Earlier this week I went to a hearing about the confederate monument in front of my city’s courthouse, and the mental gymnastics the neo-confederates in attendance had to perform to justify the further existence of the monument was nothing short of incredible. At one point, a man with a PhD in history from a local university spoke in order to demolish the mythology that surrounds the monument. He provided the context for the erection of the statue, which was the “lost cause” ideology that emerged in face of the defeat of the confederate military, an ideology that sought to whitewash history by ignoring the actual cause of the civil war: the southern states’ desire to preserve the institution of slavery.
Not a single neo-confederate in attendance listened. Not only did they not listen, several spoke up after to denigrate them while they were still in attendance. One lady got up to speak and said “I guess they got their degrees from Berkeley”, which made the neo-confederates erupt into laughter and applause. I thought it was weird, because they outright said they got their degrees from a university in this state. One man took the floor to say “we’ll never reach a consensus about the cause of the Civil War”, although professional historians already have: the articles of secession for every state that produced them mention the preservation of the institution of slavery explicitly as their reason for secession.
It really clarified the anti-intellectualism that drives the neo-confederate cause. These are people who simply have an emotional attachment to the symbols of the confederacy. They grew up with them. They formed these attachments long before they were capable of thinking about them critically (if they ever formed the capacity for critical thought at all). This is clearly not a debate between two rational parties. This is debate between people who recognize the scholarly consensus on the confederacy, and people who outright deny history because to do so would require shedding their cultural conditioning.