Thursday, November 15, 2012

Born Fighting

The Scotch-Irish, the dominant ethnic group that settled the inland South starting about 250 years ago, were not pleasant people. They were from the border area between England and Scotland (or, in some cases, from Ulster)--dirt poor craftsmen, tenant farmers and horse thieves. They tended to be quarrelsome, clannish, quick to violence and dead set against top-down authority in any form. I can say this because these are my people--a fact I'm proud of, overall--and I bring it up because I think you have to go all the way back to explain why folks in the South--and Georgia in particular--have their shorts in such a knot over something called Agenda 21.

If you look up Agenda 21 on the United Nations website, you will find a long and rather boring document adopted by that body back in 1997 as a follow-up to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, one of the first global meetings called to address issues such as climate change, development and environmental damage in Third World countries. But according to the far right-wing/Tea Party folks, as described in an an article yesterday in Salon, Agenda 21 is a "UN conspiracy to deny private property rights, which Obama will help accomplish through a mind-control technique known as Delphi." Part of the government's agenda is a plan to move all suburbanites to the city, the conspiracy theorists believe, according to a presentation made at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta last month and attended by several members of the state legislature. (And this, boys and girls, is not the weirdest/dumbest thing that body has ever done, by a long shot.)

What explains the readiness with which so white folks in the Deep South believe that the government is out to confiscate their property, brainwash their kids, relocate them to slums and force them to toil as peons? There are lots of immediate reasons, but the mind-set that provides such fertile soil for these things in any era is one which never accepted any government to begin with. Today's Tea Partier, the school busing protester of the 1970s, the 1960s era John Bircher, the 1950s segregationist, those guys giving the Rebel yell at Chickamauga--a good many of them trace their roots all the way back to those scurvy-looking immigrants David Hackett Fisher described in Albion's Seed as people who had the gall to "[demand] to be treated with respect even when dressed in rags." At its best, this kind of stubborn pride gave us folks like Davy Crockett; it was the force behind the Populist Movement, and it's given us a disproportionate number of genius-level military leaders over the last two centuries. The flip side is this: a nasty mean-spiritedness that sees everybody outside a small network of kin and like-minded neighbors as one vast conspiracy out to take what's theirs.   

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