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Monday, July 23, 2012

Chuck Thompson argues for benefits of secession

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In his introduction to Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession (Simon & Schuster), Chuck Thompson, an Alaska native now living in Oregon, asks, “What would happen if we simply jettisoned the 566,466 square miles and 78,385,623 people [in the South] responsible for generating so much of the willful ignorance and Jim Crow-style hatred that keeps the rest of the country from moving ahead?”

The 300 pages that follow provide detailed arguments for his answer: “We,” meaning the remaining United States, would be, as his title says, much better off. And so would the new “Confederacy” of the seceded South. With time, he says, “Americans would start thinking of the South as another Mexico, only with even weaker currency and more corrupt government.”

Everything in this book will be disputed by someone or other, including his definition of the “South,” which he admits is arbitrary: the 12 contiguous states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, with Texas as a debatable omission.

The rest of the country he labels “North,” the shorthand used by many Southerners, even though it contains areas like Idaho, Arizona and Utah, where some Southern-fried attitudes are dominant.

He takes pains to show that he is against neither Republicans nor “heartland-style conservatives”; he aims, rather, at Southern radicalism and “Southern obstructionists and fanatics who want to conflate biblical law with U.S. law.”

Well before the Civil War, Thompson points out, not a few Southerners were displeased with the very idea of a United States of America and fought against joining it and then being in it. We have long been two different societies, he says, with the South persistently resisting national development and ideals.

But why not just continue on as we are, separate but different? Because, he argues, not only are Southern notions stupid and/or wacky—creationism, for example, and lackluster support of education and a hunger for a theocracy—but they begin to infect public schools and other institutions around the country. They are widely entrenched in the South, but can also increasingly be found elsewhere.

He notes that while racism exists everywhere to one degree or another, Southern voters actually respond favorably to race-baiting. Nowhere else are there monuments to white supremacy, nowhere else is slavery as a factor in the Civil War—and in the nation's history generally—so artfully avoided.

Thompson lists and explains “Seven Deadly Sins of Southern Politics”—sins in the sense of acts or attitudes that physically or otherwise harm the perpetrator and, more important, society and the environment. They are such things as religious fanaticism, willful obstinacy in refusing to compromise in the spirit of democracy, passing off hyperbole and lies as wisdom and truth, and a preference for military adventurism that has dragged the nation into unnecessary wars.

To the assertion that loss of Southern industry would mean a tremendous economic blow, he responds: not really. For one thing, the South already acts like a foreign country by luring “foreign interests and fat-cat traitors” with promises of cheap labor and eased safety regulations. He contends we can do without this race to the bottom and to a serf-based economy.

Second, Southern industry leads in pollution and spends millions in attempting to assert its right to pollute elsewhere in the country. Third, Southern workers earn less; in no state except Virginia do residents earn more than the national average

And fourth, except for Florida, no state sends more money to Washington than it receives back in government assistance and entitlement programs; in Mississippi it is $2.02 received for every $1 sent. The South does not pull its weight, but instead relies on states like New Jersey ($0.61), Connecticut ($0.69), New Hampshire ($0.71) and Minnesota ($0.72).

All in all, the author concludes, “remove the South and the United States instantly becomes more intelligent, healthy, safe and financially sound.”

All of this and more he relates in a style that can be best compared to that of an angry, hip, very smart stand-up comic with a potty mouth. Less inappropriate dropping of the F-word and the S-word and fewer paroxysms of multi-syllabic rage would have made his well-crafted argument even stronger.