Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. True to One Another – Dover Beach

 

@amyschley shared this piece of @kevinwilliamson’s with me, and I remarked that I especially appreciated the passage, “The opposite message — that life is hard and unfair, that what is not necessarily your fault may yet be your problem, that you must act and bear responsibility for your actions…”

This is because it doesn’t blame folks for having it tough, and isn’t assuming that those things which we cannot be faulted for are easy to bear. Nobody wants to be called to take responsibility for the crap which isn’t their fault, but often life calls for it, and we’ll fail, and still be obligated to make an effort anyhow.

Having written that puts me in mind of Matthew Arnold’s poem Dover Beach, particularly its final stanza:

The conservative vision is a tragic one, neither morbid moping, nor just “suck it up, buttercup,” but certainly not shy about life having a dark side; a dark side even when no one asked for it (on top of all that humans do to invite the darkness in as well). The narrator writes, in light of the darkness, “Ah, love, let us be true / To one another!”

Romantic love, though, is hardly the only place where being true to one another matters. It matters in family, in friendship, and in political alliances. And especially where political alliances are concerned, conservatives simply don’t agree on how to be true to one another. Should we be true to shared ideas? To a party? To a particular demographic group? To “winning?” To a particular politician? A particular pundit? True to the politics of whoever we count as “one of us,” whether they form a recognizable political unit or not?

Here at Ricochet, observing the Code of Conduct, in both letter and spirit, is one way to be true to one another. Forming networks of friendships is another. Being true to one another in this way may or may not be an end in itself, depending on your perspective. If you believe that being true to one another on Ricochet means being part of certain political victories in the wider world, these things aren’t ends in themselves, but means. For other members, though, they’re ends in themselves.

Even those leading full religious lives can expect dark nights of the soul, nights when we “hear / [Faith’s] melancholy, long, withdrawing roar.” In times when faith – whether in religion or in other institutions – wanes, being “true to one another” in the face of life’s darkness takes on extra urgency. It’s no wonder, then, that our disagreements over how to be true to one another politically have led to suspicions of betrayal on all sides. We don’t even agree on when speaking hard truths counts as trueness. After all, sometimes hard truths need pointing out; other times, we’re just appealing to “hard truths” to demean others rather than sober them up.

Even amid mutual suspicions of betrayal, though, most of us would still agree that, because “life is hard and unfair, that what is not necessarily your fault may yet be your problem, that you must act and bear responsibility for your actions,” being true to one another means helping one another bear this responsibility.

What constitutes helping? Well, we don’t entirely agree on that, either. Which keeps things interesting.

There are 22 comments.

  1. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: After all, sometimes hard truths need pointing out; other times, we’re just appealing to “hard truths” to demean others rather than sober them up.

    Often too we appeal to hard truths as an excuse for avoiding lending aid and comfort.

    • #1
    • October 20, 2017, at 2:01 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  2. Titus Techera Contributor

    Sure, I’ll sign up for your moral movement. What can I do to make Ricochet a better place?

    • #2
    • October 20, 2017, at 2:15 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    Sure, I’ll sign up for your moral movement.

    No, Titus, you’re supposed to start with, “Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter!”

    What can I do to make Ricochet a better place?

    Have you considered changing your facial hair? ;-P

    • #3
    • October 20, 2017, at 2:22 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  4. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    But seriously, @titustechera, any thoughts on Dover Beach? The poem deserves better than just being remembered offhand for political reasons.

    • #4
    • October 20, 2017, at 2:26 PM PDT
    • Like
  5. Titus Techera Contributor

    Sure, but it’s past midnight in the ruins of Europe, so we’ll have to have this conversation another time.

    Sure, I’ll shave.

    I’m already subscribed to everything you write, so sure, sign me up for the newsletter. You could title it Rattle & Hum. Skip will get it-

    • #5
    • October 20, 2017, at 2:41 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  6. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    Sure, but it’s past midnight in the ruins of Europe, so we’ll have to have this conversation another time.

    Sure, I’ll shave.

    I’m already subscribed to everything you write, so sure, sign me up for the newsletter. You could title it Rattle & Hum. Skip will get it-

    U2, Brute?

    • #6
    • October 20, 2017, at 2:51 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  7. Titus Techera Contributor

    Wow, that’s really taking the cake for terrible puns. I stay up till all hours of the night for this?

    • #7
    • October 20, 2017, at 2:56 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  8. Snirtler Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: After all, sometimes hard truths need pointing out; other times, we’re just appealing to “hard truths” to demean others rather than sober them up.

    Often too we appeal to hard truths as an excuse for avoiding lending aid and comfort.

    I was going to try to say the same thing, but you said it already and said it better than I would have managed.

    • #8
    • October 20, 2017, at 2:57 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  9. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    Wow, that’s really taking the cake for terrible puns. I stay up till all hours of the night for this?

    Bad punsters never sleep, we’re always cooking up new ones.

