A Pastoral Letter on Hope...for the American Species

I hope the title isn’t too presumptuous. I’m only a lowly friar.

Walk me through this as I’m not one much for “Hope” as currently defined. Obama and his generation of leftists have managed to convert Hope from a supplication of the heart to a free Maytag from his stash… just as an earlier generation of leftists turned “Love” into just one of the many manifestations of rutting dogs.

Hope is like Dante’s inferno, only upside down. It has many circles, beginning from the top 1), and the joke that “hope is for suckers” on down to 2) a more cynical circle, as offered up by Obama, a self-serving excuse for waiting rather than working, to 3) an even more self-indulgent circle, where Hope indeed does spring eternal, such as the wishful thinking of Gamecock and myself, that either of our home universities will ever win a national championship in football…or better yet, waking up every day believing we will see a Republican walk and talk like a man. GC and I couldn’t even get odds on which would come first.

But at some point, in its deeper circles, Hope attaches itself to a more transcendent host, and then becomes a subject of genuine inquiry, as when you begin to speak of “hope” for mankind, or in this case, homo sapiens americanus. This is where self-examination becomes as critical as the facts and philosophies we use in trying to decide the veracity of this notion of “hope”, for in the end it is us who decide if there is any Hope for the American Species

And by us, I mean individually, not collectively, for this is as personal and intimate a question we will ever ask ourselves. I’ve made my choice, but no matter. I simply know, using Dante’s spiral, some Americans begin to drop off altogether (lose hope) depending on how firmly they hold onto other fixed stars in their universe. I used to think that this was a peculiarly religious exercise, a la Aquinas, only von Hayek showed me you can get to that same deep circle by a wholly (reasoned and moral) secular route. The Founders had one foot in each camp, believe it or not. So religion is not a barto this discussion…and Christopher Hitchens, among others, is wrong.

And Art in Alaska, with his piece on Progressives last week reminded me that sometimes we simply don’t have all our facts, or the context for our facts, that could cause our grip on Hope to grow stronger and reduce our readiness to jettison the human race for it’s apparent back-slide into sloth, and self-degradation, and generally not-giving-a-damn about anything other than immediate appetites. You know what I mean. It’s where some people just say (and they say it here often enough) “This generation of Americans just aren’t worth it. They aren’t like they used to be. They have their hand out. They aren’t as tough. They’ve had all the positive virtues of Americanism…hard work, character, self-reliance, self-worth, responsibility, honor, you name it…conditioned right out of them.”

True enough, to a point. This is a notion that is held by many from my generation, the 60 and older crowd, who were daily reminded of those virtues growing up. We at least have some sense of not only their value, but their history and context. But this nihilism is also shared by a large group of “conservative” youth of the X-Generation, who, while possessing (in their own minds) the full scope of the Founders’ vision and the underlying political and economic philosophies of the Constitution, generally are missing all these things; the history, context, and moral markers possessed by their elders. This is what Moses Sands called “substituting common sense for a calculator”. Indeed, something is missing, for many young conservatives see the majority of their generation as already lost, which indirectly creates a sense of elitism that worries me mightily, as it reflects the same sentiments I noted in the rising liberals-cum-Left of the 60s; a stronger sense of “who they are not” than what Americans could be. This is directed at them, too.

It’s in that search for a factual context, a la Art, I want to revisit this notion of Hope. Some of you (since I read your posts and comments) will immediately know what I’m saying here (right, Janis?) whereas a few may grope around a little wondering when in hell I’ll get to the chorus of this song.

The Aerie of Distance

I often mention putting on my Commie hat with the Red Star as a way to step back and try to see things from a different perspective. But once done, I take the cap off then go back in, up to my elbows in whatever I was doing. In like manner, on this whole notion of  “Hope for the American Species” and our downward spiral into degradation, I invite you to step back just a little. For imagery, let’s say you not only step back, but up…onto a high wall, an aerie. Then wings appear. Maybe a cape, I’m not sure. In silhouette you could be St Michael or Batman. Who knows? Actually, either will do….truly, for in this context both were about the same business. And you watch silently and you brood over this passing parade of human detritus. Sloth, vanity, avarice, pride, lust, envy, gluttony, filth, crime, ugliness, all marching to a gothic cadence, under darker and longer shadows straight for Gomorrah. That’s what I see, at least.

