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Thoughts on religion, politics, life and death. And other banned topics.



Mildred : Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?
Johnny : Whadda you got?

The Wild One, 1953

There is a part of the American psyche that admires rebels. Our heroes are lawless and free of constraint. They act out of a secure moral center that owes nothing to tradition or social convention. They use violence judiciously as in this scene from Firefly.

Casually killing a very bad guy

I mean, how can you not like Mal? He’s fair, he’s tough, and he’s got a sense of humor. I think we all fantasize about being the kind of person who doesn’t play by the rules and gets away with it. We boast of what we would do if confronted with evil, but we don’t often get the chance to actually do anything. Then if something bad really does go down, we most likely will wait like the cops in Uvalde for an order from above before doing anything. Our rebellion is in tension with our fear of being disapproved, but it’s hard not to feel that there is something noble about taking a stand against entrenched authority.

I think that’s why a lot of Southerners fly the Confederate flag. It’s a symbol of rebellion. The fact that it represents racism and slavery only adds to the cachet because it only serves to heighten the offensiveness. Being offensive is the point. There is deep anger and frustration behind it. Think of Lieutenant Dan from Forrest Gump, sitting atop the mast, shaking his fist at God and yelling, “You call this a storm?” There’s still a lot of suppressed anger in the South about losing the Civil War. But in fact, wherever you find white grievance in America, whatever its actual causes, you will find people displaying the Confederate flag. I’ve seen it in Minnesota, a state that was solidly Union during the Civil War but where there are plenty of white people frustrated with the economic depression and poverty they see around them now. They identify themselves with the cockiness and truculence of the South—at least as it has been portrayed in popular media.

Despite spending my childhood in Ohio, I grew up with the Lost Cause version of Southern history. My mom loved Gone With the Wind, and I read it myself when I was young. I knew the incidents in it were fiction, but I did not question the historicity of the milieu in which the characters found themselves. So I grew up with this racist background to my understanding of the greatest conflict our country has ever faced. I thought it was about state’s rights. I believed slavery was wrong, but I also believed that black people were childlike, in need of guidance from white people. That’s what my mom believed, too. We were both white supremasist without realizing it. We thought we were being compassionate and understanding when we were being condescending. It took me a long, long time to realize just how harmful those ideas were, how much they kept me from hearing what black people were saying, how often I dismissed black experience because it was different from my own.

But I started with rebellion, and I want to get back to it.

The lure of rebellion is power. I may be powerless in a lot of ways, but if I can get somebody’s goat, if I can offend a liberal snowflake, if I can get some sanctimonious ass to take a swing at me, I gain some power over my enemies. No matter how low I’ve fallen, I can still drag others down to my level if I can make them outraged enough. So it doesn’t matter what I’m rebelling against. I’ll take whatever I can get. So what if you call me a racist. I’m still as good as you, maybe better. Or as the original of all rebels reputedly said, “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heav’n.


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