And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountain of waters; and the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter. Revelations 8:10-11
Having concluded some affairs in nearby Bristol, I drove to Asheville, there to observe the desecration of the century-old memorial to Zebulon Vance, governor of North Carolina during the War of Northern Aggression. Asheville, known to some as the “Paris of the South” is one of the few cities in the South with global name-recognition. Once, stuck in an elevator between floors eight and nine of Mumbai office tower, I struck up a conversation with a fellow sufferer, a Dutchman from The Hague. He and his partner were planning a summer “trek,” he said, there to sample the craft beers (Asheville has more breweries per capita than any other U.S. city). What could I please recommend?
Alas, I was unable to illuminate my Dutch friend. I’ve passed through Asheville any number of times, but never surrendered to its charms, as did the robber baron Vanderbilts, who there threw up the Biltmore, a counterfeit French chateau and “America’s Largest Home ™.” (“No other residence in America offers a more authentic and inspiring view of Gilded Age life,” the website breathlessly proclaims; tickets are $96 for the “Enhanced Experience” and $304 for the “Executive Experience.” That extra $208 lets you inspect the servant quarters.) Tourism (the minor league baseball team is called the Tourists) has been the lifeblood of Asheville since at least 1880, when the railroads came through, providing urbanites with a means of trading the "dark Satanic mills” of the then-industrial North for the clean air of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Those weekends have stretched into lifetimes over the last decades. The population has exploded some 25% since 2000, driven largely by a uniquely American type. Asheville is the “Fourth Most Hipster City “ in America, according to a web site called Thrillist, “where you’re likely taking a long hike in the mountains to ‘find yourself’ or sitting on your front porch in a handmade rocking chair you whittled while watching Girls on your iPad.” “Delicious local craft suds” and “Asheville’s solid beer scene” are also celebrated. What goes unmentioned is the horrible highway system. Each road in, around and through Asheville carries three to five numerical and two to three directional designations. Perhaps the intention is to force the passer-through into one of Asheville’s more than 100 hotels and relieve stress with a growler of hoppy IPA.
So I didn’t make it to Park Square, where at the time of writing the disassembled monument rests on pallets, an appeals court having ordered the city to cease its desecration. And realizing that a fresh gut of loathing toward the American system was not the best companion for a long drive through the backroads of the Deep South to Louisiana, I pulled into a fairground to get my bearings.
There were booths selling artisan jewelry, craft pickles, hand-dipped candles, gluten-free, dairy-free kosher/halal organic fudge, hand-thrown pottery, spirit catchers, wooden spoons. The Asheville Yoga Center, Asheville Community Yoga, West Asheville Yoga, Primal Studios and Namaste in Nature offered demonstrations and classes. The Bhrarami Brewing Co. poured suds, as did the Burial Beer Co., Catawba Brewing, Wedge Brewing and Wicked Weed Brewing. Black Lives Matter manifestos were available at a table overseen by a scowling critter (pronouns she/her, I think) with a Marine Corps haircut, Birkenstocks and a “Keep Asheville Weird” t-shirt beneath a pair of crisp overalls. Outside the fairway, an old farmer provided a demonstration of sheep shearing. I squeezed into a stereopticon of smart phones to observe.
The farmer, one of those bony, hard-muscled and bearded men who still define rural Appalachia, wore a sweat-stained Farm Credit ballcap, a Dickies short sleeve workshirt and worn workboots. He deployed double-bowed shears with practiced skill and answered questions, delivered by the videographers in characterless American newscaster English, in an accent thick with tobacco-bottoms and benchland cornfields. No, shearing did not hurt the sheep; no, the sheep did not die after shearing; yes, that pile of fleece is indeed wool; no, it has to be spin into yarn before it can be turned into your sweater; no, I do not personally knit; no, I can’t recommend the best local knitting workshop.
He lifted the sheep to his truck and pocketed his shears. The audience fled for the next sensation. He began bagging the fleece. I lingered. He looked at me wearily.
