Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Old words - still appropriate for this new setting . . .

Sometimes you stumble upon a writing from days in the past that you are amazed to find is still current in a present setting.  And such it is with this piece which at the time was voted my best non-published article of 1997 by my colleagues at Macmillian Publishing.  It's a Letter to the Editor, Minnesota Daily, in response to the “Eight Days in May 1972” Series that they published May 12 - 14, 1997.

It's been twenty-five years already since those heady days of manning (today I would say “personing”) the barricade on Washington Avenue, attending the anti-war teach-ins, and participating in the preparation of “dis-orientation week” (scheduled for the arrival of new students in the fall of 1972).  On the day after President Nixon announced the mining of Haiphong Harbor, I and a significant other donned black, monk-like, hooded robes with black veils over our faces and paraded up and down Nicollet Mall at lunch time as well as wearing them to our classes that week.  That summer we decided to take time off from school in order to figure out where we stood politically.  We moved up north to a friend's summer house (which we “winterized”) and lived off the land for fourteen months, reading about the background to the Vietnam War and the other wars the United States had been involved with and hammering out a political stance with which we and a majority of the world's people could live.  It was a rich and enriching experience which few could afford (timewise).

I was a Vietnam veteran and having been stationed for a time at G-3, CINCPACFLEET, Manila, Philippines handling CRITICOMM traffic to NSA (National Security Agency), DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency), etc., knew enough of the bullshit that our government was trying to foist upon the “silent majority” of Americans (the Pentagon Papers only added fuel to the fire).  So, I would agree with Officer Lee that we have become very cautious of the continuing daily doses of political double-speak.  We learned from these experiences to question authority.  Taking, as a standard, this quote attributed to John Pilger - “Official truths are often powerful illusions.”

Of course, Marv Davidov continues to be an inspiration ever since first hearing of him when my next youngest brother all of a sudden decided to go to Cuba back in the early '60s (the FBI was calling our house, sometimes more than once a week, to ask my mother if she knew where her son was).  And I readily agree with him that as part of the experience of the “eight days in May” we changed our way of doing “business as usual” even though we continue our participation “in the heart of the Beast” here at the University (with reference to President Eisenhower's mid-50s’ warning of the impact of the “military-industrial[-educational-{political}] complex”) - a rich and enriching experience which fewer and fewer can afford (moneywise).

So, what has our activism been like during the past twenty-five years?  Besides seeking alternatives in everything from birthing (we delivered our first child with the help of a mid-wife at University Hospitals twenty-three years ago, and delivered our second child at home with the aid of a mid-wife nineteen years ago) to raising our youth (home-schooling from day one with the emphasis, not surprisingly, on life-long education) and otherwise trying to choose ways to live and love that kill as few other human beings as possible, we began looking for small communities in which to participate ‐ North Country Co-op was a beginning.  And in 1973, we helped found what is today Hampden Park Co-op.  After living in a couple of house communities beginning in 1977 - one in Minneapolis, the other, Holly House, in Saint Paul - and participating in a house church (Agora Community Church, Saint Paul), in 1983, we moved to the land-trust Dorea Peace Community (northeast of Amery, WI).  The two years our family lived there were an experience of a lifetime.  We worked half-time procuring income to keep the community going and the other half protesting (in the sense of “testifying for”) life as opposed to the various death industries - Honeywell (Alliant Tech), the ELF Project, the Burlington Northern Project - and establishing a War Tax Alternative Fund in support of peace and justice activities (e. g., a home for battered women).  I had been working as an analyst / programmer in the Administrative Data Processing Department at the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities Campus, but after the IRS qarnered my University pension funds and the University would not pay me just $1.00 to work, I quit that job and went on to teach at Brown Institute and Globe College of Business.  More recently our work, besides the Hampden Park Co-op, has centered around financial support of Allies of the Lakota (helping to provide better health care and communications to the Lakota People on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation) and Sister Parish (connecting mainstream church people in the US with church people in the poverty stricken countries of the third [and fourth] world[s]).

I believe that the words that best express what the University as an institution needs to learn from the experiences of the “eight days in May” come from anthropologist Ernest Becker's, The Structure of Evil:  An Essay on the Unification of the Science of [Human Being].  (New York: The Free Press, 1968). Pp.  38 - 41.
  • We are in a rare position today to savor the climate of opinion in Europe just after the French Revolution, and during the dilemmas of the Industrial one.  In two-thirds of our world we are re-experiencing the same dilemmas, the same hopes and fears.  What price order?  What price industrialization?  What should one keep of the beneficial order of traditional society while attempting to do away with its injustices and inequalities?  How can one keep what is good, and reject the bad?  Is industrialization an unmitigated good ‐ can its ill effects be foreseen and remedied?  What directions shall it take ‐ under what kind of government?  What exactly does the free vote contribute to this process ‐ what does it really mean in the hands of an ignorant peasant?  Is an uninformed vote a fetish ‐ or, perhaps worse, an active obstacle to intelligent change?  What kind of commodities are fetishes, and who is to proscribe them if people “really want” them?
  • The questioning is anguished ‐ and it is often very well informed, informed by the lessons of our own failures and successes during these [200] years of our history in the West.  But the new elite of the two-thirds of the world who are asking these questions are often better informed about our own problems than we are ourselves.  Thus, they go back again and again to questions that we have stopped asking: “When hereditary class privilege and aristocracy ‐ the first pillar of feudalism ‐ are destroyed, is it enough?  Doesn't the second pillar of feudalism also have to be eliminated, namely, the private ownership of land?  If both pillars of traditional society are not removed, can one really make an effective transition to industrial democracy in the service of the common good?  Without this twofold change, isn't parliamentary democracy merely a new kind of spoils system ‐ with new owners and new classes redividing the old and the new privately owned wealth?  If this is true, then isn't industrial democracy merely a new kind of domination, a quick change of costume that leaves fundamental problems untouched?  If not ‐ if industrial democracy is really making more and more wealth available to more and more people ‐ is this enough?  Is it enough just to spread more and more goods, thoughtlessly, to turn [human beings] into . . . clever consumer ape[s], eyeing greedily the dangling things?”
  • These are anguished and urgent questions.  We do not examine the French Revolution and its aftermath, the Industrial Revolution, in these terms today, in our schools and colleges.  Is it because, in the West, we have abdicated facing up to the problems which two-thirds of the world now has to face?  The answer is that we have . . . .
We learned from the political committee investigations and the managed news during this twenty-five year period that it is the questions that aren't asked that are the important ones.

No comments:

Post a Comment