Cancel culture has us renaming birds now — evidently, so that people can feel "safe"

© 2020 Peter Free


23 July 2020



Can you relate to this?


From Slate:



Across the United States, people are pushing for the removal of Confederate officers’ names from buildings, schools, and army bases . . . in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police in May.


Something much smaller has also elicited debate over its Confederate name: McCown’s longspur, a bird that lives in the Great Plains and looks a bit like a sparrow. [See here.]


By memorializing someone who fought to defend slavery, the longspur’s name, some birders and scientists say, adds further barriers to inclusion in the world of bird researchers and enthusiasts—an overwhelmingly white community where people of color have repeatedly reported feeling ignored, excluded, and even deeply unsafe.


© 2020 Hannah Thomasy, Scientists Are Having a Reckoning Over a Bird Named for a Confederate General, Slate (23 July 2020)



Levels of ridiculousness


First and most obviously, bird people (like almost everybody else) learn names of critters by rote. This, so as to identify them in a commonly agreed fashion.


In most cases, people do not delve into the history of how the organism came to be named.  


Doing so would add unnecessary burdens of trivia to the main purpose of simply identifying and communicating what one is looking at.



Second, if we are going to take offense from the moral nature of whomever named things (over thousands of years of human history) — we are going to be renaming virtually everything already tagged with reference to historically identifiable people.


Morals and ethics change over time. Going out of ethical fashion is normal.


Therefore, if I take offense to General McCown's appellation on a sparrow-like critter —I am, in incontrovertible fact, exceedingly easily offended.


You can bet that most birders — whether white, black, red, yellow or brown — don't know that McCown was an American Confederate. And I would be surprised, if even the bulk of professional ornithologists know.


And even if they did, it is difficult to argue that knowing that McCown was a Confederate is the same as approving of (a) the Southern practice of slave-holding or (b) modern racism.



Third, these bird re-namers are arguably doing General McCown a partial injustice. He was not, evidently, a rabid supporter of the South.


Wikipedia says that:



McCown declared the Confederacy was nothing more than "a damned stinking cotton oligarchy... gotten up for the benefit of Isham G. Harris and Jefferson Davis and their damned corrupt cliques."


© 2020 Wikipedia, John P. McCown (visited 23 July 2020) (citing W. Todd Groce, Mountain Rebels: East Tennessee Confederates and the Civil War, 1860-1870, The University of Tennessee Press)



In those days, many Confederates were less prominently slavery-supporters, than they favored the Constitution's support of states' rights. Today's judgmental Americans forget non-slavery aspects of those years' political tenor.


This said, Native Americans may have a sounder criticism of McCown's lower-ranking participation in their extermination.



Fourth, McCown was an amateur ornithologist. He was, ostensibly, the first 'white' person to collect the bird that bears his name.


Indeed, during military service in Texas, McCown collected three new species.


That non-trivial accomplishment, anyone with paradigmatically inclined historical sense would probably agree, entitles him (arguably more than anyone else) to have his name associated with at least one of them.


In today's semantically contradictory terminology, was McCown a scholar warrior?



My point


If one is going to raise a stink about McCown's longspur, one is just looking for essentially meaningless offenses to get riled over.


One would be admirably wiser to tackle some real and more threatening racial, political and economic assaults on human dignity.


It is, however, less demanding to complain about names, than it is to do something actually useful with regard to:





jailed populations


self-destructive culture(s)




future-proof lacks of economic opportunity.



A larger perspective


For birders of any skin color, global warming threatens ornithological interests more than a long-dead Confederate's name.


And American incompetence with regard to COVID is similarly more threatening.


With regard to the entire world, the current American president's anti-China warmongering bodes significant ill.


Yet amid all this (and much more) — some namby-pamby folk are apparently using their life energy to rename an avian species, under circumstances that everybody else will commonsensically ignore.



The moral? — The United States is (today) about displaying levels of blazing incompetence and ridiculous irrelevances


This is what happens, when the avaricious wolves get loose in a society dominated by propagandized mush-brains.