This is where those mid-sections of the Hope circles begin to jump ship. Why fight for “that”? But this is where the wise begin to look for that context and history. Both in America and the world. Every hear of a fellow named Jacob Riis? A photographer, he took photos of the inner city tenements of New York in 1890, then later a book entitled How the Other Half Lives. Teddy became his patron. Riis’ photos do well enough, but a few writers (I prefer fiction over non-fiction as they tend to be less Leftist and more honest in interpretation) come along that tell a better tale. Of course there was Dickens, only in his London it would have been “How the Other 75% LIve” and had other European capitals had their own Dickens, which they didn’t, it would have been closer to 90%…for the past five hundred years. That’s one context. For this period in New York I recommend a novel by Caleb Carr, The Alienist, who describes in fine detail the filth, squalor, inhumanity and a hopelessness on that side of the tracks which, to my mind at least, was far worse than what we are looking down on today from our aerie high over New York, New Orleans, Chicago, etc. In fact, had Riis caught a train and simply gone off to San Francisco, only taken time to stop over and take side trips, through small towns in Ohio, Kansas, etc, he would have changed his title to “How the Other 25% Live.” …not “Half”. Therein lies a tale that stands all by itself.

Sure, even the smallest burg in Missouri still had it’s “across the track class” but here the math and the context of the American experiment shows through, and that is, no one stayed there very long. You could go to Ottumwa every year from 1900-on and find the same cardboard shacks for ten years at least, but their inhabitants would never be the same. Even New York was a turnstile, the teeming masses coming in faster than the sojourners could vacate them. Only a few stayed for very long, and usually because they’d found a way to make a living off this passing show. The Jewish, Irish, Italian, neighborhoods…they were pass-throughs for 95% of their residents. The rest sold them bread and gefilte fish.

Life Close-Up

So now we have to come down off our aerie and get back in up to our elbows. With this new context and the added information we’ve acquired on high we can then weave them into our own experiences or the experiences of people we know to add even more patina and context. If you were raised in the ‘burbs and never ventured across the line, it pays to listen to those who have. As Moses mentioned about his friend Jim, who was from the other side of the tracks, having never spent anytime there himself, he always wondered how anyone could acquire such noble traits coming from his circumstances? It’s a mystery almost no one seeks to solve anymore.

I’ve been lucky, as have others of you, I already know. I lived in a town of 1000, about a mile long, which was divided by rank and class (and race) as company towns were in those days. Most kids on my side of town (foremen and up) were encouraged away from “that other part of town”. It wasn’t that they skewered babies over an open spit, or anything like that, (as every Arab child knows the Jews to do) but they didn’t go to church (our church at least, and there was only one in town), wore less clean clothes, and the boys were all toughs with an “ski” at the end of their name. Of course, their dads made less money. But I delivered papers there. Two and half hours a day, five days a week, and I collected 35 cents from every house, every Friday. My first clue, at 13, was that if all these people were all that backward, just who the hell was it reading those papers? Also, I was never beaten up or even taunted. That fact seeped in over me at some point, too, though I can’t remember when. Then, when I went to college I was surprised to find about a quarter of them there. Teachers mostly, an engineer or two, at least two doctors I recall. Damn. What did I miss along the way?

When I moved into the upper reaches of the corporate world, around 1980, I bought an old home that had been built by an architect around 1900. All stone, about 3500 sq ft, it had a matching stone out-building the size of a log cabin that had served for 20 years as a kitchen. Coolest place I’d ever seen…and I owned it. It sat on an acre under 4 huge ancient Norway pines. It was situated on what would have been in its day, the most fashionable street of that town as all the other homes were similarly elegant. The street of elites. But just out across the back alley was the other side of tracks, homes that at one time had been fairly nice but by 1980 had become something of a blight.

Directly across that alley live a man and woman with five kids, one of whom had been in my oldest son’s class since second grade. Naturally they would play together in the back yard. Occasionally Mike would come in for lunch. My wife was leery at first (coming from a really blue-blood roost) but also about the hygiene. By 6th grade Mike began to stay over and my wife would get up extra early next morning and sneak his clothes away and wash and iron them before he got up. She even replaced a few things, such as underwear, which he never mentioned noticing. Mike’s lunches and occasional dinners became more or less routine, and he always took home a plate of leftovers. I knew the old man, who would come out and talk in the back yard some days. (Never once met the mom.) He was one of those fellows who’d joined the Army during the Korean War, came home three months later with a disability and never hit a lick the rest of his life. He spoke of it as you see some men do when they win the lottery, as if they’d worked for it all their lives. With whatever he could spare from beer money he raised those kids.

