In the previous posting, I summoned up a column by Melanie Sturm in the Aspen Times where she wrote about her discomfort in the presence of a tattooed woman she saw on a visit to San Francisco. I suggested that Melanie's reaction avoided the bigger issues involved.
Yesterday Melanie responded with good grace in the comments to my posting. I think she and I can have a reasonable conversation, and here is my part of it. Although I will quote from her comment, you are encouraged to scroll down and read her remarks in their entirety.
I'm writing to you because I can see you're clearly very intelligent and articulate and I wanted to reach out, as a fellow conservative, to encourage you to consider ways you might channel your writing talents toward persuasion, and perhaps less toward pure opinion -- that is if you aspire to influence readers who don't already agree with you.I am not a conservative. There is no conservatism left in this country -- the Left has obliterated it. We live under a Stalinist system in which everyone and everything revolves around government, especially the federal government. Unelected federal judges determine whether laws stand or fall depending on whether the judges like them. Unelected bureaucrats make rules that people must follow. Presidents decide to invade other countries without a declaration of war. The U.S. has a single political party, the Republicrats, whose opposition to each other is over the division of the spoils.
Under the circumstances it's nonsense to imply there's anything to conserve. People who call themselves conservatives have only two concerns, abortion and economics. If a name is needed for my political views, I'm a neo-reactionary.
I don't care about persuading anyone about anything except the value of thinking and of keeping an open mind about paranormal phenomena and the spiritual dimension of life. On the political level, efforts at persuasion are a waste of time and energy. Leftists may very occasionally have a change of heart on their own, but never because someone has argued them into it. The spectrum of the Left, ranging from Stalinism to tea-with-milk liberalism, isn't a philosophy; it's a religion for people who don't believe in God. If I were a hundred times more eloquent than I am, I doubt I could cause a single conversion.
Trying to influence people to see things your way is like being attracted to somebody and trying to make that person fall in love with you. The harder you try, the less likely it is to happen. The object of your affections senses, consciously or unconsciously, the manipulation going on. All you can do is be yourself -- best foot forward and all that, but still, be your real self. Some people will like who you are; some will dislike it; a huge percentage won't care. If you're lucky, eventually someone you find attractive will correctly read your personality and be attracted in turn. But you can't shoot the lock off someone's heart, or their politics.
As the only conservative columnist on the opinion page of the Aspen Times (in radically liberal Aspen), I know I won't be read if I hurl red meat or play into the conservative stereotypes (insensitive and uncompassionate -- that was the one exit poll Romney lost to Obama in 2012, by a huge margin) that repel many Americans. You may have noticed that my motto is Think Again, with the tag line, you might change your mind. If I can't get people to read me and Think Again, I have no shot at getting them to change their mind.I understand Melanie's temptation to wear protective coloration and subtly undermine the stereotypes that fashionable Commies have about conservatives. The trouble is, first, that most of them aren't about to Think Again because they didn't think the first time. They picked up their political beliefs by determining what is approved among Aspen's trust-fund babies and rich moral show-offs, and they get along by going along.
Second, it's playing defense, which is what has brought the country to this pass. The Marxists were out to win, and they have. The so-called conservatives said, lower our taxes and ban abortion and you'll never hear a politically incorrect word from us again. It was a bad strategy when the outcome was uncertain; as passive resistance to defeat, it's futile.
... My goal was to draw the reader into judging the behavior of the tattooed woman. Liberals don't like to judge, so one must be careful. Ultimately, I wanted readers to come to the conclusion you did -- that the tattooed woman's behavior was not only self-indulgent and angry, but it's ok to derive that judgment.Melanie's goal is reasonable, but I suspect she overestimates her influence if she thinks that a column carefully worded to sound non-judgmental is going to cause any reader to "derive" a judgment.
... The world is a better place when individuals are kind and compassionate, not self-indulgent and angry. A kinder and more compassionate world is undermined by selfish individualists who dismiss standards and codes of conduct.Who's going to argue against kindness and (genuine) compassion? But I still think Melanie is avoiding the tough business of making moral judgments by taking refuge in a sentimental platitude. Besides, for all Melanie knows, the tattooed one may actually believe she's being kind and compassionate, standing up for the rights of wackos to deface the skin God gave them, ticking off "normal" people who are all -ists and -phobes and responsible for society's ills.
But my bigger point, which I was inspired to make because of my personal experience over the summer and because we Jews were in the middle of the Days of Awe when we're supposed to be reflective and repentant before God, was this sentence: "What makes us matter in a world where we often can feel insignificant is not how we brand ourselves as individuals — it’s the mark we stamp on others’ hearts and the legacy we leave the world."I take exception to this. "We Jews" aren't the only people who try to be reflective and repentant before God. Some of the rest of us do too. She doesn't know anything about my spiritual values or practices, but seems to imply that her benign fellowship has a divine blessing, while my way of putting things is just "opinion." Of course it's opinion, and I'd never try to serve it up as anything else. I don't claim to be a sales rep for God's plan.
I'm sorry you missed the bigger point, which didn't escape most of my readers thankfully as the response to this column has been overwhelmingly positive. I'm still working through the emails.
Maybe I missed her bigger point, but I'm not sure she made it clearly. What does she mean by "brand ourselves" -- tattooing? How we present ourselves? All our acts? Our spiritual travails? In any case it sounds like a false opposition between alternatives. If the sum of our behavior or the quality of our spiritual life is for the good, isn't that bound to leave an equally good legacy?
Melanie concludes, "I'm glad you care enough to channel your considerable talents, time and energy toward improving our society and country. I wish you the best in your endeavors!" I'm afraid I'm not the reformer Melanie is, although there are aspects of myself I'd like to reform. If I can write a blog post that a reader finds interesting and worth the time spent reading it, that may not bring us closer to a better society, but I feel that I've accomplished something. I don't mean to imply that Melanie's way is wrong -- just that it's her way. I wish her the best in her endeavors.