January 17th, 2008

The Blog of the Ancient Mariner

[This is a version of a post I originally wrote a while back about the reasons I took on my “A mind is a difficult thing to change” series. I thought I’d publish it again now that I’ve resumed the project.]

Whenever I finish writing a section of the “A mind is a difficult thing to change” series, I’m amazed at how much I have to say, and how long it takes me to say it. My guess is that there are at least eight more posts coming up in the series, maybe even more.

I’m always gratified and surprised that so many people actually have the patience to hear me out. And I’m especially and deeply touched by those who take the trouble to thank me (particularly any Vietnam vets, or Vietnamese-Americans), or those who identify with what I write, or those who were too young to remember but are nevertheless still interested. I’m flattered by those who suggest this could actually be a book (although sometimes I feel like it already is a book).

And I sort of chuckle at those who say–“well, but what about this, what about that, why haven’t you talked about x, y, and z?” I want to say, “Hey, man, are you some sort of glutton for punishment? Isn’t this long enough?” Actually, if I ever do write a book, I imagine I’ll get around to answering some of the excellent questions raised by many readers.

Every response and every reader is appreciated. The real reason I began blogging, I believe, was to write this series. But I don’t think I ever would have done so if some of the people whom I originally most wanted to hear my story–certain friends and family members–had not made it clear they did not want to hear from me about this at all.

Some of those close to me have also made it clear, despite the fact that we continue to have good relations, that they will never read this blog. Is it lack of interest, fear that their own point of view might be challenged, or fear that, if exposed to my turncoat ways, they might have to cut off the relationship? Whatever it is, it is a source of sorrow for me.

But in a way, it doesn’t really matter. Because, like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, it seems I am compelled to tell my tale. The Mariner faces a situation more dramatic than mine, and he meets his listeners face-to-face. But I can identify, nevertheless:

Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns :
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.

I pass, like night, from land to land ;
I have strange power of speech ;
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me :
To him my tale I teach.

I studied that poem in junior high school. It wasn’t one of my favorites, although the cadences appealed to me, and some of the stanzas, too, particularly these famous ones:

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion ;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink ;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The poem contained a mystery–many mysteries, actually. Was the Mariner under a spell? What did the Albatross represent? And why, oh why oh why, did he shoot it? I seem to recall tackling the job of writing an essay on the latter question, poring over the poem to find the answer, only to discover–it couldn’t be found there. I was a bit annoyed at that, because I guess even then I was interested in human motivation, and I couldn’t understand why Coleridge was mum on this all-important point.

Well, I still don’t know why the Mariner shot the Albatross. But I no longer think the poem is the lesser for its failure to tell us. In fact, I think the mystery is part of its appeal.

Perhaps the Ancient Mariner doesn’t even know himself why he did what he did. But he knows something happened that was wrong, and he was part of it; and that now he must tell the tale. In the end, it’s a story of redemption and healing; that much I know, too. Healing, not just for the Mariner:

Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched
With a woful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale ;
And then it left me free.

…but for his listener, too:

He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn :
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.


32 Responses to “The Blog of the Ancient Mariner”

  1. vanderleun Says:

    The why of him is easy if painful to know and to tell. He shot the albatross because he could, because he had the will to do so, and in so doing also had the knowledge that he could not undo that deed. Free will and the free exercise of it. And as they say, there’s a price to pay since freedom isn’t free.

  2. Gringo Says:

    Ah well, memories of 8th grade English and the Ancient Mariner. I still have the beginning line and the “water water everywhere” line memorized. Come to think of it , that was the last time I liked poetry.
    The desire of English teachers in high school and college to turn their students into literary critics kills love of literature.
    BTW, in Spanish, given its cantante nature, the very words often suggest a song’s tune. Give me the ancient bards intoxicated with their words.

  3. FamouslyUnknown Says:

    The albatross was more free, bound neither to two-dimensional land or sea, but living in three dimensions, and answering to no man.
    This the Ancient Mariner, in his ignorance and envy, could not countenance. And so he slew the living form of that which he believed was better than himself, the insult to his imagined inadequacy.

