Friday, September 8, 2017

Bee Gees – "Stayin' Alive" (1977)

Feel the city breaking
And everybody shaking, people
Stayin' alive, stayin' alive

President Trump recently made what law professors and students are fond of calling a “slippery slope” argument when he questioned the wisdom of taking down statues of famous Confederate figures:

So, this week it's Robert E. Lee.  I notice that Stonewall Jackson is coming down.  I wonder is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?  You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop? . . . George Washington was a slave owner. . . . So will George Washington now lose his status?  Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? . . . Because he was a major slave owner.  Now are we going to take down his statue?

Law professor Ilya Somin believes that it’s easy to distinguish between Confederates like Lee and Jackson and figures like Washington and Jefferson:

There are two big distinctions.  One, nobody honors George Washington precisely for the fact that he owned slaves, whereas the Confederate leaders, when they're honored, are honored almost entirely for their service to the Confederacy, which was created for a purpose of perpetuating and extending slavery.

Second, while I think it's very much correct to criticize the Founding Fathers for owning slaves, those of them who did, they also had great achievements in other areas which do legitimately deserve honor.  By contrast . . . very few of [the Confederate leaders] would be remembered today but for what they did in the Civil War to protect slavery.

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In the last 2 or 3 lines, I introduced you to Albert Pike and James Bevel.

Pike was a 19th-century Renaissance man – a lawyer, orator, philosopher, poet, scholar, and soldier.  He grew up in Boston, then moved to Arkansas – where he served briefly as a general in the Confederate Army.  After the Civil War was over, he settled in Washington, DC, where he dedicated the rest of his life to the cause of Freemasonry.

Albert Pike in Masonic regalia
Bevel worked closely with Martin Luther King, Jr., and planned several of the most memorable civil rights initiatives of the 1960s.  But he later became an ally of Lyndon LaRouche and then Louis Farrakhan, and was convicted late in his life for committing incest with his young daughter.

So what’s the connection between Pike and Bevel?

James Bevel and Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1901, the Scottish Rite Masons – with the blessings of Congress – erected a statue commemorating Pike’s work on behalf of that fraternity on a plot of federal land in Washington, DC.

The dedication of the Pike statue was preceded by a procession of what a Washington newspaper called “probably the most distinguished body of Masons ever assembled in this country,” followed by band music and a speech by the head of the District of Columbia government, who noted one important distinction between Pike’s statue and most of the statues in Your Nation’s Capital: it “honor[s] the victories of peace rather than [those] of war.” 

In 1992, Bevel led a band of protestors who alleged that Pike had been a Ku Klux Klan leader before moving to Washington – an allegation that Pike’s biographer says is false – and that his statue should be taken down.

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The Bevel-led protests were unsuccessful, and nobody paid much attention to the Pike statue for the next 25 years.  

The Albert Pike statue
Demonstrations against statues of more famous Confederates like Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis are getting most of the headlines today.  But despite Pike’s relative obscurity – by which I mean that 99.99% of Americans have no clue who the dude was – his statue hasn’t gone unprotested by the residents of Washington, PC.  (Oops! I meant to say “DC,” not “PC.”)  

And those protests haven’t been ignored by local politicians.  Several D.C. Council members have written to the National Park Service, the agency that’s in charge of the Pike monument, to demand that it be taken away.  “Albert Pike was a proponent of slavery and a brigadier general in the Confederate Army,” their letter said.  “[T]he presence of a statue honoring Albert Pike only serves to perpetuate and incite hate, violence, and oppression.”

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The obvious difference between Pike’s statue and those of Lee, Jackson, and other more prominent Confederate generals is that you would never know from Pike’s statue that he had ever served in the Confederate army.

Pike’s bronze statue, which is about eleven feet tall, depicts him wearing civilian clothing – not a Confederate uniform.  In his left hand, he holds a book – presumably his Morals and Dogma tome.   

A modern edition of Pike’s magnum opus
In addition, the intent of those who erected the Pike statue was to honor his many years of dedicated service to Scottish Rite Freemasonry – not his brief service in the Confederate Army.

The logic of those who believe that we should pull down the statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and other Confederate leaders is that those statues are monuments of white supremacists that were erected by white supremacists and for white supremacists.

That’s not true of the Pike statue.  

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Some people might argue that the Pike statue should come down anyway because Pike did something bad: he fought to defend slavery.

If you start taking down all the statues of men who did bad, you’re going to find yourself sliding down the mother of all slippery slopes.

All those Washington and Jefferson statues are going to have to go, because each of those iconic figures owned hundreds of slaves.  That certainly qualifies as a bad thing.

Should this Jefferson statue
stay, or should it go?
So does committing incest with your daughter.  So if there are any monuments honoring James Bevel for his contributions to the civil rights movement, they need to be hidden away.

*     *     *     *     *

So far, that big-ass statue of Albert Pike – which stands just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol – is stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.  (By the way, the National Statuary Hall  in the Capitol – which has two statues chosen by each of the 50 states – includes ten Confederate statues.)

But what will be the ultimate fate of Albert Pike’s statue?  I’m not sure, but I am sure of one thing: it’s fate won’t depend on logic and reason, but on politics.

If it were up to the District of Columbia’s government, it would already be hidden away.  (That’s not surprising given that African-Americans outnumber whites in D.C., where Clinton voters outnumbered Trump voters by an astonishing 90% to 4%.)
But the Pike statue was erected on land owned by the federal government. 

As noted above, the National Park Service is the federal entity with jurisdiction over the Pike monument, and that fact alone ensures that it will some time before anything happens to it.

The Virginia State Monument at Gettysburg
is topped by a statue of Robert E. Lee
I say that not because our current President has expressed doubts about the wisdom of tearing down statues depicting Confederate figures, although that  doesn’t hurt Albert Pike's cause.

No, I say that because the National Park Service has an institutional bias in favor of preservation regardless of who is in the White House.  (That agency has already said there is no chance that it will be removing any of the many Confederate statues and monuments located at Gettysburg and the other national military parks it administers.)

And there’s one other thing: no matter who is President, federal agencies almost never move quickly.  They are world-class procrastinators.  

So my money is on the survival of the Albert Pike statue – at least for the time being.

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Of course, it’s always possible that a mob will show up one day, throw a rope around old Albert’s neck, and pull his ass to the ground.

That’s what happened in Durham, North Carolina recently, when a mob wrecked a statue of a generic Confederate soldier that stood outside the old county courthouse.

Mob rule in Durham, NC
Local police stood by and watched the statue being toppled because it stood on county property, not city property, and because county sheriff’s deputies were present at the time.

Sheriff’s deputies stood by and watched the statue being toppled because . . . frankly, I have no idea why they stood by and watched.

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According to the American Heart Association, the tempo of “Stayin’ Alive” is perfect for  performing hands-only CPR:

Here’s “Stayin’ Alive”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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