Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Conversation with Richard Dreyfuss

I happened to turn on the radio and started listening to The Diane Rehm Show on NPR. She was interviewing Richard Dreyfus and I was soon engrossed by the program. What impressed me most was Richard Dreyfus’s prolific insight on Civics and the current political environment.

Below is the link to the transcript of that interview.

In speaking of the late President Kennedy, Richard Dreyfus said:
“In speaking of President Kennedy, that he had said things that were ahead of its time. He really was, I think, the last American president to lead the people. Sometimes to places where they didn't want to go and were reluctant and sometimes to a place where they wanted to go. And thankfully, civility is one of them and I had the privilege a few weeks ago -- a few months ago of watching his televised speeches about Civil Rights and it was a real shock to see an American president clearly out ahead of his majority. He was ahead of us and he was saying something that if we don't come to this place, we will have failed ourselves morally and it was a hell of a statement.”

Dreyfuss went onto say, “With such a peace, there will still be quarrels and conflicting interests as there are within families and nations. World peace, like community peace, does not require that each man love his neighbor, it requires only that they live together in mutual tolerance, submitting their disputes to a just and peaceful settlement. And if we cannot find an end to our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children's future and we are all mortal.”

“But isn't it interesting that even back then, President Kennedy was talking about civility, he was talking about differences of opinion, he was talking about how people get along in families, in communities and look where we are today.”

“Yeah, it's not a pretty picture and what he was doing in 1960, he could've been saying in 1760 or in 1460 or any year before that. Human nature is what it is. We are not Jaguars, we are not built for perfect efficiency, we don't laze away on a nice sunny day while the river runs dry and we don't always hunt only the huntable. We are human and we are diverse and we are silly and stupid and bright and intelligent and what is so extraordinary about the Constitution is that is was able to take into its creation the flaws and virtues of mankind as opposed to ignoring mankind completely.”

This next statement really impressed me:
Richard Dreyfus then went onto say, “When I ask students what was so revolutionary about our Revolutionary War, the answer is usually that we broke away from Great Britain. And I say, no, it was that for the first time ever, we were actualizing the idea that the ruler and the ruled were one thing and that the people were not the audience to the performance of the nobility, that we were all the same value and all contributed. And that was at the time probably the most important message in 13,000 years of politics.”

Later on in the program Diane Rehm played a segment from Mr. Holland’s Opus where Richard Dreyfus’s charter states:
“No, no, do not misunderstand me. I am not talking about my job. I am talking about the education that students once got at Kennedy High versus the education that you people are willing to give these kids today.” Then later goes on to say, “Oh, come on, Michael. You know, the big problem here is that you people are willing to create a generation of children who will not have the ability to think or create or listen.”

Diane Rehm then asked, “And it would seem to me that in real life, Richard Dreyfuss, you believe that what teachers consider to be their best right now is not good enough. And that students are not living up to what they could.”

Richard Dreyfuss reply, “There's a word in English that should be far more familiar to all of us and the word is exemplification. You can't exemplify reason or logic or goals of virtue unless you exemplify them and if you only exemplify, for instance, the public discussion of politics as something that is yelled and screamed and interrupted and patronized, then that becomes public discourse. And because you cannot scream reason, your advertisers will support screamers first. And so you raise two, three generations of people who don't know what reason sounds like, who don't know what a public discussion of a public issue can sound like without the melodrama of talk show radio or being demonized. And when you have a representative democracy, sooner or later, you have to get down to a definition which includes the willingness to share political space with those with whom you disagree, but if you demonize, you're not sharing anything.”

Later again in the program, Richard Dreyfuss said he had written the article because, “I was so hurt and offended by President Bush's casual inclusion of torture in the American Political Lexicon, something that had almost achieved the iconic level of taboo and he brought it back as if it was, you know, higher taxes or lower taxes.”

To later continue on with this thought:
“Teach our kids practical political power, teach it to them as their brains develop and can accept it more and more in its complexity, but teach it to them before they graduate high school so that they have a sense of ownership and pride. And that the next time someone tries to steal America, which is now a commonplace daily activity -- when someone tries to steal America from Americans, those future monarchs of this system will know when they're being flimflammed and what to do.”

