Life is a Book That We Study…

October 25, 2010

My mother (born early 1940s) told me that she sang “My Buddy” – music by Walter Donaldson, Lyrics by Gus Kahn – in elementary school. It is considered a World War I song – I have a nice “straight” rendition on a CD entitled Over There! Songs From America’s Wars, sung by Jon English. Actually, it was released in 1922, but it certainly seems to draw on the grief felt over the loss of so many young men in that war. Some people interpret it as sung by a man over his lost war comrade; but to me, even though it has been sung by many male singers,  it sounds like the thoughts of a young woman missing a man who’s gone off to war – though possibly more of a “crush” than a full-fledged romance. My interpretation is supported by one of the early sheet music illustrations.

Here is a version by the Canadian singer Henry Burr:

My Buddy

Life is a book that we study.
Some of its leaves bring a sigh.
There it was written, my Buddy,
that we must part, you and I…

Nights are long since you went away.
I think about you all through the day,
My buddy, my buddy,
Nobody quite so true.
Miss your voice, the touch of your hand-
Just long to know that you understand,
My buddy, my buddy,
Your buddy misses you.

Buddies through all of the gay days.
Buddies when something went wrong.
I wait alone through the gray days,
missing your smile and your song…

Nights are long since you went away.
I think about you all through the day
My buddy, my buddy,
Nobody quite so true.
Miss your voice, the touch of your hand-
Just long to know that you understand,
My buddy, my buddy,
Your buddy misses you.


We Are All Confederates Now

October 18, 2010

(SUMMERVILLE, S.C.) — Residents of a predominantly black South Carolina neighborhood marched this weekend to protest the display of a confederate flag outside an area home.

The flag, which hangs outside the residence of Annie Caddell, a white woman, drew criticism from the crowd who says it represents Civil War-era sentiments of racism and slavery.

Nearly 80 residents of Summerville, S.C., protested the display.

On the opposite side was a group of approximately 15 of Caddell’s supporters who gathered in front of her home with confederate battle flags.

The woman, who has the legal right to display the flag, has refused to take it down, calling it a symbol of her heritage.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

It happens again and again: the politically incorrect act or statement, followed by condemnation in all directions, and then apology or silence.

I remember attending a session on “racism” at a lounge in my dormitory during my freshman orientation at college. (My college was probably 80-85% white.) The presentation emphasized the subtle ways that students “of color” suffered because of unconscious prejudice and “institutional racism.” In the discussion that followed, a white boy raised his hand and said, “If black students have their own exclusive groups that whites can’t belong to, isn’t that a kind of racism?” Good question, but the discussion that ought to have followed was cut short by one of the politically active black girls, who said, “well, I’ve heard people say that, and it’s pretty much bulls—t.” I am afraid not one white person there, including the professor who was mediating the event, had any reply to this, so the question went unanswered and the questioner learned what happens when you try to have an honest discussion about race.

This at a prestigious institution of higher education.

I’ll bet that black girl ended as up a high-paid lawyer or judge.

Now that I have become accustomed to getting most of my news through blogs and other sources that are not ruled by political correctness, I wonder what reality must look like to people who are getting their information from mainstream TV, magazines, and newspapers. What is odd is that I think they are actually getting most of the same news I am getting, but filtered in different ways. For example, I read about the Ground Zero mosque controversy mainly on anti-jihad blogs, but most of my relatives probably had it presented to them by Newsweek, CNN, and Jon Stewart.

These mainstream, liberal organs are incapable of presenting the reality of matters like the Muslim threat to the West or the ways in which whites are harmed by the shrinking of their share of the population. And yet, unintentionally, they do often present information that contradicts their politically correct perspective.

For instance, one element of their liberal “script” is the presence of large numbers of ignorant, angry white Christians who are always getting in the way of progressive ideas like national health care or mosques in downtown Manhattan. Consequently, they seem to feel compelled to bring attention to such individuals.

