The Political Metamorphosis of a Musical Hunter…
An Essay by Dave Roth
Respectfully submitted to the pioneers of the Kifaru message board.
This writing retraces the process of personal growth and change of my life as a hunter and professional musician. An outline will unfold that will sketch the path that led a born, raised, and educated political liberal, to embrace the ideals of political conservatism.
I was raised the son of an Episcopal Priest and a Nurse in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Throughout my youth I hunted a great deal, having been trained by my Dad who learned from my Grandfather. My Grandfather was a hunter not only by his passions; but also, by necessity. He killed animals to support his family's nutritional needs. I was very fortunate during my youth to have a vast tract of forest near my house where I was able to spend a great amount of time thinking, being alone, and working through the turbulence of adolescence while hunting deer, squirrels, rabbits, turkeys and grouse. I could get off the school bus, grab a snack and my .22, and be home in time for supper with a rabbit or a few squirrels. It was during these years that I learned what it meant to end life and recycle it as human nourishment. Although I'm not really sure that I was a committed hunter who was really at peace with the process of killing and eating animals, that's where I began to experience it.
My high school educational experience was really not a great joy to me. I did well, graduated, and I was accepted to college, but I felt like a dim flame that was never fully lit. Public school seemed to accept a lot of mediocrity that was met with praise. I earned good grades, but I only really excelled at playing the piano, most likely because piano was not taught at school, and I had no lackeys to compare myself to! Luckily, I was a good musician, and I never knew it. My school did have a rifle team that I really loved. Can you believe that the members of the team were allowed to case their guns and take them home on the school bus? This was 1976-1980.
After high School, I went to college as biology major and graduated with a degree in piano performance. I then moved to Colorado to study music and finished a master's degree in Piano performance. Throughout my college years, I did not hunt at all. I graduated with all the bravura and anticipation that any hard working student would have. I was really excited to see what life would have in store for me. It didn't take long for cold reality to start effacing itself. I found find myself confronting some really hard issues as an artist. I began to deal with the fact that I was highly trained for jobs that were few and far between, and I did not want to enter the market for the jobs that did exist like public school teaching, full time university or college teaching (I currently teach one day a week at a small eastern college as adjunct faculty.) I know these can be rewarding careers, but my inner voice was telling me that I would be unhappy doing these things. It wasn't the teaching that turned me off, but the thought of being "institutionalized." I floundered for a long time. In a way I felt cheated and unappreciated, and I started leaning towards bitterness. The truth was that I was not really prepared to accept the tremendous amount of dedication and perseverance that it would take to really make it as a creative force in the world. After all, I was getting pats on the back for 18 years for substandard schoolwork. Things were "supposed" to be going better. My frustration affected my family, and it affected my marriage. With the encouragement of a friend, I began hunting again, but I seemed to lack the defining edge of confidence and joy that I knew existed somewhere deep inside. I was really searching. I had spent the last 25 years being herded through systems and programs where my success was completely determined by the way I reacted to external stimuli, motivations, and encouragement. Almost everything I did up until that point was a direct result of needing to complete an assignment or impress someone important in my field. Very little of what I did was a result of personal decisions. What I did find by returning to hunting was a well-received reunion with fertile opportunities for thinking and meditating that I found so useful as a boy. I naturally found myself facing fundamental questions of life that had yet to be resolved in my heart. I began to really start to take stock of my life and plan for the future.
While I was searching to find my internal rhythms, I had several important influences that began to change the way I was thinking. Through books and several key relationships with successful individuals, I started to reach a pivotal turning point in my career, my personal life, and my relationship to the world. I also started to realize that to really be a free man, I had to change in a big way. The liberal ideals that I was raised with would only allow me to function within a system of entitlement, and artistic welfare. There was a flame starting to glow within me again, and I knew that I couldn't look myself in the mirror unless I made some substantial changes. I'd like to share with you a short piece that I discovered quite serendipitously on a day when I really needed it. It was an inscription found on the tomb of a monk, and it said something this effect.
When I was young man, I set out change the world, and I failed.
When I was a few years older, I set out to change my community, and I failed.
