BEMUSED DUDGEON: confused resentment

In a very well written NY Times op-ed piece on August 10, Ta-Nehisi Coates, editor of the Atlantic, uses the term bemused dudgeon. The piece is about former Governor Romney’s commentary on the role of culture in attaining success.

Having never heard the term dudgeon before, it led me on an investigative journey.  I discovered that dudgeon is a word with two separate meanings, seemingly unrelated.  The most ancient meaning has to do with a wooden handle on a knife.   I left that page quickly.

But in more recent centuries the term dudgeon has come to mean resentment or indignation.   Someone’s inappropriate comment can lead someone to experience dudgeon.   That is the meaning intended  by Mr.  Coates in his op-ed piece.  He found himself simmering over the implication (on Mr. Romney’s behalf) that one’s culture is the primary determinant of one’s financial success.

Mr. Romney was, of course, making a comparison between the quality of life in Israel and that in the Palestinian State.  His commentary indicated that the Palestinians were struggling economically because their culture was more flawed than that in Israel.   It was a way of sucking up to the Israelis, and … indirectly … to the Jewish voters in the United States.

Mr. Romney chose to ignore the fact that the Israeli government has put such restriction on trade related to the Palestinians that it is next to impossible for them to get ahead.   They are being held hostage by the government of Israel.   That wouldn’t have led to Jewish votes, so Mr. Romney chose to go in a different direction.

In researching this episode, Mr. Coates found himself fuming over the lack of integrity on the part of Mr. Romney.   His term, bemused dudgeon, therefore, expressed his confusion and anger at the same time.  Bemused is a term often confused with amused, but it really has no connection.  To be bemused is to be seriously confused.  To be in a state of bemused dudgeon means to be seriously confused and angry.

The confusion on Mr. Coates part may have been over the serious inconsistencies in the speech Mr. Romney was giving in Israel.  Or he may have been confused as to how Mr. Romney gets away with these kinds of over-simplifications.   I share that confusion with him.

There is no question that the Israeli’s have a rich, ancient culture.  But that is true also of the Palestinians, whose cultural history may actually precede that of the residents of Israel.   But when one’s culture is under constant fire economically, militarily, and in the international media, it isn’t possible to keep up the kinds of cultural richness that the society desires.  The Palestinians do their best at it, and every now and then we get stories about music, art, literature, and other qualities of Palestinian life which cannot be snuffed out by Israeli domination.

Mr. Romney would do well to recognize that in the unlikely event that he should be elected President he would be required to deal with the Palestinians.   This episode does not fare well for him.

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Photo Credit: Mitch Ditkoff

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