Addressing Dissent

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Upon finding my blog, my Great Uncle Morris voiced disagreement.

Feb. 15, 2008

Dear Robby,

I find I disagree with your blog and your messages and since I’m not one to hesitate negative views, even when I suspect they will have no effect, here they are.

You say I can unsubscribe if I get sick of you and that Hillary fans enter at their own risk. I’ll take the risk, and not telling you what I think would be the easy way out. Unfortunately, unsubscribing would not put an end to the influence that you, and millions like you, seem to be having nation-wide. And far from having no interest in the matter I’m extremely concerned. Of course the worldly consequences of what happens in our elections will be much greater for you than they will be for me. On the practical level, and without being sure, I think that Clinton has a better chance of defeating McCain than Obama.

What I find deplorable is the dogmatic certitude that you and so many “idealistic” young people–lacking learning, wide reading and world experience–bring to their political activity. Much emotion, high-mindedness and presumed academic credentials, are the prevailing conceits. Most college graduates have hardly begun their educations. I wonder how many of them have read the things Sen. Obama studied at Columbia and Harvard.

I admit I may not know you well. You once exchanged emails with me when you were in a summer camp. You also communicated when you had some interest in John Barth. But I take it that your more recent years in college veered you to computers and then to an excellent job using them.

I’m still trying to learn to use my iMac, and I admire computer skills. But such skills are not among the liberal arts, and like chess or mathematics (which I also admire) they are but a tiny part of an adequate education. It’s impressive that you went to Denali. I was once there myself. But in your early years it might be better to visit places where you encounter people different from yourself, and talk to them, rather than look at landscapes and animals. One other highly selective memory occurs to me. At you parents’ home on one occasion, with a number of people present, you chose to work on Sundokus rather than to converse.

Some people of your grandparents’ and great grandparents’ generation (I suspect you know little about them) were also very idealistic–and made poor political choices. But they experienced pressures and needs, and studied what they could as much as they could. They were not, as are many members of your generation, involved in what was called “radical chic.”

I listened to your music on YouTube. It might have been appropriate in your dorm room. (Ditto for your politics.) But why should it be foisted on the world? Simply because you have the digital power to do it? More important, what music do you listen to? What do you read? What the best of the world has to offer to you is better than what the best of you has to offer to the world. It takes time and maturity before this can change.

I taught through a generation of students who wanted, and felt entitled to, a share in university governance. Later they felt that they should decide what they should read, not their professors. Finally they thought it more important to evaluate their teachers than to be evaluated. Their ignorance of the past became monumental and it included an indifference to the history of their own families.

Sen. Obama keeps repeating the old saw–you can disagree without being disagreeable. May I suggest that you can agree, and be very polite, and be even more disagreeable. Absent willingness to engage in dialogue, with someone other than the likes of yourself, nothing good will come.

I have no blog, but you are welcome to attach this open letter to yours.

Cordially,

Morris

Here is my reply:

Feb 15, 2008

Dear Morris,

I was saddened and disappointed to find that you authored an email that was so filled with unnecessary and unhelpful condescension (suggesting that my politics belong in my dorm room, for example). You should know that I make it a point not to engage in debate with adversaries who take that sort of tone with me; I find such debates to be void of virtuous results. It would be easy for me to respond as if I thought your tone was unintentional, but that would be to condescend to you, and I refuse to do that. As a measure of good faith, I will address your concerns. I respectfully ask that your future correspondence be more substantive and civil.

I think that as a Hillary supporter you should be very careful how you use the word “deplorable.” Bill Clinton, Mark Penn and Howard Wolfson have collectively pegged Obama as all but a lazy, coke-dealing Jesse Jackson. In addition to being ethically void and intellectually dishonest, it’s a very short-sighted move for any Democrat to so alienate the black vote in the way that she has.

I’ve also grown frustrated with the way that Hillary has run on her husband’s name with the good, and separated herself from the bad. If she wants to run on the economic boom of the 90s, that’s fair. But then she also has to live with the criticisms that result from the anti-labor and anti-welfare concessions that her husband made. I do not agree with those decisions and she has not convinced me that she would not make similar concessions. I also profoundly disagree with the notion that Hillary is better-experienced to run the country. In fact, her two most significant political experiences (Hillarycare and the Iraq War Authorization) have proven to be colossal failures. I know from past discussions that we have different stances on the War in Iraq. Mine remains that it never should have happened, and I hold her accountable for her vote to authorize it.

I’ll also add that if you believe my reasons for supporting Obama to be “emotional” as you say, then you are fully uninformed as to the virtues I perceive him to have. I was a fan of Obama before he was a United States senator, and thus long before there was any national movement behind him. I have a friend who worked on his Illinois senate campaign and it was around that time that I familiarized myself with his policies and ideology. His judgment to speak out against the Iraq War from the start has proven sound. Deeper beneath the surface is the fact that as a state senator, he managed to pass legislation that his governor, his police department, his own party, and the Republicans told him was not passable. See this, for example: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/03/AR2008010303303.html. I do not believe that Hillary has the tactfulness to pull that off.

Lastly, I’m curious as to your reasons why you think Hillary would be better-suited to beat McCain in the general election; national polling and demographics strongly suggest otherwise. The only thing that separates Clinton from McCain with regard to the War in Iraq is that McCain had the political courage to support the surge early on when it was very unpopular. I think that would hurt Hillary significantly.

Steering away from politics as you did, who are you to tell me what music is good enough for the world to listen to and what music is not? I’m not forcing my music down anybody’s throat; I’m putting it up to be heard by anybody who wants to listen. If you do not, then I suggest you do not. I posted it because I was asked to do so. Elliott Smith’s “Tomorrow Tomorrow” is a work adored by many of his fans. Several of them asked me to perform it and post a video so that they too could learn how to play it (Elliott Smith has deceased and at the time I posted it, no videos of him playing it were known to exist). You may find that it lacks maturity, but the 16,000 people who have seen it, commented on it and rated it 4.5 out of 5 stars on YouTube think otherwise. However “learned” you take yourself to be does not negate that, and it does not hinder the enjoyment that my video has provided to others. I would think somebody as educated as yourself would recognize that, pardon the cliché, the beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder. Do you go through record stores and question the existence of every CD that does not suit your fancy? I’m proud of the music that I post on my web site, and I reject your notion that maturity and age are directly proportional and unavoidably so. I’ve gotten several emails from guitarists–some of whom are approaching your own age–who are still unable to perform the right-hand tremolo-picking technique that I use in the video. There are other folks who would contend that the Jackson 5 produced music worth listening to. Should they have waited until they were your age to release an album? The fact that my age is the only criticism that you could muster about my music vastly increases my confidence about having posted it.

The bands and musicians to whom I listen to most these days are Radiohead, Jon Brion, Elliott Smith, Jeff Buckley and Aimee Mann.

Yours truly, Robby

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