Weekly Standard article on Ancestor Worship

Worship Thy Ancestor . . . from a distance. 2:00 AM, Apr 06, 2018 | By Dave Shiflett You can get arrested for spanking an unruly tot these days, but flogging the immortal bejesus out of once-revered ancestors can pay significant dividends. Pounding the Founders and other historic villains not only affirms one's purity and moral superiority but can help achieve social dominance over those who fail to recognize your excellence of spirit. On top of that it can make you feel really good and distract attention from your own shortcomings. What more could you ask for? If I knew the tricks of the app trade I'd create FounderPound on the double and start shopping for a nice island getaway. Yet there's an overlooked aspect to this phenomenon. We assume our ancestors would be hurt by modern-day criticisms. We assume they would want their names to grace our rubber chicken dinners and dormitories. We are certain they would want their monuments to forever grace our town squares. But perhaps, as we shall see, a little humility is in order. Perhaps our forebears would no more want our praise than they would covet a bite from a rattlesnake. In the spirit of context, it's worth remembering that flailing the dead finds enthusiasts in every generation, though the purge seems to have picked up steam lately. Last week came word that a statue of President William McKinley, the unrepentant colonialist, is being targeted for removal from the city square of Arcata, Calif. In New Orleans, mayor Mitch Landrieu heroically removed a host of Confederate monuments and lived to write a book about it (In The Shadow of Statues). His critics, to no surprise, insist he was primarily interested in cleansing his own spotty reputation. Meanwhile, in Virginia, the state's Democratic party changed the name of its annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner to the somewhat clunkier Blue Commonwealth Gala because both men owned slaves. (Jackson is also notorious for his Indian policies.) The lashing of Jefferson and Jackson was something of an expansion of the Old Dominion's version of the purification ritual, in which most fury is directed at Robert E. Lee and his co-conspirators. In the fullness of time it's likely Captain John Smith and Pocahontas spouse John Rolfe will be arraigned and prosecuted, along with almost everyone else in a position of authority prior to 1964 or so. Traditionalists are of course horrified and defend their heroes along familiar lines. America was born into a world brimming with slavery. Belief in black inferiority was nigh on universal. "Vices the most notorious seem to be the portion of this unhappy race," said one appraisal of African Americans: "idleness, treachery, revenge, cruelty, impudence, stealing, lying, profanity, debauchery, nastiness and intemperance, are said to have extinguished the principles of natural law, and to have silenced the reproofs of conscience." That passage was lifted not from the pages of a Richmond newspaper but from the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1797). The finest minds agreed, including philosopher David Hume, who likened a black Jamaican who had gained a reputation for intelligence to a parrot, "who speaks a few words plainly." Even John Locke, Mr. "Inalienable Rights of Man," defended slavery and invested in the Royal Africa Company, Great Britain's pre-eminent slaving enterprise. And here in Dixie, defenders of the Cause never tire of quoting Abraham Lincoln, whose views would be very much at home in the skull of a Grand Kleagle: I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. Yet traditionalists should recognize that the conventional wisdom defense isn't going to get anyone off the hook. And they really should consider the possibility that our forebears wouldn't want the praise of modern Americans. While we often invoke them, the reverence wouldn't likely be mutual. In fact, if a time-traveling group of them suddenly appeared and seized power, most of us might end up with slit nostrils or seriously stretched necks. They'd be way harder on us than some of us are on them. Consider, for example, the likely response to the modern phenomenon of ubiquitous swearing. Not all that long ago (as the time flies) swearing earned a public whipping, while children who cursed their parents could be executed. Scolds, nags, slanderers, and gossips faced a multiplicity of corrective devices, among them the brank (or "gossip's bridle"), a cage that covered the head and deployed an iron spike into the mouth to suppress the wayward tongue. While it is pleasant enough for some to imagine Bill Maher and his entertainment industry colleagues being branked, a huge percentage of Facebook and other social media slaves (no shortage of traditionalists in those ranks) could expect the same treatment. Other idle-minded chatterbugs would be rewarded with a trip to the dunking stool or pillory, a stand-up version of the stocks that offered the option of nailing the visitor's ears to the headpiece. The attending official might further enhance the experience by slitting the offender's nostrils. There's no doubting that it would be nice if our compatriots didn't cuss so much. But who wants their F-bombing, deity-damning children cured of their affliction by having their heads nailed to the pillory with a railroad spike? The tongue wouldn't be the only organ to attract scrutiny. As in the good old days, fornicators could expect a whipping while single mothers would face fines and banishment; those who couldn't pay might be sold into serv­itude. Gays, meantime, should head for the border—at a gallop. According to scholar Louis Crompton, "it appears that in 1776 male homosexuals in the original 13 colonies were universally subject to the death penalty." Youthful sexual adventuring would be similarly risky, at least if the experience of Thomas Granger, of the Plymouth Grangers, is any guide. The lusty teenager was detected having sex "with a mare, a cow, two goats, divers sheep, two calves, and a turkey," according to expert testimony. For his efforts—which were clearly considerable he was hanged. The animals were also executed. This isn't to suggest our American forebears were uniquely cruel. Consider the sentence meted out in 1725 to one Charles Hayon, as reported by Paul Tabori in his immortal work, The Natural Science of Stupidity. Hayon was "sentenced to be laid with his face down, nude, upon a wooden grille and be dragged in such a state through the streets of the commune of Chaussée." His crime? He had killed himself. These days, of course, we cross the oceans to fight people with similar policies. And on the bright side, we can reasonably assume our visiting forebears would quickly conclude that we are beyond saving. Simply whipping the people who skip church would take every available hand. What would they make of our abortion rate? (Abortion prior to the fourth month or so of pregnancy was legal in early colonial times, though outlawed starting early in the 19th century.) Ditto for the national debt, man buns, warnings on stepladders, and a million other facts of modern life. After a few days they'd vamoose, no doubt leaving behind an indictment of a somewhat tendentious nature: You are all the most worthless of generations. You have everything humanity has dreamed of and prayed for. You have all the food and drink imaginable; your doctors can outfit you with new hearts, hips, and wedding tackle; you have mosquito-free bedrooms, parasite-free intestines, a short workweek, and marvels you call air conditioning, smartphones, and automobiles. Yet how do you spend your time? Watching The View. Eating until you are fat as pigs. Telling people thousands of miles away about your hemorrhoids. Making entertainments in which the Indians are the good guys! Your men marry men, your women marry women, and parents often don't marry each other. Your bartenders charge seven dollars for a beer but won't let you smoke. You pay five dollars for a cup of coffee but expect music to be free (they wouldn't actually say this, but one can dream). You kill more children in the womb than the death toll in your latest world war, and those you don't snuff are saddled with a staggering debt. So where do you get off looking down on us? Goodbye, good riddance, and while you're at it—go to Hell! And off they'd go. It's also worth considering the possibility that our descendants might fully embrace our forebears' indictment, adding whatever other shortcomings offend their sensibilities and standards. In fact, we should probably count on it. Which is why the wisest among us will try to live in the moment while keeping in mind the advice of the pleasantly acerbic James Anthony Froude: "Each age would do better if it studied its own faults and endeavored to mend them instead of comparing itself with others to its own advantage." Dave Shiflett posts his writing and original music at www.Daveshiflett.com