Do the questions all run that damn stupid? I said. Recognizing a fellow Southerner, he offered a wry half-smile.
Well, he said. He worked a plug of tobacco into his cheek. Well… he spat expertly into the print of a running shoe. Well, yes. They do.
What’s the dumbest? I said.
Well, he said. He spat again. Get a lot of people asking how long I been here. I tell them, Forever. They say, No, when did you move here; we’ve been here for ten years now. I tell them I didn’t move here, I was born here. My kids are seventh generation here. They still don’t get it. Still want to know when I moved here and where I came from. I finally tell them I came from England in 1628, but I didn't remember much of it. Had some woman tell me she was a native because she’s been here 17 years. Born in Massachusetts.
So where are they from? I asked.
He shrugged. Up North? Nowhere? I don’t know. They ain’t from here. Nobody here is from here any more.
I lived for many years in a place that I was not from: New York City, a neighborhood known for brownstone townhouses built as “country retreats” for Gilded Agers. Frederick Law Olmstead, who designed the Biltmore’s gardens, also authored a nearby municipal park. There were a lot of hipsters and 1968-vintage leftists. One childless couple – he a professor of education, she a social worker – owned the townhouse next to mine. They scowled when I told them I “did something in the bond market.” The professor, who in the evenings sat on his stoop sipping a craft beer from the neighborhood’s burgeoning array of craft beer retailers (police were once called to break up a fight over the difference between “winter” and “autumn” brews) always greeted me with “How much money did you make today?” in an exaggerated Southern accent. I answered him politely and, before he could escape, bored him senseless with the technical details of my day: triparty repo with the New York Fed, setting the spread for newly issued corporate debt with Treasury notes, arranging an MBS hedge with synthetic 5/10-year notes after an increase in prepay speeds. Eventually he came to tolerate me. I fed their aged cats and watered the marijuana plants in the upstairs bathroom when they split for weeks or months at their “country place” in, you guessed it, Asheville.
These expeditions were undertaken in a small Volvo sedan papered liberally with bumperstickers: COEXIST; YES WE CAN; OMG GOP WTF; WELL BEHAVED WOMEN RARELY MAKE HISTORY. My favorite was NO TEA PLEASE, I BELIEVE IN PROGRESS. This, of course, referenced the “Tea Party” movement that arose to bleat against Obama’s massive budgets in the first year of his presidency. It was quickly co-opted by the Republican Party and as quickly disappeared.
The bumpersticker amused in that it implied “Progress” is the sole proprietorship of the Democratic Party. Nothing could be further from the truth. Progress was the locomotive of the original Republican Party, forced down the nation’s throat and elevated to the status of an unassailable credo by the Republicans. It is implicit and more often than not explicit in the Jaffaite “propositional nation” twaddle that Republicans still desperately market despite its embarrassing failure out in the real world. The Democrats were late to the party, so to speak. Despite their former pretended concern for the urban proletariat, and current pretended concern for People of Color, the Democrats are as fanatical for Progress as the GOP. The only difference between the two is who gets robbed to pay for it.
So what is this Progress? Let us turn to Gold and Gold: Britain, America and the Making of the Modern World, authored by Walter Russell Mead and published in 2007. Mead, born in South Carolina, educated at Groton and Yale, is the “Global View Columnist” for the Wall Street Journal, Ravenel B. Curry III Distinguished Fellow in Strategy and Statesmanship at Hudson Institute and the James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College in New York. Mr. Mead once served the Council on Foreign Relations as its Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy.
