Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Letter From Pieter

What follows is an email from Pieter Dorsman. It is a response to my email to him and led to my original post on the anniversary of van Gogh's death. Mr. Dorsman's reply is a thoughtful reflection on his fellow citizen. Given that there are boisterous -- even obstreperous, at times --commenters on this site, I would ask that all those who have something to say about Mr. Dorsman's views of his country and his countrymen do so with circumspection and respect. In other words, behave. Not everyone will agree with Mr. Dorsman's ideas, but since he is an invited guest, I ask that there be no throwing of dinner rolls across the table and that everyone mind their manners.

I certainly have my own reseverations about van Gogh. For example, I do not agree with Pieter that sincerity is sufficient for wisdom or for seriousness. You can be sincerely, even terminally, flippant. It is a characterological flaw I wrestle with myself.

But if we are to learn what makes Europe tick, and why the Netherlands has come to its current state, we would do well to listen, and to ponder before we reply.

Otherwise, we learn nothing and we could well end, if not in the same situation, then in its reactive opposite.

Now Pieter:

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I think part of Theo's actions and final response can be found in Dutch culture. Its language and humor are extremely direct and rude and Theo mastered that skill to perfection, offending Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. Theo felt he had every right to act like this as he clearly sensed that free speech was under pressure, precisely because of the prevailing political dogmas of multiculturalism. The same with Fortuyn who felt that years of liberation would go to waste if Dutch society were to give into religious dogmas of some immigrant groups who felt the Dutch constitution didn't apply to them.

"Can't we talk about this" is equally Dutch. The idea that real violence and real war would visit the lowlands is and has always been unthinkable.Not sure if it is a real story but during the German offensive in 1940 (it took them a mere 4 days to occupy Holland) a few soldiers allegedly dropped their guns and deserted the battlefield exclaiming "they are using live ammunition"! If it was bad in 1940, imagine what it is like in 2005. Most of my friends who still live in Holland - and they're not exactly uneducated- are clueless when it comes to this.

Epitaph: don't think it should have been "But I Wasn't Serious", as Van Gogh was absolutely sincere in what he said and believed.

Thanks for the link and the e-mail, enjoy your blog.

Best regards,



who, me? said...

Thanks, Pieter. I've occasionally written cultural explanations of this sort in other matters, and know it's abominable to be made and burned as a straw man subjected to habitual adversary reflex.

It appears that irony and equal-opportunity rudeness are a kind of a luxury of homogeneity, and they don't travel or mix well. Thus, Europe in general, and I would say specifically van Gogh and others, have been naive about testing their multi-culti sensibilities in the actual physical presence of the real, and deadly serious, Other.

Thus this individual has become, not so much an model of artistic purity, as an "off the canvas" demonstration of the necessity of a new level of engagement with the zeitgeist, a graduation from varied playful and idealistic
adolescences -- a lesson we discount at peril of narrow, dreamy cultural presumption.

Once again, I appreciate Pieter and Ze Gates for the opportunity to look at this in good faith.