    Jesus would understand the Ancient Mariner’s sorrow and rage and remorse, and would forgive. Or, being Jesus, would have taken no insult and therefore would have no need to forgive, only to be compassion and understanding for the Ancient Mariner.

  4. Gray Says:

    Vanderleun’s story of “The Man Who Carried the Dark Lantern” reminded me a lot of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. I dunno if that was his intent, but that’s what it reminded me of….

    Coleridge was what would now be called a ‘Goth’, but he was an educated and discerning Goth….

  5. Gray Says:

    This the Ancient Mariner, in his ignorance and envy,
    could not countenance.
    And so he slew the living form of that which he believed was better than himself,
    the insult to his imagined inadequacy.

    Heh…. That paragraph has a good meter

  6. camojack Says:

    The vice was here, the vice was there, the vice was all around…

    OK, so I paraphrased a bit. 🙂

  7. Mitsu Says:

    I’m sorry some of your friends and family don’t want to hear your story, Neo. That must really hurt. I am quite interested, however, even if I disagree with your conclusion. As always your story is well-written and thoughtful.

  8. Mark William Paules Says:

    Dear lady,

    Your blog is an exquisite example of metacognition. How many people take the time to analyze why they think as they do? It’s not easy to suspend bias and emotional baggage to examine thought in the ice-cold light of reason.

    I find the blogosphere to be a refreshing and valuable resource. Thousands of thinkers have been given a voice to express new and original insights on the matters of the day. You and others provide the readership a great service. The Net has become the public square of yore writ large. And we are better off for it.

  9. Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Says:

    Much great art is such because a part of the greatness is the thoughts & feelings the artistic work makes you, the audience, think and feel.

    “in fact, I think the mystery is part of its appeal.”

    The great educators ask the important questions, and the learners learn by thinking about the answers. And because meaning is so individualistic, the poem/ work can mean different things to different people.

    He did because he could … The ability to hurt another, when one is hurt, is all too human. I recall (again, I’m sure I’ve written this in a comment before, but not for years) Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, where the ‘magical’ Michael is looking at monkeys:
    A middle sized monkey gets tossed a peanut.
    A bigger monkey comes and takes the peanut.
    The middle monkey sees a little monkey,
    and goes and beats the little monkey.

    That is humanity … and Michael learns to laugh.

    The ability and willingness of one who is a victim to go and victimize another is a behavior I often “see” — maybe even when it’s not there(?).

    None of your friends who refuse to read your blog are as truly open minded as they want to believe of themselves. Your friends are like Galileo-era Christians, believing the Earth the center of the universe; unwilling to see any other facts.

    Can I advise attempting to make jokes about Bush Derangement Syndrome, and how Bush will be gone in a year? I actually think Iraq will be in good shape, and the Reps will win the Pres. again.

    The “empowerment” that Dems often talk about is really the willingness to claim victimhood — and how rich white males “owe” them more.

    I didn’t like the poem much in school, S-F for me!

  10. Sergey Says:

    I remember myself being annoyed by tiresome habit of school literature teachers that always demanding pupils answer the dumb question “What did author want to say by this passage?”. If the meaning of true piece of any art and especially of poetry could be retold by a simple everyday language, this is not art at all. This conviction only strengthened later after my own attempts in poetry. In those rare occasions when I felt producing something worthy, I was utterly surprized by my own words. I could tell what I wanted to say, but it always turned a quite another thing, as if not me, but some stranger wrote these words. When someone managed to bring himself into poetical mood, he became enthralled or possessed by something transpersonal, like a prophet or shaman, and could not fully understand meaning of what was revealed to him.

  11. Ozyripus Says:

    neo-neocon wrote: “And I sort of chuckle at those who say–’well, but what about this, what about that, why haven’t you talked about x, y, and z?’ . . . . Actually, if I ever do write a book, I imagine I’ll get around to answering some of the excellent questions raised by many readers.”

    I sure hope you write that book, because neocon-ism extends beyond the war-on-terror, far into culture-war subjects, and back historically far before 9/11; neocon arguments first caught my attention in the early 1970s.

    One can’t help but wonder how far the intellectual ripples extend in more recent, “boomer” cases, such as yours.

