Thursday, April 03, 2008

THE PRAGMATISM OF MORALITY

During the Clinton years, liberals and their organizations developed a postmodern indifference to moral issues when the Clintons were involved. This virus turned into an epidemic under Bush and hurts us still. Your editor attempted to deal with the issue in this article:

SAM SMITH, PROGRESSIVE REVIEW, 1999 - Both the contemporary right, which views moral issues as immutable absolutes handed down from above, and the postmodern left, which denies the potential for a common moral code, miss the point. Values exist because human communities need them. We are seeing played out what happens when the moral consensus breaks down. Months ago a psychiatrist friend described the Clinton story as being one of the dysfunctional American family. A family that not only can't agree on a moral code, but on whether we need a one at all. No culture fares well under such circumstances.

I have spent much of my life in two places of strikingly different values: urban Washington and rural Maine. I can perhaps best describe the difference this way: I once bought a used car sight unseen for my son over the phone from David at R&D Automotive in Freeport, Maine. I figured I would do far better that way then I would in any used car lot in the Washington metropolitan area. The car made four and two-thirds round trips across the United States and was still worth enough that when it finally gave out in Moab, Utah, it paid for the bus and train tickets my second son needed to get to San Francisco.

I did not make this decision on religious or philosophical grounds; rather it was -- as subsequent events indicated -- highly pragmatic. I simply took advantage of one of the places left in America where a person's word is still considered worthy bond.

Washington, in my time at least, has never been such a place. One of the most distressing aspects of living here has been dealing with people incapable of relationships without intrigue, hidden agendas and exploitation. The Clinton affair represents these defects at their worst.

A study done of Quaker boarding schools and military academies found they have several things in common. There is, firstly, a moral code. Secondly, this code is not an immutable set of rules but rather something that endures the rigorous examination of daily application. Thirdly, the code is a topic of constant argument.

Such a living, pragmatic, regularly debated morality - - quite different from that demanded by the right and shunned by the left -- would make this city and this nation a much healthier and happier place. At least we would then no longer have to ask so often Washington's most frequent and self-revealing question: "Now, what did he mean by that?"

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PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM

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Your editor has been a musician for many decades. He started the first band his Quaker school ever had and played drums with bands up until 1980 when he switched to stride piano. He had his own band until the mid-1990s and has played with the New Sunshine Jazz Band, Hill City Jazz Band, Not So Modern Jazz Band and the Phoenix Jazz Band.

NOTES ON THE MUSIC

Here are a few tracks:

SAM SMITH'S DECOLAND BAND

'SHINE' 

JELLY ROLL

PHOENIX JAZZ BAND

APEX BLUES   Sam playing with the Phoenix Jazz Band at the Central Ohio Jazz festival in 1990. Joining the band is George James on sax. James, then 84, had been a member of the Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller orchestras and hadappeared on some 60 records. More notes on James

WISER MAN  Sam piano & vocal

OH MAMA  Sam piano & vocal