Thursday, 17 July 2014
A Southern Paradox.
I am from the south. Not that South, but a south. And not the "south of the world"that Sepultura sang about. Further south than The South but by fluke of geography and the British Empire, merely an oversized outpost in view of the Southern Cross. Though if that's not south enough, then being born in the year of the horse, the corresponding year of said annum being south (look it up - or check out the diagram below) surely qualifies me to some extent.
So where does all this come from? It is not about authenticity but it also is in part.
Ever since I played the Civil War computer game, North South at my friend's house as a child, I was enamoured of The South. As a child, I always cheered for the baddies. Not necessarily because I believed in their "causes" but because they always had the better colours, better uniforms, better tech and more interesting characters. In North South the south were the baddies but the game let you play as them.
It was not and is not the case that I am a proponent of slavery and other parochial, exploitative and unjust traditions embedded in the society and geography of the time. Rather it is that I am a country boy myself. I grew up surrounded by agriculture, I remember a time when rivers were not just dirty, polluted drains for industry. I remember a time before franchises and pride taken in local production.
It is the deeply felt connection with nature so critical to constructing images of the south that still resonates with me. The smell of warm mud after rain in the summer, cicadas, willow trees and endlessly blooming oleandar, crepe myrtle and local flora, the humidity... just as an agrarian lifestyle was wrenched away from the south at the conclusion of the civil war, so too was the torpid pace of my own historic homelands.
What most people tend to think about the American Civil War is that it was all about slavery. In reality, slavery as a condition of unification and motivation for the Union was a late (yet rational and necessary) addition to the cause. The American Civil war was first and foremost political and economic. It was a war over the right of secession and a war of (futile) resistance against the march of industrialisation as the new economic standard.
Of course, it would be ignorant to say that slavery as a custom and socio-economic system was somehow separate to secession and "way of life". It was not. Nevertheless, it was the last gasp, the rallying of resources on an American scale, the gall to resist that rings true with me.
I have no gilded view of the south in the United States. This little essay is not an attempt to mask or otherwise obscure the real and pernicious, ongoing legacy of deep racism, the psychological and intellectual mauling of people's hearts and minds by peculiar American interpretations of Christianity as well the crippling and far too common blight of poverty on numerous communities.
However, this troubling little writing is about the loss of connection between metropolitan, always connected human lives and nature. It is about generations of children born into a world in which the subjugation of nature is simply given. It is a lament (to follow a previous tearless lament) to an economy that existed before unsustainable, neurotic scales of economy. The civil war was won by the industrialists. The industrialists went on to rule the world.
Yet, a little version of the confederate flag waves within me. Sure, it is dirtied by wrong deeds and injustice, it is bloodied and often wrong headed. But it dares to stand proud and remember a past that for only concepts remains tangibly close.
I got both head and heart, both North and South.