Heather Spoonheim

Disciples of Change

A narrative essay by – Heather Spoonheim

I often encounter people who find it offensive that I haven’t subscribed to the Climate Change bandwagon. To be frank, that is where the conversation typically ends, because such people rarely have anything more to bring to the discussion than the average theist. The problem that always arises in those situations is the climate change disciple’s inability to differentiate between Climate Change science and the Climate Change movement.

The science behind Climate Change is sound enough, and the predictions seem rather certain, even though admittedly grim, so who am I to question them? Well I don’t question them, actually, but few Climate Change disciples are capable of engaging in enough rational discussion to actually figure that out. The issue that seems to set them off is my failure to perceive virtue in running around screaming that the sky is going to fall.

The line I most often hear is, “We need to take action now!” That’s fair enough, but I feel that I’ve been taking action for 20 years. I’ve been a minimalist for most of my adult life and have, as such, maintained a very small carbon footprint. To that end, I’ve driven the same 4 cylinder jeep YJ for over 19 years, resulting in fewer cars being produced. In those 19 years, I’ve racked up 125,000 kilometers on my jeep, which is less than most North Americans drive in 3 years, resulting in less fossil fuel combustion. Even the electricity that I use is over 90% hydroelectric. Furthermore, having had no children, my contribution to carbon dioxide emissions ends when I expel my last breath.

Given all of these things, any rational person should understand why I am unmoved by Climate Change disciples who load their children into SUV’s to go on unnecessary shopping trips to stores that sell superfluous items like battery operated cork screws. The irony of these things never seems to sink into the mind of Climate Change disciples, however. On the few occasions that I have been able to finish explaining that I restricted my carbon footprint long before they ever knew what a carbon footprint was, their anxiety actually seemed to escalate. The next message of salvation that typically flies out of their mouths is, “Not just us, the big corporations need to be stopped!”

The rationality of the above proclamation has always eluded me. I have many reasons why I think ‘big corporations’ are ‘bad’, but none of them are based on the state of our environment. The Climate Change disciple’s concept of ‘big corporations’ seems to be that of an alien entity that has landed on our planet to set up big carbon dioxide generating stations. There are no carbon dioxide generating stations being operated by aliens though; those stations are, in point of fact, factories that are run by consumer dollars.

Factories don’t produce goods for shipment to alien worlds; they produce goods to be purchased by human consumers. If you are a consumer of goods, then you are paying to have factories output carbon dioxide in exchange for the goods they produce. In this way, big corporations, in and of themselves, have no carbon footprint at all. This, however, is exactly where the religious aspect of the Climate Change movement is revealed. Rather than atoning for their own sins, Climate Change disciples seek absolution by nailing ‘big corporations’ to an imaginary cross. No climate change disciple that I have encountered to date has ever let me complete the vocalization of this blasphemy, however.

Some environmentalists have listened quite attentively to my thoughts on this matter, and for the most part they are very receptive. Typically our discussions develop into debates over the potential of reducing our carbon footprints by way of emerging technologies. I quite enjoy such discussions because they at least recognize the causes of Climate Change rather than declaring dogmatically that unquestioning belief is the solution. Only those who are willing to engage in such discussions can ever come to understand just how heavily the odds are stacked against us.


What is Reality?

A narrative essay by – Heather Spoonheim

Recently I have run into a string of theists who suggest that I am unable to perceive reality, or that my notion of reality is as much a fairy tale as I suggest theirs to be. These assertions are most aggressively made when I tell them that creationism and/or intelligent design are not scientific models and therefore do not belong in science classrooms. When I explain that science is based on observations of physical reality, observations that either of us can make for ourselves should either of us choose to pursue that avenue, they inevitably regress to the suggestion that I cannot even define physical reality. To this end, I’ve decided to take up that challenge.

