I mean that opinions can be pretty raw when they arrive. Oh, sometimes they are delightfully fresh and tasty and nutritious, of course. Sushi quality. Sometimes they stink.
The other day I wrote one of these short essays about John Rocker's rant. (I said his remarks were stupid and odious but that, in general, a man should be able to say what he pleases without being ordered off to Maoist "sensitivity training" and suspended from his work. It is sufficient for the rest of us to hold our noses and move on).
The e-mail came thick and fast. A lot of it agreed with me. The most unsettling messages brainlessly cheered me on by making the totally false and insulting assumption that I share John Rocker's views and, worse, that Rocker was absolutely right in what he said. Naturally, the run-to-mommy prisses were heard from: "Ooo, ooo, Johnny Rocker said a bad word, and I'm gonna tell!" Numerous messages said Rocker deserved to be keelhauled and flogged around the fleet.
One of these began, unpromisingly: "What's so bad about conformity?" The message came from a man of Mexican ancestry, born in the U.S. To be fair, I think he meant: "What's wrong with conformity in the matter of good manners?" I agree. But the e-mail was entitled, "Rednecks Rule?" Hmmm. I wrote back to the guy and asked why it was permissible for him to use the term "redneck" when it would presumably bring on a fine, a suspension and sensitivity training if a "redneck" were to use the term "wetback."
Both words, after all, are slurs, oddly similar in that they are formed by referring to a part of the body (neck or back) and adding a short, morally neutral word (red or wet) to form an insult.
Redneck means: ignorant, uneducated, low class, common, inferior. White trash. My correspondent told me that I am "an embarrassment to decent people." "Decent people" are people who say nothing with which my correspondent disagrees.
The man wrote back, however, that he was sorry for saying "redneck." But another point, perhaps lost on him, is this: John Rocker has his own ideas about what "decent people" are. Rocker apologized for what he said. But I infer that Rocker tends to think "decent people" belong to a more homogeneous America where men marry women, and women get married before having babies, and people behave themselves in public, and men don't sleep with each other and pass around horrible diseases, and "foreigners" stay overseas where they belong.
I once spent weeks interviewing Palestinians in villages up and down the West Bank. From the vantage point of highly traditional Palestinian village life, America looks very much like the chaotic, menacing New York City that Rocker described. The Palestinians were disgusted by America's entropy, its social breakdown, its sex and drugs. Do these Palestinians, with their strongly held allegience to traditional morality, to respect for elders and conventional marriage, require "sensitivity training"?
Rocker's is an archaic vision of America, inherently exclusionary and intolerant of "diversity." But it is a vision that was widely entertained a generation or two back. A village view, so to speak. Now we live in a different country. Is it a better country? In some ways, yes. In many ways, no. The mainstreaming of drugs, guns, pornography and raw cultural sewage is not much of an improvement. For all the genius of our technology, there is loose in the land an ambient moral stupidity born of a fatal old overemphasis on "feelings," as in the Rocker sanction: Your words make me, or this group, or that group, feel bad, therefore you have to be silenced.
A certain amount of that stupidity wafts from time to time through the fish market of ideas.