God and Gold explores the “meaning” of American power, Mead says. If you’re expecting a sober, mediation on the march of history and the fate of empires, look elsewhere. It’s certainly not a piece of historical investigation. It’s the sort of thing that might appear in a Davos or Bilderberg gift bag. Let’s imagine, instead, that fuming from getting hopelessly lost where Highway 19/23/240/28/74 splits into 240/74 and 19/23/28 on the right bank of the French Broad River, you step into the Bhrarami Brewing Co., 101 South Lexington Avenue, Asheville, NC (“creative lead” Gary Sernack “started home brewing in San Francisco”; “founder/executive chef” Josh Dillard once slung the hash at Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago “and believes in community, locality and our environment”) to curse Asheville and your miserable fate. At the bar, a merry Falstaffian character, bearded and chunky, cheeks ruddy from five or more $6.00 pints of Your Zeros Look Like Sevens (Berliner Weisse with watermelon, cucumber, Meyer lemon, juniper and sea salt), strikes up a conversation. Is he going to bitch about the Tourists? No, your new friend Walter R. Mead – “call me Walt,” let’s pretend -- is going to unburden himself of Deep Profundities
The American system of “democratic capitalism,” old Walt commences, is nothing less than the “invisible hand” of Providence, steering the celestial locomotive of Progress along the tracks of History; Americans are the coal-stokers, blessed as they are with an “optimistic and abiding faith” that The United States is anointed by God to lead the backward-assed old earth “westward and upward.”
“Upward”? The world “is about to become a much better place,” your barroom buddy swears. A “higher standard of living,” less work, increased “comfort,” more disposable income to dispose on consumer goods. Westward? Unlike the British, who seemed primarily interested in making money and in their spare time exploring the Himalayas, compiling grammars of native languages, erecting buildings able to withstand the monsoon season and saving priceless antiquities from destruction, God anointed America with a “particular American twist that emphasizes the rise of freedom and equality.” Social change, Walt insists, is a “religious duty.”
“We must spread the principles that our higher power has vouchsafed to us,” Walt jabbers, poking you in the chest with one stubby finger. “We must empower and assist women abroad. The U.S. must ensure that women abroad have the right to family planning information and abortion on demand…” Now he’s pounding the bar; froth slops from his $6.00 pint of Tenome A Go Go (mixed culture rice farmhouse, lotus hops). “Our economists. . . spread the benefits of Anglo-American economies. . . Our military . . . professionalize and upgrade the militaries of other countries . . . The New Zion of the American university system is a light to the heathen all over the red states.”
As for those red staters – “devotees of tradition, partisans of various forms of cultural and identity politics” – Walt burps that their arguments “lack credibility in Western ears.” Those who resist the “invisible hand,” the “slow, sure and irresistible capitalist process” are “ghost dancers,” like the remnants of the once-mighty Sioux massacred by the U.S. Army at Wounded Knee. Don’t worry, old Walt assures you with a cunning wink and 80-proof chuckle. Change will come at a “slow and acceptable pace,” it will be “domesticated,” the “outlandish will become familiar before we must accept it.”
“The revolutionary transformation of the human condition by advancing technology is still in its early stages,” Walt babbles on, as though gaining a fresh head of steam by pounding a $6.00 pint of The Good Fight DDH Sour Pale Ale (hops: Cascade, Citra and Comet). “Hundreds of millions in China and India… faster and smarter computers… Tremendous surge in scientific discoveries…. Ever more flexible and deeper capital markets. . . more productive workforces . .. the cultures that dislike dynamic capitalism or are unable to manage it well will suffer even greater difficulties than they now face.”
The United States “wants a permanent revolution,” Mead roars. He’s starting to get belligerent; maybe it’s that $11.00 Pie Felicia cocktail (vodka, graham cracker, key lime, vanilla, coconut) brawling with the lotus hops down in his tummy. Josh and Gary peek out of the tap room; last thing they need is some souse ruining the environment for the craft beer tour group community. “There is no resting place, no final destination for this process,” Walt rages. “The real goal of Anglo-American civilization is to get the permanent revolution well and truly underway. We are launching a space ship, not building a rest home.”
Well, I don’t know, Walt. Maybe we ought cut that fire water with something? How about this Picked Egg; it’s only three bucks. Comes with hot sauce, orange marmalade, aioli, machismo -- whatever the hell that is – and a saltine cracker. How about it, buddy?