Although reality would seem to be an objective, unequivocal truth, any attempt to conclusively define it quickly deteriorates into solipsism. One begins by trying to establish the certainty of one’s own existence by identifying with the thoughts that one perceives as arising in one’s own mind. From this definition of self (I think therefore I am) it becomes clear that there are perceptions that arise exclusively within the mind (thoughts) and perceptions that arise exclusively from without (senses). Continuing further, reality can be defined as an objective interpretation of that which can be perceived outside of the mind (sensed).

There seems to be no way of conclusively defining reality without acknowledging the role that one’s own senses, and therefore one’s own mind, play in determining that reality. In point of fact, one’s very notion of reality is nothing more than an internal model (thought) of that which has been externally perceived (sensed). To make matters even more complicated, there exists the possibility that the very notion of reality is nothing more than a dream, that it has all been generated internally (thought).

If, in fact, the physical reality of which I have a notion is nothing more than a dream generated by my own mind, then I am the god of that reality: I have created it; I can manipulate it to my own will, without limit; nothing occurs within it that isn’t the product of my own will; and I am the only facet of it that will continue to exist when I have ceased to dream of it.

If, in fact, the physical reality of which I have a notion is nothing more than a dream generated not by my own mind, then I am deceived. If my thoughts are even my own, which is questionable, then the senses that I have do not reveal anything other than that which the deceiver wishes me to perceive. Such a deceiver, therefore, is determining my notion of reality and therefore corralling my notions thereof. Under such circumstance I am unable to conceive of such a deceiver by any definition other than that of a malevolent trickster, a demon.

Finally, if in fact the physical reality of which I have a notion is not a dream, that is to say that it exists independent of my notions of it, then it is something which I can only come to know through my own senses. To this end, other people whom I encounter have their own minds, independent of my own, and they too have the ability to sense the same physical world of which I am a part. Furthermore, it is possible for us to compare what we have sensed to determine whether or not our models of reality match; that is to say that we can actually exchange thoughts about the nature of the reality which we have independently sensed.

Physical senses can often be deceiving though. I might perceive that there is a bat hanging in a tree only to later realize that it was a shadow. For this reason, determination of reality requires extensive investigation. The most powerful tool we have in determining physical reality is the model of collaborative investigation put forward by science. One need not be a scientist to benefit from the model it puts forth though.

For instance, to determine the amount of money taken in at a restaurant, several people act independently to count that money at different stages. Each server counts the money they have taken in and makes a note of that amount. The head server collects all their money and counts it, as well as calculating the sum of the values entered in their notes. The accountant makes another count of that money and the money is counted yet again at the bank. If, at any given point, the amounts counted and noted by different people do not add up, the discrepancy is not adequately explained away by simply declaring that one person or the other has a different perception of reality.

If the owner of the restaurant finds that the revenues are not to his liking he may have the thought that a thief exists. Simply thinking that the thief exists does not give rise to the existence of the thief, however. The determination of whether or not a thief exists requires an investigation, an audit of the paper trail and perhaps surveillance of the staff. If the investigation fails to prove the existence of the thief then a rational owner would have to at least entertain the notion that no such thief exists. He may cling to the notion that a thief exists simply because he does not find the revenues appealing, but that notion is not well grounded in reality.

Having such notions does not make a person less of a human being; on the contrary, I suggest that such notions are very much a part of what it means to be human. To be a rational human, however, one must accept that notions of reality do not always reflect reality and that there is in fact an objective reality to be investigated. It is this objective reality that I define as reality. It is the investigation of this reality that I call science, and it must, for the sake of rationality, remain unpolluted by notions that are not founded upon physical evidence. The notion that there is a god of some sort manipulating or propagating our reality is one that is not, and by most definitions of god cannot be, supported by the evidence and therefore it must remain outside the science classrooms of our children.

I realize that creationists and proponents of intelligent design feel that their notions of god are being discredited by objective investigations of reality, but like the aforementioned restaurant owner they should at least entertain the notion that no such god exists. It is important that young scientists learn what it means to investigate physical reality and follow the evidence as it becomes uncovered. If there truly is a god then physical evidence for that god will eventually be discovered or else god is a deceiver, a malevolent trickster – a demon, and therefore no god at all.

