h&f 0013 He Who Raises The Question: The Death of Jesse Helms

We live from question to question.  There is no option but to answer.  Submission to the order of the day is an answer.  Promotion of that order is an answer.  Protest is an answer.   But don’t mistake the fact that you always give an answer.  No rest for the agnostic. No sleep for the indifferent.

The question (in it’s amoebic form): Now, given this thing, what will you do? 

Jesse Helms is one of many who have given it a little more shape. 

He, himself, as brand and emblem, became the question for many who have never heard him or read a single word of his.  That is: given this man, Jesse Helms, what will you do?  History is bound to write him as a temporal figure next to his contemporary who also became the question, but on a universal and perhaps timeless scale: Martin Luther King, Jr.

By willful act of personal broadcast and/or by force of character without regard to who may or may not hear, the question is raised to us.

The beauty of this is that it should raise you up from ad hominem rock-throwing and bring you to your knees in consideration, if you ever really stop to consider.  You can hate Jesse.  You can hate Martin.  But that would be silly as it stops far short of the deeper question. 

There is a trail of unsatisfied or conflicted folks who actually thought they could hurt him by making fun or by “exposing” him for who he was.  Those attacks were just appetizers for his dinner, often consisting of many of those commentators, who ended up being wooed by his humanity: “I had no inheritance beyond the example of faith, hard work, and honesty.”  (got ’em) The problem there is that when you start with ad hominem hate, it only takes a little to topple you to the, “You know, everybody hates the guy, but I sat down with him and I gotta say he’s an incredible person.”  Charmed, when in fact you’ve, more aptly, charmed your own low standard. 

The only reason we can consider Jesse is not because of his person.  We should regard him and respect him, personally, but that’s not relevant here.  We consider him because we gave him weight and mass legitimacy.   We took him beyond person to idea and now must consider him as idea.  There are men who will shout and broadcast with that voice easily being consumed and absorbed before it reaches an ear.  They cannot reach idea.  Jesse did – and without any shouting. 

So, you can’t hate Jesse or Martin. [We won’t waste much time with people who do.  Or who take breath to say, “Oh, that COMMENTATOR X!” These men are not persons.  They are you, depending upon your answer to the question. They may well be your (or the media’s) paid subscriptions.] If you were to be consistent with a personal approach, you might also spend some energy to hate the homeless man who delivers the same message. But you don’t pay him any mind as his look renders all of his speech “crazy.” 

But you care about Jesse.  North Carolina gave him to the country, but he became a certain idea, writ large.  His words had not much chance of ever getting past his early established brand.  Whether those words agreed or disagreed with brand Jesse, they only spoke brand Jesse.   He took pride in the resulting nicknames:  Mr. Conservative.  Senator No.   These served as powerful euphemisms for the myriad others.  

The other nickname??  Well, he’s been asked so many times about being racist that the question itself later gat no meaning and can be flipped like a seal from the tail of the killer whale …just playing.  Sufficing then, to say, black friends are a clear testament, as he often took the question and defused it by taking idea, poorly framed, down to the level of the anecdotal.

And once again, he is us.  He has put the question, his order of the day.  He contends that he is you, as anyone delivering his idea for mankind and finding wide audience.

The better question is not of the man, Jesse helms, but rather:  Given this idea, Jesse Helms, what will you do?

July 4

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~ by ericjhenderson on July 4, 2008.

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