How to remember Confederate soldiers in South Carolina and elsewhere?

Bill Kristol got conservatives all excited yesterday on Twitter with complaining that

Bill Kristol just made the world s least compelling slippery slope argument Vox

I get that it is Kristol’s metier to keep reminding conservatives of the Great Enemy, lefties. But this logic is a problem, Iglesias is right. slippery slope arguments are always easy to refute, but I swear sometimes Kristol can’t leave slippery slope arguments alone, a little like me and M & M’s.

Why are slippery slope arguments a logical fallacy? There are many reasons, but here are a few.

1) They apply the logic of legal precedent to contexts and decisions where there is absolutely no reason to believe that the decision in question would necessarily apply to other contexts/decisions or serve as a standard for decision-making later;

2) They assume that, somehow, the status quo is desirable or some sort of local optimum where the only direction is down; and

3) The slope goes in only one direction.

And, of course, it doesn’t. So to slip back on the slope that Kristol has us on, we can take several directions. One is that if we retain the flag, people like Kristol won’t be happy until the Confederate mission is complete and slavery reinstated.

Wham! Ouch. See how easy it is?

Or, if people like Kristol get their way, we’ll have to reinstate all flags of failed nation-states, like the Soviets and the Franks because taking down any flag, no matter how anachronistic, discounts the bravery of those who fought under it.

So slippery slopes don’t really help us make useful arguments either for keeping or getting rid of the flag. (If we get rid of it, racism will magically disappear; the slope can be positive, too, but we have no reason to assume it.)

Now, slipperly slope arguments are useful in one regard: they construct future possible imaginaries, not unlike planning. It’s an envisioning exercise, and like lots of ways of envisioning, it can a) be anything you want, a nightmare or a dream or b) a way of trying to suss consequences. Both can be useful.

All that said, for the record, I think that flag should come down. It’s been costly to the business community of South Carolina due to boycotts, and after a tragedy in South Carolina, it divided people rather than uniting them when they needed to mourn. A goodly number of contemporary South Carolina residents wince when they see it. That’s not an effective political symbol.

Kristen has a point, though, and that is: how do we remember soldiers who fell? We can’t just decide they aren’t Americans, or that they aren’t important to their descendants, who are currently Americans. It’s neither inclusive or realistic to treat them the same as fallen Japanese or German soldiers. Confederate soldiers were a part of the US, who for a time took up arms against it in support of continuing reprehensible practices. Cherrypicking the states’ rights part or the bravery part, and fetishizing them, no matter how loudly one does it, is not going to get people to forget the “slavery” part. And they shouldn’t. But it is not as though these veterans do not matter to us or are not a part of our history. The symbolic, cultural, and political concern is not inconsequential, and that part of Kristol’s problem should be taken seriously.

One thought on “How to remember Confederate soldiers in South Carolina and elsewhere?

  1. We had much of this discussion on the way back from lunch yesterday (yes, by car, but with three people …). The problem, we decided, was the flag itself. There is nothing wrong with recognizing a flag (Confederate battle flag, Nazi flag, etc) as a historic artifact. There is something wrong with a state government flying it now because it is no longer a historic artifact but a symbol and in this case, a symbol of the fight (to the death) to continue slavery. And a symbol that lasts what? A year in the sun before needing to be replaced? Symbol not artifact.

    One of the people in the discussion has a relative that was a Captain in the Confederate Army and his gravestone is marked as such. Is that a problem? No, he was a Captain in the Confederate Army and he is remembered as such. That the US government supplied the tombstone (the family has the 19th C paperwork!) makes no difference.

Comments are closed.