Outsourced Morality

Outsourced Morality October 20, 2016

True confession: I understand Trump voters. I come from that place. We’re the same people who voted for Andrew Jackson—duel-fighter, bigamist, slaveholder, and native-killer. As a matter of fact, when I was a kid, we would go to his plantation in Nashville, Tennessee on Sunday afternoons. The Hermitage. The story of Jackson told us that—no matter how poor you were born—if you intimidate enough people and steal enough stuff, you too can be president! The duel-fighter, bigamist, slaveholder, and native-killer. became those words engraved on the walls of the Hermitage: “old soldier, patriot, and Christian.”

Poor Southern whites. Some of my forebears arrived on these shores when the poor houses of England were cleaned out and the refuse people got dumped here—“root, hog or die!” There’s a lot of people like me. We came here poor and unskilled and that’s how we remain. And yes, we cling to our traditions, which happen to center around guns and violence and hating everybody else, especially those immigrant groups that have come later and done better. And when you’ve been here for 250 years, that’s a fairly long list of people to hate!

I’m not sure exactly sure when it was that I decided not to be president, but somewhere back in my many years I decided not to pursue what William Faulkner often described as “perfidy.” Deciding not to live in that manner precluded, as I saw it, Jackson’s driving forces: militarism, patriotism, and Christianity.

That’s why I’m not voting for Trump. This old hillbilly isn’t living up to Andrew Jackson’s code.

But my Humanism isn’t about what I don’t believe. Or do believe, for that matter. Humanism to me is about actions and commitments. Central concerns. Humanism is about taking ownership of choices and consequences.

Sociologist and secular theorist Phil Zukerman calls using scriptures or gods as the basis for one’s personal actions “moral outsourcing.” That rings true to me. Andrew Jackson outsourced his morality and committed the expedient.

“The gods made me do it” is a very old excuse. Sure, the gods update their moral stances from time to time, but somehow they are always behind the curve in terms of the ethical thought of human beings. Odd, that. Many people in Jackson’s day knew that Andrew Jackson was wrong in his actions.

Given the state of the union in these days before yet another election, it might be time to give the gods a rest and think for ourselves. Take responsibility for our collective actions.

Here we are, living in post-industrial Capitalism. In a nation that has historically exploited both human and natural resources for the gain of a few people. Most of the land is stolen from people who were very nearly exterminated and do not today have full protection under the law. The early economy of the nation was based largely on slavery—from the profits of selling human beings, to the products they manufactured—cotton, sugar, and rum. That labor was stolen from people whose descendants remain marginalized.

Good “ol’ Old Hickory” Jackson remains a secular saint—“old soldier, patriot, and Christian.” His violence lives on in the myth of redemptive violence the US embraces. His economics are our economics, His symbol, the jackass, is still the symbol of the Democratic Party. The US still outsources its morality.

But I’m here to say—you don’t have to live down to your past. IMG_2272

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