• Daniel Ethan Finneran

On The State Of Speech

June 2020

There is, so far as I can think, not a single person with whom, in the daily course of my interactions, in the genial meetings of which I happily partake, I’d neither rise nor descend to speak. No truer is this sentiment when I tire of talking with myself—that most compelling of all men, that most fascinating subject of our species. But, self-immersed though it may be, my self knows better: An ounce of dialogue, after all, is worth a pound of monologue, the former being far and away the more precious commodity of the two. And yet, that having been said, there’s seldom any other person, outside myself, by whose wit I’m so enamored, by whose genius I’m so convinced.

Nevertheless, I find beauty in conversation with all. I love the diversity of unusual and stimulating ideas, the novelty of personal ambitions and stories of which, in reliance on one’s own mind, he can’t hope to be the author. One must travel outside himself to find such a type. I go about this voluble venture with a hunger to know what might be said, and a dexterity to handle its reception once uttered. I say this not as a gloating profession of my own ease of approach and loquacity, a looseness of tongue with which, as a demure and hopelessly quiet child, I certainly wasn’t born, but of which I’ve come into recent and useful possession, but of my genuine friendliness, my curiosity of character, and my sincerity of good-will. These are traits I try never to conceal, but rather to extend to every person with whom, lucky as I might be from one day to the next, I come into fruitful and talkative contact.

And so, constituted as I am, I offer no hesitation in venturing to converse with any person by whom, in a frank and open manner, I might be confronted. In that sense, and in perhaps no other, I consider myself perfectly, indeed, radically, democratic. There is none to whom I won’t speak, none by whom I won’t be enlightened. I’m determined to be so. There is, in my opinion, no impediment by which I might be bothered that will prevent me from a robust and sturdy brotherhood, no wall separating the gentle and sororal relations for which I yearn. There is, in the course of my engagements, neither measurement of scholarship, attainment, sex, gender, race, nor class. I’m committed to finding the brilliance in all, and all are welcome to me.

Neither intellectual achievement nor sophistication of mien serves, in my eyes, as an impediment to the act of getting together simply to talk. The heaven-scraping summit of one’s prosperity, the soaring altitude of his achievement, aren’t hurdles too high to be cleared, nor mountains too menacing to be climbed. They cast not a shadow under which I’ll be made quietly to plod, accompanied by the chains of my own shortcomings. All boundaries can be cleared with the athleticism of but one verbal leap—the movement of an untrammeled tongue and an eloquent soul.

Alternately, I care little for the lowness of one’s station, quite less for the poverty of the diction by which he announces himself. As Montaigne, that greatest and most empathic of speakers, once said, “I envy those who can come down to the level of the meanest on their staff and make conversation with their own servant.” I listen, with great sympathy and a desire for understanding, to the sound by which such a servant’s trembling lips are breached. None is so unintelligible not to be felt, if not entirely heard and comprehended. Likewise, the ineptitude of one’s bank bothers me not, nor does the hunger of one’s wallet. For me, that which is of greatest profit, that which has an ultimate value of exchange, is not dollars but words, not materials but feelings, not wealth but wit. The former is ephemeral; the latter etches forever its value in stone. The one is a payment, cold and momentary; the other a lively interest continually to be gained.

So happy a spendthrift, so open a vault of discourse and fun, there is no one to whom I haven’t access, and no one lacks access to me. This, as noted by the percipient Tocqueville—and all the subsequent travelers upon whom his insight into a foreign, dynamic country such as ours cast so strong an impression—is the consequence of our American, egalitarian ideal. Tocqueville, it seems, was as sensitive to the environment in which he found himself as was the universal Montaigne, from whom, despite the many centuries by which they’d been separated, so much pure and resonant wisdom had been gleaned.

Tocqueville realized that this, our shared conception of the equality of man, and the scorn by which his heart is animated when viewing the obsolete benefits of caste, combine to form the fundamentally American ethos. They create that uniquely American attribute by which, in contrast to the Europe of old, we’re so favorably distinguished. In more than any other way, it’s through the conversations of which we partake that this democratic ideal, this uniquely American quality, is recognized. The farmer talks with the artisan, the artisan with the merchant, the merchant with the preacher, and the preacher before all without that scintilla of the unearned superiority by which the stratified world of Tocqueville’s France was so tightly bound.

This, in a republican land—despite the unacknowledged fact of its being, in most every literal way, republican—is the one aspect by which we’re made to feel truly democratic. We are democrats not in our governance, but in our discourse, not in our Constitution, but in our daily interactions. Our affability makes us democratic, not our legal history. Electoral procedures, the writing of laws, the issuance of taxes, the declaration of wars—all of these supposedly public concerns, topics over which, with unenlightened defiance and passionate zeal, we feel ourselves to have complete and unbroken agency, laugh in the face of our democratic claims. They lie beyond the reach of our democratic limbs. Not in these concerns, upon which, through a group of often tactless representatives, we’ve only an indirect influence, but in our conversations are we a truly democratic race.

Of course, the best democracy is that in which every man would be an aristocrat, but we embrace what we have for that which it is. An idealized state, one built along those lines of which, with pompous pleasures, I facetiously dream, has never been so composed, yet we are open, above all, to that diversity of opinion to which, though it be modest or brief, we all feel ourselves free to contribute. We love that variability of thought by which, by the mere dint of it being different, we’re all excited and moved. It is, in every way, a mental stimulation. For that reason alone, diversity of opinion is an unconditional good. It need not explain itself, nor offer a defense to its opponents. As Dante exclaimed, while he ascended with Beatrice the numinous heights of the Paradisiacal realm, “Diverse voices make sweet notes”.

Who among us, I ask, likes not euphony and fine music? Who, as if in the presence of sirens, would dare cover the orifice of his ears? Eagerly they remain open—the brain to which they conduct their messages, wanting. They listen for the chord, tautly wound in their souls, to which, by our very nature, we’re all mellifluously attuned. We have, then, before us, an American harmony, a rhythm to which every singing heart can beat.

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