Objective investigation of physical reality shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that prayer does not have the efficacy of medicine, surgery, engineering, or even sound investment strategy. Objective investigation of physical reality has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt the fallacy of the cosmological model, deluge mythology, historicity, and even some animal husbandry practices of several passages of religious scripture. Objective investigation of physical reality has revealed no evidence whatsoever that supports the notion of a god.

I acknowledge that reality is not easily defined and my own attempt at it may fall short in the opinion of many. I have, however, at least made a sincere attempt to define it and to question my own perception of it. The only answers I can arrive at are that I am god, I am deceived by a demon, or that there are no gods or demons. The last of those three answers surely seems the most reasonable and rational. If my definition and/or conclusions fall short, then I leave the ball in your court and ask: What is reality?


Philosophy is Alive and Well!

A narrative essay by – Heather Spoonheim

In The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking and fellow physicist/co-author Leonard Mlodinow declare that philosophy is dead because it has not kept up with modern developments in science. Ironically, they then proceed to outlay a philosophical proof of their audacious claim. It seems, for the most part, that they feel quantum physics has developed sufficiently to warrant the putting to bed of metaphysics. To this end I would agree, although I have very strong atheistic views that I have yet to defend ubiquitously against philosophical arguments.

I would like to assert here, philosophically, that philosophy is certainly not dead but that it is, rather, alive and well – and perhaps more vital than ever. Science is certainly an essential tool for acquiring knowledge, although an understanding of what exactly constitutes knowledge remains firmly rooted in the realm of epistemology – a branch of philosophy, not science. For most people, including me, epistemology may often seem like a bunch of fart-sniffing navel gazing, but even I cannot refute the necessity of at least a cursory ponderance of epistemology in establishing a basis for evaluating one’s own beliefs.

The evaluation of one’s own beliefs must be a central tenet of any form of skepticism espousing itself to be free of hypocrisy. Such evaluations, and skepticism itself, rely on critical thinking skills that are firmly rooted in philosophy. Whether or not the skeptic embraces ontology, the skeptic’s demand for evidence relies on ontological evaluations of empiricism and rationalism as a basis for evaluating what constitutes evidence at all.

Indeed, in the absence of philosophy scientists become nothing more than technicians left unable even to determine what knowledge they should seek. Where science seeks answers, philosophy posed the question. Where science seeks truth, philosophy establishes our motivation for seeking in the first place. Where science establishes proof, philosophy finds meaning in that proof.

It is a scientific certainty that all of man’s folly will come to an end. Timespace is finite leaving entropy to erode all flesh and, with it, all knowledge. Nothing that man can learn will prevent our ultimate demise and so we must ask: what, if anything, can be gained by our intellectual pursuits? This very question and any answers to it are the very essence of philosophy, which, more than ever, is alive and well.


The Fallacy of the Ticking Time Bomb

A research essay by - Heather Spoonheim

Yesterday I started doing some research on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on America. It has always bothered me that reliable information about a man at the center of those attacks has remained so elusive: like the exact location and date of his birth, who his parents were, and what grade schools he attended - so I decided to start digging around for available source material on my own. Now I am not an historian and neither am I trained in the accompanying methodology so I must acknowledge, here and now, that my efforts are haphazard at best, and I’ve barely scratched the surface.

That being said, I’ve run across a connection in the data that I find rather interesting and for which I would like a second (third, forth, and fifth) opinion. I started preparing a timeline for the biography of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed(KSM) from this U.S. Department of Defense(DoD) document that I found archived by the New York Times. In it, the capture of KSM by the ISI of Pakistan is stated to be March 1, 2003 and clearly indicates that he was immediately transfered into U.S. custody [top of page 5]. The document then lays out arguments as to why KSM should remain in DoD detention, and in one of those arguments they assert [on page 10] that he was party to the Marriott Hotel Bombing in Jakarta as well as the Australian Embassy Bombing in Jakarta. Where this gets interesting is that those two bombings took place after KSM had been taken into custody; in that way, they are the perfect example of the ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario so often conjectured in an attempt to illustrate a justified application of torture.

