Thursday, July 20, 2006

Hearing only what you want to

I've long referred to myself by a particular political term that tends to either raise the hackles or the eyebrows of any American that hears it. That term is 'communist'.

Now, most Americans at this point in time have been trained since birth to believe that 'communism' equates to 'evil'. No reasoning is ever stuck behind this statement short of two words: Stalin and gulag. Gulag falls in nicely behind the misconception that communism would entail a reduction in personal freedom. If by that one means a reduction in the possibility of the many being exploited by the wealthy few then, yeah, I guess you're right. Stalin is usually tossed in there as a perfect example of the worst kind of dictator: one whose secret police and hired mercenaries kidnapped and imprisoned people without charge or sentence; one who kept his entire nation in a state of fear, as they knew that they were being spied upon and the 'enemy' was always right outside the door; one whose actions led to the indiscriminate deaths of thousands. Hm. Whom do we know who sounds like that...?

"This guy's nuts! He just compared GWB to Stalin and America to the Soviet Union!"

Well, no, actually. I didn't. I just laid out a few facts. But it's interesting to see people continually jump to that conclusion, right before they scream in protest that whomever said such a horrible thing is clearly crazy, or unAmerican, or hates America, or blah, blah, blah. When the movie V for Vendetta was released a few months back, many people immediately drew direct comparisons between the fascist-like world presented in that film and the current state of affairs in the US. The movie and its makers were automatically condemned by the right-wing press. Of course, the story was originally written in the early 80s about Thatcher's Britain. One begins to think that if one's first reaction to seeing such a film is to scream "We are NOT fascists!", then those people who get so defensive may have a lot more to think about than they realize.

So, yes, I tend to refer to myself as a communist, precisely because I focus on the 'communal' root of that word: the idea that the health of the majority of the community is more important than the wealth of the few at the top. Any basic social program, like national health care, guaranteed pensions/Social Security, or a living wage is an example of that perspective.

"But communism means gulags!"

Ah, the gulag. No, labor camps are actually a horribly inefficient way to run an economy, to say nothing of the moral and ethical violations. Stalin was a paranoid control freak. One of the men he almost destroyed, Trotsky, had vision. Leon Trotsky spoke often of the 'continual revolution'; the idea that change was constant and the human society must change with it in order to not only survive without frequent outbursts of mass violence, but also to most effectively insure the health and welfare of all. What change? I dunno. Could be little things, like gay marriage and stem cells? Could be big things, like returning corporations to a finite length of existence so that entrenched power bases of wealth don't begin keeping them running at taxpayer expense solely to serve the interests of that power base, rather than community or customer.

"But- Trotsky! Kronstadt!!!" (look it up)

Uh, yeah. When you're literally fighting the money and bullets of many other nations supporting a rogue army within the borders of your own nation, you tend to get a little short with people. Am I excusing it? No. Did Trotsky regret it to the end of his days? Yes. No one talks about the massacres inflicted by such notables as Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill as soon as their names are brought up.

So, that whole communism thing may be a bit different than you've been led to believe. Changing the perspective of the majority of Americans may, in fact, require another one of those outbursts of violence, but here's hoping that many little efforts like this lonely shout into the ether can be another way around that. To put it in hallowed science fiction terms, communism, at its very root, means this: The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. And it has nothing to do with gulags, dictators, ICBMs, or shitty, black cars that didn't run very well, even for the Politburo.

But let's bring that 'hear only what you want' thing back to a topic of continual American relevance: Shortly before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the office manager where I work was asking me about why all of this was happening. She presented the president's case about how Saddam Hussein was linked to al-Qaeda and therefore MUST have been behind the events at the World Trade Center. I explained to her why that was seriously unlikely and she agreed that she hadn't heard any of that opposing viewpoint and how it made a lot of sense. No more than 15 minutes later, she was on the phone with her mother, who brought up the impending invasion, to which she replied: "Well, we have to, Mom, so that they don't attack us again like they did on September 11th."

As another noted dictator once said: Repeat a lie often enough and the people will believe it. And soon they'll only hear that, because they want to, because someone else is going to take care of it, and consumerist America can toddle off down its shopping path...

"He just compared GWB to Hitler! And Stalin! In the same post!"...


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