Which Side Are You On?

In America, the Conservative says, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”  The American Liberal says, “Give the baby a bath.” Both Liberals and Conservatives agree on the fundamentals of history, economics, and government. They differ on the interpretations, but do not dispute the facts. Each knows The Other to be an essential part of society. Differences are mainly of orientation and degree, as both want to keep the best of the past while reforming the worst.

Their Radical cousins of Right and Left are of a different nature, perhaps of another order entirely. Radicals have no regard for the past or the present, and only seek to demolish what IS for the sake of some ethereal abstraction, a fantasy, an unanchored ideal.  On the ashes of society (and their fellow citizens), they seek to erect some shiny steel edifice. They agree neither on foundation nor facts. They have their own facts, often fabricated instantaneously to support their beliefs. Humans, rather than being creatures of infinite dignity, are so many fungible assets, disposable according to the whim of the Vanguard, easily liquidated when inconvenient. So many Bricks In The Wall.

 

Radicals are in thrall to, are hypnotized by, the esoteric claims of pseudo-religious and poorly fabricated Ideology. They claim rigid consistency, but the hodge-podge accumulation of tenents (to attract a winnable coalition) belies that foolish claim. Neither Liberals nor Conservatives are that concerned with consistency, but tending toward pragmatism or tradition respectively. Less abstract, and more programmatic, they look down to earth, at this situation, this particular, and less to the sky. Their question is “What works here?”

Ideologists are infatuated with consistency and unity, however strained. Since most ideologies are cobbled together, this is an unsurprising obsession. Making a temporary alliance in order to attain power (before unhorsing their allies) is not unusual. They will gladly employ tactics of public ridicule and contempt, shaming, and humiliation to enforce their boundaries of belief.

Sectarians tend to be ideologists on steroids. Less concerned with mass appeal, they are content to lounge in their beer cellars and underground covens, plotting the day when they will “grasp the levers of power”. Their preoccupations are less with coalitions than with expelling from their ranks every hint of insufficient purity and fervor.

Conservatives and Liberals are the Centrists, occupying the common ground which facilitates social norms and permits folks to earn a living and raise a family. Radicals, ideologists and Sectarians appear as you go from the schwerpunkt to the lunatic fringes, where (on each side) we find the tinfoil-hat brigades (they who dwell in Outer Darkness).

Which brings us to … where do you think you are in this 3-D Cloud? (It isn’t a straight-line spectrum.)

Do you think you are one thing, when the reality is you are another altogether? Or is your self-assessment accurate?

Here is some help. Five of the better political surveys out there. Each has flaws (the I Stand With is comprehensive, but seems to swerve on a few questions), but taken together, can be a useful tool, provided you do not mistake the assignment of a survey for reality.

But if you find yourself inconsistent, will you panic and wish to realign with what you thought you were? Or will you stop and think some more (or for the first time?)

Here are the quizzes.

I Stand With

Political Survey

Political Typology Quiz

Fun Political Survey

Political Compass

Which Side Are You On?

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Old Time Civics Videos

There are a lot of videos here, but if you were pressed for time, why are you reading my ramblings?

Used to be, we took Civics seriously in this land.  It was pure, unadorned propaganda, designed to mold children’s ideas and attitudes into something resembling those of a solid Citizen.

Today, of course, the opposite seems to be ongoing, trying to teach the next generation how loathsome their native land is, and how despicable they are to be living in such a country.  Not all, but enough to make formerly cringeworthy statements commonplace.

So, for proper edification, I am including some of the bad old propaganda videos here.  Are they dated?  You bet.  And, that is not necessarily a bad thing.

There’s the ones that tout Our Way Of Life.

There’s the ones that explain how the system works.

There’s the ones which let you know how bad the other side is.

 

Oh, here’s a propaganda piece about — propaganda.

 

There are even attempts to embrace full citizenship.

 

Remarkable… everyone working together and not like primitive rival tribes squabbling over crumbs.

