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Marching for wisdom with Marian Wright Edelman and Halley Suitt

By Nicholas Stix
web posted April 18, 2005

When David N. Dinkins was New York's mayor (1990-1993), he often said, "Service to others is the rent we pay for our time on Earth."

I was always moved by Mayor Dinkins' recitation of that line, which he intoned with gravitas at every policeman's funeral. And since more policemen were murdered during Mayor Dinkins' one term than under any other mayor in New York's history, I got to hear the line with disturbing frequency. I naively took for granted that the words were the Mayor's. That proved to be a mistake. Mayor Dinkins also got fulsome praise for saying that New York is "a gorgeous mosaic," though the phrase had been coined by Democrat New York Gov. Mario Cuomo.

I later saw the line about service attributed to socialist Marian Wright Edelman, who also coined the slogan "leave no child behind." Slightly modified, "LNCB" became the name of a well-meaning but misbegotten piece of legislation, "No Child Left Behind" ("NCLB"), which for better or worse, is one of the main domestic legacies of President Bush's first term. (In 1996, Edelman's husband, Peter, resigned from the Clinton Administration, to protest the President's signing of the Personal Responsibility and Work Act into law, which ended welfare as a lifetime entitlement. In other words, Peter Edelman was taking a moral stand against moral responsibility and self-reliance. But don't worry about the Edelmans. They run in circles where no morally bankrupt gesture ever goes unrewarded. They get paid, while others serve. And so, poor Peter Edelman was given a law professorship at Georgetown University.)

There's nothing wrong with service to others, except that for Marian Wright Edelman, all service must be bankrolled by an all-powerful, socialist state, and must ultimately serve that state.

LNCB is the "American" counterpart to the allegedly African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child." Again, for those who, like Hillary Clinton, speak of a "village," the village is a metaphor for a total, socialist state. And in both cases (LNCB/Village), the real meaning of the phrase is that everyone is responsible for raising a child, except, that is, for the child's own parents.

I came across some thoughts on service to others tonight, while visiting Halley's Comment, the blog of Halley Suitt, a quotamonger, who in March complained that white males had taken over blogging, and who called on all the popular, white, leftwing bloggers at a Harvard conference to link to ten new female/minority/foreign bloggers over the course of a month, quality be damned. (Actually, Suitt is not quite as humorless as her demands sound. She suffers from occasional moments of levity.) Apparently, Suitt's June 2003 talking points, according to which it was women who had made weblogs a journalistic and aesthetic force to be reckoned with, and that "Weblogs are creating a level-playing field for women," are no longer operative.

Of course, this is the same person who in said talking points argued that blogging was inherently dialogical, and thus essentially female, but who permitted none of her readers to post comments in response.

At the March conference, Suitt also criticized bloggers for being too "provincial," because most of them are American. If I had a Ph.D. in cultural studies, I might be able to explain to you the dialectical logic behind the charge that if foreigners are largely indifferent to the blogosphere, Americans are thus guilty of "provincialism."

Does that mean that the best way for Americans to prove their interest in the world, would be for all of them to give up their blogs? Would that include Halley Suitt? I didn't think so.

Suitt's dialectics remind me of the notion of "progress" celebrated on March 30 by a couple of feminist Wall Street Journal "reporters" on the Journal's op-ed page. As Steve Sailer reported, Jeanne Whalen and Sharon Begley saw it as great progress for English girls, that English boys have by and large stopped studying math, and thereby allowed the girls to "close the gender gap." (The grading on math tests has also been rigged to give girls higher scores.)

Unfortunately for Suitt, white, male, American bloggers do not seem inclined to voluntarily disadvantage themselves. Government intervention is clearly called for.

* * *

An early entry I found at Suitt's blog was a reprint of Emerson's (1803-1882) essay (originally delivered as a lecture, if memory serves) "On Self-Reliance." While ol' Ralph did support abolition, one seeks in vain in his lectures and essays for support for sexual and racial quotas. (Suitt's earlier posts suggest that she doesn't care about other races and nationalities, but feels she has to express support for them, in order to get support from her comrades for mediocre female bloggers.)

In any event, I came across a passage in "On Self-Reliance" that reminded me of Marian Wright Edelman.

Virtues are, in the popular estimate, rather the exception than the rule. There is the man and his virtues. Men do what is called a good action, as some piece of courage or charity, much as they would pay a fine in expiation of daily non-appearance on parade. Their works are done as an apology or extenuation of their living in the world, — as invalids and the insane pay a high board. Their virtues are penances. I do not wish to expiate, but to live.

Is it possible that Marian Wright Edelman bastardized Emerson, in order to come up with a nugget of "wisdom" that was the exact opposite of what the sublime essayist said? (‘Service to others is the fine we pay for our time on Earth'?) And how, in heaven's name, would a Halley Suitt come to see Emerson as "the God of the bloggers"?

No matter. I don't need to rely on Emerson, any more than I need to rely on Marian Wright Edelman or Halley Suitt. Modern, enlightened folk are not supposed to rely on intellectual authority, anyway, or so the "enlightened" folk always say where religion is concerned. (Of course, where politics is concerned, the "enlightened" are slaves to authority.)

I was once in a bit of a pickle, where self-reliance is concerned. In 1989, I founded a magazine, A Different Drummer. I put out fliers advertising the coming inaugural issue and soliciting work, quoting as my credo the famous statement (aphorism? poem?) of Emerson's friend, Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862).

If a man does not keep pace
With his companions,
Perhaps it is because he hears
A different drummer.
Let him step to the
Music he hears,
However measured or far away.

Before publication, I realized that leaning on Thoreau's authority on the need for independence was self-defeating, or at least, irony-deficient, as a credo. And so, I wrote a metaphorical essay -- "A Different Drummer" -- with endless variations and puns on "drums" and "drummers," mocking the partisans of orthodox "difference" (multiculturalism). ("I have a drum!") I opened with the Thoreau quote, followed by a pun on Bob Merrill's lyrics from my favorite song in Funny Girl, "Don't Bring around a Cloud to Rain on My Parade":

I'll bring my band out,
I'll beat my drum …
Don't bring around a crowd,
To reign on my parade.

* * *

Purveyors of cheap paradox may riposte that one cannot help but be an Emersonian or Thoreauan. If one follows either, well, one is a … follower. And if one should reject both men for a much different way of one's own, one is still following them, for wasn't their message, To thine own self be true?

Such "paradoxes" are cheaper by the dozen, and the price goes down as the vagueness increases.

The thing isn't to identify oneself as an individualist or contrarian, but as the Nike ad exhorts, to "Just do it." Unless, that is, one is neither.

The Marian Wright Edelmans and Halley Suitts are neither. Rather, they lead columns of tone-deaf marchers who maintain perfect formations.

Though reading an Emerson or a Thoreau may affirm yearnings one has long felt, they cannot put such yearnings in one's heart. For if one is so easily influenced, one will just as easily be influenced by the next speaker to march in the opposite direction. The decision to go one's own way is an unconscious one that is made early in life.

Has the blog "revolution" given us millions of eccentrics, going each his own way, or a few large marching columns?

Nicholas Stix can be reached at add1dda@aol.com.


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