Saturday, August 22, 2009

3 responses to the poem: Sanders Theater


        My poem Sanders Theater here provoked several amusing reactions including two which addressed me by my new name: 

Dear Wooly-Haired One:  In seventh grade (1968), my teacher warned a guest-speaker who happened to be a good friend of the mother of my best friend: "And don't call on the skinny kid in the back with glasses; he's a communist." – Will [Altman] 

       Will and I seem to have been hit with the same viscerally jarring verbal assault, way harder to take in in seventh grade and from a teacher (even a disliked one).  Though the United States was once possessed with anti-communist or anti-radical ideology (for example, during Truman-McCarthyism, the place was saturated with it, one just breathed it in like smog, then  and throughout the Cold War), it is far less recognized today, especially in academia, than racism, sexism or homophobia (in political science, my Democratic Individuality and Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? and Michael Rogin’s Ronald Reagan the Movie and other Studies in American Political Demonology are the only works, I think, to deal with it explicitly).  But it was often visited even on children, who asked questions. It was also visited on Martin Luther King (Gandhi was evidently a communist in nonviolently overturning the British Empire as King was in demonstrating  for civil rights).   Its enormous constricting effect on thought looms in our intellectual culture like some vast iceberg whose head can be glimpsed jutting up out of the water ahead, some volcano in a fog.

     Anti-radical ideology imagines that outside agitators who speak a foreign tongue (hence: racism as well) and have other interests (are demonic or witches – and thus, fuse with sexism) dupe ordinary people into going on strike, rebelling against an unjust war or for civil rights, or making revolution.  George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Tom Paine are leading outside agitators – exactly as the British empire saw these conspirators.  Ostensibly the views of such agitators are irrational, delivered in a funny language, filled with “dogmatic or simplistic [commie] rhetoric” and one might imagine easy enough to expose or mock.  Yet millions of “dupes” somehow flock to them.  The presence of one Thomas Paine or perhaps one communist, for example Angela Davis, on the faculty of 3,000 at UCLA would obviously lead the 30,000 students to engage in some dangerous (for whom?) movement. There is no more anti-democratic view than this. There is none more disrespectful of students and faculty, of ordinary people….This is the opposite of  John Milton who, founding liberalism, wrote in Areopagitica: “so long as truth be in the field we do injuriously to misdoubt her strength.  Whoever knew truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter.” Advocates resort to or fall into the grip of anti-communist ideology, as in the case of Will's  teacher in seventh grade, when they have no arguments, when the decent case is clearly on the other side, when they have nothing else to say.  For example about union demands…

    Tracy Strong was at Harvard when I was and in the anti-war movement.  We are old friends as well as  longstanding colleagues in political theory.  4 years later, he was at a dinner with McGeorge Bundy in Winthrop House:

Dear Wooly haired --

I once, self-assured, asking Bundy (at Winthrop House in a private dinner) after he had resigned if, he had known then (when the war was escalated) what one knew now (this is 1969) would he have made the same decision.  "Oh course! We have done exactly what we meant to do -- show the Communists that it was too costly to take over another country."   

There was not much to say after that.


       One result of such imperial ventures is the such leaders often show at least the rest of us what they claim to show others: it has been, today and then, “too costly to take over another country.”  Bundy’s failure to learn, as McNamara’s, was terrible. It was other people’s lives after all.  That reputation, however, will haunt their names whenever they are mentioned.   Yet as they grew older, both did try to do something about nuclear war.  

       One might, however, make a similar point for the whole American elite, which learned nothing from Vietnam, reveled in the seeming conquest of Iraq, and today, even with the now already no longer quite glittering hope of Obama, sinks deeper and deeper in Afghanistan and Pakistan…

    And from the fellow activist and poet Joe Richey:

Dear Alan,  Busy lives barely muster haiku moments. And you write tracts. But the peek you gave us behind the curtain at Sanders Theater hit the spot. More poems! more short-hand! more gold! Joe adjunto: A Sonnet (from occasional verse) Last licks on the Rocky Mountain News website Who could blame you? $16 million down in 2008,     bigger losses scheduled for 2009.  We could blame you.  

  You, and an entire industry, failed to foresee what the grand devaluation of American labor would bring to your industry.  

  We, your skilled content providers, repudiate you. We acknowledge that anybody, any day, in an increasingly tech-savvy world, can outdo a lazy newspaper reporter. eBay and Craiglist did undermine classified ad revenues,  But Mgt was unresponsive to a needed shift. Make no mistake: RMN ownership did a cut-and-run.   What ‘merican newspaper would print, fit, would misfit, that writing on the wall . . .

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