Jesus said that. Ted Kaczynski and John Allen Muhammad were two of the many who lived it for their own reasons and in their own ways.
After my surgery in March, I either took narcotics or sleeping pills but never both together. Now that I’m in pain from that surgery and from this surgery, I take whatever it takes to get some sleep, usually 300 mgs of Demerol and a kick-ass sleeping pill. During the day, I feel off-balance, monotone, and incommunicative, a remote observer of the world but not a participant—welcome or otherwise—in the world. I wouldn’t choose to live this way, but it’s interesting place to visit. For one thing, it leads me to wonder whether loners are typically cynical and anti-social because they unfairly deprecate the virtues of their fellowman or because their remoteness permits a more astute discernment.
My reading has been two biographies of Robert E. Howard—the creator of Conan the Barbarian—whose own sense of separateness led him to commit suicide at age thirty. To feel so separate from life while reading about someone with whom I can exquisitely identify, someone who was shunned and ridiculed by the society he hated, accentuates my alienation.
You see, I think it possible that I understand Tim McVeigh (about whom I’ve also read) and others like him who were considered too monstrous to deserve understanding even if it were possible. Let me be clear. I don’t defend indiscriminate killing, but neither do I find it inconceivable that a person could turn to it. I’ll share some fantasies that are intended to illustrate my point, although they might simply make you doubt my sanity.
In one fantasy, I have six months to live, plenty of money, and no family. I can expect to maintain my strength and faculties right up until the end. How might I spend these months, I ask myself. Should I party, travel, volunteer at an animal shelter, write a book, drink a lot of booze and eat a lot of chocolate? The possibilities seem endless, but in my fantasy, I think that, well, what if I traveled about the country and snuffed a few greedy lawyers, politicians, and CEOs—the kind of people everyone hates but no one can touch. Steal $50 from a 7-11 and go to prison. Steal millions from the public, have the taxpayer save your ass, and give yourself a bonus. Nobody can get to these guys, and that’s not right. The question in my mind is not whether they deserve to die, but whether it would be a good idea to kill them.
Here’s where you might remind me about the rule of law. If you believe in the rule of law, good for you, but tell me, how many robber barons do you see in prison? Jeffrey Skilling and Bernie Madoff. Congratulations, that’s two. Do you know how outrageous they had to become and how long they had to stay that way before the SEC, the Justice Department, and other law enforcement agencies could no longer feign ignorance? Look at the millions of people they harmed and the billions of dollars they lost, and tell me about your faith in the system. Don’t you get it? The system is created by the very people who are making a killing from it. If a 7-11 bandit conglomerate owned Congress, they would make themselves eligible for a government bailout if they had a bad year robbing convenience stores. The lawmakers, bankers, pharmaceutical executives, insurance conglomerates, and others who get rich by screwing us are NOT on our side and they are NEVER going to do anything to help us that they don’t have to do to stay in power. For sure, they don’t want a revolution, but they know that as long as most of us can afford SUVs, wide-screen TVs, and other societal opiates, we’re not really going to demand action about needlessly dying ecosystems or needlessly dying people. You see it in the healthcare debate: “I’ve got insurance, so why should I care about you, loser?”
So, someone takes it into his head to make like Charles Bronson in Death Wish, only instead of killing petty thieves and back alley murderers, he snuffs bigtime thieves and legalized murderers. Would it make a difference? I don’t know. I hearken back to the little boy on the beach who was busy throwing stranded fish into the water when a cynical old man pointed out that he wasn’t making any real difference given the enormity of the problem. “I made a difference to that one,” the boy responded.
You’re not going to make the world a really great place no matter what you do. Take my fantasy. I couldn’t kill enough bad men to get them all, and others would replace them anyway. Then too, the question arises as to who is bad. Is a hedge fund manager worse than his shoeshine boy because he’s less virtuous or because he’s more powerful? I suspect the latter, and this points to a major problem with any attempt to better the world.
