"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Can You Love An Anti-Semite? The Permanent Disqualification Of Genius

Writing in the New York Times a few years back Jennifer Finney Boylan, a transgender woman, wonders whether the Salvation Army should be universally condemned for its conservative views on gender and LGBTQ.  Or, should this one ‘fault’ be overlooked in light of the decades of selfless service to the poor?

We have all been faced with this dilemma one way or another.  After years of bad haircuts, a good friend finally found a barber who could deal with his wild, curly hair. The problem with Tony, however, was that he was a racist – instinctively and angrily so that Every time my friend got into the chair, he began his rants.   There wasn’t an epithet invented that he didn’t use, no stereotype left behind; no story of rape, assault, irresponsibility, and laziness untold.  It was 45 minutes of vitriol and hate.

Yet, despite and through this assault, he was as magical as Edward Scissorhands.  He was a master.

After a year of this, my friend had had enough. His unease at hearing the fevered rants of the barber trumped his delight at having a decent haircut.  No matter how good Tony was a cutting hair – and he was a genius – my friend judged him to be a bad person and worthy only of contempt.  He was automatically dismissed as a stylist and a human being.  There was nothing that could compensate for his hate.  He could have been the coiffeur to queens with the innovative brilliance of Vidal Sassoon, a fashion revolutionary and cultural icon because of his skills.  So, for this one, corrosive, debilitating fault, all this artistry, talent, and cultural relevance should he be cancelled permanently?

Yet this judgement might be the first slide on a slippery slope.  If one judged the Tonys of the world on just one thing, no matter how reprehensible it may seem, then why shouldn’t one judge others in the same way?  It takes all kinds, and clients sit in Tony’s chair to get a haircut, not to engage him in racial politics.  Why not simply tune him out?

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great, courageous man; but he was also a Lothario who cheated on his wife and was more of a sexual wastrel than JFK.  Did these moral failings disqualify both men from leadership or high public office?

Many women immediately disqualified Bill Clinton from any further political consideration after he had sex with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office. If he cheated on his wife, they said, he will most certainly cheat on us. Yet the Bill Clinton years look good in the light of recent White House debacles.

Ezra Pound and H.L. Mencken were both rabid anti-Semites, but their work was notable.  Immanuel Kant said, “'The Jews still cannot claim any true genius, any truly great man. All their talents and skills revolve around stratagems and low cunning ... They are a nation of swindlers.”

George Bernard Shaw said, “Stop being Jews and start being human beings”. Theodore Dreiser said, “New York is a 'kike's dream of a ghetto,' and Jews are not 'pure Americans' and 'lack integrity”.
Are we to burn their books? Consign them to the trash heaps of literary history?

It doesn’t take much scraping of the surface to find something in public, literary, scientific, sports, or Hollywood to offend our current sensibilities. Mel Gibson, a decent actor, is also a raging anti-Semite. Gay slurs are common in our football and basketball heroes.  Wilt Chamberlain boasted of the fact that he had slept with 1000 women and the clock was still ticking.  In many people’s mind he was a degenerate, a profligate, and an irresponsible reprobate.  Yet, he was one of the greatest basketball players ever and changed forever the way the game of professional basketball was played.

Image result for images wilt chamberlain

Most people have some prejudice somewhere. While we may not like to admit it, there is some irrational, unfounded, and totally unnecessarily negative feelings about others lurking inside us.

It is often hard to distinguish between prejudice and strongly-held and rational belief.  Many liberals have branded conscientious conservatives as racist because of their rejection of liberal approaches to poverty and social welfare.

What about this ‘disqualification clause’? Should one cut off communication with a friend because his political views are radically different? Perhaps such difference is not just a matter of political opinion, but one of morals and ethics.  One’s political philosophy, according to this view, is a defining personal characteristic.  A conservative is not simply one who believes in small government and individual enterprise but someone who has a cribbed and narrow view of life, lacks generosity and compassion, and is cynical about human potential.

Yet, despite political differences, if two friends have known each other since childhood and have always liked each other for reasons discovered at age 12 – energy, enthusiasm, brains, allure, adventure - why should one thing – political philosophy – get in the way of love, passion, and insight?

There are Northerners who condemn anyone visiting the Deep South - traitors to liberalism, giving succor to still unrepentant racists.  Yet without understanding the South, one can never understand American history.

Is it wrong to have friends who persistently harbor racist beliefs? Or whose political views are so far to the left or right on one's own that they are dismissed out of hand?