With a little drop of Mister Dooley

(Why anyone thinks a “business” bureaucrat is more honest and has the Public benefit in mind more than a “government” bureaucrat is beyond me.)

(Aye, those who came before me are a gang of snobs and drones, and those who come after are thugs and brutes.  Begorah!)

And for disillusionment, George Carlin

 

 

 

 

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Acting is Just a Job, Like Any Other

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As You Like It

By William Shakespeare

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;

And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,

Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,

Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,

In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,

With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,

Full of wise saws and modern instances;

And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts

Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;

His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide

For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,

Turning again toward childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion;

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

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Rules for Actors (and Others)

  1. Do Show up on time.
  2. Do know your lines.
  3. Do what the Director says.
  4. Don’t trip over the furniture.
  5. Don’t upstage other members of the troupe.

 

My original exposure to stagecraft was due to a deep shyness which plagued me up to my Sophomore year in High School. I figured that if I could stand in front of a crowd with memorized things to say and do, it would help with keeping me from being a fool in public.   At the time, I didn’t understand acting was addictive. Perhaps it’s not the acting per se, but the applause that gets you.

In high school and college dramatics, I learned these five rules the hard way. That I did not pursue it as a career was happenstance and life getting in the way while I was making other plans. But it has always fascinated me, because I am a bit of an over-the top fan of Hollywood’s Golden Age, and watching the old contract players in action is good for learning how things are done.

I found also there are those pretentious egomaniacs (you know who they are) who construe themselves as artistes.   They want to emote, to employ The Method, to send Messages, to Elevae the Consciusness of the Masses. They lack craftsmanship, and use these hoary proverbs as cover. As Frank Capra said, “If you want to send a message, try Western Union.”

Most of the audience used to be working class folks, who already know Life is a Bitch and the Boss Is a Sunnuva…

Sullivan’s Travels is a good rebuttal to the Message mantra.

It is said that anyone can act. This is true. Following the rules takes one a long way toward success in the business. It is always wise to recall that there are other such in life. Anyone can cook, but few are chefs. Anyone can carpenter, but some are master craftsmen. Still, even the Masters follow the basics, know their craft, their trade, and being masters, know when and how to break the rules. Unless one is a Master, it is inadvisable to begin as a maverick. Torn tee-shirts or not.

Online one can find many admonitions for would-be actors, including some of those who regularly get paid for the work. Of all these, they range from the Three Rules to the 33 Tips, but in essence, they all come down to these five, whether for stage, screen, or TV (or YouTube?)

The kicker is, they are not specific trade secrets. These rules are much the same as for any profession, for any job a person wants to do well.

Number One: Show up on time. For rehearsals, or for the production, BE THERE when you are supposed to be. In a factory, there are timekeepers, in any job, those who notice if one is late, or if one is present only in body. It is rude to allow others to be there and you not to be there. And it will get you fired if you indulge too often (more than once.)

Number Two: Know your lines. Obviously, even for the “Improvisational Genius”, of which the world has really very few, it is just plain wrong to not know your job. An actor needs to know what s/he is supposed to say to give some other person their cue. A carpenter needs to know how to saw, to hammer, to sand. An actor needs to memorize the script and be ready to go to work, having arrived on time.

Number Three: Obey the Director. Unless you have a very, very, very good reason, like a cobra wrapped around your ankle, DO WHAT THE DIRECTOR SAYS TO DO!!! Follow the boss’ orders. He is supposed to have a better idea of the overall campaign than you do, and if you know more, YOU should be the director. For a play, the Director has a vision of how all the parts fit together. He is trying for an effect which may be only a glimmering ghost in the back of his consciousness. Give it a chance to be born. If it doesn’t work,. Then he might be amenable to a tactful suggestion. But see what he has in mind before throwing a Prima Dona fit.

Number Four: Don’t trip over the furniture. It is placed where it is for a reason. Know where it is, and skillfully avoid making a damned fool of yourself. Unless it is in the script for you to fall over it.

