Druid; to early Christians; to all Muslims, past and present, horror was the norm.
In all those times and in all those places, there was human sacrifice, torture, torturous executions, mass slavery, sexual exploitation, and general sadism at a level we find hard to comprehend. ISIS, harking back to Islam’s earliest days, gives a microcosm of what the pre-modern world was like, but ISIS’s practices were comparatively a mere speck of space dust in a universe dominated by vast planets of cruelty and inhumanity.
The sole exception in the ancient world was Judaism, which identified a God who had created humans in his image, which required humans to treat each other with a rare measure of respect and prohibiting human sacrifice. As Pinker likes to point out, the Bible is replete with cruelty and death, but the idea of humans as individuals of value was a new and important idea that the Jews have refined upon for millennia. (That fact makes it cruelly ironic that America’s political Jews are on the forefront of abortion, but that’s another post for another day.)
Moving forward in time, Christianity co-opted the idea that each human has value. Through the marvels of syncretism — that is, delicately grafting Christianity to pagan concepts to help bring pagans to Christ — Christians were able to end human sacrifice once and for all by offering Christ’s death and resurrection as the ultimate human sacrifice, foreclosing the need for all others. Because of the West’s success, Christianity’s revulsion at human sacrifice spread around the world. This was true whether non-Christians voluntarily accepted these ideas or, as in India when the British banned the barbaric practice of suttee, Western imperialism imposed bans on human sacrifice through criminalizing conduct.
Of course, Westerners were still barbaric by modern standards. For only one example, even in the 19th century, Britain was still executing thieves for stealing small amounts of food.
When confronted with Charleston’s beauty and its slave history, I told my Little Bookworm that, if we begin to judge historic beauty by the cruelty that lies behind it, we have to shut our eyes to everything. There is nothing historic that did not rise in some way on the blood and bodies of exploited people.
A purity standard that requires us to dismiss historic art and architecture because of the cruelty lying behind it would require us to level Rome, wipe out Jerusalem, destroy Washington, D.C., mow down out every community the Vikings built, flatten all of East Asia, and generally erase the world’s antiquities, art, buildings, and, indeed, every bit of history. Indeed, most of those sites that the UN designates as “World Heritage Sites” would have to be mowed down. All were the product of human abuse and exploitation because that was how the world worked.
(Incidentally, I hate it that the UN tries to co-opt for the world specific country’s and region’s histories. It’s tacky and greedy. I understand, though, that it is very profitable for the sites so designated, so there is that.)
The only time we’re called upon to reject the past, no matter how beautiful, arises when a community that has moved into the modern slips backwards into pre-modern barbarity. Thus, while slavery was the norm around the world in the 18th century and even well into the 19th century, and genocide was an accepted battle practice in the ancient world, those practices had died out in the West after the Enlightenment finally took hold. The Germans, for example, had definitively abandoned all those practices by the 19th century and, indeed, were considered the apex of modernity in art, culture, science, and moral, Enlightenment thinking.
The underlying horror of the Nazis was that they abandoned the “better angels of their nature,” and actively and aggressively embraced discontinued savagery of the type that the Western world had proudly and deliberately begun to abandon more than a century before. In other words, the Nazis knew better. Despite the barbarity of WWI, the world was a better and more moral place in 1933 than it had been in 1633 or 633 or 63 B.C. or 1633 B.C. The Nazis had to make an affirmative decision of tremendous evil to do what they did. This was entirely different from embracing, or slowly rejecting, cultural norms that had lasted for hundreds or even thousands of years.
It’s this understanding of humanity’s moral trajectory that allows us to enjoy the beauty that our ancestors created even as we reject the norms that defined their world. Charleston’s buildings are exquisite, and that’s true even though they were the product of slave labor. To admire the buildings is not to admire, support, or wish to emulate the abusive system that helped create them. The same is true for admiring the rest of the world’s man-made historic sites.
But to the historical ignoramuses of the Left, America is uniquely sinful and nothing can be forgiven. That’s why my return from Charleston was almost immediately followed by a story about Pinterest embracing historic ignorance (per the New York Times):
Five major websites often used for wedding planning have pledged to cut back on promoting and romanticizing weddings at former slave plantations.
Pinterest, The Knot Worldwide — which owns The Knot and WeddingWire — and Brides announced Wednesday that they would make a variety of changes, including removing all references to plantations on their sites and prohibiting adjectives like “charming” to describe venues where many Americans’ ancestors were once enslaved, tortured and raped. And on Thursday, Zola said it would remove plantations from its venue listings.
The developments, a number of which were reported by BuzzFeed News, came in response to a targeted campaign by Color of Change, a racial justice organization. Rashad Robinson, the group’s president, said his team had submitted emails in October requesting a dialogue with five companies.
“You have a multi-multimillion-dollar industry that makes money off of glorifying sites of human rights atrocities,” he said in an interview on Wednesday. “For us, that’s outrageous.”
Color of Change, incidentally, is not a racial justice organization. It’s a racial shakedown organization. A long time ago, while I was still learning what “social justice” was, I worked behind the scenes on a lawsuit opposite that organization. I can’t remember now the details of the case; I just remember being disgusted by its conduct.
In the absence of any clear memories on my part, let’s just say that, in 2012, Color of Change was one of those organizations that turned Trayvon Martin’s death into a racial cause célèbre, something that resulted in the martyrdom of George Zimmerman, a Democrat social justice warrior himself, who fought back when Martin tried to beat him to death and, with help from Color of Change, was instantly turned into a KKK/Nazi pariah who needed to be destroyed – and almost was destroyed thanks to corrupt race mongers and government officials.
I was delighted to see that Zimmerman is suing those who tried to destroy him, thanks to newly revealed evidence showing that the main testimony against him was fraudulent. You really should read his statement at American Thinker explaining the genesis of his lawsuit.
But again, I digress. What’s happening with Pinterest and those other wedding related sites is that we have sunk into a dangerous black hole of historic ignorance. A literate population can distinguish between those historic locations that were in sync with the values of their time and those that, like the Nazis and ISIS, abandoned modern values to reach back into the past to embrace their animal nature. An illiterate population, however, has no sense of context or of the moral trajectory guiding human kind (a trajectory bad people periodically reject). Instead, ignorant people are easy prey for demagogues who use their ignorance to advance agendas that are divisive and dangerous.
Looking at how our American education system has created a ferocious historic amnesia, I have to admit to concern that we, like the Nazis, may one day start embracing the worst of pre-modern values. One always thinks, “that can’t happen here,” but we know from the example of other countries before us that it can happen. It can be stopped only through education and morality, two things terribly lacking in today’s world.