Which brings us to the question of Ms. Boylan, LGBTQ, and the Salvation Army. While her experience is upfront and personal, it raises once again the issue of ‘unique wrong’. Without a doubt the Salvation Army – a Christian conservative church – holds traditional views of sexuality which have little or nothing to do with the performance of their mission.  The Boy Scouts also have a conservatively Christian foundation, and their views are predictably similar to those of the Salvation Army.

The Catholic Church is very open about its views of traditional marriage, sex, and sexuality.

Should these organizations be ignored?  A dismissal of homosexuality on Biblical grounds is not homophobia.  If the Salvation Army and its leadership were openly hostile to LGBTQ, and displayed hatred, anger, and virulence towards gays; and if this emotional and irrational stance were clearly that of the organization, then one might consider withholding contributions, but not before.


Ms. Boylan illustrates the difference well:

That knowledge put an end to my days as one of their [Salvation Army] volunteers. The organization advocated celibacy for homosexuals and resisted offering benefits to employees’ same-sex partners. Then, shockingly, a major in an Australian branch of the Salvation Army appeared to suggest in an interview that putting gay people to death was “part of our belief system.”
The American Salvation Army was acting on principle, whether or not one agreed with it.  The branch of the Australian Army exhibited hatred, prejudice, and unacceptable behavior. Ms. Boylan, or any reasonable person would keep them at arm’s length.

One issue morality like single-issue politics is never good for it  ignores complexity, the ability to hold conflicting views, to be inconsistent, and to be ignorant and brilliant at the same time.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Democracy Matters? Big Top Clowns, And The Side Show Of Self-Importance

‘Democracy Matters’ lawn signs have replaced Black Lives Matter and Hate Has No Home Here posters.  Once Americans tired of black this, black that, and a top BLM official was accused of financial misdoings, the signs came down; and after Donald Trump exited the White House, hate lost its bite. 

Yet, the leafy well-to-do suburbs of Washington being what they are, nature abhorring a vacuum, and pink flamingos, lawn jockeys, and holiday inflatables simply too bland and noncommittal for the neighborhood’s political activism, new signs of liberal legitimacy replaced them. 

Image result for images pink flamingos lawn ornaments

January 6, 2021, the day of the Insurrection, The Coup, The Rising of the Deep State, The Assault On America or whatever one chooses to call it (and depending on one’s political leanings, the choices were plenty), has been the new cri de coeur of the Left, for it was an event that expressed the rotten, corrupt, traitorous nature of the Right.  

It is the progressive feelgood moment of the era, a reprise of Trump hate, a wild and wooly big tent three ring circus, a bandwagon, a juggernaut of moral honor.

Since no lawn sign could in a few words sum up the bilious hatred for Donald Trump, ‘Democracy Matters’ seemed to state, in the temperate, moderate terms suited to the highly educated elite of Northwest DC, the problem.  Donald Trump and his army of backwoods, Harley-riding, spitting, crotch-scratching supporters must absolutely positively be denied access to the seat of power. 

Democracy matters so much, said a homeowner who had just hammered a political festoon from eave to eave on his Victorian home, that not only should the former President never be seen again inside the Beltway, but all traces of his homophobic, racist, predatory ideas must be expunged once and for all.

Each plank of the New Age progressive platform – the final, ultimate rise of the black man, the fundamental rightness of gender alteration, the legitimacy of every slot on the gender spectrum, the Millennium of the Woman, the inalterable nature of racial, gender, and ethnic identity, and the dismantling of predatory, oppressive capitalism – was to be hammered as firmly into foundations of the Capitol as the banner on Mr. Levin’s roof.

Image result for images drag queens

Outside this residential inner circle, few people were paying any attention.  Inflation, jobs, immigration, racial obsession, and the transgender juggernaut are the reasons why interest in the midterm elections is so high.  The anti-Trump bilious hysteria has run its course, the interminable January 6 hearings and investigation after investigation to try to pin something on Trump have gotten tiresome, petty, and politically transparent.  Democracy doesn’t matter to the righteous wolves howling at the moon, only the removal of Trump, Trumpism, and Republican conservatism.

America’s political history has never been one of rectitude and right behavior.  Brawls, enmity, and across-the-aisle bare-knuckle fights have been par for the course and part and parcel of democracy since the first assembly of burghers after 1789.  The euphoria of victory against the British and the full flush of independence which gave a sense of camaraderie and collegiality to all in the new Republic, soon turned predictably bitter.  