Number Five: Don’t cross up the other members of the troupe. A play, or a film, or a half-hour sitcom, is an ensemble piece. It is made by a team, most of whom never appear in public. If you go around acting big headed, like you are the sole Star, the Lead, the Big Cheese, be advised, you will stink. Even a neurotic line-counter like Steve McQueen couldn’t get away with being a jerk without consequence. And how many of Bill Shatner’s old cast mates think fondly of the Captain of the USS Enterprise? Take heed.

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Even so, it helps to recall: there are no small parts, only small people; a bad play can be well done (and vice versa); and the higher your nose is in the air, the less likely one is to avoid a pratfall.

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Acting Is Just A Job, Like Any Other.

That’s it.

There are, of course, other opinions.

One is Double Star, Robert Heinlein’s wonderful book on acting and politics and… (Hint, it is a very old plot.)

Two quotes from Double Star, where the narrator Larry Smith is ruminating on his craft.

(Oh yeah. The other reason I got into drama is that as I grew up, Heinlein was my surrogate adviser, via his books, and Double Star was still is one of my favorites. )

From chapter two:

“The show must go on” is the oldest tenet of show business. Perhaps it has no philosophical verity, but the things men live by are rarely subject to logical proof. My father had believed it – I had seen him play two acts with a burst appendix and then take his bows before he let them rush him to a hospital.

Sixty pages later is this:

“The show must go on.” I had always believed that and lived by it. But why must the show go on? –seeing that some shows are pretty terrible. Well, because you agreed to do it, because there is an audience out there; they have paid and each of them is entitled to the best you can give. You owe it to them. You owe it also to stagehands and manager and producer and other members of the company – and to those who taught you your trade, and to others stretching back in history to open-air theaters and stone seats and even to storytellers squatting in a market place. Nobleese oblige.

I decided that the notion could be generalized into any occupation. “Value for value.” Building “on the square and on the level.” The Hippocratic Oath. Don’t let the team down. Honest work for honest pay. Such things did not have to be proved; they were an essential part of life – true throughout eternity, true in the farthest reaches of the Galaxy.

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And then there’s Harry Dean Stanton. (You go, Harry!)

 

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On Doing The Right Thing

I am no philosopher, so what follows is sure to be disputable and full of logical inconsistencies, but it is what I think.

Some folks are driven by what they conceive to be their DUTY, of doing what is The Right Thing.

Others are motivated by Utility, or what is best at the time, either for themselves, or for the greatest number of fellow citizens (as they conceive “good”)

Still others are driven by the “seek pleasure, avoid pain” dichotomy.

Yet others by “necessity”.

My argument is for Duty, as I conceive it.

DUTY

I have mentioned, have I not(?) my fondness for Captain America. But perhaps I should say why.

Cap is driven by DUTY, for the desire to Do The Right Thing. He does not want to Kill Nazis, he just doesn’t like bullies, and feels they ought to be stopped. Not my any means necessary, for that is the cry of the pragmatist, the “realist”, who inhabits a world of fear and guilt, and believes there are others who want to do in him and his kind, and whatever it takes to stop, or destroy his “enemies”, is a Good Thing.

Not so, Cap. He has rules, even if they are somewhat fuzzy (like Shepherd Book on the subject of kneecaps. — You do know Firefly, do you not?)

Duty is a form of idealism.

Duty is an obligation to —  something.   But why is obligatory?

Duty is simply “doing the right thing”, as opposed to Utility, Pleasure, Pragmatism (“realism”), or the perversion of Idealism, “The Cause” – ideology.

The ancients formulated DUTY as involved with the Four Cardinal Virtues: Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice. They were right.

I am not, again, NOT!!! a philosopher, and not able to encompass or comprehend what often seems jargonish word salad. By the sale sign in the sky, in hoc signo vinces, I cannot cede credence to any other who claims to understand and wallow in the aforementioned salad.

Of all writers on Duty is more famous than Immanuel Kant, even if his “irresistible” argument is debatable. Bur for eloquence, we must go to Cicero’s On Moral Duties  , and for practical admonitions, to Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, which have probably had more impact on the everyday lives of people in the West, for a much longer period. (Kant’s abstractions and formulations are interesting, but do not seem to have made much headway outside the philosophical laboratory.)

