November 21, 2007
Thanks, But No ThanksBy James Lewis
Thanksgiving is just one day a year. The rest of the time we have a National Gratitude Deficit --- or at least our noisiest public voices do. Media demagogues are constantly whipping up ingratitude towards the good things in our world. Giving thanks is not their schtick. So it's worthwhile to think today about gratitude and its conspicuous absence.
Gratitude is a noble virtue; you have to respect yourself to be grateful to others. Only those who feel blessed can be filled with gratitude. It is a kind of courtesy of the heart.
William Shakespeare's most agonized play, King Lear, grapples with the ingratitude of Lear's daughters toward their royal father. It is an extended contemplation of the Elizabethan virtues of thankfulness and loyalty; and what happens when those virtues are lost. King Lear is foully betrayed by the older two daughters, who flatter his vanity, while misunderstanding the honest love of his youngest daughter Claudia. Lear is an object lesson in the debts we owe our loved ones.
The duty to "honor one's father and mother" was taken for granted for most of written history. It precedes the prohibition agains murder, theft and adultery in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20: 2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21). It has been taught over 25 centuries in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions. But the Romans honored Mater Romana and Pater Zeus. Among the ancient Greeks, Oedipus the King tears out his eyes when he accidentally violates the most sacred loyalties to father and mother. Confucian families revere the elders and ancestors, as do Hindus and Buddhists. Teaching family loyalty has helped preserve human beings for a long time. It is always balanced with rebellion as well, because a living society needs both rebellion and tradition. But on balance, the wisdom traditions favor gratitude.
As Shakespeare's aged King Lear is forced to wander over the stormy heath with only his trusted Fool for company, he cries out,
Ingratitude is a revolt in the body of the family, as if the mouth bites the hand that feeds it.
Act 3, sc. 4, l. 11-4.
Those lines could not be written today. Gratitude is out of fashion. Our age is dominated by the most ungrateful voices in centuries. The poet of our time is the tantrum-throwing Allen Ginsberg, who wrote in Howl:
That is the song of the entitled generation: The Beats, the Hippies and the Boomer Left. After all, who destroyed Ginsberg's Beatniks but themselves? They went looking for "an angry fix" because they were hooked on showy self-destruction. They celebrated their own perversities and blamed America. They still do.
The Boomer Left started its long march to power by breaking all the family rules --- proper dress, basic cleanliness, personal responsibility, hard work, telling the truth, loyalty in love, respectful speech, self-discipline in sexuality, drugs and alcohol ... all the way to gratitude toward one's country. Because that's what patriotism is, of course. When the New York Times happily betrays national security secrets today, it is just acting on the same generational need to break down American values. It makes them feel good.
Starting in the late Sixties all the ancient virtues were torn down by the media, until Boomer Lefties discovered that ueber-rebellion didn't work in their own lives. But even after going back to basics for themselves, they were still mentally stuck on Marxist snake oil for everybody else. Hillary Clinton is a kind of tragic character in that respect, a woman who was deeply shamed and humiliated by her husband, time and time again, until that intimate betrayal is now simply taken for granted by the political world. Hillary is a furious woman, and Bill's hound-dog habits have a lot to do with that.
Yet having messed up their lives in the most public way, the Clintons still cling to the rock-hard belief that they must teach the rest of us how to live. They will force us to gulp their snake oil, or else. Just hold your nose and swallow.
Boomer Lefties began as rebels without a cause, who discovered that the only cause they really liked was to turn their parents' world inside-out. The Left was only a minority of the Baby Boom generation, but they have become the Commissars of today. If you doubt it, just look at Harvard's President Larry Summers when he innocently set off the feminist furies on campus. Like Lear, he was tossed out on the stormy heath.
We can just hear Lear's cry of "filial ingratitude!" as "liberal ingratitude!" and understand the culture wars.
* Consider liberal ingratitude toward the soldiers who are risking life and limb on behalf of each of us in the United States today. They are heir to those who fought to free the slaves in the Civil War, those who died to liberate Europe in the two World Wars, and those who defeated Leftist tyrannies in the Cold War. We owe them our liberty and prosperity. Today's soldiers and sailors deserve our gratitude and respect even if we happen to disagree with US foreign policy. What the liberal media keep doing to them, day after day, is nothing less than an historic scandal. It will hopefully come back to bite them in a very tender place.
* Or think about the liberal ingratitude towards a president who can make mistakes -- he's human, after all -- but whose integrity, sincerity and goodness of heart simply cannot be doubted. George Bush is walking the path of Lincoln and Truman, cruelly abused during their terms in office, but bound to be admired as soon as the world catches up. Today, even France is led by a man who admires W.
* It can all be summed up by liberal ingratitude toward our traditions over more than twenty centuries, and to the best that has come from those traditions. One must be blind and deaf to history to miss the reality of our exceptionally good fortune. The Left seems to be that way for its own reasons. It has nothing to do with reality.
Yet the loudest voices we hear every day are not the voices of normal people. Normal people know. They may not put it in words, but by their deeds they show more wisdom and gratitude than the sneering classes.
And that's something to be grateful for.
James Lewis blogs at dangeroustimes.wordpress.com/