In my middle age, I set out to change my family and loved ones, and I failed.
Now, on my deathbed bed, I see that if I had changed myself first, I would have changed the world.
When I discovered this passage, I felt like I was staring down the barrel of this man's dying thoughts, and I was a shook up a little. It was very clear to me at this point that I was going to have to change drastically in order for my reality to change. Yes, I felt like I had been "sold a bill of goods," but at least I identified the problem. I started getting a grip on it, and I began to do things that would move me forward.
It seems that as a result of this process, I began to adopt the values of conservatism without even knowing it! I started criticizing the results of liberalism without even knowing what the term meant in the political sense. It was an amazing epiphany for me when I finally started studying the difference between the two camps, and I came to the conclusion that I would have to change my party affiliation! I hadn't even paid attention to the clues that I voted for George Bush and Bob Dole based on my convictions. Also, in all of my years of formal education, no one ever outlined the major difference between the liberalism and conservatism to me.
What I found, as a general rule, is that conservatives stand for the freedom of the individual to either succeed or fail based not on luck or handouts, but on hard work and determination. And with this philosophy comes the promise that even with failures, the God given gifts of inner strength and perseverance will help us all to overcome our losses and make us stronger and wiser. In essence, the conservative ideal expects responsibility and decision making from us. Liberalism is exactly the opposite. It acts like a huge safely net that sucks the wind out of risk takers and makes them comfortable by accepting mediocrity and guaranteeing that food will always be on the table. This leads me to my biggest beef that I have with my fellow artists. Most of my peers blame the Government for the sad state of the art form (jazz.) They sit on thrones in their tiny little worlds refusing to reach out to others and personally touch them with their art while building audiences from the ground up. No, most of the artists I know feel entitled. They want their audiences handed to them on a silver platter as if the are some kind of royalty that deserves the respect of every American. Others have relied on symbiotic relationships with club owners who don't care at all about the music unless it helps them sell booze. These owners may act "hip," but you will rarely find one with the courage or long term vision to ask his patrons to maintain silence while artists are performing. This is too great a risk for them personally and financially. I also meet with much distaste the fact that the federal government is raking each American for tax dollars to support programs like the National Endowment for the Arts. I flat out think these programs should be eliminated. Now, I have to tell you that I'm the only musician that I know of who thinks this way. I'm really alone here. I contend that artists have become in two ways diminished by these programs. First of all, these programs put artists on a pedestal that no one deserves in a free country of "created equals." And second, I believe it sends a subliminal message to artists that says "I'm not good enough to make it on my own;I need to stay plugged in to the umbilical cord." This is a travesty of the human spirit. Just to ensure that the readers of this essay don't assume that I am "arm chair quarterbacking" in this area. I'd like to point out a real life example of how the Arts could thrive in this country. In Colorado, I created what is arguably the most successful jazz concert series in the region, Peak View Jazz. It is completely supported by listeners, and it was built from the ground up without grants or government handouts. Each concert for the last two years has completely sold out, and it has become a model of success that leaves other struggling organizations scratching their heads. How did I do it? By building personal relationships with listeners and providing the best possible product. The quality of the music is so high, and the experience so moving that folks excitedly helped me spread the word. I also specifically asked each dedicated listener to invite someone new to a concert, and act as a mentor of sorts to help introduce them to our program. It was literally that simple. No hand outs, no welfare. Peak View Jazz became so strong a force that caterers were begging me for my business, so much so that they ended paying all of the advertising and production costs leaving the organization in a position of strength both artistically and financially. This same model of personal responsibility can be applied in all of the arts. The same thing can be done for hunting. What if every hunter in America ventured to introduce one new person to the activity in the next five years? That would double the number of hunters and like thinking voters in the next five years, what about 10, 15, 20 years? You get my point. Hunters can become a dominant force in politics, if we choose to leave our little worlds and connect with others. When we bitch about the future of the hunt, we must always follow with the question, what we doing about it? What are we doing at the most basic grass roots level? The simple act of teaching another person to hunt, sharing outdoor skills, and being a model of freedom and responsibility will go a thousand times further than writing a letter to the editor, attending a gun rights rally, or verbally assaulting a bunny hugger. Yes, one by one is the way we can win the war. We hunters can defeat liberalism, because we have an ethical believable goal, not the nebulous non-committed fluff that drives the less than sheepish flock of liberals. I believe this is possible, do you?
