Cancel culture and Donatism

Mount Rushmore - Photo by Ronda Darby
Photo by Ronda Darby || CC0

Nuance is sorely needed!

Just using the term nuance is an admission that some things, many things, most things, perhaps, are not simple. Many things are complex, even very complex. Using the term nuance here is my way of opening an exploration of one factor in the difficulty regarding the many extraordinary problems we’re facing right now. So, a major problem is the lack of much of our present media and information systems to effectively, fairly present complexity. “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate,” that is, much if any appreciation of nuance.

The presidential administration’s media-information system is a proud example. For instance, last week President Trump’s blowing the celebratory trumpet regarding the latest job creation report lacked any nuance. Trump claims the jobs numbers are a leading indicator in the “record-breaking, greatest-ever economic recovery” that he claims is already underway. It sounds great, adding over four and a half million jobs. That is, “it sounds great” until we factor in some of the complexity. And, we recall that thirty-one million Americans are still unemployed. Nuance is something the administration’s message is completely failing to appreciate or present.

Missing the complexity


Back to work Covid-19 - Photo by Tom Barrett
Photo by Tom Barrett || CC0

So, it turns out that the ‘over four and a half million new jobs’ are generally in the sectors of the economy that are most likely to be vulnerable to Covid-19 and to creating its community spread.  That’s correct. Because of the mishandling of the pandemic, the job creation we’re seeing now may actually turn out to be a poison pill to the economic recovery. This may all occur because the ‘Opening Up America Again’ plan lacked any real nuance, and the administration’s execution of that plan even less so.

A very big problem is that nuance requires careful reasoning, good communication, and is not easy to articulate in an anxious, emotional social/political/cultural context.


communication - Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado
Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado  || CC0

This week

This week I’ve been contemplating and having conversations about a couple of pressing issues in the current-events sphere right now. I’ll briefly share some of what I’ve been contemplating with regard to these two problems—e.g., monuments and vaccines.


Southern trees bearin’ strange fruit. Blood on the leaves, and blood at the roots. Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze. Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees.

Reality warning! Very powerful (and difficult) images integrated into this music video:




What a mess.

Most of the statues and monuments to the confederacy were not constructed at, or even proximate to, the time of the civil war. The vast majority of these monuments and statues were built in the first half of the twentieth century. They came after the fact of the war as a manifestation of ‘The Lost Cause’ (Atlantic article, “The Lost Cause’s Long Legacy“), and were created as a part of reinforcing the oppressive intimidation of the Jim Crow era. To a people who were under the thumb of oppressive racial segregation, along with lynching, these statuary tributes and honorific monuments made to those who had committed treason and fought a war to keep them enslaved, appeared as terroristic representations of White power.

What a complex mess. 


Confederate Memorial Carving || Stone Mountain Park || Georgia

In 1923, Gutzon Borglum began the work at Stone Mountain (near Atlanta, GA) on the Confederate Memorial Carving. Due to a conflict with management, he only stayed through the completion of General Lee’s head (January, 1924). The Stone Mountain carving was finally fully completed in 1974. Borglum is better known for being the designer/sculptor of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota—construction began there in 1927, and was completed in 1941.

Regarding monuments honoring “Confederate heroes,” it’s very difficult to imagine any such thing actually still existing—much less that there are some people who feel there is an actual debate to be had about their appropriateness. No. Confederate monuments are not at all appropriate outside an explicitly educational context such as a museum, or museum park.

The “Confederate Memorial Carving” pictured above is one of many artifacts of “The Lost Cause.” As though, if there are actual expressions of the revisionist history of The Lost Cause evident in the land, then the story is advanced and its veracity enhanced.

Stone Mountain is owned by the state of Georgia. The nuance here? The survivability of Stone Mountain will depend on it’s ability to reinvent itself as a destination whose mission is to help overturn and dismantle our system of White supremacy. It will take visionary leadership and difficult legislation to transform this legacy of hatred into a tool for the undoing of hate. Nuance? Thankfully, the money to be made on this kind of thing now is in undoing it, not sustaining it—(for example, see WaPo story: Tribal leaders, politicians: Redskins’ review of name is step toward NFL being on ‘right side of history.’). See:



Across the country many statues and monuments are being taken down by angry protesters. While this may appear simple, e.g., some would reduce it to: “lawbreakers,” it is a very nuanced problem. So, many feel that the ‘confederate monuments’ need to come down without any further delay. However, nuance wonders, what about Union leaders who owned slaves? What about founding fathers such as Washington, Jefferson, and the like, who were slave owners, too? The Original Sin of America is slavery, should all the statues of slave-owners, regardless of who they were, come down?