Kant, among the turgid Teutonic thinkers with Hegel and Marx, was particularly obscure, at least in English translation, perhaps on-purpose, by employing normal words in a special way, different from the accepted norm. “By THAT, I mean THIS.” Then, for the love of all that is sane, why not say THIS instead of THAT?

From another of my favorite entertainments, one may find a possible clue.

In Star Trek (TOS), Spock is led by “Logic”, or a rational utilitarianism (note that rational is not the same as “reason”).   Kirk is driven by Duty, and McCoy by Compassion.

Between logic and compassion

This is shown most clearly and dearly in the movies, the pair of The Wrath of Khan and Search for Spock. In Wrath of Khan, Spock sacrifices himself for the good of others, but (we discover) first places his katra (whatever that is) in McCoy, his second best friend. The sacrifice is the epitome of Utilitarianism, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.”

However, in Search for Spock, Kirk, driven to Do The Right Thing by his friend, “The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the few”, proceeds to sacrifice all – as do the rest of the bridge crew – to save Spock.

(And why is the katra in McCoy and not Kirk, as Sarak wondered? Because a hagridden Kirk could not save Spock, and a free McCoy certainly could not, but this way it was possible, however chancy.)

What is common here, in each case, it was not a choice imposed, but chosen. In each case the sacrifice and the decision came by the free consent of the one involved. Had the choice been forced by an outside agency, it would not have worked, for it would not have been a true sacrifice. (Any similarity with what you will heart on Easter Sunday is not coincidental.)

The famous trolley dilemma is therefore exposed as a false choice scenario (a Kobayashi Maru?) where one is given a choice to do nothing and lt five people die, or throw one innocent on the tracks to save them. There is of course, a Third Alternative which the nattering nabobs of philosophical confusion refuse to state. If a person has the power to throw an innocent on the tracks, he has the power to throw himself on the tracks first. There is no ethical dilemma with sacrificing one’s own self for the benefit of others, the problem evaporates.

Of course, self-sacrifice is a foreign , perhaps incomprehensible, subject to todays Modern bien pensants and cognoscenti.

In each case above, it was a choice made by those involved, a choice made freely, in full awareness of the consequences, and one gladly made, without regret.

It was a choice. It was not forced on any “for the common good”, or “for reasons of State”, or for any other broken shibboleth.

These ideas, when acted on as the free choice of individuals, are admirable. When they are the excuses made by those in power, they become abominable.

The Nazis abuse the first, the needs of the many, when they murdered the Jews of Europe. They imagined the needs of the many (the German people) outweighed the needs of the few (the Jews.) Of course, they turned around and did the opposite without batting an eyelash. They posited the needs of the one (Hitler) outweighed the needs of the many (all of Eurasia.)

In the days of the Roman Empire, or of the Old South, the Right Thing meant you returned an escaped slave to his lawful owner – which entailed the presumption humans were property. And, who knows, in the absence of Christian influence in the West, those days may return.

Doing the Right Thing depends on knowing what the Right Thing IS. It requires a moral authority. Not necessarily God, but whatever a person acknowledges as morally superior More than mere knuckling under to bullying.)

Knowing The Right Thing! is one problem, Why Do It? is the other. We have clues from religion, from antiquity, from societal norms, but ultimately, both the knowing and the doing must come from within. The key concept here is the difference between a voluntary choice, and the use of force to compel a choice.

As some have noted, it is easier to restrain evil than to compel good. But, they miss a key concept herein. One cannot compel good, but one can educate for good. That is what a liberal education is all about.

DUTY is not something which fits well in a narcissistic, hedonistic culture. It summons uncomfortable thoughts to the awareness of people benumbed by social media and/or outrage pornography (for the ones for whom real pornography is too tame.) It is, however, one of the things (along with Honor and Country) which are vital for the continued existence of the USA.

It is what military cadets hear at West Point, and with good cause.

