Ask Dr. Salvo
May 24, 1994
Dear Dr. Salvo,
I greatly appreciate your involving me in your refute against the progressively negative beliefs of Jesse Bailey. The incredible persistence of the pessimism he displays in his views leads one to believe that he wanders about shrouded by a cloud of darkness. You are so wise to point out the truth that Jesse Bailey and I will never persuade one another of anything at all. He will never persuade me to become a pessimistic cynic and I will never persuade him to become an optimistic realist (it seems as if the words "optimistic" and "realist" should be contrary to one another, but in my case, they are not). This would undoubtedly be because of the simple truth that I see the world and the people and things in it with open-minded intrigue and wonderment, whereas Jesse Bailey must view the world with close-minded doubt and mistrust. I would truly like to know not only HOW Jesse Bailey fell out with the Universe, but also WHEN did he fall out with the Universe?
To state that "...marriage is a downer...the pits, the end of one socially, intellectually, financially, and every other way" is overtly extreme and leads one to ponder whether he is only spouting inferences as to what he believes marriage is, or if he is stating his beliefs based on personal experience.
I have seen both happy and unhappy marriages. The happy, lasting marriages are generally found to be among couples who are emotionally sound and secure. Their marriage is based on an indescribable amount of trust and unconditional love. Couples who are emotionally insecure and uncertain are often unhappy in their marriages. Their marriages are based on mistrust and lack of communication. In most cases, an unhappy marriage usually does end in divorce. However, the fact that the couple ever married proves that at one time they most likely did love each other. That love serves as experience -- one never forgets how it feels to be loved. Hence, the continuous search by both men and women to find that love again.
As for Jesse Bailey's belief that "women become undesirable at age thirty," he has obviously been a veritable hermit for too long. Women at thirty (generally) have gained maturity. They are more secure, and know their goals (both career and family oriented) and how to achieve them with tact and integrity. As for desirability, women at thirty are just reaching their sexual peak, and more often than not, are more beautiful at thirty than they were at twenty -- and it is in NO way downhill from there. And just to show that I am not biased by the age group -- it will be another decade before I reach it.
I am in a continuous state of amazement every time I hear or read the simple fact (and I accept it as fact) that "men cannot help desiring many women [at once]." The reason for my amazement is the simple other fact that women desire many men. This fact is often ignored by most (but not all) men because it can be potentially ego shattering. This desire for other men, however intense, can be either sexual, intellectual, or both. There is a pronounced difference in the way men and women communicate their desires. Women will almost always refrain from the hurtful and vulgar screaming of "T & A" (I prefer not to elaborate -- most know what the letters stand for) if a nude man frolics across the screen. This is usually out of sensitivity and love for her mate, boyfriend, lover etc. Women have desires -- only they realize the need for constraint. Women tend to constrain their own sexuality out of consideration for their partner. Besides, desire means "to want," not "to have." Is it a shock to you, Jesse Bailey?
Even as I come to the closing of this refute, I realize with open eyes that refuse to be blinded that I have not made a fraction of a difference in the close-minded views of Jesse Bailey. I may not have even enlightened him of other views besides those of his own. Yet I feel as though I have expressed my own views and that they may have enlightened someone else as to the views of others. Writing my own views and opinions serves as an infallible catalyst.
It seems that in a world that is becoming more and more devoid of peace and happiness and natural beauty (due mostly to what some prefer to call progress), an individual should concentrate most on the things that he/she can still savor and delight in than those that make life seem undesirable in itself.
Life truly is what the individual makes it.
What a relief to receive your letter, finally identifying yourself. I feel sure I've been proceeding under the illusion that you were your own mother, the writer of short stories and novels. I picture her as being some years younger than I am, and (now I'm enlightened) you about twenty years still younger than she is. No good at figures, specially lady's ages, a minefield for wanderers.
I feel "dispensed," as Walker Percy would say, from dealing with the hair shirt heresies of the unfortunate Mr. Bailey. When is it fun? for him? I suspect his views on women are based solidly on ignorance and inexperience -- and I am solidly behind the French who love to describe and admire "La Femme de Trente Ans." Forty and fifty are also good years, I think, and I know from happy experience.
The best gift of God is to be born with a cheerful disposition. Jesse was lurking behind the door when this was dealt out. Hence his discontent and his Prufrock perception of life. The worse disease there is, is bad luck. No stimulant, no sedative, no serotonin re-uptake antidepressant, no lithium or other bath salts will help. One lives with it, as I suspect Bailey does, and groans till it goes away or death mercifully ends one's misery. If you keep appreciating Bailey, he may reveal the nature of his bad luck -- or then again, he may try to adopt you. Your spirited portrayal of the female psyche was most enlightening -- be sure and pass it on to your daughters and granddaughters! I agree with you in every respect. Keep writing.