Remember the United Auto Workers? In the sixties, all the hell these guys did was strike. Their dinky little assembly line jobs took every bit of thirty minutes to learn, yet they had one thing going for them as a substitute for skill, drive, creativity, and intelligence—they had a network of allied unions that absolutely scared the bejesus out of management. The benefits they received ran the price of cars through the roof almost overnight and were a significant factor in the eventual failure of the Big Three. No, it’s not just the richest who are the greediest. It’s not really even about income. It’s about power, and the fact is that the people who have the most money are usually the people who have the most power. So, let’s say that I was able to kill every last exploitative CEO in America, it wouldn’t make any lasting difference. It might feel good, like shooting the man who raped your sister might feel good, but in a few days or years, the killings would be just be another story in a yellowing newspaper.
So, what’s a guy with such a dismal appraisal of the human race to do? For one thing, I’m not really likely to roam the night with a sniper rife, and this leaves but two complementary possibilities. One is to follow the example of the little boy on the beach by doing however much direct good I can, and the second is to avoid collusion with evil. The first is easy enough, but the second is more than I am willing to take on because it would mean, for one thing, not paying taxes when I know full well that the government is going to use my tax money to promote evil. Now, if I lived alone, I could image pulling this off with considerable success, but it would mean an austere and secretive lifestyle that I can’t very well impose on Peggy.
I’m not even sure but what voting amounts to collusion with evil because it gives tacit support to the fiction that the people are in charge when the only real power the people have is to choose between candidates pre-approved by corporations, and one must ask oneself how different they are anyway. Face it, no candidate who fails to win the support of a sizeable number of corporations is going to have a prayer, yet the only way to win the support of corporations is to sell your soul. Republicans seem more amendable to this than Democrats, which is why I support Democrats, but it’s a dirty choice to have to make when the guy who I really want to support, I rarely do support because I know he can’t win without corporate backing.
Obama capped-out as last week—as far as I was concerned—when he accepted that Nobel Peace Prize. Peace through war? Sure, why not? Just think of all the wars America has waged during my lifetime alone, and just look at how peaceful we’ve made the world. I wondered how Bin Laden’s speech would have differed from Obama's if he had won the Nobel Peace Prize (if one warring leader can win it, why not another?). He too would have spoke of creating peace through war, but he might have wavered a little when he got to the part about assuring the strait-laced and strait-faced Nobel audience that HIS war would be a nice war in which only the most humane rules for killing people were followed.
My knowledge of war would indicate that ALL rules go out the window when (a) one side is at a significant disadvantage or (b) the rewards of abandoning them are considerable. For example, what happened to America’s humane rules when we bombed Tokyo, Hiroshima, Dresden, and Nagasaki; or when we supported countless rulers who tortured and impoverished their own people; or when we violated the basic rights of our own citizens through the Patriot Act or the rights of foreign citizens through rendition and enhanced interrogation; or when we stole Native American lands, violated every treaty we ever made with them, and adopted a “nits make lice” policy toward their children; or when we lied repeatedly about attacks—or planned attacks—on our country in order to rally support for attacking somebody else’s country? And how about our rules regarding “acceptable collateral damage” (i.e. the number of innocent bystanders it’s okay to kill)? Would these deaths be acceptable if they were in Omaha instead of Kabul? Inquiring minds want to know.
Maybe Obama means that we’ve become a “kinder, gentler people” (as Bush so laughably put it) just within the past few days. I really don’t know—maybe I was too drugged to hear the news. I do know that I don’t want to pay for these wars, or these politicians, or these bankers, or this endless waste and destruction that define what it means to be an American.
Vote to change America? I might was well vote to change the orbit of Mars, but if I do ever vote again, it will be for the guy who says, “War sucks, and if I’m elected, I’m going to get us the hell out.” I’ve had it with knuckling under in the name of practicality. Voting for Obama was the end of the road. It’s a damn shame that nobody who has a chance of winning can be trusted.
George Gershwin’s brother Ira - * ...wrote the lyrics for Porgy and Bess and one of the songs is called "It Ain't Necessarily So" (which happened in the film ...