And as if in synchronicity with this impulse of mainstream journalists, somehow or other politically incorrect views and statements do emerge. These may be mainstream personalities who have a “slip of the tongue” or go too far in trying to be provocative, like Bill O’Reilly stating that “Muslims killed us” on 9/11. Or they may be non-mainstream leaders like the Pastor Terry Jones with his Koran-burning project. Or ordinary people who for whatever reason felt compelled to act, like Koran-burner Derek Fenton, who I dearly hope has been able to find a job, because he did exactly what I would have liked to do. Or people who just don’t want to change the way they live, like Annie Caddell, who has been flying a Confederate flag in her mostly black neighborhood.

The funny thing is, there are hundreds of people writing (mostly anonymously) on the Internet who express dissident views with far greater erudition and intelligence, but the media instead focuses on what you might call easy targets, people who are not fully able to articulate and defend their views, but who through a certain thick-skinned quality and arguably a lack of sense, drew the attention of their religious or ethnic adversaries or of liberal journalists. I mean, honestly, is it quite sensible to fly a Confederate flag in a black neighborhood that you’ve moved into? No, it is not. I wouldn’t do it, and I would wonder if someone who would is lacking a bit of common sense. I mean, she is either naive or extremely audacious. But in this crazy world, people like her end up doing a valuable service, because they keep certain issues alive in the mainstream. And I believe that when the mainstream media highlights a person like this, they weaken the liberal position that they intend to support, because some people are going to notice that ganging up on the non-PC person is a sign of something much uglier and more dangerous than the “hate” or ignorance that non-PC person is supposed to embody.

By the way, I’ve always identified with the North in the Civil War, but when I was a kid it was permissible to feel that both sides represented part of the American heritage, and that there was much nobility and tragedy in the story of the defeated South. And when I was at Gettysburg, I bought a Confederate flag, and thought it was pretty darn cool.

I suppose that the media typically pick weak targets because if they were to engage with the few articulate public figures opposing the liberal regime – and I do not mean those writing for National Review, but people more like Jared Taylor – they would be in danger of guilt by association, or of having to engage with arguments too powerful to handle. But I also feel that there is a certain compulsion to seek the politically incorrect on the part of the most adamant defenders of liberalism. They must know, on some level (I am speaking of white liberals), that some part of the truth – which is also their truth, since they belong to the same ethnic “family” as the non-PC offenders – is being suppressed. So, in an odd way, the self-censoring PC liberals and the not-quite-civilized non-PC actors are doing a kind of dance together. Who knows but that the dance may not lead to both sides getting to know each other better?

If Annie Caddell is eventually forced to back down – which is the usual result in such cases – it will be a small tragedy. But I like to believe that such irruptions of rebellion against the liberal order that is, python-like, squeezing the life out of our historic nation and culture, are the forerunners to a much larger movement, in which the various actors will find their voice and band together to be a force to reckon with.

Update

It’s not exactly the same thing, but Robert Frost has a good poem which is, as I understand it, the wry self-defense of someone who has said or done something a little socially unacceptable, but not really bad.

Not Quite Social

Some of you will be glad I did what I did,
And the rest won’t want to punish me too severely
For finding a thing to do that though not forbid
Yet wasn’t enjoined and wasn’t expected clearly.

To punish me overcruelly wouldn’t be right
For merely giving you once more gentle proof
That the city’s hold on a man is no more tight
Than when its walls rose highter than any roof.

You may taunt me with not being able to flee the earth.
You have me there, but loosely as I would be held.
The way of understanding is partly mirth.
I would not be taken as ever having rebelled.

And anyone is free to condemn me to death——
If he leaves it to nature to carry out the sentence.
I shall will to the common stock of air my breath
And pay a death-tax of fairly polite repentance.


What is Your Hobby-Horse?

October 3, 2010

At this site we talk a lot about what’s wrong with our society and how we might be able to reverse its decline. But how can we change an entire society when it is so hard to change our own behavior as individuals, and almost impossible to influence even the people closest to us to any obvious effect?

