There was a time when our celebrities didn’t feel like they had to join the madding crowds and rush to topple the latest offender of today’s delicately framed sense of self. Once upon a time artists painted and sang about what they saw, not what they wanted to see. But that was before the culture wars.
In 1969, The Band recorded their classic hit, ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and it is impossible to imagine a modern rock group having the courage to write anything even vaguely as challenging today. Robbie Robertson wrote the song from the view of a defeated Confederate soldier and it is as honest as it is sympathetic to the men of the South.
Nowhere does the song try to force a simplistic faux-moral stance. The protagonist is not bad for being a man, nobody bemoans a hidden patriarchy and the myth of white privilege doesn’t hijack the narrative,
The son of a poor white farmer singing about the death of his older brother is allowed to be sad. The end of their way of life is allowed to be lamented.
Rather than using today’s crude methods of tearing down any memories of the past, Robertson and his bandmates gave us the opportunity to reflect on them. In doing so we, the listeners, can attempt to both understand and engage with viewpoints that may be different to our own.
Without the cancer of cancel culture, history can be a gift and in tracing our steps we can find some humility in our own selves. It is important to remember that we stand on the shoulders of giants, not angels. We were not lifted up here in perfection but rather navigated blindly across troubled waters.
The West’s great victory is not in how we got here, but that we got here. The hero of Robertson’s song, although he lived in a society that had yet to understand the true value of equality of opportunity, was a good man. That he was not perfect is irrelevant.
To be woke is to disregard goodness in the absence of perfection. To be woke is to pretend we are better than our predecessors. Wokeness assumes that those who went before us were contained by smaller horizons.
A more ignorant and ignoble world view is difficult to imagine.
The night they drove old dixie down something of value was lost. This statement holds true even if something of greater value was found. By uniting the states, America’s Civil War put the country on a path to greatness and all of western civilisation has benefited from that.
America’s greatness was set in the immediate aftermath of its Civil War when the victorious northern states declined the opportunity to execute the leaders of the defeated south. Rather than cancel a way of life, as today’s protestors demand, the United States of America saw the goodness in troubled men and sought to bring it out of them.
Courage in art is not the ability to ride the wave but to be thrown by it and recount the ordeal with cutting honesty.
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