A guy I went to high school with changed his profile picture to him holding a Confederate flag while standing out in the woods. It has been puzzling me ever since I saw it. Let me give the recent backstory of this guy (as I have been piecing together on Facebook):
- He has four children
- He spent several years posting bible quotations
- He also posted, during this same time, numerous declarations of his love for his wife
- He seemed to be unable to hold down a job (as evidenced by posts describing how his life was going to improve due to his new job)
- He recently lost his younger brother to heroin overdose
- Last week he posted he was in a relationship with a new woman
- One of his friends asked him if he was married under this post and he replied, “not for long”
- I looked at his status this morning and the previously described picture of him with the Confederate flag was posted
I am trying to square the circle: what does the Confederacy and the fight for the preservation of slavery it represents have to do with the struggles my friend is facing? It cannot represent a return to his geographical roots as he was born and bred in the same shitty mountain town in British Columbia as I was. The struggles of the American south were something he may have seen on TV or heard in Lynard Skynard songs, but they did not, at any time represent struggles we faced in the East Kootenay region of British Columbia.
The flag may represent his disavowal of his past. Perhaps the Christianity and family life fell under the flag of the USA and his abandonment of these are represented by the Rebel flag. But why? Attaching new meaning to an indefensible flag without an explanation leaves his Facebook friends thinking that he supports slavery.
Also of interest is the personal crisis that can lead an individual to make the sudden break with his family and embrace a rebellious lifestyle. This individual is an archetype for the disaffected white voter, one who could fit very well into Hannah Arendt’s definition of a political mob member. In the Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt calls the mob “…primarily a group in which the residue of all classes are represented”. And this is what my friend and those like him are: the residue of a working class that has been destroyed.
He grew up in a mining town like I did. His father, like my own, worked in the mine. Had the mine not closed, he too would have worked in the mine. With the closing of the lead and zinc mine, however, he lost the opportunity to perform the only job he had been bred to do. He was raised in a mining culture and when there was no mine to go to, he had nowhere to go. Yes, many people of my generation, the last to be familiar with a working mine in the town, have been able to transform ourselves into something else. Many have entered the Alberta oilfields, others have found work in the open-pit coal mines of the Elk Valley. There are some of us, those of us like my friend with his confederate flag, who have not been able to leave the working mine town behind us.
What does someone like my friend do? My friend has bounced around from odd job to odd job throughout the East Kootenay region, going as far as Creston. He has never been able to make anything stick. He has had some luck in construction jobs, but building activity is limited by both slight economic growth and cold weather.
He can’t pass a piss test.
He didn’t finish high school.
And a year ago he lost his only brother to a heroin overdose.
Now he lives in a shack at the end of a dirt road. The only thing he has to show for himself is a Confederate flag.