    • #9
    • October 20, 2017, at 3:00 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  10. Merrijane Thatcher

    I think we take hard truths better when we feel like the people delivering them care about us personally. It takes a lot of foundation building to get to that point. Even more so when you’re talking about online relationships or the interactions between writer and reader.

    • #10
    • October 20, 2017, at 3:47 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  11. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: And especially where political alliances are concerned, conservatives simply don’t agree on how to be true to one another.

    Hence one guy calling the other guy traitorous, tribal, etc.

    • #11
    • October 20, 2017, at 6:21 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  12. Profile Photo Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: What constitutes helping?

    Helping can mean recognizing that everyone is different and that not every problem is a nail requiring a hammer. There are people who need gentleness and people who need tough love. Most importantly, it means treating each person as an individual to assess what is required in each circumstance.

    • #12
    • October 21, 2017, at 11:02 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  13. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Dover Beach has long been one of my favorites ever since I read it in a poetry anthology in college. Interestingly, Mr. Williamson’s piece did not put me in mind of Matthew Arnold at all. I had a somewhat different response: that a supercilious pundit has been stung by criticism from his flank.

    In reacting to the criticism he violates the spirit, if not the letter, of Ricochet’s Code of Conduct, which (of course) does not bind him. He insultingly stereotypes a good fraction of his fellow citizens as “ensorcelled anti-elitists” who have disdain for anyone with “a prestigious job, a good income, an education at a selective university, and no oxy overdoses in the immediate family — and anybody who prefers hearing the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center to watching football on television.”* It’s not quite basket-of-deplorables territory but he’s in the neighborhood.

    Yes, Mr. Williamson is an angry and bitter individual, if his writings are anything to go by. He’s hardly the paragon of civility and bonhomie we might look to emulate here. What constitutes helping? Probably not adopting the tone and manner of Mr. Williamson.

    *I check all those boxes, except in my case it’s the LA Phil at Disney Hall instead of the New York Phil at Lincoln Center.

    • #13
    • October 21, 2017, at 12:11 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  14. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    drlorentz (View Comment):

    Yes, Mr. Williamson is an angry and bitter individual, if his writings are anything to go by. He’s hardly the paragon of civility and bonhomie we might look to emulate here. What constitutes helping? Probably not adopting the tone and manner of Mr. Williamson.

    Indeed.

    • #14
    • October 21, 2017, at 12:26 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  15. Merrijane Thatcher

    I actually like Williamson, but I listen to his podcast which I think humanizes him better. I also think some people think he’s writing to them, but he’s not really. My suspicion is the people he’s “writing at” aren’t reading any conservative pundits. I did really like the closing paragraph of his latest, plus the added information about his background. If a person’s upbringing has an affect on the way he relates to others, it’s easy to see how his might have made him a gruff character. Or maybe that’s just the personality he was born with—I don’t know. Anyway, he reminds me of a really impolitic JD Vance. Kind of cranky but interesting.

    • #15
    • October 21, 2017, at 12:38 PM PDT
    • Like
  16. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Merrijane (View Comment):
    My suspicion is the people he’s “writing at” aren’t reading any conservative pundits.

    If so, his column is misplaced. He does mock Bill Bennett directly, and other conservative pundits by implication, for what that’s worth.

    Merrijane (View Comment):
    he reminds me of a really impolitic JD Vance. Kind of cranky but interesting.

    I read Hillbilly Elegy. If that’s typical of Mr. Vance’s writing, Mr. Williamson is a cranky JD Vance with none of the wit.

    • #16
    • October 21, 2017, at 1:10 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  17. Clavius Thatcher

    drlorentz (View Comment):
    Dover Beach has long been one of my favorites ever since I read it in a poetry anthology in college. Interestingly, Mr. Williamson’s piece did not put me in mind of Matthew Arnold at all. I had a somewhat different response: that a supercilious pundit has been stung by criticism from his flank.

    In reacting to the criticism he violates the spirit, if not the letter, of Ricochet’s Code of Conduct, which (of course) does not bind him. He insultingly stereotypes a good fraction of his fellow citizens as “ensorcelled anti-elitists” who have disdain for anyone with “a prestigious job, a good income, an education at a selective university, and no oxy overdoses in the immediate family — and anybody who prefers hearing the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center to watching football on television.”* It’s not quite basket-of-deplorables territory but he’s in the neighborhood.

    Yes, Mr. Williamson is an angry and bitter individual, if his writings are anything to go by. He’s hardly the paragon of civility and bonhomie we might look to emulate here. What constitutes helping? Probably not adopting the tone and manner of Mr. Williamson.

    *I check all those boxes, except in my case it’s the LA Phil at Disney Hall instead of the New York Phil at Lincoln Center.

    I have to admit that I was a bit at a loss as to what Williamson was getting at through most of his article other than perhaps we have let class differences become great in America, a place where they have mostly not been important.

