Monday, October 08, 2007

Marching to a Different Drummer

I have just read a brilliant column in the Columbia University Daily Spectator, the student paper. The piece is by Atossa Abrahamian, an undergraduate student of philosophy. Born in Iran, Abrahamian came to America as a child.

In the column she relates an experience that happened to her in the seventh grade. He classmates were enthusiastically discussing the film "Titanic." Abrahamian says that she disliked the movie but bit her tongue: she didn't want to be ostracized. Specifically, she was afraid that she would have to eat her lunch alone. Sure enough, one girl voiced her opinion that Leonardo di Caprio was ugly. Gossip condemned her as a lesbian.

When I was in high school we read the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson, advocating forthrightness and individuality. If I am not mistaken, it was Emerson who coined the expression "marching to a different drummer." And so I sought to march according to that rhythm. In addition, my ingrained tendency to contentiousness was reinforced by my parents' adhesion to a far-left political sect. While I came to reject their views, I learned early one to be distrustful of conventional political analyses, even when supported by a seeming consensus.

Moreover, my growing awareness of my "deviate" sexual orientation caused me to be skeptical of experts in this field--and by extension all experts. Thinking for oneself should mean just that.

Abrahamian reminds her readers that America has always hosted a very different tradition from the Emersonian one. She aptly quotes an 1835 observation by Alexis de Toqueville: "As long as the majority is undecided, discussion is carried on; but as soon as its decision is irrevocably pronounced, a submissive silence is observed, and the friends as well as the opponents of the measure unite in assenting to its propriety."

Having recently revisited Iran, Abrahamian is apprehensive--in my view rightly so--about the growing consensus that "something must be done" about this ostensible rogue state.

For my part, after more than a half century of sometimes rough-and-tumble adult life, I would say the following. Don't always believe what you read, in this case Emerson. People do not admire dissidents. As Abrahamian found in the seventh grade this stance means that you lunch alone.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The notion that cultural and social dissidents march to a "different drummer" comes from Thoreau, Walden specifically. Here is the entire quotation, which has always been a favorite of mine:
"Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."

11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of your many succinct and perspicacious observations, the call to individuality, to think critically, and to act authentically, is perhaps the best advice anyone can proffer.

2:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always found that having lunch alone leaves one in good company.

10:16 AM  
Anonymous DrJimM said...

I wonder whether anyone has heard Thoreau's famous quote sung. Here are the words:

I Hear a Different Drummer

I hear a different drummer,
I hear another beat,
I’m marching to a rhythm ,
From a distant street.
I’d like to stay here Johnny,
I’m sure your song is fine,
But I hear a different drummer playing mine.

It pleases me to think,
That I think as I please,
I’m bothered not at all,
When someone disagrees.
He’s welcome to his song,
And anytime it’s played,
I’ll cheer the man along,
But I won’t join his parade.


A man at Walden Pond,
Began this song I hum,
He learned it from his heart,
Not from a hollow drum.
The note he struck was brave,
He sang it loud and clear,
When other music plays,
Only his song do I hear.


9:18 AM  
Anonymous Elliott Broidy said...


12:55 PM  

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