Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Originally published on The Huffington Post:
Somewhere between high school and college we argued about selfish acts. Only, we didn't call the alternative to them unselfish, we called them altruistic. (It never occurred to a single one of us deep-thinkers to question whether calling them altruistic was pretentious; optimal words came naturally to us once upon a time.)
The question posed was, "Is there such a thing as a purely altruistic act?" I remember thinking that all young men and women somewhere between high school and college age must be having the same considered debate we were—and, with similarly facile logic, invariably reaching the same defining conclusion: There is no such thing as a purely altruistic act.
Ours wasn't a happy pronouncement. What we agreed on by surprising consensus we agreed on reluctantly rather than cynically. If a plausible corollary was "blowin' in the wind," we didn't see it.
Several years after we earnest few moved on—from our lofty contemplations and from each other—I was nursing a cappuccino and gorging on the nuance du jour with friends at a Greenwich Village café when I heard a familiar voice and turned to see Bob Dylan, legs up, slouched down, amid a sprawled-out group of coffeehouse denizens in animated conversation at a nearby table. Seeing coffee and cigarettes, the prerequisites to good conversation, strewn on their table, it crossed my mind to muse: were they, by any chance, debating the same thing we had—the truly altruistic act—invariably coming to the same conclusion?
...how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn't see?
This was roughly a decade before the "me" generation was appropriately identified. What our generation wanted to be was unselfish: what we all in our starry-eyed idealism wanted to embody was altruism. What was "blowin' in the wind" was the dawn of an invigorating new era, and if the answer we wanted wasn't yet written on the wind, it was visible—if nowhere else, then on our earnestly unfurrowed brows. How did everyone, or anyone, fail to see it?
Yes, how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Nothing, over the years, threatened to change my mind. Absolute selflessness, self-abnegation, self-sacrifice were mythological at best—the stuff of scriptures, literature and dreams. Clerics shock us, heroes disillusion, icons pale, leaders fail. Still, something in me clings to the utopian notion of that "purely altruistic act."
Yes, how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind...
The question we should be pondering today is can we stand by and do nothing while innocent women and children are indiscriminately gassed and murdered. Not, first and foremost, should the United States intervene in yet another war on distant shores, risk American women's and men's lives to save others, although it's a valid question. Not, should we spend money in a foreign country while people are suffering in ours, an equally valid consideration. Not even, should we go to war and risk American lives to stem further terrorism and to protect ourselves and our children. There is but one paramount question, the purely altruistic one, the humane one, the morally right one, and the answer to it is being addressed by President Obama, who fathoms and feels we must do something!
Yes, how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died ?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.
The president has nothing personal to gain from waging war in any manner on Syria. Someone should try to explain to Ted Cruz that Barack Obama is already the president and can't run for another term. Someone should explain to Newt Gingrich that he can never be president. Someone should explain to Fox News... no, forget it.
It's reasonable to criticize and differ with the president's handling of Syria, but irrational to attribute his motives to anything self-serving or sinister. This man who makes Republicans stark-raving venomous may be the least selfish of any president in recorded history. Absolutely, purely altruistic? History and historians will decide. What matters at the moment is ridding the world of Syria's arsenal of chemical weapons and arms expeditiously. If negotiation succeeds, the president's reticence to strike summarily is a signature triumph. If it fails, Congress and the American people must empower him to take action against the Assad government because, after all, there just may be such a thing as a purely altruistic act! Unless you consider saving the lives of untold numbers of men, women and children—and feeling good about it—a selfish act.
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
On trial was civil law: man-made, consequently manhandled—and common law: the confluence of the wisdom of centuries of jurisprudential precedents arrogantly shunted aside by largely negligible lawmakers who think they know better. Inescapably on trial was the Second Amendment ("the right to bear arms" notably emanating from English common law) and "Stand Your Ground" law (a perversion of our Founding Founders’ intentions and the common law). Still to be reckoned with: the NRA; the presumable behind-the-scenes shenanigans unsurprising to Florida; and Florida law.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Ernest Hemingway always left an unfinished sentence in his typewriter so he didn’t have to face a blank page the next day. As I reluctantly let go of the first installment of my tell-all, between-the-pages love story, I left a two-word sentence in my WORD file—in Hemingway fashion, a terse one. Why fiction?
Friday, April 5, 2013
Where have I been lately? In my head, but not at my writing desk. Take last Friday for example. A day at the hospital: reported at 6:30 a.m., in deeply drug-induced dreamland (kinda like Hollywood, only the scalpels aren’t out for your back) by 7, in surgery I’ll fortunately never remember some four and a half hours following.
Released, at last, at 4 in the afternoon, my doting wife and I step gingerly into a serendipitously pleasant day-after-Spring day. “Let’s walk,” I say. Jean asks if I’m sure. We’re in midtown Manhattan—I don’t need Affordable Health Care to field this one: “If it’s too much, we’ll grab a taxi.” Done.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Joan Rivers had made a point of telling me she doesn’t like last-minute changes. That evening, she had to live with me whispering what came next… and next… in her right ear, as our bevy of stand-up old pros did their stock routines and shtick. When Mayor Koch’s turn to speak came, it was impossible to tell whether he was retaliating for a roast that never was or speaking off the cuff: either way, he just sounded like Ed Koch. Privately, the event concluded, the ballroom emptied, the New York-tongued mayor warmly expressed his gratitude and his “admiration” to us.
In the early ‘90s, I made a 60-minute documentary about a life-threatening new wave of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. When I described it to the mayor, he asked for a copy. In time, I received a letter from him, excerpts from which follow:
I finally got to watch your video “Freedom To Hate.” It’s superb. …Why WNET hasn’t shown it is a mystery to me. …If you need a recommendation, you can always use my name as someone who saw it and thought it was superb.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
The elegant invitation read,
Pups like blues or music that soothes, but I’d rather bark ‘n role.Mutts like verse, iambic and worse!, but I’d rather bark ‘n role.Give me rock, doo-wahs and schlock, and watch my tuchas soar.Screw three-quarter, pop and Porter, I’m no dinosaur!What I mean, I’m only thirteen, and I mean to bark ‘n role.</
Oy gevalt, it’s in my gestalt, I do one mean bark ‘n role!…Today I am a hundt, unt I’ll say vat I “vunt…”Muzzle tov, Banjo!
About the writer
Ray Errol Fox
Ray Errol Fox is a journalist/author/lyricist who has written for theater, film and major publications. He was nominated for an Academy Award as writer/producer of the documentary, "Preserving the Past to Ensure the Future." His popular blog, “SON OF THE CUCUMBER KING,” features “A New York Writer’s Chronicles” of opinion and anecdotes.
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