    But I agree with Midge that the closing lines, essentially saying the world and life and ourselves are flawed, and it we just need to deal with it, fits my personal view of reality. This is a fallen world. We are flawed. We should seek to be better and help each other to do so.

    • #17
    • October 21, 2017, at 5:07 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  18. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    drlorentz (View Comment):
    Dover Beach has long been one of my favorites ever since I read it in a poetry anthology in college. Interestingly, Mr. Williamson’s piece did not put me in mind of Matthew Arnold at all. I had a somewhat different response: that a supercilious pundit has been stung by criticism from his flank.

    KDW’s writing puts me in mind of another harrumphing curmudgeon often suspected of superciliousness: Theodore Dalrymple.

    Dalrymple’s written extensively of the social misery among the English underclass, and so is accused of hating his countrymen with fair regularity. But does he?

    It’s possible Dalrymple writes about the moral decay his subjects live in to demean and dehumanize them – pointing and laughing at the poor stupid freaks, grooving on the smug that comes from feeling superior to them. But I doubt it. Seems to me Dalrymple writes what he does to humanize, not dehumanize – to point out the miseries of how they’ve learned to live, the perverse incentives and institutional decay which have been their teacher.

    I see KDW’s harrumphing in the same light. He wrote once,

    While Friedman’s contributions to academic economics are well appreciated and his opposition to government shenanigans is celebrated, what is seldom remarked upon is that the constant and eternal theme of his popular work was helping the poor and the marginalized.

    I think KDW’s interest in the poor and marginalized is sincere, including poor, marginalized whites. Because

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: We don’t even agree on when speaking hard truths counts as trueness. After all, sometimes hard truths need pointing out; other times, we’re just appealing to “hard truths” to demean others rather than sober them up.

    I understand how others come to a different conclusion.

    To a large extent, KDW applies the moral rhetoric conservatives have long been comfortable using to discuss urban (and especially nonwhite) poverty. We claim we speak this way because we care, because we want better for those poor people. If we find it demeaning to apply this rhetoric to rural (and especially white) poverty, well, that’s interesting. It’s possible to posit that KDW’s attempt to sauce the gander as well as the goose is just some kind of revenge. But I don’t think so.

    I suspect both KDW and his detractors believe “let us be true / To one another” because (to mix genres here) “the night is dark and full of terrors”, and differing conceptions of what being true entails create mutual disappointment.

    • #18
    • October 21, 2017, at 6:18 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  19. Merrijane Thatcher

    drlorentz (View Comment): I read Hillbilly Elegy. If that’s typical of Mr. Vance’s writing, Mr. Williamson is a cranky JD Vance with none of the wit.

    My comparison was meant to address how both men came from white underclass backgrounds and write about what they think would better serve to help this underclass.

    Vance is far more politic (less of a jerk, you might say), but he basically notes the same things as Williamson—that many perpetuate their own problems even though they don’t realize it and yet they are defensively aggressive about it. In Elegy, Vance focuses a lot on how, even though his grandmother was an imperfect role model, she pushed him to always be better and not accept less. This was a big part of what helped him escape that self-defeating cycle.

    In my view, Williamson is saying the same thing, only addressing pundits and politicians whom he thinks aren’t pushing them to be better but are pandering and playing to the weaknesses that perpetuate the problems.

    I understand a lot of people don’t like Williamson’s tone, but it doesn’t bother me. How we feel personally about a writer depends a lot on the assumptions we have about his motivations. My assumptions are more on the forgiving side based on my own interactions with a father-in-law who also grew up in the white underclass. He was quick to anger, maddeningly stubborn, and not often careful of feelings—if he had written columns, they might have sounded like Williamson. But he also loved with all of his heart and wanted his children to be better than he was—even while the things he said often drove them in the opposite direction.

    • #19
    • October 21, 2017, at 6:21 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  20. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Re comment 19

    “How we feel personally about a writer depends a lot on the assumptions we have about his motivations.”

    Is that ever true.

    • #20
    • October 21, 2017, at 7:58 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  21. Profile Photo Member

    Ansonia (View Comment):
    Re comment 19

    “How we feel personally about a writer depends a lot on the assumptions we have about his motivations.”

    Is that ever true.

    Indeed. But I usually have a hard time figuring out KDW’s motivations in his writings, especially the one discussed above. Just when I think I see where he’s “coming from” and where he’s “going” with his argument, he whipsaws and leaves me in the dirt, wondering…

    • #21
    • October 22, 2017, at 4:59 PM PDT
    • Like
  22. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Re # 21

    That happened to me this time. I wasn’t crazy about the beginning of this essay. But I know, from past experience, he’s good. So I kept reading. A sentence or two later, it was good but he was pissing me off.

    When he casually mentions his period of homelessness, he has you. And you’re also startled.

    • #22
    • October 23, 2017, at 7:15 AM PDT
    • 3 likes