  12. Yaacov Ben Moshe Says:

    May Sarton wrote, “The gift turned inward, unable to be given, becomes a heavy burden, even sometimes a kind of poison.”
    It is your self-care and our good fortune that you give the gift of this wise introspection here. A good deal all around, I say.

  13. Jimmy J. Says:

    In 1967 when I was recruiting for Navy pilots in the colleges of Northern California I experienced a political crisis. Up to that time I had been essentially apolitical. My mindset was that of a kid raised during the 40s and 50s. I believed without question the following: Everyone who was physically able should be willing to serve in the military. Our country was in the right when we went to war against Japan and Germany. We were also right when we went to war in Korea because Comminism was an aggressive, totalitarian form of government. We were right to help the South Vietnamese fight against being subjugated by the Comminists. The United States was a good country with a democratic government and a good place to live.

    Imagine my shock when we (my fellow recruiters and I) encountered students who believed none of the above was true. Imagine our shock when fellow Americans called us war criminals, burned our literature, and even spit in our faces. Imagine our shock when we were subjected to demonstrations, sit-ins, damage to our vehicles, and outpourings of intense hatred. I wondered what had happened in colleges since my graduation in 1954. In thirteen years colleges had gone from places of freedom of speech, freedom of inquiry, and bastions of education to hotbeds of political subversion where many were spouting Communist slogans and blaming their own country for all the bad things in the world.

    I began trying to find out what had happened. I also began questioning all the things I had believed to be true. Had I been duped? Was I wrong to believe in my country? Was it all a lie?

    I read many books, talked with people that I considered wise and well informed, and pondered it all for many years. But I couldn’t make sense of it. Sometimes I felt like Mitsu, the commenter on this blog, who tries so hard to see merit on both sides of an argument. I wanted to be fair, to see both sides, to accept that maybe the U.S. was not that great. I had not yet learned about the media. I got so much disinformation from the media, not realizing they had an agenda. They turned the Vietnam War into an illegal cause in which we should have never been involved. I felt like my service had all been a bad joke and the loss of life a catastrophe in service of nothing. The media pushed the idea that the best we could hope for was detente with the USSR. They opined the two countries might evolve toward each other. They seemed to see Communism as just another option for the good life. I didn’t believe it, but I felt so alone in my beliefs. I subscribed to Buckley’s “National Review” but, at the time, it was the only conservative point of view out there. It was hard to find people who cared or understood.

    When Reagan became President and began speaking out against Communism I realized that, finally, I was not alone. He gave me confidence that I was not a crazy, right-wing nut. I began to see the media’s agenda and disinformation. I accepted that you needed to be willing to make value judgments based on what you knew to be true. Collect information, look at data, and then make a judgment. Otherwise you end up being uncommitted and subject to being manipulated by the MSM.

    So, that’s my political coming of age story. I guess it shows that, unlike Neo, I’m a slow learner

  14. njcommuter Says:

    Neo, who is the artist whose illustration you used?

  15. neo-neocon Says:

    njcommuter: Gustave Dore.

  16. OBloodyhell Says:

    > fear that their own point of view might be challenged,

    Off the top of my head, this would be the first avenue to pursue with any of them, were you to actually attempt to ferret it out.

    There is a reason they hate talk radio so much, and try futily to counter it. Talk radio is a place where at least some measure of rational argument can and does take place (Art Bell &co not withstanding), and, when you express an idea, there are people around who will challenge it, forcing you to justify & explain the reasoning behind it.

    Since most of their positions cannot stand up to the light of reason (My own experience is that most ardent lefties think that you should be able to “feel your way” to an answer), so-called liberal talk-radio is doomed in advance every time they try and start it.

    Only in venues where response can be controlled and silenced (and quietly, where there is no visible censoring metric) do they have success.

  17. OBloodyhell Says:

    S’funny. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, surrounded by the liberalism and awash in it.

    I didn’t conciously pick up on it, but I think the key thing for me was what Watergate taught. It said, very clearly, that government could not be trusted.

    Somehow, the obviousness of this was lost on the liberals around me, who, despite the lesson, still thought that “more government” was still the answer.