Where does the essence of conservatism fit into the hunt? Right in the core as far as I'm concerned. Hunting requires drive, perseverance, the ability to accept loss, the ability to display humility and respect, the will to kill, the prudence not to kill, and the maturity to eat what you have killed with reverence. From its beginning to its end, it is an exercise in personal responsibility and control. With even the slightest ethical miscalculation or decision, the serious hunter will be confronted by clear signals from the conscience that will allow him to monitor the quality of his self image and the way the he perceives and appreciates the gifts of life. We have all felt it. The risky shot that wounds game or the improper care of meat that results in waste. The over drove ego that revels too much in the kill and follows up the shot with boasting to the boys. The hunt is a mechanism for the human spirit to reveal itself; it is a test of the will, and a way for humans to deal with truth in its purest form. Henry David Thoreau said this. "The true test of a man's character is when he is alone." Isn't it true fellow hunters, that at the very instant when our impulses dictate that we put the hammer down on an animal, we are truly alone, sharing the moment only with the divine creator? It is in the commitment of this act where the years of our upbringing and consciousness come onto crisp, clean focus. It is complete responsibility for one's actions followed by very dire and vivid consequences. It is self-mastery, the worthiest of all character traits. This is not within the realm of the liberal view. It doesn't fit at all. There is too much personal responsibility attached to the hunt. I contend that conservatism is as old as the day the first microbes fought to eat each other in the primordial ooze! I also contend that liberalism has no place in America, unless you want to change our constitution. If you want to do that, I am willing to fight you to the death to stop you. This is why so many died to for our country. Who in their right mind would go to war to defend liberalism? This is a great point. Maybe liberalism fits well in other countries that do not value personal freedom, but not here. Liberalism is a 20th century experiment that has failed and we need to mobilize to eradicate it, one person at a time.
Liberals seem have banded together in vast groups of losers. These people feel that somehow, someway they have been cheated because of the fact that they belong to a certain group. Whether it is color, religion, sexual orientation, it seems that all groups have found a way to identify themselves as being victims. What is their strategy for change? They create a massive group of supposed losers, and then they anoint a "Leader of Losers" so that they can convince all the other losers to ask the government to make special accommodations to support them. Nowhere in this scheme do I hear the words "All Men are Created Equal." We do not need to create special laws for loser groups; we need justice and law enforcement that protects every one equally and levels the playing field. Discrimination is not an issue that belongs in civil courts; it should be a criminal matter. Liberals historically have tried to manipulate through the civil courts what they fail to win at the ballot box; this alone has weakened our American dream and brought it to its knees. I think that Martin Luther King Jr. was a brilliant, learned man. I truly believe that he is looking down with great disdain at the way in which his message of equality and justice has been warped and mutated into quota laws and affirmative action. Now, I suppose, I can end this essay with what is probably the most politically incorrect position that I have. I believe that Social Darwinism, survival of the fittest, is a healthy thing. It can only happen with a level playing field and a government that does not play favorites, while allowing people excel to unlimited heights without being punished or prejudiced because they have amassed wealth , financial or otherwise. There is still room in our country to support the weak and help the afflicted with compassion. For all others, I say, cut our strings and let the games begin. May the strongest survive, and the not so strong can excel beyond their wildest dreams by taking personal growth and improvement seriously.
When I left my Colorado home, jeep filled to the roof, heading back to my Pennsylvania roots, my eyes were many times filled with tears thinking of the loss of leaving an extraordinary life the West. As I passed the town of Hillrose Colorado, the boyhood home of Glenn Miller, I looked up at the bumper sticker on the car ahead of me and it said, "Everyone is a Liberal Until They Grow Up!" What an incredible coincidence to see that on my way back to my homeland, where I left as a liberal, and would return as a conservative! Indeed, I did grow up.
BACK TO ESSAYS