Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Definitely a Wordsmith and Occasionally a Madman

From Teacher. Wordsmith. Madman:


and nothing.

More required reading from Christopher Hitchens. Every last word of it.

It seems all the more necessary and instructive today, when we read in the New York Times that 62-year-old men are being swayed in matters of great social and political and historical importance by the insights of their seven-year-old grandsons, but one day after a twenty-something former student of mine had both audacity of hype and paucity of perspective enough to write on his Facebook page: [I] would have stood alongside MLK 45 years ago. 45 years from now will you have to explain to your children why you didn't stand alongside Barack Obama?

For those two men, and for the millions more like them making the same myopic mistakes, here are the money sentences from Mr. Hitchens' final paragraph:

This is a lot sadder, and a lot more serious, than has been admitted. Four decades after the murder in Memphis of a friend of the working man—a hero who was always being denounced by the FBI for his choice of secular and socialist friends and colleagues—the national civil rights pulpit is largely occupied by second-rate shakedown artists who hope to franchise "race talk" into a fat living for themselves... Who now cares to commemorate Philip Randolph or Bayard Rustin or the other giants of struggle and solidarity in whose debt we live? So amnesiac have we become, indeed, that we fall into paroxysms of adulation for a ward-heeling Chicago politician who does not complete, let alone "transcend," the work of Dr. King; who hasn't even caught up to where we were four decades ago; and who, by his chosen associations, negates and profanes the legacy that was left to all of us.

No matter what his elementary school fan base might tell you.

That's reproduced exactly as possible from TWM. I have two primary issues with the post. First, Barack Obama MAY be as significant or even more significant then Dr. King, only time will tell and until time does tell, people should be able to respectfully argue both sides. Second, there is something to be said for age and the accompanying experience BUT there is something to be said for youth and the accompanying spirit and enthusiasm. More importantly there is something to be said for mutual respect.

To the first issue, the significance of Obama compared with Dr. King. I want to be clear, I have no problem with people who think that Barack Obama is in no way the next Dr. King. I have no problem with people who feel that his work will not be as profound as Dr. King's. I have no problem with people who firmly believe that he lacks the nobility of Dr. King. I don't think they are in the same category either, at least not yet. However, I am confident that there were plenty of Teachers Wordsmiths and Madmen who thought that King's work was insignificant in the early 1960s. They had every right to think at the time, that he would fizzle (though it would be an impossible position to defend in hindsight) and I would have a certain level of respect for a man or woman who would admit to me today that when they heard King at a rally in 1960 or 1961 they thought he wouldn't amount to much. They had every right to speculate about what they must then have considered King's followers' "audacity of hype" and "paucity of perspective." However, if these skeptics had looked down their bespectacled noses with the incredulous level of contempt that Hermann employs here then all they did was reduce the level of conversation and I have nothing but contempt for them. Not because of the position they took, but because they lowered the level of discourse.

To the second issue, a lack of respect for younger people. I am not old enough to have heard Dr. King's dream in person, in fact my father may well have watched it on TV from my Grandfathers lap as a boy of 7. I lack the perspective that the 62 year old grandfather in Hermann's NYT article has and I must (and do) respect the insight that someone who lived through that period has gained. On the other hand, I am too young to have heard anyone refer to a black man who wants equal rights referred to as "uppity." That also gives me a lack of perspective, a lack of understanding for a whole school of thought. Would you not agree that my lack of understanding for how someone could possibly consider a man "uppity" for seeking equal rights is an advantage of perspective that the 62 year old grandfather should respect me for? Does age/experience have an impact on any political discussion? Yes. Does a greater age and more experience generally make one more qualified in a political discussion? Yes. Do age and experience give one person the right to disregard the opinions of another as those of an elementary school student? NO. Should one assume that Mr. Hermann would tolerate that sort of disrespect from his elders? Does Mr. Hermann suggest that the voting age should be continually adjusted to his age?

I generally have a great deal of respect for Hermann's postings (disagree with many of them as I might) and I read them as faithfully as all of the other blogs on my roll (Lord knows he is far more eloquent then I am), but today he swapped "Wordsmith" for "Grumpy Old Man" and I felt the need to call him on it.

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