Hawking Up Hairballs

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Liberal Guilt

It was after midnight, and I couldn't sleep. I'd read as much of the compendious The Later Roman Empire* as I could take at one sitting, so I turned on the TV to see what was showing. You'd think there would be a big choice, given that I've got all those DirectTV channels. Not so, kemosabe, but there was this episode of "P.O.V." on public TV, so I decided to watch that. "P.O.V." shows documentaries made by independent film makers. This one was about the descendants of the deWolf family, one of whom is the filmmaker. The deWolf family was apparently one of the largest, if not the largest, importer of slaves from Africa. They kept right on doing it until the late 19th century, importing slaves into places like Havana after it was abolished in the U.S.

The woman who made the film called over 200 descendents of the deWolf family to enlist those who might want to take a trip to the slave forts in Africa from which the family imported the slaves. About a dozen took her up on it. After watching the documentary, I wanted to slap those folks in the face, each and every one of them. They dutifully visited the slave forts, and they were all properly moved. That's fine. Slavery was a horrid institution that was characterized by godawful suffering. That reaction wasn't what bothered me. Rather it was that they all felt guilty over what their ancestors had done. What the hell was with that? It's not like they were living off of the wealth that resulted from the slave trade. The fortune had apparently been squandered long ago. No, it seemed to be that they felt the guilt had been passed down to them like Adam's sin.

This makes no sense to me. They had taken no part in what their ancestors had done. Hell, my great-great-grandfather lived in Florida, and he owned a couple of household slaves. Even worse, over 20 members of my father's family fought for the South in the Civil War. They were willing to take up arms to preserve the institution of slavery, but so what? That has little to do with me, except in that certain attitudes about race might have been passed down to me, but that didn't happen. I lived my early life north of the Mason-Dixon line in rather liberal circumstances, at least on matters of race.

On the last job I worked, there was a software engineer from Germany. He was in his mid-twenties. Someone would occasionally bring up the Holocaust with him, and try to sound out his attitudes. He was never comfortable with those discussions, and I could understand why. He didn't have anything to do with the Holocaust. It wasn't anything that he had to make good. Some might disagree, but I ask them this. Is the child of a murderer responsible for what his parent did? Of course not, but we're a Christian nation, or so many of us like to contend, and we can't seem to shed the notion of an original sin. It follows us around from generation to generation like a bad, body odor. Well, I'm not buying it. As far as I'm concerned, we're only responsible for what we have done. I refuse to take responsibility for the actions of my predecessors. And when it comes to original sin, if I had been Adam, I would have eaten that forbidden fruit too, just because it was forbidden. When the Old Man came to ask about it, I would have spit in his eye. He can go to his hell, but He's not going to take me with Him.

*It really is a great book, a thousand pages that documents the later Roman empire in great detail. It surveys all aspects of the empire, the social, economic, and administrative, but it can get tedious, even though I'm intrigued by this kind of stuff. I have to keep at it though, because I got the book on interlibrary loan, and I can only keep it for three weeks. The overdue fine is a dollar a day, so it can add up pretty quick.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in an over-ripe garden of liberal self-hate called Portland, Oregon. Over here, they hang Tibetan prayer flags to pay for their sins.

Machinist in PDX.

7:49 PM  

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