This was my thought after talking with a family member last night about other people in our family, and their peculiar and sometimes dysfunctional habits and ways. After thinking about that topic for some time, I stopped short as I realized that many of the eccentricities and limitations that we were discussing in other people are also present in myself, although in each individual the trait takes a different form. Nature and nurture naturally engender similarities between parent and child, sibling and sibling – even if the way these characteristics are realized can contrast quite dramatically between individuals.

Laurence Sterne’s satirical masterpiece Tristram Shandy (1759-1769?) draws a lot of its humor from the idea that even the most learned, sophisticated individuals are largely driven by irrational and contradictory impulses and habits which, by the time a person is middle-aged, are so firmly established that they are almost impossible to change. The novel’s eponymous narrator spends much of his time narrating the events of his life that took place between his conception and his christening, in order to demonstrate that he is the most unfortunate man who ever lived:

On the fifth day of November, 1718, which to the aera fixed on, was as near nine kalendar months as any husband could in reason have expected,–was I Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, brought forth into this scurvy and disastrous world of ours.–I wish I had been born in the Moon, or in any of the planets, (except Jupiter or Saturn, because I never could bear cold weather) for it could not well have fared worse with me in any of them (though I will not answer for Venus) than it has in this vile, dirty planet of ours,–which, o’ my conscience, with reverence be it spoken, I take to be made up of the shreds and clippings of the rest;–not but the planet is well enough, provided a man could be born in it to a great title or to a great estate; or could any how contrive to be called up to public charges, and employments of dignity or power;–but that is not my case;–and therefore every man will speak of the fair as his own market has gone in it;–for which cause I affirm it over again to be one of the vilest worlds that ever was made;–for I can truly say, that from the first hour I drew my breath in it, to this, that I can now scarce draw it at all, for an asthma I got in scating against the wind in Flanders;–I have been the continual sport of what the world calls Fortune; and though I will not wrong her by saying, She has ever made me feel the weight of any great or signal evil;–yet with all the good temper in the world I affirm it of her, that in every stage of my life, and at every turn and corner where she could get fairly at me, the ungracious duchess has pelted me with a set of as pitiful misadventures and cross accidents as ever small Hero sustained. (I.V.)

Sterne calls a man’s ruling, irrational obsession his “hobby horse,” and his book is populated by characters quite unable to see the absurdity of their own hobby horses.

Nay, if you come to that, Sir, have not the wisest of men in all ages, not excepting Solomon himself,–have they not had their Hobby-Horses;–their running horses,–their coins and their cockle-shells, their drums and their trumpets, their fiddles, their pallets,–their maggots and their butterflies?–and so long as a man rides his Hobby-Horse peaceably and quietly along the King’s highway, and neither compels you or me to get up behind him,–pray, Sir, what have either you or I to do with it?…. (I.VII)

–De gustibus non est disputandum;–that is, there is no disputing against Hobby-Horses; and for my part, I seldom do; nor could I with any sort of grace, had I been an enemy to them at the bottom; for happening, at certain intervals and changes of the moon, to be both fidler and painter, according as the fly stings:–Be it known to you, that I keep a couple of pads myself, upon which, in their turns, (nor do I care who knows it) I frequently ride out and take the air;–though sometimes, to my shame be it spoken, I take somewhat longer journies than what a wise man would think altogether right.–But the truth is,–I am not a wise man;–and besides am a mortal of so little consequence in the world, it is not much matter what I do: so I seldom fret or fume at all about it: Nor does it much disturb my rest, when I see such great Lords and tall Personages as hereafter follow;–such, for instance, as my Lord A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, and so on, all of a row, mounted upon their several horses,– some with large stirrups, getting on in a more grave and sober pace;– others on the contrary, tucked up to their very chins, with whips across their mouths, scouring and scampering it away like so many little party- coloured devils astride a mortgage,–and as if some of them were resolved to break their necks.–So much the better–say I to myself;–for in case the worst should happen, the world will make a shift to do excellently well without them; and for the rest,–why–God speed them–e’en let them ride on without opposition from me; for were their lordships unhorsed this very night–’tis ten to one but that many of them would be worse mounted by one half before tomorrow morning.