West Point Motto

Speaking to which point: Doug MacArthur may not have been the best of generals, he may have been an egomaniacal fraud, but he could make a good speech.

 

Hardcopy here at American Rhetoric.

 

So, here I am. driven by a desire to Do The Right Thing, by DUTY.

It is often confusing, as a clear-cut moral choice may well be suspect as bowing to prejudice or elf-interest.  But — to be very honest — I think it better, far better, than the mumblings of either the Utilitarians or the Hedonists, or (especially) of the Ideologues.

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I Believe In Captain America

I was born in 1948, three years after WW2 ended. My schoolteachers were veterans of that war. One, in particular, I remember was a navigator on a B-17 dropping bombs on Nazi Germany. Another fellow was a vet too, was in on D-Day, was shell-shocked, lost his family, and ended as the town drunk. I learned from him what even the “survivors” have to sacrifice.

I was bred in the 50s, a time when patriotism was not sneered at by the cognoscenti (Those Who KNOW). It was a time when the rabid right has not moved into center stage. And the lunatic left was muted. The libertarian fanatics who think only of the next dollar they plan on stealing were a bad dream, and the nattering negativists of the Progressive Movement were yet to be hatched.

From the very first issue, Cap was there to defend American values.  (After all, he did give ole Adolf a sock on the jaw!)

There are those flag-waving crooks who give love of country a bad name. I have even seen “Proud Americans” who want to shoot children at our borders, and approve of the Red Chinese executing people they call “terrorists”. (Whether they are terrorists or not, depends on whether you believe the Red Chinese – who also say the Tibetan Buddhists deserve to die.) Amazingly, they always need money – your money – to combat the evil Menace To America, but never seem to win. Or be crushed. (If The Enemy were that evil, these rubbish-spewing clowns would be the first to go.)

The sophisticated and elite culture snobs sneer at corny patriotism, and damn America for all its faults. To these, the USA has no virtues whatsoever. Condescension towards the “fools” who enlist in the military is the closest they get to compassion for their fellow citizenry. They condemn the Right-radical nihilists for their hate of the poor, and yet never stop to give a quarter to a homeless person holding up a cardboard sign by the side to the road.

Truth, Justice and The American Way – That’s what Superman fought for. But Superman was a Strange Being From Another World, not native.

Captain America is nobody special, just a kid from Brooklyn, an experimental lab rat who worked out OK. He is quietly a man of Faith, but not a fanatic (he knows the difference between the One God and an imposter). He thinks all Americans are equal, and deserve an equal break. He’s been powerless, and knows how that feels, and wants to use his strength to help others upward. He doesn’t want to kill anyone, but he doesn’t allow bullies to go unchallenged.

With the advent of the MCU movies (and Chris Evans is a perfect Captain America),  various philosophers and pundits have got into the over-analysis trip.  Nonetheless, it’s an interesting series of reads.  Here,  Here, Here, Here, and Here. Needless to say, there are others, as well as a small cottage industry of serious books devoted to Cap and his ethics.

I believe in Captain America. I believe in a patriotism that grows misty eyed when the Star Spangled Banner is sung, when the Old Vets parade on the Fourth, or Memorial; day, when a preacher gives a benediction at a school graduation ( they still do such, don’t they?).

I believe in Our Town and Good Morning Miss Dove and George Washington and Abe Lincoln and FDR and Martin Luther King and apple pie (and tacos and pizza). I believe in Christmas pageants and Midnight Mass at Easter and Labor Day Picnics.

 

Most especially, I believe in the Fourth of July with the parades and fireworks and Sousa music blasting from every radio speaker. It is corny and old-fashioned, and very black-and-white in an age of shades of dirty grey.

We need some of that corny again.

I Believe In Captain America!

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What IS An American?

What is an American?

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That is a question which has been with us throughout the history of the United States, and back into Colonial times.

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There are several answers, from nativist paranoia to internationalist non-entity. It is something we debate at crisis points in time, at the Revolution, the Civil War, World War Two, the McCarthy era, and again today, in the 21st Century, it is become important once again.

