Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The South...plus some analysis of Southern economics in both the antebellum and post slavery era at the end.

At times I've really got down on the South, which is strange because when I actually lived there I sort of learned to appreciate some of its particular features as a regional grouping within the U.S. But, it seems that when I left and moved to the Northwest, back to the North, all of the really bad shit that I'd been ignoring came into my consciousness. Now, after about six years of time passing, I'm starting to get a little bit more of a balanced perspective. An interesting example of the difference between how the South actually is and how people in the North tend to perceive it has to do with Christianity.

Namely, Christianity and even fundamentalist Christianity play a different role in the South than in the North. In the North, being Christian and openly Christian is a sort of weird thing unless you're either a kind of denatured Protestant like Presbyterian or are Catholic. In the South, on the other hand, religiosity in general is more prevalent, at all levels and gradations. There are more fundamentalist Christians, but in between hard core conservative Christians and normal people there are many different shades, so that being Christian in the South doesn't necessarily mean that you're either conservative or insane, especially if you actually believe in it. Church in the North in the Protestant denominations is more like therapy; Church in the South in most denominations is something that people are more serious about. Having that attitude doesn't mean that you're either a fundamentalist or that you're part of the Christian Right. And while we're on the subject, Southern conservatism in general has many different shades as well. It goes from hardcore Christian Republican to a sort of Rockefeller Republicanism, although people down there would never use that term. The Rockefeller Republicans were moderate conservatives in the North who despite still generally believing in conservative values were actually pretty liberal in the types of things that they thought were okay for society. People tend to stick to some sort of Christianity and some sort of moderate conservatism as sort of cultural values, even if in practice they're really open and accepting of different things. It tends to be the open expression of them that gets people into trouble. There are actually gay centers in New Orleans, Atlanta, and Houston, all of which are part of the South (even though Texas is usually considered the West), where people live openly and don't usually have that many problems. Certain areas of the South, particularly in bigger, more stately cities with a lot of history, have a tradition of understated tolerance provided that people publicly keep things within certain bounds, or even if they don't as long as they don't try to be too publicly noisy about it. All of which is of course a problem in and of itself, but there are rural areas in the North where even private beliefs and activities that deviate from the norm are not tolerated at all. Unfortunately, the in your face strategy of a lot of organizing faces an uphill battle in even the most open large Southern cities.

An interesting fact brought up by Eugene Genovese, an ex-Communist scholar from Atlanta who decided to join what could be called "High Southern Conservatism", meaning the type of conservatism that rich people who are harder core about it believe, made the claim that before the issue of slavery heated up in the years before the Civil War, Southern colleges were among the most radical on many issues in the country. This could be so, and it could even have been that abolition of slavery was more openly discussed before the run up, however slavery persisted and it didn't somehow moderate itself or be kinder and gentler before the Civil War.

The Civil War as well is another story. The common complaint is something that's echoed by more lefty scholars of the civil war as well, which is that the core motivations behind it were economic, meaning that when all of the controversy really lead to the South seceding the reason that the North didn't just let it go was because it provided a valuable resource that Northern industry needed. Not because the people in charge were absolute Abolitionists by any means. If the South had been an isolated area with no resources the story may have turned out differently, and the "House Divided" may have been allowed to stay that way. Of course the raw resources were developed with human capital. Which brings me to an interesting side conversation off of the general topic of misconceptions about the South.

It's interesting to me that the people in the North after the Civil War who controlled the South under military government didn't pursue land reform, i.e. breaking up the plantations and giving the land that was farmed by the slaves to the slaves themselves. If you want to take an economic view of things, having the plantation system totally broken up would have meant quite a lot of disruption in the flow of cotton to the North. What happened to the freed slaves is never talked about. They stayed by the plantations and became tenant farmers, transferred from actual slavery to virtual slavery. Segregation as well takes on a different face when the importance of the South for providing a steady flow of resources is taken into account. Full equality may have meant a social revolution in the South, with state governments controlled by blacks who might not have liked the policies of the North regarding themselves. State power would have translated into power in Congress, with black Representatives and Senators, who would most likely have been former slaves. This would be a scenario that despite the rhetoric of emancipation following the Civil War would most likely have been feared and sought to be avoided at all costs by the white capitalist establishment.

Interestingly enough, it's interesting as well that when segregation was finally successfully challenged, when the government finally started to recognize equality in the entire country, the economy of the South had moved from one that was intensely based on human capital to one that was more mechanized. Cotton production was revolutionized by new technology in the era a little before the Second World War and after. This was the reason why large numbers of black people headed north to find jobs. They were no longer needed for cotton production. The Civil Rights movement, like the Abolitionists before them, were absolutely and totally the real thing. It was the government that acted, or possibly acted, for more opportunistic reasons.

That's it for now.

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