The Left As Obsolete
by Bruce Patterson, August 24, 2016
Since they all get advertised and sold that way, I arrived in Vietnam thinking mine was a war to end all wars. But it turned out our “Cold War” killing machine was just getting warmed up. If it’s people, and not guns, that kill people, then since the “Fall of Saigon” in April, 1975, we American taxpayers have snuffed out millions of civilians with our “air campaigns,” invasions, occupations and, not the least, our international gunrunning.
I became a stone revolutionary in the late 1970s when I found out my government was running guns to the genocidal Khmer Rouge (hoping to solve Cambodia’s social problems once and for all, they executed everybody wearing eyeglasses). Even I couldn’t stoop low enough to abide that. I weren’t no Limbo dancer.
After the Reaganites took office and bought Nixon’s Great Silent Majority a “Shining City on a Hill” in the form of a peerless Nuclear Arsenal, an “Invincible” (and obsolete) Global Navy, “brushfire wars” wherever and forever, they shook hands with the merchants of death and then “gifted” future generations with a platinum-plated “peacetime” Professional Army, I knew mine could never be a true separate peace. In our self-possession, we the people had lost what Abe Lincoln called “the genius of our Liberty” and I wanted it back.
When, in the ‘80s, I found out the Reaganites were simultaneously running guns to Iraq’s “Socialist” Saddam Hussein and Iran’s “Holy” Ayatollah Khomeini during their border war slaughter of the lambs, the American Warrior in me wanted to bend over into an A-Frame and puke up my battle ribbons. With friends like these, who needs enemies?
By then I’d purged myself of my mass-manufactured Enemy Concept: the firm conviction that the mass slaughter I was engaged in was justified by my adversaries’ total moral depravity and counts as selfless—even Sacred—Self-Defense. Although transferring my once passionate hatred for “the gooks” to my paymasters and superiors was a mighty tempting option, I saw the ambush and saved myself. Since by then I’d learned to despise fear-mongering demagogues like Nixon, Kissinger, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al, because they’re hate-mongers, and they because they’re warmongers, I wasn’t about to keep thinking and acting like them. While I’d rather turn such creatures inside out than wear their skins, I was done playing God.
It’s not enough to say that political violence is ineffective or counter-productive. In our techno-fragile societal state, it’s nihilistic, murderous and suicidal. Political violence is evil because corporal punishment is evil. Like, if it’s against the law to take a strap to a rebellious child’s ass, how can we drop ten thousand pound daisy cluster bombs atop schoolhouses full of them? (Have you been following the news out of Yemen? Just joking.)
There’s already far too much corporal punishment being inflicted in and by our society for anybody to feel clean, so adding to it is just another way of polishing our chains. In a un-nut shell: the 20th Century’s greatest revolutionaries were not Stalin, Ho Chi Minh and Mao. They were Gandhi, King and Mandela.
One reason the Old Left is obsolete is they’ve never wrapped their brains around the above facts. This even though they’ve watched the totalitarian dictatorships of Central Europe getting overthrown by the military equivalent of folk festivals. This while the American Labor Movement was born with the Bill of Rights and ever since has mothered all of America’s great social movements for peace, justice and freedom. And this while every effective labor organizer since day one has known that political power comes with unity in support of a just cause, and that victory is possible only when everybody keeps their minds open, their backs straight and their hands in their pockets. (Oh, that reminds me: the first duty of a revolutionary is to stay out of the gulag).
I’m a child of the American Right and the American Left and, since it seems I’ve always been a political animal, I know how fierce partisanship distorts one’s judgement and views and shrinks one’s soul (the part that allows you to slip in and out of an adversary’s bare feet). While taking a side on anything is bound to piss somebody off, making enemies doesn’t make you a saint or even a swell fellah. Fact is that around the world you can get away with saying most anything so long as you say it with a smile. But heaven help you if you say it with a snarl. Although making some enemies is inevitable, it’s never wise to act as their recruiters and seldom wise to be poking them with sticks.
When it comes to successfully resolving conflicts, it isn’t enough to pick your time and place. Picking your weapons is the real key and violence is their weapon but not yours, little guys. Yours is the power of doing nothing. Doing nothing but organizing with honest and friendly persuasion, aiming for the best while trying not to get turned by the worst. When one becomes ten and ten a hundred: that’s when the journey begins. Organizations don’t build victories; victories build organizations.