We can perhaps discover what is an American by asking what is America?
One venerable answer is this:

I believe in the United States of America, as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon these principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes. I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.

— William Tyler Page, The American’s Creed (a resolution passed by the US House of Representatives on April 3, 1918.)

 

There are others.

 

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Abraham Lincoln has one of the most famous.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

 

 

Teddy Roosevelt had notions on the subject of True Americanism.

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So did Harold Ickes (Secretary of the Interior under FDR) in 1941.

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And this made the rounds of the internet after 9/11 (and I have not been able to discover the original article, as yet.)

 

Yet another way of looking at Americans is not in our perceptions, but in sociological analysis, such as the one done by the Washington International Center for the benefit of puzzled foreigners coming here to visit.

In it, the authors find thirteen characteristics of Americans which tend to define all of us (native born and naturalized).

1. Personal Control over the Environment
2. Change
3. Time & Its Control
4. Equality
5. Individualism/Privacy
6. Self-Help
7. Competition
8. Future Orientation
9. Action/Work Orientation
10. Informality
11. Directness/Openness/Honesty
12. Practicality/Efficiency Materialism/Acquisitiveness

 

But perhaps, as some have sarcastically suggested, Americans are the prototype for the Borg. Seeking “Perfection”, and absorbing all that comes our way. The language is notorious for theft of words from every other language, and our cuisine… truly eclectic.

Like the Borg, we will assimilate everything. And that which will not be assimilated… woe be unto it.

“We are the Americans. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.”

Or, if you prefer…

 

And all of this brings up the topic of —

Immigration

Oh, the irony of anyone named O’Malley or Lindenthall or Schmidt objecting to immigrants…  Mister Dooley had a thing to say or two about that.

I must confess to a certain ambiguity of feeling and thinking on this. As far as “legality” goes, laws — being human constructions — are subject to change. And we have seen how they change frequently, without much in the way of rhyme or reason driving the change.

As for the failure to ask permission of the previous inhabitants of this continent before we conquered it, there is a certain poetic justice in being afraid of being done unto as we have done unto others.

In the end, I am left with knowledge that “pure” societies are brittle and weak and that the strength of America is that as a people we are an alloy, as steel is stronger than iron. (Objections to the metaphor already noted.)

If I may speak to the point which underlies this, and many other similar discussions, it is that as a people, we have lost that confidence in ourselves, and that faith in the future which once fueled our progress, and sustained us in adversity.

Forty years ago, when I got to Arizona, illegal immigrants, or even illegal migrant workers, were well-known to be here, and were not regarded as a problem. My wife’s Dad had employed several over the years, and never once thought of turning them into the Border Patrol. (He once remarked, “Hell, they’re just poor people looking for work, like you and me.”)

Today, mass hysterias hits at the thought of refugee children crossing into the USA to look for a better life. (And, you can spare me the Left or Right talking points, please assume I have heard them — and reject them both.) As a Christian (Hell’s bells, as a human being), I want to know, not what is the “legal” thing, nor what is the sob-sister “progressive” thing, but what is The Right Thing. Of that, not much has been said.

My progenitors got here in 1827. I’m not sure our whole clan is “legal”. But a G-g-great Grandfather died at Shiloh, wearing a blue shirt and fighting for liberty, for The Right Thing.

So did others.  A lot of others.  Come to think of it, all of our ancestors.  Some came here willingly, like mine.

Some others not willingly at all.

 

 

President John F. Kennedy even wrote a book on the topic, A Nation of Immigrants.  He was right, that’s US, US All  (or USA if you like)…

 

 

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Growing Up Racist

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As I was growing up in the 1950s, my dear Mother (may she rest in peace) did everything she could to convince me that White was Superior, and that Blacks needed to stay “in their place”.