The entries describing the bombing plot [page 10] indicate that three bombings were planned, with the first one being a Nightclub Bombing in Bali, five months before KSM was captured. KSM is even said to have paid out a sum of money in congratulations for that first bombing to a man named Hambali. I went digging a little further and found that the New York Times also archived some Justice Department memos that reveal KSM actually gave up Hambali after being tortured [page 94, DoJ memo], but that still didn’t result in actionable intelligence capable of preventing the last two bombings. Hambali was captured in October 2003 , a couple of months after the Marriott Hotel Bombing - too late - and even then they couldn’t develop actionable intelligence to stop the final bombing. So here we have a real life example of torture failing to diffuse two very real ticking time bombs.

The information doesn’t end there, however. In the first document, from the DoD, KSM is said to have claimed there was another attack planned on the U.S. in which a commercial airplane would be hijacked and flown into the tallest building in California. This attack obviously didn’t occur, but President George W. Bush actually cited the information extracted from KSM as having allowed his administration to foil the plot; he didn’t, however, provide any mug shots or court documents to suggest anyone had ever been arrested or convicted in that plot. It seems that KSM may have just fabricated the plot to appease his torturers. In this case the ticking time bomb scenario became inverted as President Bush tried to justify torture that he had already committed by fabricating a bomb that he knew did not exist. What’s worse, although his bomb was imaginary, the torture most decidedly, was NOT.

So the next time someone asks you if torture might be justified by some imaginary ticking time bomb that can only be stopped by water-boarding a known terrorist - just say ‘NO’, and point them to the miscarriage of justice carried out by the Bush administration that failed to keep anyone safe and which served only to cause more suffering than it could ever hope to prevent.


An Argument Against ‘G’

An essay by – Heather Spoonheim

The habitual capitalization of the word ‘god’ is evidence of one of the most insidious mind-games ever perpetrated by the cult of Yahweh. To understand why, one must first understand that language, as a social construct, is recursive. That is to say that in as much as language is a construct of society, society itself is a construct of language. As an example, consider how the evolution of civilization has been shaped by the concept of democracy while, over the same period, the evolution of the concept of democracy has been shaped by civilization. The modern concept of democracy has greatly diverged from that of Plato, yet his dissertations on the concept have had as much influence the evolution of society as the evolution of society has had on the concept itself.

The same can be said of the habitual capitalization of the word ‘god’. In practice, secular society habitually capitalizes the word ‘god’ when the word is used in reference to the concept of a singular, supreme being. Even my damn word processor is suggesting that I capitalize ‘supreme being’ in the last sentence. The young developing minds of the greatest writers of the next generation are being indoctrinated to this construct before they are even able to grasp its fallacy.

The only rational argument on behalf of the existence of gods is that man has consistently been, and will likely always be, able to refashion a definition for the god-concept that that escapes falsification. This argument applies equally to any pantheon of gods that mankind might want to imagine and therefore firmly establishes the fallacy of any and all single god conceptualizations. Not only is every concept of a single god invalid but also, by definition, self-refuting. Propagating the social construct of capitalizing the word god is, by extension, a propagation of this fallacy, a corruption of reason, and a tool of cult indoctrination directed against young impressionable minds.

Furthermore, the officially recognized rules of grammar do not actually specify capitalization of the word god for all uses that imply a singular, supreme being. Officially, the word is only to be capitalized when used in reference to Yahweh, and that is absolutely repugnant to the concept of secular society. Not only is the word god supposed to be capitalized only when it refers to Yahweh, but also the pronouns ‘he’, ‘his’ and ‘him’ when used in reference to Yahweh. This is much different than the capitalization of the proper name ‘Yahweh’ itself because that rule is equally and generically applied to all mythological and fictional beings. The other rules, however, constitute nothing other than a mandated cultural bias towards the cult of Yahweh, and serve to corrupt the very nature of our thoughts.

