News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The anatomy of cowardice: no spine, no integrity

In the matter of the petty, small-minded ads run against Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, the other viking, Doug Wiken (a Norske, I presume), points out some confusion. So does PP of South Dakota War College.

The ads in question--and Holy Jesu, they are questionable--give two references for hapless listeners. One is the telephone number of Rep. Herseth Sandlin's Aberdeen office. The other is a web site. I referred to the web site by its title, not its web address. When I Googled the name, I came up with "Common Sense South Dakota," which is the web site begun by Democratic operative Steve Hildebrand at The web site referred to in the ads is, apparently, given the same title, "Common Sense South Dakota," but its web address is

The confusion aside, the salient point is that people who presume to offer commentary and fabrications on political matters cower behind anonymity. The blogosphere has become the province of misinformation, malice, and its attendant cowardice. There is an inane notion prevalent among the fearful and cowering that free speech is somehow connected to the rocks of anonymity under which the neo-reptilians live their desperate lives. Freedom of expression necessarily involves standing upright and accounting for one's words and oneself--which I admit is difficult in the cramped intellectual crawl space where the regressive blogosphere spins its way through the primordial muck.

When people identify themselves, you at least know who to avoid and ignore based upon their performances and habits of er, ah, mind, if I may be permitted a euphemism there. Some people are possessed of meanness, and it is prudent to know who they are.

They are churlish. And that word needs a bit of definition. It stems from the Old English ceorl which evolved into the word karl which later evolved into churl. The terms are all synonyms for peasant. Peasants often exhibited a sullen resentment and peevishness against the people in the manor houses and other peasants who seemed to fare better than others. The dissatisfaction among peasants was a major motive in the founding of America. In a letter to the sponsors of the Jamestown Company back in London, John Smith called for them to send people who could till the soil and were proficient in the basic crafts, rather than the privileged who do nothing but conspire and complain. The peasants who showed no characteristics but resentful jealousy and malevolent accusation and complaining were characterized as being churlish. John Smith, and other recorders of the immigration to America, extended the term to include anyone who lived mean and resentlful lives, particularly those who presumed that their caste exempted them from the tasks involved in survival. Their defining characteristic was to attribute all their frustrations and disappointments to others, a characteristic now labeled churlishness.

South Dakota carries on the tradition of churlishness. Just listen in on the conversation in town cafes and taverns, on the regressive blogs and on discussion board threads. There is an abundance of churlishness in our communities. It is something to be surmounted. The endemically resentful and jealous have little to cling to but the malice they feel toward other people.

The Thune campaign of 2004 exploited that reservoir of churlishness. It was recorded in campaign ads, which John Thune will have to account for as long as he is in public life. The citation of Tom Daschle's million dollar house was an overt and obvious appeal to the churlishness in South Dakota. It was an appeal to those who live in malicious resentment of anyone who succeeds and finds acceptance outside the provincial mental boundaries of South Dakota.

It is an attitude that many students wrote about in freshman composition courses. In assignments in which they were required to characterize their home town and high school experiences, many students found that when they returned home after spending some months at college, their former high school classmates treated them with a churlishness because they left town and ventured into higher education. This is the basis for the success of the citation of Tom Daschle's D.C. residence.

The fact is that there are many houses in Aberdeen that are more elaborate and lavish than the Daschle home in D.C. However, such homes are priced in the millions in the D.C. area while they are priced in the hundreds of thousands in South Dakota. But the suggestion that Tom Daschle is living a lavish life with the presumption that he is rejecting the values and people of South Dakota appeals greatly to those of the churlish mindset. It is not an honest or intelligent appeal, but it strikes a chord among the small-minded and resentful and it apparently gives them a sense of satisfaction when they can lash out against those who have managed to surmount the churlish values of life.

It was a successful ploy in the Thune-Daschle campaign. The question is whether one wants to live in a place where churlishness can dominate and govern. So many of those young people who returned home to confront churlishness gave up on their home state and found more satisfactory lives in other places. The absence of jobs and good salarie are by no means the only reason people leave South Dakota.

My oldest child left the state after two years of college here and found that life can be totally different elsewhere. South Dakota has the right to assert its values and be what it wants to be. But people also have the right to criticize those values and decide whether they want to live under them.

This weekend, I will be helping another child move out of state. Sullen resentment and peevishness are unhealthy for young people. He is going to a state where it certainly exists, but it does not rule. He has my support and my hopes for a better future. It is with those hopes that my Swedish peasant ancestors left their fatherland and found new lives in America. When we children questioned my grandmother about life in Sweden, she eventually grew exasperated and said that life was what she wanted to move away from. My children are continuing the quest.


Douglas said...

You do have a good collection of adjectives.

Your mention of your Swedish ancestor's comments reminded me of a comment my grandfather made when I questioned him about why my father, uncles, and aunt had little facility with Norwegian language. His response was something like, "We came to the United States to escape conditions in Norway and believed we owed our new country an obligation to learn English language." The conditions he fled included the lack of opportunity in coutries with primogeniture and rampant drunkenness at that time in Norway.

His attitude seems remarkably different than that of some of the illegal aliens who have flooded and are flooding the country who demand bi-lingual education and media.

David Newquist said...

A few children of my generation in Moline had Swedish accents, which embarrassed the rest of the Svenskes terribly. When my Dad's father got off the boat, he knew two words in English: John Deere. He used his carpenter skills to build wagons at the Moline Wagon Works, which was eventually bought by John Deere and Co., but he became competent in English, as did all my grandparents.

My mother's mother and her sisters came to America as single women. Their brothers stayed behind. We were well versed in why these women ventured out by themselves--no opportunities. But I don't think anyone on either side of my family drank, except for my mother's dad, who had a wide reputation for it. He left my grandmother on the Nebraska frontier with nine children (not including the seven who died at birth) where he was a sheriff and known for drinking with the Indians. The only alcoholic beverage allowed in the households was Lydia Pinkhams, which we males never got a taste of.

Three of my mother's brothers trained horses, so I learned my fluency in cussing from their conversations with their charges. It was a useful vocabulary in the Army.

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States