She was a good Christian woman who thought the KKK went too far, but that white people were clearly and unarguable entitled to stay on top, and black people should stay on bottom. Considering the area was geographically Illinois but culturally Dixie may have affected her thinking. That, and the rumor which I had heard, unconfirmed, that after the American Civil War, a black family tried to move into my home county and was escorted across the line in certain terms. (The county being one of those Midwest things, twenty miles on a side, smaller than some ranches in Texas.)

There were black people in all the other counties around us, and when on shopping trips, I would tend to stare at them as if seeing some being from another planet.   In truth, there were mostly WASPs in my home county, with a smattering of German Catholics and one or two Italians and Irish. The names, especially of the townships, reflected sturdy English yeomanry, Whitlow, Crouch, Mayberry, and the like.

Song of the South (zip-a-dee-do-dah, y’all) was a popular Disney movie when I was very little. Nobody has seen it for over 50 years, because it was based on the Uncle Remus stories of Joel Chandler Harris, about blacks and whites in the South under slavery. All the black folks jus’ lubbed dem white folks in the big house who had better food, better clothes, and freedom, and wuz loyal to the bitter end. And the white folks jus lubbed dem black folks and patronizingly took care of their poor inferior souls. If you ever heard of Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, Br’er Bear, and the Tar Baby in the Briar Patch, this is where it came from. Uncle Remus was a caricature of a bigot’s view of black people, yet I have known a few black folks who practice that stereotype (probably as a matter of learned self-preservation).

It is on a par with… no, it is more notorious than its first cousin, Gone with the Wind. (Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for that, but had to sit at a ‘segregated’ table apart from the white actors.) Not until the mid-Seventies would a film come along (and could not be made today) that would rip apart the silliness of racism in a way that got under the skin of bigotry by mocking its presumptions unmercifully – Blazing Saddles.

 

When I grew into the Sixties, and the Civil Rights marches were on the nightly news, accompanied by the attendant assaults by Southern Sheriffs and KKK-sympathizers, my dear Mother would remark how, “Those people are being agitated by outsiders”, evidence to the contrary.   When the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior would appear on the Nightly News, she would say, “He’s a Communist.” It did not help her blood pressure when she would hear me reply, “No, Mother, he’s a Baptist.”

She once tried to justify her ideas to me by telling of the time she and Daddy were living in Texas during WW2, and her neighbor across the (back) alley, an old black woman, once told her, “I knows my place.” I would always remind her, that if the old black woman had said anything else at that time and place, she would have been burned out of her home.

And in my Senior year English class, we had to write an essay with supporting documentation on a topic of our own choosing. My topic was the injustice of racism, drawing from such varied sources as John Howard Griffin’s classic Black Like Me, and the recently published Autobiography of Malcolm X as well as MLK’s Why We Can’t Wait. It was not received well, especially by a friend I had known since the first grade, who told me the Bible was against blacks because of Ham, one of Noah’s sons (it takes a lot of scripture-twisting to arrive at this, btw. ).   I reminded him that when Miriam, Moses’ sister objected to his “Ethiopian” wife, God gave her what she wanted, a leprous skin of blinding whiteness (Numbers 12: 1-16). He was a good Bible Literalist, and so didn’t know what to say to that.

In college, one of my roommates was a black Baptist from Richmond, Virginia. The college, in central Illinois, had only three years before begun admitting black kids, and had to go to the businessmen in town (small town) to discover who would not object to black patronage. (Not “welcome”, but “accept”. A minor distinction, but an important first step.)

But withal, Mother’s propaganda had an effect.

When another friend and I took the City of New Orleans north to Chicago to apply for admission to the University of Chicago (we both failed to get in), we were decanted on to a street in the Chicago South Side. Never before in my life had I seen a population composed entirely of black people, and it was intimidating.

And when, in college, I dated a girl friend (who looked and sang like Diana Ross, or so I thought), it felt daring and revolutionary. And a bit risky. We were sitting together the night Star Trek broke through the barrier, and on Plato’s Stepchildren, had the first “interracial” kiss between Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura (it really wasn’t the ‘first’, but that’s a minor quibble. It’s the most famous First Kiss.). And we cheered, quite unbelieving. (And didn’t need to be forced.)