Interestingly, many cults of Yahweh have a prohibition against vocalizing his name. This doctrine was likely born out of an instinct for survival after the siege of Jerusalem, but it has become a social construct that is no less annoying than when it was employed as a literary tool in the Harry Potter series. In both cases, however, it proved to be very efficient in evoking a sense of mystery in adolescent minds. To those indoctrinated to the cult of Yahweh, this adds a layer of mystery that amplifies the superstitions that the cult holds regarding any investigation into the origins of Yahweh.

Our society has been tricked into pandering to the delusions of the Yahweh cult by allowing them to write their very own deity into our language. This construct obfuscates the difference between the mythological Yahweh and our social construct of the god-concept itself. The Yahweh cult should be, for the sake of intellectual honestly, required to name their mythological deity before any rational conversation of the mythology takes place. By engaging them in conversations about ‘god’ without requiring that explicit declaration, we only facilitate the isolation of their mighty Yahweh from his roots in the polytheistic Semitic pantheon.

It may still be argued that there is some abstract virtue in recognizing, through capitalization, the reverence with which monotheists regard the single god concept, but I suggest that such recognition is not virtuous at all and serves only to reinforce their delusions. Although direct confrontation of an individual’s delusions may only exacerbate the underlying emotional turmoil that spawned them, it might be considered equally cruel to actually engage their delusions by assuming the context of their reality. Eliminating the habitual capitalization of the word god is a powerful, yet subtle way of reducing the reinforcement of the god delusion.

I have been an affirmed Atheist for 18 years and it has taken me all of that time to recognize the depravity of this particular mind-game as perpetrated by the cult of Yahweh. I hope that this little rant will serve to help other Atheists recognize the value of finally adopting a truly secular set of capitalization practices. To show your support, I hope that you will not only adopt these rules in your own writing, but also consider taking up the practice of capitalizing the word Atheist when it is employed in any manner other than as an adjective.


The Bible is NOT Fiction

          All too often I hear fellow Atheists say, “Using the Bible as proof of God is like using a comic book as proof of Superman.” I always find this statement offensive because it shows a very malicious irreverence for a book that I greatly revere. I would like to encourage Atheists that are in the habit of using the above remark to consider saying, instead, “Using the Bible as proof of God is like using the Iliad as proof of the Greek Pantheon.”

          I ask for this rephrasing not only because of my personal reverence for the Bible, but because it is a much more accurate comparison. The Bible, like the Iliad, is an important historical document that opens a window into the minds of antiquity. When I use the phrase, “historical document”, please do not falsely infer that I am implying that the bible accurately documents historical events by modern standards; I am simply stating that the Bible is a document of ancient origin which provides us with an invaluable glimpse into history. This glimpse offers astounding insight into the development of a mythology that has shaped the western world and an understanding of the very processes that generated the myth itself.

          Comic books are entertaining and intended fictions that are known to be fictions by their contemporary readers. Comics are an integral part of contemporary society, and perhaps it might even be argued that they cast light on the way we view the world around us; it must be noted, however, that we have libraries full of literary works that reflect contemporary thought but access to the literature of antiquity is much more restricted and should therefore be much more highly regarded.

          The repugnancy with which many Atheists view the Bible is unwarranted and only ever rationalized by those who are unable to dissociate the document from the institutions that assert the mythology to be literal. If these same institutions had determined to assert the literality of The Iliad instead, The Iliad would now be the book of western Atheist scorn. From an historical perspective, however, both of these books are truly a treasure and both should be equally cherished.

