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October 6, 2004

Self-Righteous Hatred

Last week, Providence Journal blogger Sheila Lennon linked to a piece by novelist E.L. Doctorow that struck me as among the most despicable bits of commentary that I'd yet read in this election season. However, my time is limited, and I decided that it was too limited to spend much of it worrying about every instance of a member of the cultural élite trying to get in on the completely repercussion-free bandwagon of declared moral superiority to the President and his drooling followers.

Well, the equation between the importance of commenting and the brevity of life began to shift when I received Doctorow's rant as an email forwarded by a friend and fellow local writer. Although the act will not very likely be repercussion-free, I simply couldn't shrug off my responsibility to reply, and I did so as follows:

To all,

I hesitate to reply to such things because, more often than not, the risk is of lost opportunity and (worse) of lost friendship. Still, on this one, I can't let it slide by without comment. As it happens, I thought to mention Doctorow's piece on my blog when the Providence Journal first put the novelist's words online, but neither time nor constitution allowed. Please, everybody, remove the following paragraph from all of Doctorow's flowing prose and consider its message:

"He does not feel for the families of the dead, he does not feel for the thirty five million of us who live in poverty, he does not feel for the forty percent who cannot afford health insurance, he does not feel for the miners whose lungs are turning black or for the working people he has deprived of he chance to work overtime at time-and-a-half to pay their bills — it is amazing for how many people in this country this President does not feel."

What a purely despicable thing to write. Is it among author/editor/professor Doctorow's talents to see into another man's soul? Is it in yours? If anything, I'm politically to George W. Bush's right; am I even worse in not being able to feel for the "million of us [ha!] who live in poverty"? Is it amazing for how many people in this country I do not feel? Am I spitting on the graves of the dead by intending to vote contrary to Rhode Island's laughable conformity and at least get W. on our state's tally?

You'll conduct yourselves toward me and toward the President however you're inclined. If you choose to follow the self-righteous chants of such as our friend E.L., then there's little that I can say to persuade you to see those of my inclinations as people rather than heartless warmongers and -profiteers. But were it not for the last-minute good graces of God, followed by 80-hour weeks of variegated work, my family — wife, husband, toddler, baby, and dog in a just-bought fixer-upper — would have lost all this month, and for MY children's sake, I'm voting for President Bush, not the truly horrid Anyone-But candidate.

I urge you to do the same. If you wish to discuss policies and principles, you'll find an eager disputant in me. But please do not further the fear mongering rampage of the Left. Please, also, those of you who know me, give my words the benefit of whatever good will I've managed to procure with you, and please know that I would greatly lament my opinions' making me beyond the bounds of conceivable friendship.

With deepest sincerity and hope,

Justin Katz

Posted by Justin Katz at October 6, 2004 5:07 PM

From a Christian to another Christian, may I humbly suggest that anyone whose cherished friendship you might lose for having written your thoughts in reply is not to be lamented?

Do you feel that anyone who would end his "friendship" with you because you wrote your reply was ever truly a friend to begin with? As the saying goes, "With friends like that. . ."

Matthew 10:34-36

Posted by: Frank Villon at October 7, 2004 1:55 AM

And does EL Doctorow "feel" for the deaths of about 1,000,000 muslims at the hands of Saddam's regime (he doesn't mention THEM). Were there protest marches of "feeling" as the mass graves were assembled in Iraq (apparently not, as Doctorow doesn't mention them either)?

Of course not. Because the "feeling" which Doctorow describes isn't about legitimate victims at all; it is about him (and his friends) and how they perceive themselves. If they can convince themselves that they have the proper "feelings" about the casualties in Iraq, and project that the President does not, then that analysis establishes themselves as morally acceptable and the President as a moral cretin (as if "feelings" have some definitive relevance to any moral calculus).

Why not assume the good faith of all concerned, that all are capable of moral reasoning, and that all have the usual human emotions and compassion, and then contest policies on the basis of standards that involve reasoning and argument, as opposed to vitriolic ad hominem?

Why doesn't Doctorow take this tack? Because then he would have to face facts he would rather not face, such as the aforementioned mass graves, and our (his?) responsibilities, if any, in the face of such genocide. Because he would actually have to assemble an argument based on facts, evidence, and reason, instead of the formulaic "he's an unfeeling idiot" line of "argument."

It's sometimes comforting to think, only for a moment, that everyone who disagrees with you is either an idiot or a moral zombie. But most adults get past that juvenile instinct to the issues and construct a position based on some form of rational thought and intelligible argument.

Posted by: MD at October 7, 2004 3:57 PM

Here's a copy of my letter to George Soros. Perhaps Doctorow could benefit from a dose of historical reality:

Mr. Soros,

As history illustrates, primitive cultures and entire regions can be led astray by charismatic megalomaniacs. We are simply in the process of making an example of Iraq to the Middle East (and gaining a much needed foot-hold for the installation of military bases). Post 9/11, it would not be expeditious to attack or attempt to control Saudi Arabia, even though the distribution of oil proceeds as you know primarily benefit the 35,000 people of the royal family. While the rest of this truly "two Arabias" country is fertile for increased terror export.

As you are well aware we (USA) still "occupy" Japan, Germany, Korea and one could throw in Cuba. Unfortunately our work is just starting in the Middle East. Our system of capitalism that has benefited you, myself and so many gone before us carries with it the sword of freedom. One only need consider the lives saved when Nagasaki and Hiroshima were made examples of...And now the sustained output of human achievement emanating from Japan. As you are well aware many cultures remain uncivilized from no fault of their own. When so called leaders choose to enrich only themselves and leave their wanting masses to the dogs we are left with the children of the desert today. We must continue to babysit these children, they have our attention now, until capitalism takes hold.

What folly, I need not lecture you, you are a survivor of WWII.

My apologies,

John P. Turner

Posted by: John P Turner at October 31, 2004 1:26 PM