Here is an overdue reply to a long letter from a Mississippi Hoosier (or so my grandmother would tag him, he being from somewhere north of Mobile County), whose nom de plume is Ole Possum. It was an intimate family memoir as well as a scholarly scrutiny of the family as it grew into the anthropology of Mississippi. One grandfather was very dark, but he was an Indian. A grandmother was definitely part Indian, but "white." One cousin was partly black, but perceived as innominate. One cousin, God forbid, was clearly a "nigger," and the least said the better. Possum himself was honestly confused as to what to be, a widespread disorder in the South, but described as an ongoing crisis of pigmentary perplexity. In his letter the Possum seemed to plaintively wonder and seriously inquire what all the fuss was about. Whey was the prism, subdividing light into all colors not white or black, become a fetish? Why did existence of one "black" forebear in a large crowd of "white" ones signify that the descendant was black?
Being just as confused as Ole Possum, Dr. Salvo pursued his usual strategy. Sit and wait till an answer comes. Well, Salvo sat, and the answer came, and here it is:
This reply draws heavily upon William Styron's review of "Slave and Citizen: The Negro In America," by Frank Tannenbaum. It must have appeared in the New York Review in the past ten years, judging from the level of entropy in my files where I found it. And, the yellowish tinge of the paper. The answers to our questions are to be found by comparing slavery in this country with what happened to slavery in other countries, where the outcome was far from disastrous, and perhaps even benign. Being a Brazilian, I choose Brazil for the good example.
Slavery was introduced there by the Portuguese at the same time it began in the West Indies and the United States. Its duration in all locations in the western hemisphere was about the same. "But it is a striking fact that today there is no real race "problem" in Brazil; a long history of miscegenation has blurred the color line, legal sanctions because of color do not exist, and any impediments toward social advancement for the Negro are insignificant." This to us miraculous state of affairs seems to be firmly and logically grounded in the prior histories of Spain and Portugal, that is they brought their attitudes with them from the old world and did not have to invent or develop them in the new world. Both nations had experienced the institution of slavery (including the slavery of white people) throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Even prior to that epoch, both countries had been as if prepared for slaveholding by the Code of Justinian, an 8th century Byzantine emperor who promulgated advanced humane and liberal views throughout the declining Holy Roman -- Byzantine Empire. He also had a strong minded Empress, Theodora, whose social views often reinforced or even instigated his own. These views included large elements of humanity and even equality, as well as admiration. Seneca is said to have said, "A slave can be just, brave, magnanimous."
Las Sieste Partidas, the laws evolved to govern all aspects of slavery, not only showed forth the humane tradition of the Justinian doctrine which regarded the slave as the spiritual equal of his master, and perhaps his better. The law was protective of the slaves, provided many incentives for freedom, and recognized the slave as a moral human being.
Slavery in Brazil, though brutal at times as to labor and living conditions, had a known bias in favor of manumission, and became in effect "a contractual arrangement between the master and his bondsman." In this relatively equable atmosphere it was natural for full liberty to be attained through a slow and genial mingling -- of the races, and by gradual change rather than the cataclysmic one of civil war.
Now the British and their descendants who became American slave-owners had no civil or religious experience of slavery, how to think of it, what to feel about it and about slaves. Protestant church leaders and Anglo-American law stood mute on the essential status of the Negro: One had to choose between regarding him as a moral human being or as chattel, an item of property. They chose the fatal definition of property, and the result was the utter degradation of a people, as well as the amoral beguilement of otherwise decent whites.
As late as the mid 20th century critical observers of the South were morally outraged because the churches of the South showed no spiritual leadership in the liberation of blacks. And were horrified and uncomprehending, to see that the forces of law often took sides with the Klan, wielders of axe handles, and the skin-heads.
The above brief outline of Spanish and Portuguese history helps to explain, if not excuse, these lapses in religious and legal leadership by Church and State in the South.
In America, manumission was totally discouraged; the slave was an object, with no rights to property, to marriage, even to his offspring -- all shattering violations of the spirit.
This was a type of oppression unparalleled in human history. It succeeded in dehumanizing an entire race and reduced its members to the status of children. The war came too late to prevent or to heal this wound, from which the victims (and the perpetrators) have never recovered.
All one can add to Tannenbaum's melancholy but realistic account of slavery in this country, is that the Spanish and the Portuguese, as well as the Mediterranean French, had been accustomed for centuries to fight with, live with, and marry mates of all degrees of light or dark. For them (cf. Martinique, Haiti et al) the advent of slavery in the plantation of South America was no novelty, and no guilt ridden adventure totally at the expense of the slaves.
Well, Possum, write some short questions if this reply is too vague.
P.S. My account neglected to mention that the Moors were the conquerors and masters of the Spanish and Portuguese for several hundred years. The subject citizens learned much classical knowledge the Muslims had preserved and remarkably, did not develop lasting animosity toward their conquerors. They did develop respect.
May 24, 1994