As many of you know, Beethoven lost his hearing at the height of his powers as a composer. But as a genius he could still hear music in his head. He could glance at an entire orchestral score and play the music there represented by the notes on the page in his inner ear perfectly, right down to the subtlest gradations of dynamics and tempo.
What is not so commonly known is Beethoven also suffered from a dreadful case of tinnitus, a constant ringing or buzzing or humming in his ear. So while he couldn’t hear what was being spoken or sung or played on a musical instrument, he could hear the continuous insectile sound of an interfering dissonance.
And yet much of what came from this period, that began with his growing awareness of his impending deafness to his total deafness, was some of the most inspiring, beautiful and joyous music ever conceived by the mind of any human being. It might have been tempting for him to retreat into darkness and permit his music to reflect his inner mood. It might have been tempting for him to give up altogether. But his magnificent spirit and devotion to the beauty of his art wouldn’t permit it.
This was the period when Beethoven wrote the Moonlight and Appassionata Sonatas, his gorgeous Pastoral and lively and beautiful Seventh symphonies. By the time total silence enveloped him, leaving behind no sound but the continuous buzzing that plagued him for the rest of his life, he wrote his final symphony — the Ninth — dedicated to human joy. Such was the magnificent spirit of the man. Such was an example for us all, the creative spirit of humanity at its most sublime, undefeated in the face of the most awful adversity imaginable.
That is our species at its very pinnacle, at its very best. It is the spirit that took us to the moon. It is the spirit that conquered polio and smallpox and rubella. It is the spirit that freed the slaves and gave the right to vote to women. Martin Luther King spoke of this spirit on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. It is the human spirit that saw us through our darkest days, from Elisabeth I defying the Spanish Armada to our coming together in grief and strength the day after 9/11. It’s what sometimes makes our species great.
But the highest does not stand without the lowest, and in casting around for the lowest one does not have to go any further than Fox News and Laura Ingraham. While interviewing Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, Ingraham tried to enlist him for the defense in her ugly, spurious case that it is somehow a “violation of our Constitutional rights” by insisting that a person be vaccinated before getting on an airplane.
Before I unpack this awful woman’s awful assertion — and there is so much to unpack here — let me say a word or two about Alan Dershowitz. Dersh has defended such luminaries as OJ Simpson, Harvey Weinstein, Claus von Bulow, Jeffrey Epstein, Mike Tyson, Leona Helmsley, Julian Assange and Jim Bakker. He’s also a not infrequent defender of Donald Trump, the worst of the lot. The fact that Fox has him on their shows frequently ought to tell you even more about the guy. So when he makes Laura Ingraham look bad you know that Ingraham has stepped over a certain line.
Dersh was frequently interrupted by Ingraham when trying to contradict her, interrupted so many times in fact that one begins to suspect that she knows his counter-arguments are simply too good to refute. But not only is requiring that someone already be vaccinated against COVID before stepping on a plane not a violation of that person’s constitutional rights, it is a violation of our fundamental rights by not requiring it.
As long as Ingraham is spuriously enlisting the founding fathers and the Constitution in her performative outrage and her insurrection against reason, she might want to first take a look at the words of Thomas Jefferson. In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson spoke of certain inalienable rights, that included among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is no accident that he placed “life” first in that rhetorical triad. I believe Jefferson thought that the list belonged in that precise order of importance. After all, you cannot have liberty without life. One cannot pursue happiness if one is dead.
Ingraham is a multi-millionaire woman of extreme privilege who is fully vaccinated and travels around in private jets and lives in a near perfect COVID-free bubble called Fox. While Ingraham rails against vaccine passports for the res of us, Fox now requires them.
In other words, Ingraham has nothing to worry about, she’s covered. But she teaches other people that she’s positively outraged at how her Constitutional rights are being violated when she can’t travel on a commercial flight — which she never does in any case — with ordinary people she wouldn’t get caught dead with, unless she’s already vaccinated, which she is anyway. But life is so hard for poor Laura, you see, that she has to bear such a terrible burden. And is she ever mad about it!
Contrast Beethoven and his lesson of greatness with Ingraham and her example of pettiness. Beethoven showed us how to be great with an example that few of us could live up to. Laura Ingraham teaches people to be small. She is trying to make people mad about something that does not come naturally to us. We need to be taught this kind of anger and that is what Fox does. Ingraham and her ilk are succeeding, and it is leading directly to the deaths of thousands — perhaps hundreds of thousands — of people.
Masks are somewhat uncomfortable, but when we use them we save lives. Social distancing is mildly inconvenient, but when we practice it we save lives. Washing our hands more frequently is time-consuming, but we save lives when we do it. Getting vaccinated has its risks. Sometimes it can have unpleasant side effects. But those side effects will pass, and when we are vaccinated we save lives.
Laura Ingraham wants to make this all political. She wants people to revolt against common sense practices so she can stir up controversy and make even more millions of dollars while she lives COVID free in her little bubble of private jets and chauffeured limos. She wants mild inconveniences that save lives to seem like monstrous violations of our rights. In short, Laura Ingraham is an asshole, and she doesn’t give a shit if you live or die.
In the book “Contact” by Carl Sagan, Earth makes contact with an alien civilization that learned about us from a TV broadcast of Hitler at the 1936 Summer Olympics. When the book’s protagonist Ellie Arroway asks the alien why they wanted to have anything to do with us after seeing the Nazi spectacle, the alien replied it was because of the Beethoven they played at the games. The fictional alien species saw our species at its worst with the Nazis and at our best with Beethoven, and decided we were a species worth saving after all. I think they were right. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.