          The Iliad mythologizes some ancient legends by documenting them in a very poetic form. The bible, on they other hand, not only mythologizes ancient legends, but then goes on to include roughly a millennium of reactions and extensions to that mythology. The bible is more than just a book; it’s a compact library of the works of authors whose lives spanned a thousand years. Few, if any, of the books in that library are works of fiction.

          Some of the earliest authors collaborated over centuries to produce a wonderful collection of legends that some early Semites used to imagine their origins back to the first human beings. While these legends in and of themselves are mostly fabricated, it is likely that many of them have seeds in actual events. Those that were purely imagined weren’t likely intended as fictions but rather as proposed explanations for the origins of man and his world.

          Some authors documented how early kings declared their lineages to tie directly into the earliest legends. This is not an uncommon practice in monarchies and there are monarchs today whose lineages do not stand up to much scrutiny. Such documentation is an astounding example of how far back this sort of practice goes.

          There are excellent examples of ancient prophecy that use prophetic language that humbles modern prophets. Good prophecy is not fiction at all, for it is a poetic reflection of the mindset of an age. Good prophecy promises justice in times of injustice, peace in times of war, and war in times of monotonous peace. A lot of truth about the present can be found in prophecy, just not in the future that the prophecy predicts.

          There are books of law, colourful descriptions of battles, and early observations of nature that are all painted in the context of supernatural beings interacting directly with the physical realm. This supernatural context is not added as a tool of fiction but represents, in fact, the way in which Bronze Age authors viewed the world around them. To this very day we paint our narratives of war as battles between good and evil, although nowadays we more frequently use the terms freedom and fascism. Acts of nature still fill us and our descriptions with supernatural imagery.

          My point is that we would all be rather insulted if the sum body of all of our writings were viewed in a thousand years as amounting to nothing more than pulp fiction. The literature of an age reflects its zeitgeist. Reexamination of history often shows us just how much colour was added by our grandparents and reveals details that they could have never imagined. I can’t imagine how my grandfathers would have felt had they lived to learn the true nuclear capabilities of the Soviets.

          The bible is much more than fiction. It ties all the hallmarks of good mythology together with historical events as they were known and understood at the time. It reflects the way in which Judaism defined itself and its pride. It illustrates the elation and the horror with which a culture might greet the fulfillment of one of its most hallowed prophecies. It tangibly illustrates the passion with which mankind seeks to escape his own mortality. So compelling is its promise of eternal life and happiness that it has been able to inspire or absolve all of the atrocities ever committed by those who knew it.

          So elastic is this mythology that it can be simultaneously inclusive and exclusive. It can be reshaped to provide absolution to anyone and eternal damnation to everyone else. It can even continue to shape minds that have become fully cognizant of the myth so that they will persist in clinging to the central notion that there is a god and a purpose behind everything. In consideration of all of this I resubmit that this astounding Bronze Age library of mythology blended with history deserves more reverence than a comic book.


The American Civil War: A Closer Look

          Most of what the average person knows about history consists of a series of very superficial headlines. With each passing decade I find myself less placated by these headlines and more motivated to dig for the ‘real truth’. Each time I do, I find that there is a larger canvas to be viewed, deeper issues to be considered, and a much greater understanding to be gained about the world we live in today. This short article is the result of my investigation into the American Civil War and the expanded view I now have of it.

          The very existence of slavery in the United States, a nation founded on principles of equality and liberty, is perplexing to say the least. On the other hand, the founding fathers didn’t extend equality and liberty to women either. In a world embroiled in aggressive economic imperialism and colonial exploitation though, there was simply no precedent for universal equality. Securing such a prize, if only for Caucasian men, was a monumental undertaking in and of itself at the time. 

          All of the founding fathers expressed at least some distaste for slavery and most of them found it abhorrent. Ironically though, most of them also owned slaves. As would eventually be proven though, a rapidly emancipated slave population would require a great deal of social adjustment. They likely chose the most stable course of action by first establishing their nation and then trying to end slavery through legislative compromises. Unfortunately they could never have foreseen the calamity this would cause, and how caustic a test it would become for their fledgling nation.

