I've gotten a lot of feedback from friends, acquaintances, shop clerks, and fuckbuddies over the last week, not about something I wrote, but about a letter to the editor
someone wrote about me in Monday's Metro, I think it was. It's actually the most feedback I've gotten since I started writing regularly for the paper. Everyone found it very amusing that a certain Jeff Cole had called me a communist. It is certainly not the worst thing I have been called. My favorite of all is "the posterboy for knowledge without intelligence" (though I would rather be the centerfold, if the truth were known).
Yes, my views have been mocked and jeered in the vaunted pages of Metro on occasion. My ignorance on the issues of the day has been called "appalling." I even "nauseated" one very smart reader with a weak stomach by unwittingly falling into the evil clutches of stealth creationists while arguing against creationism in the schools! What a moron! Which is what one reader called me for my recent column defending Howard Dean.
How do I feel when I see the suffering I have inflicted on the innocent? What do I hear when they cry out for justice and freedom from my oppressing ignorance? Just this: bla bla bla fucking bla bla. Get a life, bitches.
In truth it's hard to get too exercised about all the name-calling. That's part of the territory. But people do say silly things. Take Mr. Cole's red-baiting. What is it, 1948? Communism is so over, Jeff. Although I have to admit to a fondness for Maoist fashion, I can think of nothing more awful than having to attend all those awful endless fellow traveler meetings when I could be out frolicking in the free market. Because shopping for bargains is fun. Filene's is fun. What communist would admit that? I love the free market, people! Although I have to admit it's more fun when you've got a little disposable income.
The story of the Twentieth Century is not even about the battle between two economic systems, both highly theoretical, but rather the story of totalitarianism versus democracy. Capitalism is arguably more in line with human nature than communism,just as the urge to totalitarianism is somehow stronger than the long slog of democracy. Democracy is more often than not a tedious process. A never-ending clash of individual egos, forever entering into tenuous alliances and forging temporary compromises for expediency's sake. In totalitarianism, there are clearcut winners and losers: individual egos are subsumed under one giant ego, and the little egos become an instrument for the collective ego. That's the appeal of religion, and that's partly why we have to be wary of religious personalities engaging in our democratic politics. They are more likely to want to participate in the democratic process only to transform it into an instrument of totalitarianism. Clearly , both the extreme right and left have totalitarian tendencies. The devil is in the details. Historically, the right has tended toward fascism, and the left toward communism. Neither is good news for individuals or their freedoms, obviously.
As for capitalism versus communism, as large-scale systems they both steamroll over the individual. Size matters, and there is no economic or political system that purports to govern hundreds of millions to billions of people that can do so with anything approaching real justice. Our federalist system is a pretty good way to deal with the size issue, but even it can break down due to political consolidation on the national level.
As for the totalitarian personality, this is what we think of when we think of communism, nine times out of ten. "Communist" has become shorthand for a person opposed to the personal freedoms we've come to associate with "the American way." But while communists were officially atheists they very blatantly co-opted the religious urge and its attendant habits for what amounted to an atheistic religion, from the Marxist teleology that appealed to the intelligentsia to the iconography that spoke to the common folk.
The fact is, if historical circumstances were different, many on the right today in America would make excellent communists. Barely able to tolerate the cultural differences an open market naturally engenders, If given free reign, they would quite happily turn in neighbors whose views differed from their own. They have self-segregated into McVillages in the exurbs(the latest wave of white flight began in earnest in the nineties and continues to this day) where they're neighbors share not only their basic lifestyle, but their politics as well, and there hangs over the subdivision an air of paranoia straight out of an old Twilight Zone episode. I know what I'm talking about. I remember visiting my folks in one of these vinyl villages outside of Indianapolis. It was only my second or third time there since they moved from my childhood home some years earlier. I was sitting on their back patio, a beer in one paw and a book in the other, relaxing and minding my own business when the phone rang inside. It was my parents' next door neighbor, who, incidentally, ran some kind of private security business he had, post-9/11, renamed Patriot Security, calling to inform my folks that there was a "stranger" on their back porch. My mother answered, "yes, I know. That stranger is my son."
This guy would have made a great commie. Communism, in practice, was, on the local level, a tool for petty personal recrimination that worked in favor of conformers, and condemned difference as heretical. It was, as the Catholic Church has been at times, institutionalized evil (of which there are many other forms, you can be sure). If you doubt that totalitarianism can thrive under capitalism, just look at the corporate culture that undergirds it today. It is functionally totalitarian. An employee's every move may be monitored, and he presumably adjusts his behavior accordingly. Freedom of thought and expression outside of the functional imperatives of the company are not tolerated, and in dress and language conformity is demanded. Can the personalities that thrive in this environment switch to little-d democrats once they leave the office? Can a liberal democracy tolerate totalitarian cells in its midst? Where are the drones' allegiances in the end? Towards an abstract concept like democracy? Or towards the means of real sustenance and status for themselves and their families?
My point, though, is that the personality type that took such gleeful advantage of state-sanctioned scapegoating under national socialism, communism, whatever, exists in America, of course, and in abundance. Communism schmommunism. I don't care what economic model the regime pledges allegiance to, give these people a chance, and they'll start looking for populations to purge. Gays, blacks, Jews, Muslims, uppity women, the aged and infirm, witches, heretics, the politically incorrect. Those they claim are atheists, or believers, communists or capitalists, loyalists or terrorists. The personality transcends the politics.
In many ways, in fact, it's much more a "personality conflict" than a real political or culture war we're in the midst of in America at the moment. That's why I don't see much hope in moving forward through politics, because the dominant personalities in our politics today are not free-thinking little-d democrats, but dyed in the wool dogmatists. These are habits of mind. And all the great cultural battles in the struggle for an open society are between the dogmatists and the free-thinkers, between those hostile to freedom and those who'll fight for it. The Narcissuses versus the Goldmunds. The dogmatists' politics, whatever they call them or claim them to be, always come to resemble religion, where personality and personal freedom are subsumed under the great omnipotent ego-projection of a god (not to be confused with the vast transcendent egoless Truth, but that's for another rant).
As for being called a commie, the idea that anyone could be a true communist, that there is any such threat to American society today, is as lame-brained a notion as the insidious gay agenda or the liberal media. We lack the most basic of social safety nets, and proposals to privatize social security are being seriously discussed in Washington these days. Only in a handful of industries is there any semblance of organized labor, and it more often than not resembles organized crime. Only a real moron would sound the alarm about communists in our midsts. Occasionally on college campuses it's true you run into one of those cartoon communists, dressed in army green with a beret, John Lennon glasses, and a menacing little goatee reminiscent of Trotsky. And they're good for a laugh.
For the record, I lived in Eastern Europe for the better part of a decade, saw the ravages of state socialism, and don't have much more to say about it. But chuckleheads like Cole are the types who see commies under every rock. If you're not a bitch for Bush, well, then, you must be a pinko. If you're not one of these whacked-out satanic evangelicals who've kidnapped Christ, then you must be a godless, fetus-eating, feeding-tube-yanking, anti-American infidel. It's tiresome.
I certainly did not argue in my Bird Street editorial for collective ownership of the means of production. I argued that our collective resources might be better spent trying to help struggling people gain education and training so that they can enter the marketplace on a somewhat equal footing with the middle class than on frivolous wars that are sowing the seeds for future uncertainty and seem designed to rob the treasury to line the pockets of executives at Hallifuckingburton.
If that makes me a communist, well then, nostrovia, comrades!