My Mother was not happy with my strange notions. Daddy was quite unconcerned. He had worked in construction around a wide variety of people, and his condemnations had nothing with skin color, religion, or culture, but only with the issue of hard worker or lazy dog, and he was most eloquent about how a lot of lazy rednecks were outperformed by honest “niggers”. (Yes, he used that word. It was the only one he knew. And he probably meant about as much by it as a black man calling someone a “honkey”.

But there is one thing perhaps I should mention. My Mother’s campaign for Aryan regard was sabotaged – by herself — quite unknowingly one Saturday afternoon when I was ten years old.

We had been to a zoo in a nearby town, and after had a picnic and went to a permanent fair, an amusement park with a large Ferris wheel. We had taken along a cousin, and when he and I ran wild through the park, we came at last to that Ferris wheel. There were so many kids there, the attendant was shoving three kids in each gondola regardless of what they were. And so my cousin and I were seated with a black kid about 7 or 8 years old. I had absorbed some of Mother’s thinking, and was, as mentioned, totally unfamiliar with anyone to looked different, so I (say with shame) maneuvered to have my cousin sit next to the black kid.

We had a glorious time rising up into the air, and looking about. We made friends, all three of us, and perhaps only had three revolutions of the Wheel before being told out to make room for some more kids.

When we got off, my Mother was waiting, and immediately went to my cousin, and brushed his arm, the one which had been next to the black kid, as if brushing off dirt. I looked back, to see the black kid staring at us. He had turned also to wave good-bye, and the sudden hurt in his eyes told me all I would ever need to know about racism. And I never forgave Mother for what she did.

There was another side. One of my classmates, from New Jersey, desperately wanted to be a Black Militant, in spite of his father being a well-to-do dentist. He was ever haranguing (especially the middle-class white liberals) on “Four Hundred Years Of White Guilt”. It worked, too, on all the middle-class guilty white liberals on campus.   I once asked him if that were so, could I have back the life of my G-great grandfather, an immigrant from Germany, who died at Shiloh to make all men free. My classmate was not amused. (He also disapproved of interracial dating as “diluting the strength of the black man”.) For some reason, he never liked me. Ta-Nesi Coates “reparations” sound a lot like my Jersey classmate ‘s “four hundred years of white guilt” — a street hustle is a hustle, regardless of how pretty it’s dressed up.

My own children, I tried to raise without that sort  nonsense, and it mostly worked. Anything they got came from the surrounding culture, from their school friends, and not from home. This to the point where my daughter once off-handedly remarked, “Dad doesn’t hate anything but bigots.”

But ever and anon, because of my upbringing, in the time and place, I discover certain racial epithets come into the back of my skull and do not want to depart. Yes, I am “racist”, in that sense. But no amount of imposed scorn by the guilt-tripping purveyors of Politico-Social Correctness can hurt like what I feel when I slip. (Their fraught concern seems more for wishing the demise of their political and cultural enemies than any real effort to inculcate a morality-based ethic.)

On the other hand, I think that erasing the artifacts of the past because they are uncomfortable for some people today is horrible, as if erasing the reminders will erase the reality of history. Calhoun College, renamed? Removing the Rebel battle flag from monuments? Blasting the profiles of Confederate generals off Stone Mountain? How asinine. What’s next, calling for Winston Smith and RecDep to rectify all history to conform with the prejudices of the present half-hour?

All my past is of no avail when dealing with the self-loathing guilt-mongers. Whatever case I may present is contemptuously dismissed as “privilege”. So, I have given up. To the charge of being racist, I therefore respond, “Why, yes, yes I am.”

Now what? I will not be slut-shamed because of the color of my skin – not being middle-class or liberal, I do not suffer from the self-loathing which are the hallmark of Middle-Class White Liberal Guilt, nor lured by some Aryan Brotherhood – with the delusion an absence of melanin is a mark of superiority — because of it. Where do we go from here? What’s it to you? Is there something you think I ought to do?

Or, more importantly, what are YOU going to do about it?

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