A few decades ago, I was a different person. I did not think things over. I viewed impulse, impetuosity, spontaneity and whim as virtues. I made a lot of “decisions” from that perspective, decisions such as marriage.

I was inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance.”

I would write on the lintels of the doorpost, Whim. I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation.

Now — as I told some friends the other day — I make decisions more slowly, that I like to gather information and then let it all “percolate.” I said that. Whim is fine but sometimes its pal is “bad judgment.”

I have learned — as my father always advised me — to “count the cost.”

There’s more to “Self-Reliance” than that. It’s the manifesto of individualism. Emerson makes some points that, in view of the recent election, are very interesting.

This struck my attention:

Your goodness must have some edge to it,—else it is none. The doctrine of hatred must be preached, as the counteraction of the doctrine of love, when that pules and whines.

I thought of the doctrine of love, which I have to admit I’ve always had problems with ever since my failed attempt at being a hippy back in 1970. I gave it three months. It just didn’t happen for me. In the midst of all the saccharine neo-Romantic youth movement, there was a horrific war, my dad was dying, my mother was on drugs and my brother was fucked up. I didn’t see that “Love” and “Peace” were realistic objectives at all. Brotherly love was not — in my mind — the natural route of the human heart. Wearing tie-dye, being stoned and wearing flowers in your hair was not going to make these objective problems go away.

Compassion is not only difficult but it is tricky. For example, for years, out of feelings of compassion, I supported my brother. But what I was supporting was his drinking habit at a pretty serious cost to myself — and it wasn’t compassion; it was selfishness. I could not live with MYSELF if I did not “help” him. And the help I offered — gave — was not real help at all.

When I turned away from him — which felt like hating him — I found myself. I believe this is Emerson’s sense here. Sentimentality is not love, just a pretty box that LOOKS like love.

As the days pass and I read more articles from and about “the other side” I’m starting to get it. On top of my mind is always that 40%+ of qualified voters did not vote. To me this is important. Then, among those who voted for The Donald (a spewer of hate with a fascist agenda) were people who were not voting FOR The Donald at all but who are simply completely disenchanted with the government. My guess is that no one who is completely disenchanted with the government voted for HRC.

The Donald preached a doctrine of hate such as I never expected to hear any more in my life time. I heard it a lot as a kid in school because we had movies all the time showing us what happened in Hitler’s Germany. We heard Hitler speak and while we could not understand his words, we could hear the background context especially when it was combined with images from the war and war atrocities. Night in Fog was a big hit in my high school. We saw it twice a year in all-school assemblies. There was a concerted effort on the part of the schools I went to that we would all understand what fascism looks like and sounds like; we would know what it can do, how people can be caught up in it even without wanting to.

So revisiting Emerson today just to write this prompt about “percolating” I began to wonder if the “doctrine of love” had begun to “pule and whine” for many Americans and I think it has. The Donald made a lot of noise about political correctness and I know that many people are sick of it, many people feel victimized by it and, for my own personal self, it’s never been something I could get behind. It is (as Emerson would say) the “name of goodness” not goodness itself.

He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness.

For example, there’s a big difference between calling a gay guy a “faggot” like, “Hey faggot, how’s it going?” and actually hating gays. Without ever saying a disrespectful thing, a person can nurture in his soul a deadly antipathy toward anyone in the LGBT community. Political correctness (in my experience with my students) was very often a form of hypocrisy. The name of goodness, not goodness. I always believed it was better to teach kids to be kind from a genuine impulse of the heart than it was to forbid them to use certain words, but… (And, in case you’re having an apoplectic attack over my use of the word “faggot” don’t. I don’t care at all what someone’s sexual orientation is. Love and desire are personal, individual things for which I have (way before PC) always had tremendous respect and the belief it’s none of my business. I’ve also known since I was in 8th grade that it is not a “choice” or a sin or anything. K?)

Perhaps that’s why so many voters ignored the horror of The Donald’s rhetoric; they really didn’t care what he said as long as what he said was nothing at all like the hypocrisy of “business as usual.”

In a long ago English class, I had my students paraphrase all of “Self-Reliance.” It was incredibly difficult. Some fought against it, some did it out of duty, some were enlivened and liberated by it. My thesis adviser, Robert D. Richardson, Jr.  — who loves the Transcendentalists and has written beautiful biographies of both Emerson and Thoreau — had edited a version of Emerson’s essays. When I wrote him about what my class was doing he offered to send an autographed copy to every student who wanted one. I expected 3 or 4 to raise their hands, but I ended up with enough books for every student. ❤

I believe this election is far more complex than we’ll soon know, but I sense within it the desire of maybe 60% of the voters to make a change. And, as I was in the middle of rereading “Self-Reliance,” this hit me:

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think… It is the harder because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

The objection to conforming to usages that have become dead to you is that it scatters your force. It loses your time and blurs the impression of your character. If you maintain a dead church, contribute to a dead Bible Society, vote with a great party either for the Government or against it…under all these screens I have difficulty to detect the precise man you are…If I know your sect I anticipate your argument…But do your thing, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself…

I think this is part of the appeal of Bernie Sanders; he stands up for and as himself. I hope I am right in my theory, that many of those who voted for The Donald were actually voting against the status quo and not for fascism. Time will tell…


21 thoughts on “Whim

  1. I am with you that a significant number of Trump voters were in the camp of “the status quo is bad.” Many of them would have voted for Bernie, had he been on the ticket, because, in spite of his long tenure in DC, he has been a thorn in the side of the status quo. He had the advantage over Trump of offering a coherent, policy based plan that would undo much of the damage done since Carter was president.

