“It is the mynd, that maketh good or ill,
That maketh wretch or happie, rich or poore:
For some, that hath abundance at his will,
Hath not enough, but wants in greatest store;
And other, that hath litle, askes no more,
But in that litle is both rich and wise.
– The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser
YOUGHAL, IRELAND – How does the empire die? With a whimper… and then a bang. Today, we will look at the whimper.
It comes from millions of voices… distracted… confused… insipid. Headlines that make no sense. News stories that are almost completely fake. Hysteria. Hallucinations. Bombast and bunkum.
We have it on the authority of Yahoo! that model Paulina Porizkova is “rediscovering dating and sex in her 50s.” We’re so relieved.
And former House Speaker John Boehner says Senator Ted Cruz is a “reckless a**hole.”
Whimper and Whine
Meanwhile, people worry about whether they are using the right personal pronoun… or committing a micro-aggression by telling the truth.
We’re not supposed to read Dr. Seuss, either – there’s a stereotype of a “Chinaman” in there…
And put down that Gone With the Wind. Don’t you know that Scarlett O’Hara was a white supremacist?!
Oh, and are you still the same gender you were assigned at birth? Boring!
And don’t forget to play your part in the war against COVID-19. Remember, no one is safe until we are all safe. Or something like that.
We’re a racist society. We’re killing the planet. See something, say something.
The patriarchy is unfair to women and minorities. Smoking is bad; recycling is good… Oil is bad; solar is good… Stimulus is good; austerity is bad… Democracy… Equality… Diversity… Sobriety… Blah, blah, blah.
Two percent inflation… excellent! Zero percent inflation… bummer. (Just yesterday, Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell said he wasn’t budging from his ultra-low interest rates… no way… no how… until inflation is securely at 2% or more.)
Whimper… whimper… whine… whiffle… waffle… Trivia. Obiter dicta. Claptrap.
And here’s poor Saddleback College… From the LA Times:
After years of turmoil and heated debate, Saddleback College announced this week that it’s getting rid of its mascot, one that many see as a racist caricature.
Saddleback President Elliot Stern made the decision to retire the school’s gaucho mascot following a petition signed by hundreds, several community forums and recommendations from the school’s three governing bodies.
“It became our college’s Confederate flag,” Stern said over the phone, alluding to the controversial banner seen by many as a symbol of racism and slavery.
The Gaucho mascot, depicting an angry Mexican man riding a horse, has long drawn comparisons with the Frito Bandito, considered one of the more racist brand logos. A gaucho is an Argentinian cowboy.
In Argentina, the gaucho was despised as poor, uneducated, and violent. Then, during the Argentine war for independence against Spain (1810 to 1818), it was the gaucho army that won the war.
The gauchos’ guerilla tactics in Salta province prevented the Spanish army from advancing towards Cordoba and Buenos Aires. After that, gauchos were rehabilitated into heroes.
Today, they are seen like America’s cowboys… authentic, romantic, and rugged. Lawyers and accountants in Northwest Argentina dress up like gauchos on the weekends and take long horseback rides, reliving the glory days. And swanky shops in Buenos Aires sell “Gaucho” outfits.
But now, new guardians of America’s morality have decided that the gaucho has got to go.
Gone, too, is the statue of John O’Donnell from Baltimore. O’Donnell was born in Ireland… and emigrated to the U.S. in the 18th century.
But he “owned dozens of slaves.” That was enough for the city, now under the enlightened eye of Mayor Brandon Scott. It doesn’t want any reminders of its past… or at least that part of it.
The world’s blackest blemish – America’s slave past – is cast as such a monumental evil that beside it, all else shrinks into good.
But when John O’Donnell left Ireland, the country had been through two centuries of conquests, rebellions, famine, and ethnic cleansing. In some places, a quarter to a half the population had been exterminated by English invaders.
Edmund Spenser, an English officer (and later, author of The Faerie Queene), described what he saw…
“notwithstanding that [Ireland] was a most rich and plentiful country, full of corn and cattle, that you would have thought they could have been able to stand long, yet eare one year and a half they were brought to such wretchedness, as that any stony heart would have rued the same.
Out of every corner of the wood and glens they came creeping forth upon their hands, for their legs could not bear them; they looked Anatomies [of] death, they spoke like ghosts, crying out of their graves; they did eat of the carrions [corpses], happy where they could find them, yea, and one another soon after, in so much as the very carcasses they spared not to scrape out of their graves; and if they found a plot of water-cresses or shamrocks, their they flocked as to a feast for the time, yet not able long to continue therewithal; that in a short space there were none almost left, and a most populous and plentiful country suddenly left void of man or beast.”
But after so many tears shed for America’s unfortunates, who has any left? Certain groups are approved for whimpers; others are met with a stony heart.
Many Irish fled to France… Spain… Argentina… America. In the 19th century, so many Irish immigrants had come to America, that Irish labor was cheaper than slave labor.
The Irish were put to work on the most dangerous jobs – such as digging the Pontchartrain Canal in New Orleans. Yellow fever and cholera were endemic in the lowland canal area; slave owners didn’t want to lose their valuable property.
Back then, who cared if the Irish died?
All That Matters
And who cares now? John O’Donnell owned slaves; that’s all that matters.
John O’Donnell ran away from home – in Limerick, Ireland – at age 10. He rocked up as a young man in India, where he seems to have stolen money from the East India Company. Later, he went into privateering and was charged with murder.
And the fortune he brought to Baltimore, at least by some accounts, was made by selling the most lucrative trade item in Asia – opium.
But no one wanted to take down John O’Donnell’s statue because he might have been a thief or a drug dealer. Or a murderer.
We no longer ache for any sin committed earlier than the founding of America… and none against anyone outside of its borders.
And so keen are we to appear to right the wrongs of the past (we cannot undo the past… we can only be smug and superior about it)…
…that we can spare no indignation for the crime going on right now… nor any alarm for the catastrophe that follows…
…to which – the big bang – we return tomorrow.
Like what you’re reading? Send your thoughts to [email protected].