I grew up in the 1950s in what author James W. Silver correctly called Mississippi: The Closed Society. Anyone who had the courage to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy of white supremacy and state enforced racial segregation was at risk of being labeled a “nigger-lover” which could lead to ridicule, harassment, loss of employment, violence, and even death. It was not a pretty sight.
The entire state was consumed by a racist ideology which adhered to a policy of zero tolerance for dissent whether it be in public schools, colleges, churches, or political organizations. To enforce racial segregation the State relied on demagogic governors such as Ross Barnett and “Little” Paul Johnson, not to mention the State Sovereignty Commission and The White Citizen Council.
Between 1969 and 1974 I was involved in launching the L.Q.C. Lamar Society, an organization committed to helping open the doors of the closed society in Mississippi and the rest of the South. The underlying premise of the Lamar Society was that it was high time for the South to get off of the race kick, come back into the Union, and start solving its own problems. Among its members were Jimmy Carter, six other liberal Southern governors, and prominent black politicians such as Julian Bond, Maynard Jackson, Vernon Jordan, John Lewis, and Andrew Young. Forty years later the South is a much more open society than it once was.
Between 1982 and 1991 I frequently visited the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, once considered to be the most closed societies of all-time. The visits were the result of the Soviets having illegally translated one of my books on computer based planning models into Russian in 1975.
Notwithstanding its reputation for political indoctrination, the dissemination of Communist propaganda, state controlled schools, a rigid planned economy, an inflexible government bureaucracy, a ruthless military tradition, and an oppressive police state mentality, I found the Soviet Union to be much more open and receptive to change than I could have ever imagined. Much more so than Mississippi was in the 50s.
In May 1982 I visited ten major Soviet research institutes in Moscow and interacted with over 250 Soviet economists, management scientists, and computer scientists. Most of them were using my book and state-of-the-art management science modeling techniques to evaluate the effects on the Soviet economy of introducing decentralized planning and marketing, flexible prices and wages, profits and incentives, and credit and banking. All of this, three years before Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev came to power.
Inspired by this experience and Gorbachev’s attempt to “open the closed society,” I became a self-appointed, nonpaid cheerleader for Gorbachev encouraging the Soviets to move towards a more open political system and a free market.
If one were to believe University of Vermont town meeting aficionado Frank Bryan, one would conclude that Vermont is an idyllic, democratic, independent-minded, tolerant, live-and-let-live sort of place with a strong sense of community. Unfortunately, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Vermont is considered by many to be the most left-wing state in America with two-thirds of its voters having supported Barack Obama in the 2008 election. The remaining one-third are staunchly neoconservative in their political outlook. Although Vermont neoliberals are less bellicose in their rhetoric than their neoconservative counterparts, they passively acquiesce to the neocon foreign policy agenda which includes full spectrum dominance, imperial overstretch, nuclear primacy, the right of pre-emptive first strike, and unconditional support for Israel.
Both neolibs and neocons are apologists for globalization and are steeped in the ideology that bigger, faster, and more high-tech make better. In their heart of hearts neolibs and neocons know that only the federal government can solve all of our problems, failing to realize that the federal government is the problem. They each embrace corporate socialism, socialism for the rich, and the social welfare state.
Both neolibs and neocons are authoritarian statists each with their own definition of political correctness. Politically correct neolibs are expected to be pro-abortion, pro-gay-lesbian, pro-affirmative action, pro-Israel, pro-gun control, anti-clerical, pro-big government, and pro-American Empire. Anyone who does not conform to this litany or who associates with those who do not, is at risk of being attacked by a left wing truth squad such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and accused of the likes of homophobia, racism, anti-semitism, religious fundamentalism, or even hate crimes. Politically correct neocons are more likely to be pro-life, anti-gay-lesbian, anti-affirmative action, pro-Israel, anti-gun control, pro-clerical, pro-big government, and pro-Empire. Both are vehemently opposed to secession.
Any mention of secession immediately invokes images of the Civil War, slavery, and charges of racism. Most Vermonters seem to be oblivious to the fact that the United States was born out of a secession from England in 1776. Just as white Southerners back in the 1950s were eager to refight the Civil War at the drop of a hat, so too are intolerant Vermonters sixty years later. Their level of ignorance about secession is almost beyond belief. Vermont neoliberals are even more rigid and inflexible in their thinking than their right wing neoconservative counterparts. Both sides are equally intolerant of criticisms of the American Empire – the largest, most powerful, most materialistic, most environmentally destructive, most racist, most militaristic, most violent empire of all-time.
Vermont’s political intolerance is epitomized by what happened to Vermont independence candidate Dennis Steele when he tried to ask a question at the gubernatorial debate in the Barre Labor Hall on April 1. For trying to ask how an independent Vermont might deal with the state’s $150 million deficit, Steele was dragged out of the Labor Hall by two policemen, handcuffed, arrested, taken to the police station, finger printed, photographed, and charged with disorderly conduct. All of this for suggesting that if Vermont were to become an independent republic, it would be relieved of its obligation to pay the federal government $1.5 billion per year for its prorata share of the defense budget. Just like back in the USSR or perhaps Mississippi in the 50s. A few weeks later local television anchor Gus Rosendale tried to smear Steele by linking him to a convicted sex offender and two unsavory political groups.
As further evidence that Vermont has become a closed society, political gadflies such as Sam Hemingway, Jane Lindholm, Bill McKibben, Shay Totten, and John Odum, routinely hurl frivolous charges of racism against the Second Vermont Republic. These undocumented charges are based on lies, half truths, and guilt by association. The smear tactics used by Vermont leftists to undermine the credibility of secessionists are virtually identical to those used by the White Citizen Council to smear integrationists in Mississippi in the 60s and by the KGB to discredit Russian dissidents in the 80s.
Even though the Second Vermont Republic has received an enormous amount of statewide, national, and international media attention over the past seven years, not one person from SVR has ever received an official invitation to speak at Middlebury College, UVM, or any of the Vermont State Colleges. Nowhere to be found in Vermont are any courses, seminars, or workshops on the possibility of Vermont independence. It’s as though the concept does not even exist. This is in stark contrast to colleges and universities in Mississippi back in the 50s and 60s where there would be an occasional lecture or discussion group on integration. Not so in Vermont. Secession is absolutely taboo in the academy. Vermont colleges and universities are totally committed to the American Empire and to the federal grants which are bestowed upon them.
No group is more loyal to the American Empire than are the Vermont clergy. Not one rabbi, priest, or minister has ever expressed any interest whatsoever in Vermont independence since SVR’s inception in 2003. Many a Vermont church still has an American flag in the sanctuary. There was a time when Vermont churches were among the most vocal and most active anti-war activists. Not so anymore. Today all of the so-called liberal churches have turned a blind eye towards the death and destruction wrought by the Empire. It’s as though the Empire itself has become their God.
And then there are Vermont attorneys. So afraid are they of losing a dollar of billable income that they won’t touch secession with a ten foot pole.
How much worse will our problems have to become before thoughtful Vermonters realize that our government has lost its moral authority and that our nation is unsustainable, ungovernable, and unfixable? Only then will they be open to the idea that secession is the only morally defensible option available to us.
Thomas H. Naylor
July 21, 2010