Yet what really makes the Old Left obsolete is that what we’re now facing is unprecedented environmental collapse of the kind no one wants to contemplate or should have to. We geezers got plenty of warning back when we were young and every year since. But we shut our eyes and plugged our ears and now it’s put up or die time. We’re supposed to be a democracy and yet we have a major political party standing on the notion that the last two centuries of scientific advancement is a conspiracy again God and the Holy Profit Motive, and that the environmental catastrophes we’re seeing around the country and the world is not just normal, it’s fine and dandy like just another game show. Just another commercial. . .
We’re in “election season” and hardly anybody is acknowledging the wheel-chaired elephant hogging space in the hospital waiting room (he smells like the mud hole he’s pulled himself up out of, too). In the last decade, a half million new big box homes have been built along Florida’s Mosquito Coast: Florida is going underwater not decades from now but now. As I write this, a good part of Louisiana is underwater because of what some nameless meteorologist just labeled “a 1,000 Year Flood.” And I wonder: who’s who-ing who? Its 4:30 on 8/15, I turn on the World-less News and, down on the neat little ticker tape that never sleeps, or changes its plot lines, I read that the town of Lower Lake has been erased by a firestorm. Since it’s “Live, Breaking News,” I’m given a glimpse of the action—a neat 1.70 second-long panning shot of DC-8 (?) tipping a wing and dropping a bright red liquid cloud of what looks like insecticide on a wickedly flaming line of chaparral.
Ninety-five percent of the Lower 48’s glacial ice is in the Cascade Range. For over a century people in these parts have watched the glaciers shrinking while scratching their heads and asses, burping, farting and channel surfing. British Petroleum, Aramco and Exxon Mobil are busy creating America’s “Safe and Secure Energy Future” by enlisting spiffy-clean masses of eager Beaver Cleaver-like ENERGY VOTERS to cast ballots for mom, apple pie, liddle kiddies unborn, cheap horsepower, upward mobility and the American Way of Status Quo forever: “USA! USA!”
Just the merchants of death are spending more money swaying “likely voters” than the Neo-Re-Dems combined. And even though Wall Street and the rest of lower Manhattan is going underwater (everything down that way has at least five stories underground), the stock market is Bullish on Fossil Fuel Man marching onward and upward forever and ever, Old Glory held aloft and whipping in the breeze, bagpipes whining. (“Ofay Blues,” one critic calls bagpipe music. “Polka as funeral dirge.”)
An alternative energy future? You a Liberal or are you just stupid? Energy efficiency? What a waste of “scarce Capital.” Mass transit—are you kidding me? Living where you work—have you lost your mind? Who you think these guys are, philanthropists?
The only people who have a clue about how to secure any kind of long-term future are roasting weenies in the environmentalist camp and, to hear Big Mammy tell it, these four-eyed, pencil-necked, egg-headed “fear-mongers” and “profiteers” are just out to cost us “real Americans” money, take away our toys and abolish our gun-rights!
It should be clear to everybody sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in coach flying at 30,000 feet that the monkeys have taken over the cockpit. Over the Intercom they’re demanding bananas, but we don’t have any bananas. What can we do? I’m just passenger, for Christ’s sake. Want to see my ticket?
It occurs to me that we should have taken the bus. In 1970, with my Vietnam holemate, in New Orleans at Mardi Graz, we boarded a Greyhound headed for Fayetteville, NC, by way of Mobile, Montgomery, Atlanta, Augusta (my partner got off there) and Columbia. In terms of comfortably sitting or sleeping, gabbing or gawking out the window, that old Greyhound was far superior than flying nowadays. As an added benefit, to get on the bus you ain’t gotta first squeeze through a razor-wired Red Army checkpoint regulating foot traffic through the Berlin Wall. No chance of going to the rubber room and playing the stool pigeon, neither, nor getting ordered to piss in a pill bottle. Assuming the exhausted or mesmerized driver doesn’t lose control, or some kamikaze doesn’t drift across the center line, and just comparatively speaking, taking the bus would have seemed like one of those Heavenly Vacations we’re always hearing about. Those Friendly Skies ain’t so friendly anymore.