          Overtime, slavery was abolished in the northern states but not in the southern states. The reasons for the disparity go far beyond what I am prepared to discuss here, but were initially, to some degree, rooted in the differences between industrial and agricultural economies and would eventually be firmly rooted in these economic differences.

          With some states being ‘free states’ and others being ‘slave states’, social tensions began to rise. In particular, there was a collection of legal paradoxes created in a nation where slavery represented a property right in one state and a crime in another. If a slave could run across the border into a free state, did he cease to be property? Would pursuing him and dragging him back be a prosecutable kidnapping? Would assisting him constitute theft, or perhaps destruction of property?

          The United States was founded as a confederation of member states that were not only self governing, but also bound to a national congress where they could maintain some homogenous principles. One by one, various legal paradoxes were encountered, and one by one they were answered with less than appeasing compromises. Social tensions grew further and the national congress grew more divided.

          One of the greatest catalysts of unrest was western expansion. In the first place, some had to question whether or not western expansion might not represent some form of economic imperialism; an ideology that was very distasteful to those who had fought to escape its grip. Others saw it in the more classical sense of imperial expansion, the virtuous spread of civilization, even manifest destiny. No one seemed interested in consulting with the American Indian population on the matter.

          In terms of slavery, western expansion raised the issue of whether or not newly created states would be free states or slave states. For northerners, it seemed logical to contain slavery to the states where it already existed and ensure that all new states would establish free soil worked by free men. Southerners argued that such restrictions were undemocratic and that new states should decide the matter for themselves – democratic sovereignty. At one point it was even suggested that an imaginary line be drawn from east to west, establishing a northern border to slavery.

          In the midst of all this turmoil, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin – a device that exponentially increased the volume of raw cotton that could be processed. The huge tracts of land available in the new southern states were suddenly transformed into veritable gold mines that required huge labour inputs. A new economic frenzy of slave trading ensued, creating a stronger drive than ever to expand slavery. To make matters worse, these new and profound labour requirements increased the mistreatment of slaves to levels of depravity never before witnessed.

          Slavery came to represent something far more pressing to the average American than moral repugnancy; it came to represent the balance of power. Each new state gained representation in the national congress and it seemed that if free states couldn’t be added as fast as slave states then the captains of slavery would in fact gain control of the nation itself. Even worse, many prominent politicians began to believe that the slave states were using their wealth to influence the bureaucracy of the government itself. Prominent judges were suspected of having southern sympathies. The White House administration was eyed with mistrust. Northern politicians who continued to engage in compromise with the South were called ‘dough faces’.

          This subversion of the very system of government itself became known as the Slave Power Conspiracy. Before becoming president himself, Abraham Lincoln openly declared that he felt President James Buchanan and his predecessor Franklin Pierce to part of a plot to nationalize slavery. It was this fear of corruption far more than any concern for the enslaved Negro that ultimately provided the impetus for tearing the country in two and setting it to war against itself.

          The civil war succeeded in freeing the slaves but that freedom must have been rather bitter in a nation that was far less than eager to accept them as equals. Perhaps Lincoln would have done more to establish civil rights, but he was assassinated and his successor, Andrew Johnson, vetoed all civil rights bills that crossed his desk. It would take another hundred years to see ground breaking progress on behalf of African American civil rights.

          The immediate impact of the civil war, however, was very profound to the shape that the nation would take from then on. The national congress was no longer a place for placating member states with compromises. American federalism was established and there was no turning back. The stage was set for various interest groups to bypass state interests and press their own interests at a federal level. The precedent for infiltrating the bureaucracy had been set, and the example was no doubt an inspiration for a host of future influential institutions.

          Although the context for the Civil War cannot be framed without slavery at its center, the factors leading up to it, and the ramifications resulting from it, have far wider reaching implications.


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