    But I don’t think we can totally rule out those who voted for Trump because they absolutely hated HRC. Some of them were driven by right wing conspiracy theories while others simply hated her secretiveness, her inability to let anyone inside her bubble of yes-men. The Democrats never took seriously her negative numbers, but they were what killed her in the end. People hate her, while they are only disgusted by Trump. Her slim difference in unfavorability over Trump measured quantity of disfavor without looking at the nature of disfavor, the visceral hate of her. The MSM never bothered to take it seriously either. It allowed them to discount the wave against her.

    People who hadn’t voted in years came out to vote against her. People who might have held their noses while voting for her had no real motivation to go out and vote for her.

    When you add this all to the populist wave that we all saw last spring, HRC was a fatally flawed candidate for this year. But she and the DNC lived in her bubble and refused to see the handwriting on the wall. Even now they are looking for someone else to blame. They blame Comey, the media, Bernie and anyone else they can think of (mustn’t leave out Russia!) rather than admit they were the problem.

    The dem will do no better at their autopsy of the election than the repugnant did four and eight years ago. They have blinders on.

    • Yep. Incredible hubris for the Dems to ignore facts like unfavorability polls. And the vanity of — in the midst of a war that’s gone on for 15 years and a sizeable area, anyway, of the nation that IS suffering (my hood is still in the recession of 2008) — the vanity of harping on the “historical” election of the first woman president. I honestly think that issue might be a thing of the past. She did not campaign hard enough or widely enough or generously enough.

      I believe that when a superlative female candidate emerges no one will have to say “History making” anything. I think (people of our generation aside) voters in Gen-X and younger don’t think anything about it. I felt watching HRC that she thought she was in the 1990s. And, she ran a dirty campaign (as did The Donald). It was all icky. I’m sure, as you say, people voted for The Donald to vote against HRC. With all the polls giving her 85% chance of winning, people probably thought, “WTF. I’ll vote against her. She’s going to win anyway.”

      And I believe the Dems screwed over Bernie in the primaries. I just hope they didn’t buy him off. I just hope this bone they’ve thrown him is what I think it is (OK, look, you and E. Warren go do your thing like good little kids while we get on with business). I don’t much like Elizabeth Warren, but I don’t think she’s completely fake. Oh well. 🙂 Probably time to watch Blazing Saddles

  2. Martha, I really enjoyed this very thoughtful post.

    I too am a Trump hater – I hate everything he stands for and everything he says. Some time ago I simply stopped reading or listening to anything about him. Life is too short to ingest a constant diet of poison.
    Add to that misery, the outpouring of ‘pule and whining’. What a great expression! I too disliked all that rhetoric about the first female President.

    … but I couldn’t resist this post. It simply drew me in and your argument about the backlash against actions in the “name of goodness” not goodness itself were thoughtful and persuasive.

    I am extremely uncomfortable about what the next 4 years are going to deliver to us. I can only hope that people will be overwhelmingly inspired to deliver more actions of genuine goodness to counteract the Trump negativity.

    • I think that’s what will happen. Out here where I live, we already know that it’s up to us to “Make America Great Again” and I think most people try to do something for their community every day.

      I’m not and have never been a liberal. I can’t. I’m not a republican, either. In the 90s, when all the PC stuff was starting, I’d just gotten back from the People’s Republic of China and I felt that whole PC thing was just more big character propaganda. I don’t approve of historical revisionism. I don’t think a literary genre is defined by what’s between someone’s legs and/or what someone does with that equipment. I remember my shock at seeing The Norton Anthology of Women’s Literature. That’s not enlightened. That’s putting women in a ghetto. Enlightened would be an anthology of great literature, some of which — coincidentally — happens to have been written by women.

      So, from the beginning I just couldn’t get on the “pule and whining” bandwagon. AND I think all that stuff is for a nation that has no bigger problems. I think the big problem for many Americans is making a living. I’m saddened that many think we have to go back in time (great again) to achieve a better life.

        • Yep. I just read an article about what to say if someone wishes you a “Merry Christmas” and you’re not of the Christmas persuasion. People have dealt with that for CENTURIES, mostly without getting their knickers in a bunch…

          • I really don’t get this issue.

            If someone wishes me a Happy Hanukkah, or Happy Dawali, Gong Xi Fa Cai, or Happy Whatever (and believe me, in a multi-cultural city like Toronto, it happens), my first and only response is always to say ‘thank you – and you too’. It’s a greeting intended only for good wishes. Why should that be interpreted as anything other than good?!

