Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

The Whizzard of Ahs

Originally posted on January 13, 2013

This is a bit of an autobiographical contemplation: Perhaps I too am a bit like the Wizard of Oz, not a great wizard, but really a good man. Maybe my name in another story would be “The Wise Art of Ah’s” or the “Whizzerd.” Anyway, the point of this post is: Who is to say. In the classic 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy (played by Judy Garland) asked, “Is she a good witch or a bad witch?” But what if all of us are really somewhat mixed? I’ve been foolish in many ways, not catastrophically, but enough to make trouble for me. I’ve undoubtedly confused and annoyed many others and gotten a fair number angry with me, though that has most definitely not been my intent. As I get into knowing people’s history, many of my heroes have similarly shown a mixture of strengths and weaknesses. History wants a simple label so it can judge, mainly so readers can ally themselves a little more tightly with this or that faction.

A great philosopher who befriended me, Professor Charles Hartshorne, noted that the writings of many philosophers could be better understood when it was imagined (or realized) that at the time of their writing this book or that essay they were struggling against some other writing or doctrine that had arisen, become current, was popular in certain circles, and there was something about this other doctrine that merited criticism, needed to be taken down a peg, or might even have been sensed as dangerously misleading. The writing was in this sense an antithesis, and if you could get the author’s perception of what the thesis was about, the writing would make more sense. What was he arguing against? What were all these words building towards?

In this sense, all is political, in the sense that it is promoting some values and ignoring or negating other values. Carol Hanisch in the 1969 wrote an article titled, “The Personal is Political,” and noted that in the aforementioned sense, even the intimacies of men-women relationships involves social norms about what role components each sex is expected to perform. And expectations are values, “shoulds.” This was very perceptive. It’s true that some politics operates at a national level. But it’s an abstraction that really deals with innumerable questions of morality—what we think “should” happen. Politics overlaps with economics and social norms. And it happens in everyday relations and in a fine-tuned way, in the operations of individual conscience.

One of the problems for politics is the conversion of morality into matters of preference. Whether one prefers to holiday in the mountains rather than at the seashore, or vice versa; whether one prefers chocolate to vanilla, or to keep the home at 68 rather than 73 degrees, is not a matter of cosmic righteousness. But it seems to me that in the early 20th century men felt that they were supposed to be master of the home, to lead, to guide, and in that role, they needed to justify their own preferences with morality.  If not, if one felt somewhat neutral and acceded to a wife’s preference, this was called “letting the wife wear the pants in the family.”

It was a mark of masculinity to be decisive about all things, including things that one cared little about, including preferences. Clarifying that one point—that morality and conviction were irrelevant to matters of taste or preference—did not emerge until the feminist revolution.

Well, the point is that matters of taste and preference have come to be recognized as being equal in frequency perhaps to matters of philosophy or fact. What’s good, what’s bad? Can something good have some parts that aren’t so good? Maybe even bad? But what if we all have to make mistakes for a while before we recognize that they are mistakes? At the time they seemed okay, clever, amusing, ingenious, whatever. Later they become more obvious: So, back to evaluating a life, maybe my life, I’m tempted to ask myself, “How could you have believed that back then?” and another part answers, “But I did! We all did with something that later we feel a bit ashamed about. So if that’s the way it goes, should be be judged by the present or future about something that seemed plausible.” Ah, ain’t life funny?

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