“The fundamentals aren't there. When I was a kid, I was in love with America. I was -- my father and his generation had saved us from the most vivid civics lesson in history, Adolph Hitler. And when Hitler -- when we realized that Hitler meant every word he said, we stopped the whole world, went over to Europe and beat him to death because we knew we were not going to do that world.”

“But when it comes to the study of history and the study of the ethics involved with the writing of the Constitution and how incredible a coincidence in history it was that we could gather those men from the enlightenment era and actualize something that no one had ever thought to actualize. For them to do that and for us to learn it in its context is to make people aware of a pride of a country that is deserved and substantive, as opposed to being asked to love your country for no particular reason whatsoever.”

Diane Rehm then asked, “Is that your great concern that young people do not, in this era, grow up with the sense of pride in their country? “

In which Richard Dreyfuss replied, “I think it's one of the consequences. Another probably more important is that we grow up without any sense of connection and responsibility. We grow up without accountability and we grow up oddly enough without reward and punishment. Republican democracy is a two-way street where the people are not only the rulers, they are the people. And not only are they the rulers and the people, they are the neighbors in business, they are the neighbors in nursing, they are the neighbors who you are, in one way or another, accountable for and to, to make your society better. And when you remove that sense of responsibility from, let's say, local business and local business starts to recreate what used to be known as let the buyer beware, I can sell you a piece of junk. And if you don't catch me you can't do anything to me.”

I highly suggest everyone go to the link site and read for yourselves the transcript of this interview program. I personally found it to be very epific, and thought provoking.


  1. What was really great about this interview is Dreyfuss' obvious ability to articulate ideas we all know are true. The inability to express oneself clearly and articulately is one of the biggest handicaps of our age.
    My wife always says that it should be the most basic part of education. She remembers the English lessons of her childhood, when she was taught to parse sentences and the logic of simple grammar.
    Dreyfuss has it!

  2. Microdot my firend you are so correct. It was Richard Dreyfuss's ability to articulate that impressed me the most. Kind of one of those moments, "Damn, wished I had said that."

    Hey I wanted to give you a heads up on my next posting, "Good Art Outlasts Political Power." I have three examples and I want you to think of more. I will be very interested in your input.

  3. Great post; great interview; great man. 'Nuff said! :-)

  4. Hard to ramble on after reading some thing that simply makes sense. It is fun reading intelligent articulate people.

    Engineer almost any thing not subject to spoilage outlasts Political Power at some point and even compost made from the spoiled could be said to have more value so maybe even spoilage isn't that bad. Look forward to that one.

    Micro there are still places that put a premium on communications skills, saddly after 5 schools and a supposed degree in communications it is obvious that Sarah the Terror didn't stumble upon one of them.

  5. Hello Mainer,
    I am located here on the Delmarva Peninsula and this last election we had the Sarah Palin wanna be, Christie O’Donnell, who was the Republican Candidate for the Senate Seat of Delaware. Another perfect Tea Party embarrassment.

  6. Looking forward to doing some work in Willmington right off Engineer. Never spent any time in your fair state so looking forward to it. If I remember correctly a serious amount of our once prosperous poultry industry ended up on the Delmarva. Now I see you are looking to burn the waste from said industry to generate power. I don't about power but you will certainly have stink.

  7. Hello Mainer,
    I really live on the Maryland side. You are correct that Delaware has more chickens in Sussex Country per capita than anywhere else. I know that Perdue has a pellet plant for the waste outside of Laurel, DE but to the best of my knowledge, it has not been a financial success.

    Where are they planning to put the incineration power plant? I did some consulting work at the Eastern Shore Correction prison on the southern end of the peninsula. They burn wood chips from the logging / paper pulp industry to supplement the electrical power there. They tried to burn chicken waste but there was too much moister and it did not achieve the BTUs required to make workable steam. One of the boiler techs comment on that test was, “It burned like what it was.” :-)

    I know that Fiberwatt uses a design much like a blast furnace that is supposed to work but I have my doubts as I feel this has its own issues.