Cancel culture?

The idea of a “cancel culture” is really not a new one. Part of this “monuments” problem (the “founding fathers” monuments part) strikes me as a rhyming echo of the Donatist controversy from Christian history. That fourth to sixth century controversy involved a question over the efficacy of religious authorities who had fallen from grace. Were all the baptisms officiated under the authority of a bishop later caught in disqualifying unrighteousness then nullified? How about priests, must they be faultless to have any efficacy? If we “cancel” the bishop, is our baptism canceled, too? In our present case, do the sins of the founders (e.g., owning slaves) disqualify the fruit of their hands? So, if we cancel the founding fathers, does that mean we must also cancel and nullify our founding documents—the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution? I bet Donatism felt a lot like this situation does. Donatist cancel culture was ultimately declared a heresy, by the way.

More complexity?

So far, we’ve barely scratched the surface of the complexity involved in U.S. monuments. We’ve only briefly considered monuments in relation to the issue of slavery and slave ownership (of both Union and Confederate figures). It gets more complex and, sadly, much worse.


First Peoples - Photo by Maher El Aridi
Photo by Maher El Aridi || CC0

If we open our eyes, minds, hearts, and arms a bit more fully to embrace, include, and celebrate American First Peoples, then we become aware of the contradictions inherent in monuments that honor heroes of white European colonialism (Columbus, founding fathers, et al.). From the standpoint of many First Peoples, Mount Rushmore is an edifice of nothing less than cultural terrorism and genocide. The Black Hills, site of Mount Rushmore, had been protected land by the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868).* The Black Hills is sacred land to the area’s indigenous Sioux peoples (Dakota, Lakota, Nakota), and Arapaho peoples. When gold was discovered there (1877), the U.S. reneged on the treaty with First Peoples regarding the Black Hills. It’s ironic that our reneging because of the gold also allowed Mount Rushmore to be built as a sort of Uncle Sam middle finger flipped at First Peoples. You see, it’s a matter of perspective. (see PBS American Experience article: Native Americans and Mount Rushmore)

*—The treaty formed the basis of the 1980 Supreme Court case, United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, in which the court ruled that tribal lands covered under the treaty had been taken illegally by the US government, and the tribe was owed compensation plus interest. As of 2018 this amounted to more than $1 billion (a joke amount). The Sioux have refused the payment as they maintain that the land is theirs by sovereign right, and they aren’t interested in selling it.


vaccines - Photo by Morning Brew
Photo by Morning Brew || CC0


Only space for a paragraph or two on this. So, I’m going to approach the (Covid-19) vaccine issue by saying: “masks” are a Green [FS] values strategy (see Masks: a shibboleth). That is, I express my personal humanity by faithfully participating in community. By wearing a mask and protecting each other from our own germs: we protect our neighbor,  our entire community, and ourselves, at the same time. The trick to this is that the effectiveness of this strategy is almost completely dependent upon some very widespread participation.

So, vaccines are also a Green [FS] values strategy. It only works if most everyone participates. If masks have had difficulty getting the universal participation needed for effectiveness, vaccines will likely have more difficulty. The reason for even more resistance to vaccines is that there is already a legacy intramural tournament within Green (accompanying an inter-level tournament between FS and Orange [ER]) regarding vaccines, e.g., anti-vaxxers.

[this post approx. 1,550 words (~7 min. read)]

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

Note: I know, trying to introduce a big-picture idea like Spiral Dynamics (a complex developmental anthropology) in this format is ambitious. So, I’m using a serial-approach. Blog introduction (June 30, 2018). First in series (July 1, 2018).


SD Worldview Color Key


Mount Rushmore - Photo by Ronda Darby

One thought on “Cancel culture and Donatism

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