Friday, July 13, 2012

A Little History

You cannot do wrong without suffering wrong. Justice is not postponed... Every secret is told, every crime is punished, every virtue rewarded, every wrong redressed, in silence and certainty. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Compensation"

Among the great failings of the present is its essentially complete relegation of the past to...well, to the past. We know so little about what has gone before us that we cannot know where we stand today...nor can we confidently estimate, present trends continuing, where we're likely to stand tomorrow.

My memory sometimes acts unbidden. It tosses tidbits from long ago into my present-day consciousness, at which point something in my psyche demands that I reflect on the wherefores thereof. This morning, as I attempt to ready myself for a three hundred mile drive in the face of continuing agony in my upper back, is such an occasion.


A little earlier, I found myself remembering a phenomenon from my undergraduate days, the "monkey wrenching" protests against retailers that sold produce grown and harvested by the "oppressed" migrant farm workers of the West and Southwest. If you've ever heard the name of Cesar Chavez uttered in a tone of reverence by some sanctimonious leftist, you've encountered the roots of the thing.

The migrant farm workers were overwhelmingly Hispanic immigrants to the United States. A high proportion of them were here illegally. Farm operators paid them low wages for their labors -- mainly tending and harvesting various food crops -- because so many of them were eager for the work. It was an early manifestation of the "jobs Americans won't do" effect that's drawn so many low-skill workers over our southern border. In the Sixties and early Seventies, Cesar Chavez and others attempted to organize them into a nationwide union, the United Farm Workers, for the usual reason: to limit the supply of farm labor, and thus to drive up the average wage paid to those fortunate enough to be admitted to the union.

American college students, ever ready to award themselves a mantle of moral superiority founded on no more than flattery and propaganda, "assisted" in this effort by obstructing trade and traffic at markets that sold produce from the West and Southwest that lacked UFW approval.

It was, of course, moronic. It was a low-grade form of vandalism: it interfered with peaceable others attempting to conduct trade in an orderly manner while producing nothing of value for anyone else. Neither is it recorded anywhere that this activity, predominantly a Northeastern phenomenon, had any effect beyond irritating other shoppers and bestowing a spurious glow of righteousness on the college kids who undertook it. But it took a brave youngster to say any of that explicitly to his self-righteous coevals during those years. One might as well speak favorably of Richard Nixon, or come out in support of the War in Vietnam.

I don't remember any such occasions of courage among my classmates. Certainly I didn't express myself in such a fashion. But the larger point is more important: I knew that several of my classmates felt as I did -- i.e., that the whole oppressed-migrant-workers scam was nothing but a gambit to advance old style unionism, even then well recognized as a serious brake on the fortunes of manual and other low-skill workers. We knew better but we said nothing.

My point, if I have one -- and at this hour of the morning that's always open to dispute -- is that moral courage was a scarce commodity. The courage-in-numbers provided by standing among hundreds or thousands of fellow dupes, some of them with bullhorns, routinely dwarfed the resolve of those of us who saw more clearly and reasoned from a better moral basis.


I've recently been in touch with local and regional representatives of the John Birch Society. Recent encounters with some of Robert Welch's speeches, and with G. Edward Griffin's biography of Welch, got me wondering how an organization so well grounded in American history, that promulgates principles so wholesome and so authentically American, could have been so brutally slandered for so long. I've concluded, tentatively, that the degree of moral courage required to condemn dishonesty in political rhetoric, in the face of the snarls, denunciations, and implied threats of the Left, has become so rare as to approach extinction.

If my memory of my college days is accurate, our moral courage has been dwindling for a long time. It's a different sort of courage from that required to face live fire, but it's just as critical to the survival of our Republic. Ask Patrick Frey, Stacy McCain, or Aaron Walker.

What might we do to resuscitate it? As Robert A. Heinlein once wrote, who are the heirs of Patrick Henry? Are there any left among us? If we can nurture a fresh crop, isn't a proper acquaintance with our own history, as an individualistic, fiercely independent people, the best imaginable place to start?



KG said...

