… said Emerson; tell me what you know (isn’t it cruelly wonderful that this quote is what old Ralph Waldo is now mainly remembered by?).
Your bloggist used to be against this attitude, but now doubts are creeping in. Acknowledging that we stand on the shoulders of giants, crediting them with the groundwork seems only polite; putting a sheet over them and pretending we elevated ourselves is theft. And if someone can put what we want to say better than we ever could, it seems only right to use that version — and to mention them.
But does that not risk the life story of the original author influencing how we judge the sentiment or point being expressed?
Some are particularly rich sources of useful aphorisms. As a friend used to say, quoting Oscar Wilde is the last refuge of the person who has run out of Johnson (on other occasions he’d use, the man who is tired of quoting Dr Johnson has to start using Wilde, but that’s just the same gag). So from Pierre-Joseph Proudhon to Charles M Schulz, your merry correspondent finds no end of apposite apophthegms (that’s easy for you to say).
But then recent events have brought to mind a rather unfortunate human tendency. It used to be said that my Grandfather was no respecter of persons. Family legend had it that he had refused to see the Queen Mother when she was visiting the racecourse where he was clerk of the course, but made a point of seeing one of the rubbish collectors who needed to discuss something. Further investigation showed this to be untrue: it was the Aga Khan. But either way, rank and status was not as important to him as personality and ethics.
Nor would he assume that a person’s wise statements in the past would preclude them from talking utter bollocks today (or vice versa). He was a major influence on the present scribbler — though some of his opinions now seem dubious, to say the least, which proves the point.
But people do seem to expect consistency, and automatically use past indiscretions or recent personal weaknesses as a stick to bat away current statements they don’t want to agree with. However important or reasoned the message we obsess with the messenger’s other shortcomings. Either that or we accept any ould shite, if it comes from someone we currently admire.
If advancing years now turns someone like John Cleese into a little Englander, does that stop Monty Python being funny for liberals? And even ongoing things — when an actor or muso is found to have a disgusting private life, like Spacey, Savile or Glitter (or even just accused of it like Allen), how soon can we stand back and see that some of their work might also have some merit? Like Mr Fry, I loathe Wagner’s morals and his antisemitism, but that doesn’t stop us enjoying (much of) his music.
But what about people trying to convince us of a scientific or political viewpoint? Did Parnell’s sexual indiscretions really disprove the case for Irish Nationalism? And now, does Greta Thunberg’s autism or her youth (or her parent’s privilege, etc) prove that what she says about the impending climate doom is untrue? No; no more or less than her determination and other admirable traits make it true.
The facts can be checked and debated irrespective of how we initially receive them or the personalities of those who support or oppose them, but rather than do that so many (encouraged by the media) insist on obsessing with the messenger.
But nicking quotes and ideas without acknowledgement is risky, and it was someone doing that recently that brought to mind that, when we do so, there’s always someone somewhere with a big nose who knows, and who trips you up and laughs when you fall.
Which in turn brought to mind that Morrissey is a very good case in point.
And not two days later, a desire to comment on the sneering nature of commentators from the right, regarding bleeding heart liberals, snowflakes, losers … seeing compassion and caring as weakness, summoned up that great line: It’s so easy to love it’s so easy to hate, it takes guts to be gentle and kind.
But then again Morrissey’s now a hateful, racist twat, so it can’t be true, can it?