Not for Walt: “America will continue rushing forward!” he thunders. “However steep the slope or forbidding the terrain, bearing its banner with the strange device, Excelsior!”
At which the Ravenel B. Curry III Distinguished Fellow in Strategy and Statesmanship at Hudson Institute plants his face in the Cajun Spiced Boiled Peanuts ($6.00).
Gary and Josh demonstrate their concern for “our community”: bundle Walt into an Uber and dispatch it to the Omni Grove Park Inn (king bed, Cool Mountain Getaway Rate, $426/night). Let’s bid farewell to Bhramari’s staff of pierced and tatted hipsters and hit the streets of the Southern Paris, braving the banks of marijuana smoke, the shoals of threatening panhandlers, the tottering drunks and the brigades of buskers yodeling crappy Americana or, even worse, Bob Dylan. Asheville’s tribunes (the City Council, elected last year and seated in December, is “historic,” being all-female, an achievement attained “one hundred years after women earned the right to vote in America.” I’m sure old Walt’ll applaud once he tumbles from his $476 king bed and does something about that hangover; hair of the dog via room service, maybe) shared its own Deep Thoughts regarding the Vance memorial. Promulgated in February 2021, the PowerPoint can be found on the city’s web site.
The desecration project, we learn, began with “an inclusive community engagement plan focusing on those harmed and/or most negatively impacted by the Vance Monument.” Various electronic media – Facebook and Twitter -- were “established as a means for those most impacted, and other residents, to make sure their voices are heard.”
Should the monument be repurposed, to contribute to “community healing, assembly, unity, re-education, and become part of an African-American museum in Asheville”? No, spake the tribunes: this “may make some people unhappy,” and “fails to respond to the African-American and Black AVL Demands community calls for removal.” How about relocation? Absolutely not, the peoples’ representatives rule. That would “give weight to the power and control white people and the institutions they control have exerted over African Americans and other people of color.”
That leaves removal. Noting that the Buncombe County Health and Human Services Board has declared “racism a public health crisis,” the Paris of the South has no choice but to declare the monument a “risk to the health and safety of the community.”
“Removing the monument is an acknowledgement of our racist history and will allow our community the opportunity to move forward in unity,” the City prattles. “If the monument is left in its original form rather than completely removed or its materials not altered beyond recognition, it will continue to serve as a symbol of white supremacy to those most affected by its presence.”
And there’s this: “Our local economy relies on the millions of tourists who visit our community each year. If one goal of tourism officials and city and county government is to attract a diverse array of visitors, (and perhaps future residents), a monument to a Confederate general could turn away some, especially considering that population trends suggest the majority of Americans will be people of color within the next 50 years.”
Outside a Victor Davis Hanson essay, I do not think I’ve encountered so much flatulent stupidity in so small a word count. It almost seems ungentlemanly to break Asheville’s rainbow butterfly on the wheel of reaction, but as the Joker said, you get what you deserve.
Where do we begin? The memorial to a Confederate general certainly did not inhibit Mayor Esther Mannheimer, who is Jewish, relocating to Asheville from Denmark; nor Vice Mayor Sheneika Smith, Councilwoman Sandra Kilgore and Council Member Antanette Mosley (all black), from staying and, it would seem, thriving. As for “those most affected,” blacks make up about 12% of Asheville’s population. This compares to 55% in Natchez, Mississippi; 57% in Montgomery, Alabama; 61% in Monroe, Louisiana. This is not because white supremacist mountaineers undertook a campaign of terror with torches and white hoods, but because the topography of the Blue Ridge Mountains does not lend itself to cotton or sugar production. There is also the unremarked on fact that since 1865, the vast majority of Southerners, black and white, have been “equal” in their poverty.
In its simplest terms, the desecration reflects nothing more than the cynical need of the historic all-female Asheville City Council to Do Something Historic. What could be easier than align with the Democratic and Republican kakistrophy and destroy a monument to a man who refused to buy a ticket on the Republican choo-choo Upward and Westward? The historic all-female City Council cares not one whit for Vance; I’d bet cash money that a plurality would be unable to name the decade in the War for Southern Independence was fought. Desecration of a century-old monument is certainly easier that addressing Asheville’s out-of-control homeless, or the surging crime rate, or drunken drivers attempting to navigate the wretched highways.