Not one of these instances therefore can be said to break in upon my rest.- -But there is an instance, which I own puts me off my guard, and that is, when I see one born for great actions, and what is still more for his honour, whose nature ever inclines him to good ones;–when I behold such a one, my Lord, like yourself, whose principles and conduct are as generous and noble as his blood, and whom, for that reason, a corrupt world cannot spare one moment;–when I see such a one, my Lord, mounted, though it is but for a minute beyond the time which my love to my country has prescribed to him, and my zeal for his glory wishes,–then, my Lord, I cease to be a philosopher, and in the first transport of an honest impatience, I wish the Hobby-Horse, with all his fraternity, at the Devil. (I.VIII)

The narrator’s father, for instance, to save money, compels his wife to give birth to her son at their country estate rather than in London. In the countryside there is a reasonably competent midwife, but the father wants a male doctor to attend. His reasoning is that if the midwife makes a mess of her work, women all over the country will demand to be allowed to “lie in” in London, and this will lead to a population glut in the metropolis that could ruin the country.

He was very sensible that all political writers upon the subject had unanimously agreed and lamented, from the beginning of Queen Elizabeth’s reign down to his own time, that the current of men and money towards the metropolis, upon one frivolous errand or another,–set in so strong,–as to become dangerous to our civil rights,–though, by the bye,–a current was not the image he took most delight in,–a distemper was here his favourite metaphor, and he would run it down into a perfect allegory, by maintaining it was identically the same in the body national as in the body natural, where the blood and spirits were driven up into the head faster than they could find their ways down;–a stoppage of circulation must ensue, which was death in both cases.

There was little danger, he would say, of losing our liberties by French politicks or French invasions;–nor was he so much in pain of a consumption from the mass of corrupted matter and ulcerated humours in our constitution, which he hoped was not so bad as it was imagined;–but he verily feared, that in some violent push, we should go off, all at once, in a state-apoplexy;–and then he would say, The Lord have mercy upon us all.

My father was never able to give the history of this distemper,–without the remedy along with it.

‘Was I an absolute prince,’ he would say, pulling up his breeches with both his hands, as he rose from his arm-chair, ‘I would appoint able judges, at every avenue of my metropolis, who should take cognizance of every fool’s business who came there;–and if, upon a fair and candid hearing, it appeared not of weight sufficient to leave his own home, and come up, bag and baggage, with his wife and children, farmer’s sons, &c. &c. at his backside, they should be all sent back, from constable to constable, like vagrants as they were, to the place of their legal settlements. By this means I shall take care, that my metropolis totter’d not thro’ its own weight;–that the head be no longer too big for the body;–that the extremes, now wasted and pinn’d in, be restored to their due share of nourishment, and regain with it their natural strength and beauty:–I would effectually provide, That the meadows and corn fields of my dominions, should laugh and sing;–that good chear and hospitality flourish once more;–and that such weight and influence be put thereby into the hands of the Squirality of my kingdom, as should counterpoise what I perceive my Nobility are now taking from them. (I.XVIII)

The father, out of dedication to his passionately-held, hobby-horsical political belief, sets off a chain of events that are disastrous to his unborn son. He reminds me of certain intellectuals, who make a wreck of their private lives while theorizing about how to properly govern the world. I think it is a good thing to be able to step back from worrying about such matters and laugh once in awhile – at the world and at ourselves. I agree with Sterne that there’s almost nothing we can do to separate people from their hobby-horses. If we are to fix our society, it will have to happen by implementing higher-level changes in custom and belief, while allowing people, at the private level, to be the same exasperatingly irrational beings that they have always been.