Independence from America’s colonial masters meant in principle acting in concert to create a free, strong, principled Union.  In reality it meant that everything was up for grabs.  Despite Jefferson’s inspired plea for moral communitarianism – happiness, he explained, should only be pursued if at no expense to others. It was a fragile commodity, valued only as it corresponded to the benefit and well-being of others.  

This principle was put to the test in the early Twentieth Century when Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Vanderbilt, Carnegie and other so-called Robber Barons, under no license of government nor any restrictive public legislation followed only the Law of Fang and Club and in so doing amassed the wealth of Croesus but at the same time created the infrastructure for the nation’s development.  Steel, railroads, oil and gas, and investment banking provided the foundation for growth and prosperity. Who cared how their wealth was amassed as long as the turbines kept operating.

Image result for images jd rockeveller

Political campaigns were raw, ad hominem affairs. Kevin Kruse wrote about how the standards for truth in politics have progressively eroded over time, and now are at what many consider the nadir of the cycle. Politicians are routinely accused of distorting the truth, lying, or even inventing alternate truths.  Funny thing is, such accusations never seem to bother them.  They simply bat them away like annoying flies and continue to come up with even more and better fabulist distortions. 

Kruse makes it clear that scurrilous attacks from the campaign stump are by no means new.  In fact the ad hominem cutting and slicing that took place in the 19th Century would make most people today blush and then blanch at the outrageousness of the offense.  There was no sweetness and light in the election of 1800 between Jefferson and Adams:

Jefferson was accused of being pro-French and running a “Congo harem” out of Monticello. Adams was accused of conspiring to marry his daughter off to the British king’s family, in order to establish a royal bloodline. Also, foes said he had smuggled British prostitutes across the Atlantic to serve his needs. (Joanna Weiss, Boston Globe, 10.9.12)

In the election of 1828 Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams traded scandalous personal attacks:

In 1828 Andrew Jackson wanted desperately to displace the incumbent John Quincy Adams, and the campaign waged between the two men may have been the nastiest and dirtiest in American history. Before it was over, the frontiersman was accused of adultery and murder, and the upright New Englander was literally called a pimp.

By the time the votes were cast, both men would have wild stories circulated about their pasts, with lurid charges of murder, adultery, and procuring of women being plastered across the pages of partisan newspapers.

The supporters of Andrew Jackson began spreading a rumor that Adams, while serving as American ambassador to Russia, had procured an American girl for the sexual services of the Russian czar. The attack was no doubt baseless, but the Jacksonians delighted in it, even calling Adams a “pimp” and claiming that procuring women explained his great success as a diplomat.

Image result for images jd rockeveller

The election of 1884 was not much different and Grover Cleveland and James Blaine traded insults, rumor, and innuendo about sex, duplicity, paternity, and sin.

There has never been a period of such hilarious, outrageous, political hyperbole and grand guignol excess than in the last five or six years – the rise of Trump, the spewing geysers of liberal hatred, and the no-holds-barred move to promote the most radically out of touch political agenda since the socialists of the early 20th century.  Progressives have taken themselves and their ‘struggle’ very, very seriously.  The future of democracy is at stake.  Democracy matters – a narrow, politically-driven vision of democracy which brooks no opposition, no nay-saying, no obstructionist, revisionist consideration of the Constitution and the principles of Jefferson, Hamilton, and Adams.

It is the best show in town, the greatest vaudeville act ever, the most melodramatic bundle of self-important claims the nation has ever witnessed.  It is hard to take seriously such ballyhoo, faux morality, and deadpan promotion of stage shows that belong in La Cage Aux Folles, bordellos, and cheap low comedy.

Politics by nature is absurd, self-referential, and greedy.  Politicians are impervious to criticism, cannot see their red noses and greasepaint before them, carry on as though anointed, bang on, hector, hammer, and cajole as though anyone was paying attention; and in the end fade away, never to be heard from again.

So democracy matters only in principle – the idealistic principles of Jefferson and the Enlightenment – but in reality it is a circus, a big top, a side show with two-headed babies, bearded ladies, giants, and freaks.  Those who understand this unequivocal ridiculous nature of the enterprise and realize the equally ridiculous human nature underlying it make the best leaders, for they are realistic, objective, downright savvy, with an inimitable funny bone.