A shot of police turning firehoses on demonstrators in 1963

The Politics of Everyday Evil

The American Civil War was the topic of U.S. History;  the teacher asked us to imagine what life was like for a slave.

I was fresh from South Carolina and had just finished reading ‘Mandingo,’ so I raised my hand and said, “I think it would be awful to get bred.”

“Get — bread?” the teacher asked.

“Yes, ma’am. They bred slaves for the babies.”

“Where did you hear that? I’ve never heard such a thing.”

I instinctively knew Mandingo was not a good source, so I said, “Everyone in the South knows how to breed livestock. Slaves was livestock.”

The teacher smiled. “Were,” she corrected. “I’ll research this tonight, and if you’re right, I’ll apologize tomorrow.”

The next day I got an apology.

“By the laws of competition no one can carry on a thriving business in breeding slaves for the market, unless the rights of mothers be utterly trampled underfoot, and (to borrow Mrs, Stowe’s phrase, babies be sold by the pound; 2, The right of chastity be utterly denied to every slave woman, and the right of rape be sharply conceded to the master ; 3, All right of a slave to a wife or children, as well as to property or to a native soil, be totally exploded ; 4, The unlimited use of the whip be given to the master. Every one of these things is not only a stern reality, (and if you do not know them, I must say it is you that are ignorant, not I that misrepresent,) but they are even so cherished that no man in the South could publicly speak against any of them, without being tarred and feathered, or otherwise violently driven out.”
The Character of the Southern States of America, 1863

I consider the white supremacist a barbarian, and I define barbarism as a set of regressive beliefs and behaviors that are destructive to an advanced global civilization.

“Barbarism” in its contemporary sense is variously interpreted as meaning either a technologically advanced but extremely exploitative and oppressive society (e.g. a victory and world domination by Nazi Germany and its Fascist allies); a collapse of technological civilization due to Capitalism causing a Nuclear War or ecological disaster; or the one form of barbarism bringing on the other.” Barbarian Defined

Barbarians are not stupid; they make contingency plans when facing defeat.

Consider that as early as 1822,  slave owners in Charleston discussed the use of ‘white tradesmen’ as a cheap substitute for slaves:

“Sufficient data are not at hand to form a precise estimate of the whole expense of a Charleston black mechanic or house servant. But from the above statement, it must greatly exceed that of the field slaves. And when the draw-backs from his efficiency are considered, it is probable that the labor of white men will, on the whole, be as cheap as that of the slave.
Thoughts on a Slave Revolt 1822

The Union won the battle against the brutality of slavery, but the former slaves were viewed by their former owners as a problem:

“In 1860, failing to solve its part of the world’s problem of equity in human relationships, the commonwealth clashed with the dominant idea of the period. In the championship of their system the planters and their neighbors were defeated, and their system was shattered as far as it could be by its victorious enemies encamped upon the field. But the pendulum swings again. Facts of human nature and the laws of civilized social welfare are too stubborn for the theories of negrophiles as well as of negrophobes. The slave labor problem has disappeared, but the negro problem remains.”
The Slave Labor Problem in the Charleston District 1906

Lawlessness and terror were the South’s solution to the ‘negro’ problem, just as they are now.

“After the Civil War, [slave patrols] seamlessly morphed into the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Shirts and other extra-legal organizations with the same purpose: to keep the black population cowed and under control. Fear of the black population is also why Southern society long-accepted brutality in law enforcement to a greater degree than other parts of the country did.” American Violence and Southern Culture

Some people think of the victory of the Allies over the Nazis as an irrevocable defeat of evil.

The same claim is often made about the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“Ronald Reagan defeated evil!”

No, he didn’t.

The United States won a temporary victory over Russia’s Soviet Union, now a corrupt capitalist oligarchy that infiltrates our media and abuses the freedoms of our democracy to make our lives a living hell.

Evil adapts and waits.

Evil retreats, and becomes invisible until its crimes are such a stain on the collective soul they can no longer be ignored.

Before we know it, new camps are built and fresh slaves are captured and abused.

“The greatest evil perpetrated is the evil committed by nobodies, that is, by human beings who refuse to be persons”
Hannah Arendt

Rob Goldstein 2016-2020

Header image, Getty Images 

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23 thoughts on “The Politics of Everyday Evil

  1. Worst creatures on Earth: People… Shocking… Glad you wrote this, highlighting all the issues and this one sentence “Evil adapts and waits for us to stop looking” is so spot on… Wow, Rob, what an eye opener once again and always needed… so we never stop looking!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hard-hitting, true, necessary words that can’t be denied, though our tendency is to think “that was then; this is now.” Thank you for writing this truth-telling piece.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I imagine Clinton will win the White House. I think she cares about all U.S. citizens. (And Bernie will continue to wisely nudge her.) That gives us time to get more good people elected at the state and local level. I hope you are not worried sick about Trump. It looks like he is finally self-destructing.

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      2. After the 2000 election I don’t take anything at face value.

        If the polls show that Clinton has 90 percent of all eligible voters they all need to show up and vote. Not only must she win; she must win an irrefutable mandate.

        And Democrats need to break the unspoken agreement that we will sabotage our president by not voting in the congressional elections.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Watching that man take his last breath is horrible but it’s worse hearing the others stand by and do nothing. It is a law that prisoners not be denied medical care….and there were no criminal charges filed. Big deal…they lost their job. They’ll just move down the road to another prison and do the same thing. To me…this is nothing short of accessory to murder.

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  4. Heartbreaking but real. On both accounts. I really couldn’t watch the video. Personal/ family history. I saw the remains of the institute of “mental health” where my grandfather spent 2 decades. We can do better.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Humanity can be terrible. This is one of the stains that will always mar this so-called “Land of The Free”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree…and want to add that we can’t get it perfect, there will always be stains. The best we can hope for are those times when rather than flu apart in resentment and fear we form a social contract based on the premise of making our world more perfect. I’ve always loved the linguistic brilliance of forming a “more perfect” union.

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  6. That picture is so sad. The whole situation was sad and disgusting. I remember visiting slave quarters at a plantation in the South. Most of the slaves had a little tiny cage that they were only able to sit. There wasn’t enough room to lay down. At the end was a great big cage and that was for the stud Negroe.

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    1. I used to play in the Old Slave Market, before it became boutiques. The cages and shackles were still in place…and there was still rubble from the Civil War. I don’t understand anyone who finds the torment of another person acceptable.

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