    In 1975-76, my senior year, I took a humanities course in HS, we spent the first half of the year in what were essentially BS sessions talking about different topics. One thing I indirectly noticed was that I was on one side, usually with one or two others (never the same ones, mind you) and everyone else was on the other, of most of the issues. I wasn’t so much a conservative, as a libertarian, but there was a measure of overlap that usually had me opposing the trailing end of the baby boom liberals.

    I’ve always found myself more in tune with Gen-X, though by some claims I’m a boomer. I think it’s unfortunate that the Gen-Xers are going to have so much time cleaning up the crap (like “PC”-ness) that the boomers are leaving behind that they aren’t going to have a lot of time to fix much that they could fix.

  18. Vince P Says:

    I was born in 74, and so most of my childhood was in the 80s.. I think I attribute my conservatism to the patriotism instilled by Ronald Reagan. I thought the world of Reagan , even though I was in grade school. I remember staying home from school in 89 so i can listen to his farewell speech.

    Plus I had an inante revulsion of hippies and the long haired non-shampoo’ed people… who suddenly resurfaced in the early 1990s and who were also a gang of whiners and complainers… so I couldnt stand the hippies and the Gen X’ers.. so when I got into High School, i think that’s where my ideology was established.

  19. Sam Says:

    I was born in ’58, it was my older siblings and their friends who went to Vietnam. I grew up fearing I would die in the jungle just as you grew up fearing you’d die under a mushroom cloud.
    Like Jimmy J, I believed the US was right in going to all those places, and nothing ever changed that. During my teens as I began to become politically aware, I was also hearing the stories of returning veterans. I was reading the history of WWI and WWII from the German perspective. I was reading things about the Civil War that I hadn’t been taught in school, and that challenged the conventional wisdom of US History class.
    The result was a belief that both the government and the press were quite willing to use propaganda tactics and outright lies, and would casually throw our lives away to serve their own agendas. I’m sad to say that nothing has changed that belief from that day to this.
    Please understand, I’m ex-military (in spite of the above), I realize that when the arguments have come down to force there is no other option than to spend lives. It’s not that they’d spend me that hurts and offends. It’s that they’d *discard* me. And you. And anyone else.
    I consider myself a Libertarian, for what good it does. I truly believe that there hasn’t been an honestly tallied, nor honestly reported, election since the Johnson administration. I hate to say it, but it would not surprise me to find that there had been none since the ANDREW Johnson administration. The opportunists who build their lives around the ability to bend human nature to serve their own ends hear nothing but the call of their own ambitions.

  20. Artfldgr Says:

    your family and friends are right not to read you if they live in la la illusion land. sometimes we dont really want to konw the person we know, but are very comfortable with what we think we know.

    you feel bad because you feel that your losing something that has been promised to you, but is a lie. that sharing everything with others will cause the bonds to be stronger, that such openess will cause you to finally not feel alone. but mind is individual, so the promise of their knowing more will not result in them becoming closer to you.

    each choice you make divides the masses… everyone is lonelier in a world where everyone pretends to think the same, and cant tolerate other thoughts. it makes us intolerably alone because we cant connect.

    the more that is known about you, the fewer freinds you have, but the more solid those freindships are (if your healthy of course).

    there is an old proverb that says it:

    dont ask the quesion if you are not willing to hear the answer.

    they are not willing to hear answers to questions they dont even want to ask themselves. they certainly dont want you to make them think. thinking means they will unravel threads, and then they have to wake up and act.

    though in this you are in better company than they, for they refuse to examine you because that forces them to examine themselves too.

    “The unexamined life is not worth living” – Socrates.

    our nihilistic perverse hedonistic society refuses to examine itself in the light of truth, and so sees whatever it wants to see in the dark.

    [you would too if you had beer glasses like they do from drinking ambrosia too much]

  21. Artfldgr Says:

    this just in today.