In the face of overwhelming dominance of the left in our institutions (I won't bother to list them, anybody reading this blog is aware enough) a display of moral courage has become a form of professional and financial suicide.
Where's the payoff?
The warm glow of virtue won't save a job, feed the kids or pay the mortgage. Moral courage means standing up to the statists and the whole coercive PC apparatus of the State, and has become too risky and too potentially expensive.
And too damn lonely. When you watch people you previously admired sell out and cave in, moral courage begins to look like elaborate self-harm.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting a kind word about the John Birch Society. I remember the extreme demonization they were accorded back in the 1960s, and lately I've been wondering if they deserved it or not.
I believe the left and the media were every bit as extreme then as they are today, only today they don't even try to hide their actions. Decades ago, they more successfully hid their prejudices, animosities, and anti-Americanism.
We all recognize the extreme, even deranged, attacks that have been made on Sarah Palin, among other conservative leaders. I don't think she was the first to be subjected to that level of demonization. Ross Perot got his turn on the hot seat when he attracted serious numbers of supporters when he ran for president.
I now believe that the John Birch Society was a much earlier victim of the same kind of attacks that have been made against Palin. One chief difference is that people back then tended to have more trust in the media and their political leaders, and there was no Internet or other easy means that allowed ordinary people to inform each other or to expose the bias of the left and the media for what it was then and still is.
I found an online magazine that has published many articles I enjoyed reading and would even endorse. Imagine my surprise to realize one day that I was reading a John Birch Society publication: The New American. (You can find it easily via your search engine or by typing the obvious URL in your browser bar.)
Powerline has written a number of posts that rehabilitate the reputation of McCarthy, he of the famous hearings on the extent of Communist infiltration into government and the entertainment industry. As Powerline says, records revealed after the fall of the Soviet Union reveal that McCarthy was correct.
I now believe that the much-maligned John Birch Society is deserving of a similar rehabilitative effort. Why should we continue to believe the rabid attacks made by the left decades ago? The naked fury unleashed on conservatives of today has taught us much about their methods and motivations, and we all know full well that what they condemned, then and now, is probably something that we should embrace. Yet many conservatives had a fit when JBS was allowed to participate in a recent conservative event (was it CPAC a year or two ago?). Were these people acting on current and actual knowledge of JBS ideas, or reacting out of a pavlovian response built into them long, long ago by an enemy they didn't even know existed.
My only question is why Wm. F. Buckley worked so hard to drive the John Birch Society out of the public discourse. He was, himself, a former Democrat who, after his conversion, surrounded himself entirely with fellow former Democrats. Perhaps he was driven by a desire to establish himself as the arbiter of acceptable conservative thought. I am always a bit suspicious of people who want to declare who is legitimate, who want to decide who I should study or follow to save me the trouble of judging for myself. I was neither a Buckley fan nor a detractor, and his opinion did not and does not guide my own. At that time, of course, I was old enough to be aware of conflicts in the emerging conservative community but too inexperienced to really understand what was going on.
Thank you, Mr. Porretto, for bringing another probable injustice in the past to light. I hope you will write more on this subject in the future.

rickl said...

I find it interesting that you've been talking about the John Birch Society lately. I haven't really studied them, but I have commented elsewhere that I think that recent events (along with declassified Soviet records) have largely proven them right way back when.

I've only known one person who was a JBS member. Back in the late 80s I briefly worked in a factory operating a machine that cut slats for Venetian blinds. I was in my late 20s, single, and very much a leftist. I regularly voted for all kinds of radical left-wing parties because the Democrats were too Establishment for my tastes.

The woman who operated the machine next to me was in her 40s, married, and a JBS member. We talked politics a lot and didn't agree on much. But she was a very nice lady and we got along fine.

I soon found another job and only stayed there about two months. But she had a lasting impact on me. She sort of inoculated me against thinking that Birchers were some kind of ogres, even though I still remained a leftist for some time afterwards.

Eventually I discovered Ayn Rand and adopted a more libertarian philosophy. I still remember my former co-worker fondly.