Do you remember the “Seinfeld” episode when Elaine started hanging out with a new group of friends who looked like Jerry, Kramer and George but acted the opposite? They were well-read, charitable, kind in word, thought and deed. Jerry said it was as if they were from a parallel universe-a “Bizzaro World.”
Perhaps a bit more intellectually upscale, Evelyn Waugh, the great English novelist-“Brideshead Revisited, A Handful of Dust, etc.”-would have understood the “Seinfeldian” concept of a parallel universe and welcomed it. What he saw in 20th Century attitudes and values rendered him consistently pessimistic about the future of modernity. Some of the characters in his novels-much like the “un-Bizzaro World” Seinfeld crew-defined modernity as a condition of being without grace to appreciate the inherent value of others, where pain was meted out to secure pleasure.
To be sure, the Waugh concept of modernity taking root and flourishing is not universal–nationally or in our city. Our churches, synagogues and mosques, as well as social service agencies, are continuing bulwarks against the tenets of a modern world that discount the value that is inherent in the person. But we have some unfortunate “modern” examples in our city. The action of this newspaper giving Helen Thomas an opportunity to surface again is clearly an affront to those who hold the value of all human beings on a level that accepts either in actuality or by custom the unique spiritual nature of man. This is particularly applicable with regard to the Jews who have been subjected to the un-distilled ongoing efforts to eradicate and move them about like human chattel-or as Thomas said in this vein: They should get the hell out of Palestine-the occupiers. Someone should have asked her, “Or what, Helen-more relocation of Jews?” That may have elicited an even more interesting retort. There is no question, however, that the spontaneity of her response-candid and unhesitating in its delivery (nor her first inflammatory comment critical of the Jewish state)–has inflicted pain and from it, all too many people derived some level of satisfaction.
The value of breeding and promotion thereof should be confined to the barnyard.
In that regard, columns written by Michael Gardner should not be overlooked because they are another pathetic example of delivering pain in order to derive pleasure–as he does over and over again in apparent repetitive rapture. His recent column relies on his original fabrication to provide what is essentially a side by side evaluation of Robin Gardner and Mayor Nader Baroukh’s inherent worth. Robin Gardner is described by her husband as Dutch, Episcopalian, a native-born American whose ancestors fought with Washington, people who are “profoundly American.” You are left with the image of Nader Baroukh-revealed publicly by him in his biography and other writings-as the emigrant, the naturalized citizen, and the Jew. Gardner’s comments are designed to demean Baroukh by making him less of an American-less “profoundly American.” By meritoriously defining Robin Gardner in the context of her national origin, religion and race, Gardner thereby also tells the reader-in language that is cloaked but full of implication–to consider the worthiness of Baroukh because he is an immigrant and a Jew. Pain delivered. Satisfaction derived. How modern.
With regard to Mr. Gardner’s seeming assertion that heredity is a defining element by which patriotism is measured-who is or who is not “profoundly American”–is not, fortunately, a concept handed down in every family. My paternal grandfather 13 times removed was a 17th Century planter in Virginia and my maternal Grandfather got off the boat at Ellis Island in 1901. I was raised among a polyglot of descendent family characters who were Welsh, Portuguese, Italian, and English. Some worshiped as Catholics (with more than a mere suspicion that those who did, were converted in the Azores after escaping the Inquisition) while others proclaimed themselves proudly Protestant. There were members of the Knights of Columbus with their capes and plumes as well as Masons in tuxedos and aprons while the ladies of the Eastern Star were decked out in their long formal dresses.
Enlightened men and women, farmers all, they were in agreement on one fundamental societal notion that was hammered into all us cousins: The value of breeding and promotion thereof should be confined to the barnyard.
This is not to say that we should eschew pride in our heritage or the contributions that our family members have made. But once we move into the area of defining their value based on their familial heritage-particularly in the context of a discussion that involves ethnicity-it is time to take a step back and evaluate where that twisted path has taken others before with enormous and tragic consequences.
Falls Church is a liberal community but our liberalism should not extend to tolerating the intolerant, who apparently derive pleasure by skewering our fellow citizens.
Sam Mabry is a former Vice Mayor and two-time Falls Church City Council Member.