Rick Moran wonders: Is It Possible to Love the Artist, but Hate His Politics? in regards to “the culture clash over Pete Seeger’s legacy.”
“Communist activist and troubadour Pete Seeger is dead. The outpouring of vitriol on the right and hagiography on the left is entirely predictable and, with few exceptions, entirely banal. Turning Seeger’s death into another clash in the culture wars somehow seems tiresome, like two old boxers coming out of their corners for the 12th round. Battered, beaten, bloody, all they have left is the instinct to try to destroy each other. Whatever art and artifice they possessed disappeared long before the bell clanged for the last round.
Must we reduce everything in America to a right vs. left Armageddon? One longs for a more complicated, less knee-jerk combative analysis of people like Pete Seeger. Actually, there has been no one like Pete Seeger, and future historians will brush aside most of the shallow, venomous assaults on his memory — as well as the one-dimensional paeans that whitewash his execrable politics — and look at the totality of his life and judge his monumental contributions to American society.”
What is the ‘reduce to the absurd?” That is what you do when you assert a generality about an “outpouring of vitriol on the right and hagiography on the left.” Yes, vitriol does exist and so do hagiographies but that does not mean that those characteristics are symptomatic of the sides in the culture debate.
What is the ‘straw man?’ That is the creating of a battle where the outcome is a desire to “try to destroy” the other side with the “battered, beaten, bloody” boxer standing in for the straw man.
There is a call for context of the times but then there is a judgment — “at a time when companies were still hiring thugs and sometimes working with local police to physically assault strikers and labor organizers” — offered to ‘excuse’ communist leanings.
“His was an immensely consequential life. But what does it say about us that we judge that life based solely on the fact that we violently disagree with his politics? If a man is made up of many layers, do we, when the time comes to judge him, strip away the facade layer by layer and judge him in all his marvelous complexity and contradiction? Or do we take the one-dimensional track and declare him a failure based on his political beliefs?”
That assumes the extreme, that disagreement is violent and that political ideology trumps any other consideration for the general populace. There is no evidence that Seeger is considered a failure as failure is not the topic under discussion.
The need is for discussion that is not laced with logical fallacies. There is a need to balance the image of heroes with their own integrity and honesty in their ideologies – especially in matters of how belief and practice fit together. The tale of the Pied Piper is one caution about this. If we cannot examine modern day’s Pied Pipers without being accused of extremism, vitriol, and intemperance, it will be difficult to shed any light on avoiding the same fate as the childrem of Hamelin.