    Writing for Friends and Family: The Interpersonal Nature of Blogs

  22. John Says:

    Thanks for your willingness to explain your thought processes and change in such detail. I’ll admit that I grew up in a fairly conservative family( though my dad admitted to voting for McGovern simply because he disliked Nixon so much). So my current conservative values were not as difficult for me to arrive at as yours were.
    It is interesting to see at how someone arrives at these life changing decisions by someone with all the qualifications to do just that writing about their own experience.
    Have a blessed day. 🙂

  23. EMB Says:

    Thanks for sharing your story! You’ve got me hooked, I want to know how it ends. Are you going to finish it?

  24. Oh, bother Says:

    My poor head, Oh, bother cried
    This meter’s killing me
    With dactyls or a trochee writ
    This earworm banish’d be!

    (My apologies to anyone whose doggerel I’ve just kicked.) Now, having banished the earworm: I, too, would love to see a book, but note it is difficult to publish a book and maintain a pseudonym; and since our opponents specialize in character assassination, I hope our hostess gives the matter long and hard thought.

    My immediate family are on the far left, academics in fact. One sister is polite enough to avoid the subject but the other is not. For many leftists everything, including family must be sacrificed on the alter of political correctness.

  25. Jusuchin (Military Otaku) Says:


    Seems like I was just a little right of center when I was growing up in comparison to you. I stumbled upon your blog on Instapundit today, and while I’ve been a confirmed conservative most of my teenage life, it brings a sort of, how should I put it, relief when people would finally stop hiding behind their own views, and sees things as they are. No rose tinted glasses, nothing.

    There is room for analysis, yes. You’ve proven that. There is always interpretation in events, and one person’s view of ‘right’ is often different from another, but there is a social standard. But it seems the United States I grew up looking forward to (I was naturalized in 2005) was more in line with John Wayne and not…well..I’m unsure how to categorize America as others in the opposite end sees it. Maybe choose a Vietnam film.

    I look forward to keeping you in my sights ma’am, you’ve made a follower by your self-analysis.

    Now if only my term papers were that well written.

  26. Brian H Says:

    Agh. Just re-read the entire series, and many of the comments. 2 years since the last entry, with eight more to come? Lady, I’m 2 years older than you; will either/both of us survive long enough for the rest of the series to come out?


  27. Orson Says:

    PERHAPS I was too young. I have read a great deal about it.

    When I was old enough, I was active against Carter and Reagan’s reinstitution of Selective Service. A friend of mine served 6 months in federal prison for defying their rules and not registering.

    But why is “Vietnam” the title of all your mind-changing posts? Did not David Horowitz have more to deal with and also change his?

    My point is this, I don’t get the “Vietnam” fixation.

  28. Richard Says:

    Spent some time today reading your first category, “A Mind Is A Difficult…….”, and am a bit confused.
    Does it end with the Ancient Mariner post, or is there more to this very interesting and logical conversion?

  29. neo-neocon Says:


    It doesn’t end with the ancient mariner post, but I haven’t yet written the rest of it. 🙂

    Actually, I took a very long pause. I may some day convert the whole thing to a book, but I’ve been dragging my heels. I think the reason is that I started blogging around the time of the election of 2004, and more intensively beginning in 2005, and much of my experience since then has been blogged rather extensively.

    Glad you found the story interesting.

  30. Richard Says:

    I forgot to add that it has the makings of a book. I’m glad you already had the idea, it would be a good one.

  31. GrannyAesop Says:

    Neo –
    Just finished reading the whole saga – magnificently told.
    “It doesn’t end with the ancient mariner post, but I haven’t yet written the rest of it. :-)”
    Actually, the dramatic arc does end here; the rest is just cleaning up loose ends.
    (And it does indeed make a “book,” although I think maybe a movie would be more dramatic).
    If a new saga has started, you may not know it until you reach the associated epiphany for that one.

  32. neo-neocon Says:


    Thanks! Yes, in recent years I’ve come to realize that the reason I haven’t gone back to write more is that the basic story was contained in the posts I’d already written.

    In recent years the changes have only been to solidify and intensify the feeling of betrayal, coupled with alarm at how badly things are going now. It seems the lies are triumphing over the truth.

    I hope I’ll be able to come back to this in a while and amend that statement to something more hopeful. Right now I see no reason to.

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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