Confederate Monuments and “Motivated Reasoning”
“Confederate Memorial of the Wind” on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive in Orange, Texas. Photo by Flickr user Patrick Feller, used under Creative Commons license.
One of my regular readers pointed out this article at Politico Magazine, about the SCV monument currently under construction in Orange, Texas close to the Louisiana border. It’s not a very long article, and well worth your time. It does a good job of pointing out both Confederate Heritage™ advocates’ direct refusal to acknowledge relevant historical evidence, and the way their views of the past are inextricably intertwines with their own, present-day politics (my emphasis):
[Historian Kevin] Levin pointed to the words of Confederates themselves, particularly Texas’ Ordinance of Secession. The document, which officially separated Texas from the Union in 1861, declared that African-Americans were “rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race.” It says that Texas seceded because non-slave-holding states “demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the Confederacy.” The document does not mention tariffs or any state right other than the right to own black people.
[SCV camp adjutant Jim] Toungate waved it off the document when I show it to him later. “People have a distorted view of the Confederacy because liberal Northern historians wrote the history books,” he insists. But these are primary sources, I noted, the words of the Confederates themselves. Toungate went silent for a beat, and then changed the subject. “I’m sick of the federal government wasting money,” he said, and “people living off welfare.”
There’s also a good bit of projection going on, to justify his own heritage activities:
“I had five grandfathers who fought for the Confederacy, and they were religious people who didn’t treat black people badly,” Toungate said, earnestly, his Southern drawl growing thicker as he spoke. “They were fighting for states’ rights, not slavery.”
I wonder how he thinks he knows that, since it’s extremely unlikely that he ever actually met a Civil War veteran, his own ancestors or any other.The author, John Savage, goes on to look at the bigger picture, how heritage folks willingly put themselves in a near-impenetrable bubble of ideology:
The SCV’s rejection of unequivocal historical fact, can, in part, be attributed to what psychologists call “motivated reasoning,” says Sander van der Linden, a Princeton University psychologist and director of the school’s Social and Environmental Decision-Making Lab. When people are emotionally invested in a belief, says van der Linden, they are inclined to accept information that confirms pre-existing beliefs and to dismiss conflicting evidence. It helps explain climate change denial, creationism, the anti-vaccine movement, and the belief that Obama is a closet Muslim (which, incidentally, Toungate also believes).
Neo-Confederate adamancy is as much about reactionary politics and identity as it is about history. It’s a declaration of values, a way of seeing the world, and its prevalence divides along political lines. Polls show that Democrats tend to view Confederate symbols, such as the battle flag, as emblems of racism, while Republicans more often see them as representations of Southern heritage.
Go read the whole thing, y’all.