Shaming South Carolina to Remove the Confederate Flag

Our anger over the murder of nine black church-going individuals in South Carolina is real and justified, but is it useful?

Our anger over the murder of nine black church-going individuals in South Carolina is real and justified, but is it useful? A good feeling may accompany righteous indignation, but our anger is not ultimately practical, argues Rick Hill at Prawfs Blawg (Hill is a professor of law at New York University).


We've documented how resistant individuals become when their beliefs are forcefully contradicted. Rather than amend their assumptions, they double-down on their unfounded notions. So to convince South Carolinians to take down their rebel flag, we'll need to do more than explain to them that their flag is a symbol of racial intolerance, and that flying it on the grounds of the state capitol normalizes prejudice.

Hill's argument against outsized anger takes Jon Stewart and Fox News as representatives of our polarized nation's approach to this tragedy. Stewart slams the white southern Confederate culture that makes black people drive down streets named for Confederate generals and flies the defeated nation's flag on the grounds of the state capitol. Fox News, however, says that white southern culture is primarily Christian, not racist, and that shooter Dylann Roof is "best characterized" as anti-Christian.

Surprisingly, Hill accepts Fox News' approach as the one more likely to result in cooperation with an embattled white southern culture when it comes to, among other things, removing the Confederate flag from government buildings.

"Fox News’ approach has a prayer of creating a cross-racial rural coalition rooted in church and guns. By contrast, Stewart’s Naming & Shaming strategy seems not only futile but dangerous to me: Convince 'mainstream' Southerners that their condemnation of racist violence is inconsistent with their embrace of Stonewall Jackson and the Confederate flag, and you might find that they dump the former rather than the latter."

Hill, once again, is a law professor, and his argument is made with emotional detachment. My own brief experience in receiving a legal education left me feeling cold, as though law were the tool of sophists (and may the better sophist win). Hill's argument leaves me feelings similarly. His conclusion that "sometimes, in short, honesty might not be the best policy," makes moral truth subservient to political expediency.

This is an old saw, to be sure. Is the right course of action to achieve moral ends by strategic means or to just behave morally all the time? In the case of Charleston, South Carolina, we ought to defer to the rights of the victims, whose distinguishing characteristic in the words of the murderer is that they were black.

But the price of offending innocent Southern white culture (should we be charitable and declare it innocent), and the eventual forgetting of the racist antebellum South, is a smaller price to pay than the one exacted on us collectively for failing to face the truth. And social progress is made when slow, trudging truth is transparent about its intentions, not scheming and political.

On the topic of rationality, e.g., hearing an uncomfortable truth and accepting, Dan Ariely offers a fresh perspective. While notions of truth and revenge are irrational, he claims, they are extremely important to society. In fact, says Ariely, we wouldn't want a society that behaves entirely rationally.

Photo credit: MLADEN ANTONOV / Getty Images

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Space toilets: How astronauts boldly go where few have gone before

A NASA astronomer explains how astronauts dispose of their, uh, dark matter.

Videos
  • When nature calls in micro-gravity, astronauts must answer. Space agencies have developed suction-based toilets – with a camera built in to ensure all the waste is contained before "flushing".
  • Yes, there have been floaters in space. The early days of space exploration were a learning curve!
  • Amazingly, you don't need gravity to digest food. Peristalsis, the process by which your throat and intestines squeeze themselves, actually moves food and water through your digestive system without gravity at all.
Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less