But there is something more sinister than opportunistic posturing by vapid, amoral politicians and their childish hipster constituents. One can’t really fault Smith, Mosely and Kilgore – bashing whitey is a clear path to Facebook likes and Twitter retweets (and, as my farmer friend told me, in Asheville it was mostly egged on by the white people).
No, there’s something fundamentally evil here.
It is the destruction of a memorial built by Southerners to commemorate a Southerner that led us as we resisted the locomotive of Progress. It is the erasure of Southern memory, Southern past and the Southern people, the Scots-Irish pioneers who came to the Blue Ridge Mountains in the 17th century and carved Asheville out of the wilderness.
Asheville must be remade – altered beyond recognition, as the city itself put it – to make it as though we never were. There is a technical term for this: “oikophobia.” It is the ideology of the rootless, the hypermobile; it is associated with a hatred of tradition, of history, of people with traditions and history. This is why the Democrats hate the South and Southerners, and why the Republicans never miss a chance to throw the South and Southerners to the wolves. We stand in the way of the celestial railway. “What your critics find inexcusable is that you are celebrating your peoples’ past,” our great friend Paul Gottfried once told us, “which was a profoundly conservative one, based on family and community, and those who created and defended it.”
Perhaps there is an element of jealousy. For all their twaddle about “community,” theirs is fake, manufactured, non-organic, disposable, derived from spreadsheets, business plans and PowerPoints, nothing more than a grab bag of Frankfurt School for Dummies bullet points and fuzzy hipster bullshit that will vanish the minute enough of us get together and tell them to take their crap back to elsewhere. We Southerners have a land, a tradition, a people, a place, a patria that they do not have and will never have. At some level they know it. It violates their safe spaces.
But it is not just a Democratic thing. It is also a Republican thing. And as our old buddy Walt sermonized, it is the American thing. God said so! Permanent revolution, working ever upward and westward toward an Asheville continent, nay an Asheville planet, swarmed by rootless, hypermobile, cosmopolitan, atomized consumers consuming disposable consumables.
There is a technical term for these people: Americans.
Fyodor Dostoevsky, the greatest prophet of our dark and murderous age, regarded Progress with loathing. In The Idiot, his great comic character Lebedyev at a boozy dinner party offers himself as an interpreter of the Apocalypse. “The star that is called Wormwood,” the polluter of the springs of life, Lebedyev holds, is the network of railroads spread over Europe.
The railroads symbolize progress; they represent science, materialism, “social justice”; they hurry with “noise, clamor and haste” for the “happiness of humanity,” carrying bread to the starving. And in doing so, the railroads have polluted the springs of life. They are accursed, Lebedyev says.
“And dare to tell me that the `springs of life’ have not been weakened and muddied beneath the ‘star,’ beneath the network in which men are enmeshed,” Lebedyev roars. “And don’t try to frighten me with your prosperity, your wealth, the infrequency of famine, and the rapidity of the means of communication… there is no uniting idea; everything has grown softer, everything is limp, and everyone is limp! We’re all, all of us, grown limp. . .”
Americanism – the American idea of progress, this process without destination, this Permanent Revolution, this nihilistic fanaticism to alter everything beyond recognition, to reduce man to nothing but a unit of consumption, to make all men Americans – is the star that is called Wormwood. And it must be rejected.
“It is history that teaches us to hope,” General Robert E. Lee counseled us. And I am hopeful. Americanism is built on a foundation of sand, on lies about humanity, history and the ultimate purpose of life and the destiny of man. I believe that we are living in the last years of the disastrous American experiment. The springs of life can and will be cleansed and restored. That is the task before is. All that is required is an act incomprehensible to the American mind: remembering. Remembering who we are.
It’s high time we get to work.