    I also did a lot of preliminary work on Delmarva Power Substation modifications for a project call, “Bluewater Wind.” You may have heard of it. Windmills off the coast with underwater cables bring the power ashore and connected into the electrical infrastructure.

  8. Very interesting Engineer. Yeah chicken shit and most any thing associated with the process is wet. That said I thought fluid bed technology could over come that.

    Blue water wind and several other similar projects hold great promise. Maine is going heavily into wind generation. Hell might as well we sure as heck have enough of it and wide open spaces to accomodate the infrastructure. Maine is already a net producer of electrical power even after shutting down the Maine Yankee Atomic power plant in Wiscassett.

    We have a number of biomass plants up here as well as cogen units associated with our paper industry and trash to energy. So yes we are fimiliar with the technology and the tradeoffs with same. We can be much more energy self suffieicnt which will pay huge dividens in a number of areas. B U T we have to have leadership that is not in the pocket of big oil. I would include both sides of the aisle on this. On energy we shall either stand on out own or we shall as every other energy beggar nation stand in line. I do not wish to ever see this nation standing in line with its hand out.......for any thing.

    I'm seen by many as one of those damned progressive socialist commie pinko fascist rat bastards that are anti capitalist scum......odd then that one of my heroes is T. Boone Pickens. Ohhhhhh shall ignorance become thy creed and subservance follow. Yee gods when shall we over come greed and listen to those with a mind?

  9. As Shakespeare once said, “Oh ye progressive liberal bastard…thy name is Mainer!!” :-)

    Welcome aboard and looking forward to your illuminated and intellectual input here on this blog. You will be in good company.

  10. Ouch.......Slings and arrows etc. Sticks and stones.......remind me not to go down that road again. That Shakespeare guy was a pissah.

  11. Oh no Mainer....I loved it, and being from Maine, didn't you mean pissaaaaaaaah :-)

    You will find most visiting this site are of higher intellectual content and more progressive viewpoints.

    May I also suggest making a visit to the sites below:

    I think you may like them too.

  12. This statement is outstanding as a reflecdtion of the depth of Dreyfuss' knowledge of political science:

    When I ask students what was so revolutionary about our Revolutionary War, the answer is usually that we broke away from Great Britain. And I say, no, it was that for the first time ever, we were actualizing the idea that the ruler and the ruled were one thing and that the people were not the audience to the performance of the nobility, that we were all the same value and all contributed. And that was at the time probably the most important message in 13,000 years of politics.”

    Absolute perfection.

    Thanks for bringing this report to our attention. It gives me hope that there still are some people who regard absolute truth as preeminent.

  13. Geee Engineer that makes me think you might have spent some time up heeeeeah. You should be a mouse in the corner when I have instructed in Mississippi to a room full of lads from Mississippi and Louisiana. Can you say interpreter needed?

    Mud I fully concur as well. Well said.

    Engineer I will check out the other sites.Always looking for interesting material and view points. Thanks. I would like wise invite you good folks to 538refugees as well. Not sure if it would be your cup of tea but an interesting group for sure.

    Actually Engineer what brought me here to start with was my looking for a quote that you had that I took back to the other site, giving full credit for where it came from of course, now I find I come here as often as I check 538. I can't wait to see that interesting tidbit you come up with next.

  14. Hello Muddy,
    Oh Yea, that was the quote that nailed it for me. "the idea that the ruler and the ruled were one thing."

  15. Timely post, Engineer! Wonderful. Thank you.

    My fifth grade son is now neck deep in a writing project for school concerning the Revolution. I asked him the same question and he said, "because it meant that we were free." Holy vague, right?

    When I told him that we essentially became slightly organized anarchists for a while, his eyes shot open like I'd smacked him.

    Apparently, his other family member's comments about literalist Christian 'political morality' had gained a foothold. Judging by my son's reaction to the truth I have a lot more work to do. We're watching documentaries on the IRS while filing taxes this year. That'll twist is brain in a knot! lol

    There's nothing at all wrong with a little anarchy to get things straightened out in the end. All it means is that the status-quo bed needs regular fluffing and turning so it doesn't so soft with age and apathy.