Updated: Feb 3
I'm finding that being alive right now, in this country, with its polarized antipathies, to be very hard. I would love to feel that I'm on the right side, that it is possible to find solidarity on the left where my political sympathies lie; but I find that the left is bickering so loudly within the ranks that I can't trust it. Is there a left? A left can't thrive, can't be a force for change, if it doesn't include the whole electorate in its vision. Where did it lose the working class? The working class seems to prefer Trump, as did the National Socialists in Germany prefer Hitler. I find this frightening. Be honest. We have a cultural left, not a labor left. The academic left has created an atmosphere where if you say something that does not fit the current intellectual corset, if you don't agree with everything in the party line, you will be banished. Publicly excoriated. There is no middle ground. It seems to me that the problem is in the notion of human perfection. The perfectibility of human beings, is, I think, the most dangerous idea we have. The assumption that we can edit ourselves into a being that never offends anyone, that is perfect in his behavior, that will go on to recreate the world as a utopian state, has been the major self-deception of all tyrants. It was true of Hitler in his ideal of the pure aryan man and it was true of Stalin and his tight control of intellectual life in Russia. It is true of the priest who molests children and it is true of the wealthy college student whose raison d'etre is to find his fellow student or his professor in violation of the fashionable code. I return to the poet Mayakovsky each time I think of this: he wrote a play called The Bedbug that was a sincere attempt to be a good communist in the time of Stalin; however, he couldn't help but be talented and capable of human complexity. "Bedbug" was a common epithet for the bourgeois parasite, someone who lives off of and sucks the blood of the proletariat. Mayakovsky's character is a buffoon and a drunk. But the enlightened other characters, the perfectly evolved communists, turned out to be much less interesting; in fact, robotic. They were unloveable in their purity. So, the play backfired: the audience loved the bedbug with his political cluelessness and his emotional sloppiness and yawned at the others (or quietly hated them). Stalin was suspicious of Mayakovsky. Mayakovsky, who was troubled, who had a messy love life, finally killed himself. The reason was reputed to be his immorality, lack of self-control or his romantic heartbreak. But I can't help thinking that this imperfect human being finally could not stand living in a false culture where everyone so tightly edited themselves they'd ceased to be human. In the years of our pandemic we've been cloistered. We perhaps can't help but notice that we are at war within ourselves and in our solitude this war has become very loud. I am thinking that we should find a way to be human and care for each other as a prerequisite for any kind of real solidarity. Let human imperfection be the baseline. I don't much like my imperfections, but I embrace the person who owns them; the one who struggles, who wants to be happy, who wants to find peace, who, on a good day, loves his fellow humans.