Mike and my son were pals. They played Little League together but that was it for sports. He was too small, while my son was 6’2 in 9th grade. My son was Honor Society, Mike just coasted. I think my son said he never knew Mike to go out on a date. When they graduated, of course, they went different ways, seeing each other every once in awhile when he came home from college. (I had left the house by then.) In the late 90s, they met at their 10th Class Reunion. My son was coaching in Atlanta, and Mike was his only real friend from that class, and his only reason for driving up. Mike had married, had a couple of kids, and was an assistant manager in some store in town. My son told me “Dad, Mike’s doing better than I ever thought. Maybe we had something to do with that?” I kind of laughed and told him “Tell me if you feel the same way after the 20th.”

Well, you already can guess the rest of story. My son called me from his car last summer, and I asked about the reunion. He said, “Mike looked great. And guess what? His daughter graduated this year, valedictorian. She got a full ride to UNC, pre-med …” Then he choked up. I held the phone for almost a minute… “I guess Mike had a bigger impact on me than I thought.” “Ya guess?” I was so proud. At 38 my son had finally slipped on his first banana peel of wisdom. He just found out that the handshake consists of two hands, not one. He learned up close the difference between American reciprocity and European noblesse oblige. That is the difference between America and all rest.

Of course, this doesn’t resolve the Hope question. But it does provide us context and why it’s all worthwhile, Art. (You set me on this journey.) You see, America was not designed by the Founders as a one-size-fits-all answer for any of the world’s unfairness. Even religion doesn’t, practically speaking, even though many of their practitioners try to say they do. In Christianity, all religions in fact, (including Islam I argue) the freedom to chose God includes the freedom to deny Him, to opt out, to be a don’t-give-a-damn. A man can choose Hell, or even Cleveland. It’s the same with freedom and liberty. Religion and Liberty both provide a way out only. Hope. But a way out that is dictated by free will. Not coercion.

That Gothic horror we see when we stand back is in part because we are looking at a perpetual pass-through. It was always there, and having visited the Soviet Union and China, I know it always will be there…only infinitesimally larger, if They win. These cesspools of filth and decadence existed even in the Founders day. The Founders knew, where the Devil is the “spiritual head of half the world, and the political head of the whole of it” (Mark Twain) all they could ever hope for with their “more perfect union” was to design a finer seine net that would allow more and more survivable fish to escape the resignation of inhumanity that had haunted man for thousands of years.

For thirty years we’ve watched this most recent backslide, but not to where it was in 1890 in NYC. I argue that it has been worse, much worse in this country, and it took fewer people to recapture those lost souls in 1890 than are available now to complete this task a second time around. And this time, thank God, we won’t have the Social Justice League, The Church of England, or the (G-D) Democrat Party, to help light our way.

We know how to do it his time. When the Gingrich Congress gave us welfare reform in ’94, millions of women from the underclass literally leaped away from that Gothic horror called the Democrat plantation, based on a latent desire that breathes, in this humble friar’s opinion, in every soul there. Our seine net will do well, once again…if we can just cast it. That’s hope. The over-indulged, self-indulged middle class couch-kids, well, they worry me more, but I know we have the cure, for I believe the same latent desire exists in these spawn of MTV as well. We have seen it work. Context. Always context.

There’s a war on, remember. And it is intensifying as predicted. I sense a rising anger, right here on RedState, and I sense a growing sense of desperation, yes, desperation, on the part of the Left. They still have their Plan in full-ahead motion…but are less sure it will work. You can sense that, too. Even some members of the media are sensing they are Stickmen, poseurs, more bluff and bravado than doers. But not all of them are sticking with the Plan. Desperate men slip up. They also do foolish, foolish, dangerous things. Hope won’t stop any of that. It won’t even combat it. It isn’t a tool. It isn’t ammo. It merely provides a firmer grip, for as sure as your life, many (of you?)  will want to let go and head for calmer waters when it heats up. “They aren’t worth it” they will say.

They are.