            • Right? I’ve even been known to wish my Jewish friends a Happy Hanukah because I actually DO wish them a Happy Hanukah. It puzzles me because in all this talk of diversity, I think we’ve become less tolerant and less accepting of diversity.

  3. Very interesting thoughts, humbly packaged.

    Interesting blast of political correctness. Entirely understandable, until one is hurt by something intended to denigrate. At the heart of all in life is intention. May that be good/ bad or ugly.

    Thanks for sharing..

  4. The extremists shout down the reasonable. Anyway, you can’t reason with the unreasonable.
    For the last 40 years we’ve (middle America) been force fed what the elitists in their ivory towers of higher education have determined is right.
    They say it’s not cool to discriminate against somebody who identifies their gender different from what they were born as. They say if we don’t want some guy who dresses as a girl going to the same bathroom as our 8 year old daughter that we’re haters.
    On just about every issue we are asked to accept insanity. I take that back–we are force fed insanity.
    If you say white lives matter (way more white people are killed by cops) you are a raciest. To point out certain facts is raciest. To hold a door open for a woman means your a chauvinist. I was actually hollered at by a girl at collage for doing that. I slapped her books out of her hands and kicked them down the hall to make amends.
    Anyway, to force feed acceptable behavior (even when it’s right) only leads to resistance. I think that’s what happened.
    I did not vote for trump BTW. I threw my vote away on a third party.

    • Yep. And the Liberals (with whom I don’t self-identify) have made non-issues major issues while, in various corners of the world (including far southern Colorado), people are hungry, out of work, shooting up, disenfranchised, attacked by “insurgents” and “rebels,” killed, left homeless and hopeless. We are disgusting to me. I’m neither liberal nor conservative. I’m an anarchist. NO one speaks for me and I’m OK with that because no one listens to me, either. 🙂

      P.S. If you held the door open for me, even back then, I’d have said, “Thanks!” and returned the favor if I had the chance and there was reason, like your arms were full of books.

      • Nobody listens to me either. 🙂
        It depends on the issue whether I’m a lib, conservative, or libertarian. My neighbors think I’m a lib. My friends aren’t sure what I am. I’d have voted for Bernie, had he made it through.
        You’re right. Ignorance, want, alienation. If we could just focus on these problems.
        I still hold doors open. 🙂 But the look on that girl’s face was priceless.

        • My friends look at me and see a reflection of themselves. Funny how people are. I’d have voted for Bernie, too. I still think he would have beaten The Donald. I think that 40%+ well, a lot of them stayed home because they believed HRC stole the primary. I think many voted for The Donald in protest to that.

          The other day I was putting air in my tires. A young junky came up to me asking for spare change. She was so young, so pretty, so wasted and I don’t help addicts any more. I said, “I got nothing for you. Sorry.” “Do you have a flat tire?” she asked. “Yeah, I think so, but I don’t know which one.” “Can I help you?” she asked. I thought my heart would break. Later I saw her boyfriend leaning against Taco Bell waiting for her to bring something back to him. I think my heart did break. Fucking politicians.

          • There’s so much pain out there. I confine my help to children. Every year I find some kids who don’t have good clothes for school and I get them clothes for Christmas. I do that anonymously. I know what not having nice clothes for school is like. I went through the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades with the same 3 shirts and the same 3 pairs of pants. The only shoes I had were those slip-on tennis shoes from K-Mart. They called me the tennis shoe kid. I had a lunch card that let me eat school lunch for free, but I never ate lunch because I was ashamed to use it. I started out with 5 dollars that my uncle gave me when he put me on a bus headed to boot camp. White privilege.

            • Exactly. I got in an argument with someone about that very thing. She said, “You have to agree, though, that it’s easier for white people.” (She’s white, has a PhD in some scientific field, brilliant young woman, full of the cant fed to her generation by, uh, white liberal academics) I just shut down. I didn’t want to say, “What, exactly, is this ‘it’ you people keep talking about?” I’m not engaging. They are robots.

              • I’ve got two PHDs–posthole diggers. I keep them in the shed.
                I don’t tell people about the poverty I grew up in. I don’t think I’d be believed. Anyway, there were plenty of other white kids just as poor–if not poorer–in my school. Ignorance and want are colorblind. Stupidity is colorblind, as well. When I help poor kids at Christmas, I never ask what color they are.
                You should tell that young lady to take a vacation to Appalachia. Then tell how easy “it” is.

                • Or my “hood” in San Diego. Life was really easy there, especially for white kids who got beaten up FOR being white. I’m so tired of this color thing. Only stupid people fixate on something so absurdly obvious and facile. I don’t even get why they don’t see the inherent racism in “white privilege.”

                  • Ha. I think I’ll take my privileged ass and crawl under the house and wrap my pipes to keep them from freezing. I should have done it when the weather was warmer, but I was waiting for it to get cold enough to kill the spiders. . . . Shivers.

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