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The Rising Tide

There is an ominous gap between the instant and plethoric accessibility to current events provided by the Internet, iPods, Androids, et al, and significant sources from which the meaning of those events might be better understood.

Having lived a very long time, I’ve witnessed the resurgence of failed ideologies time after time. The concept of history repeating itself is one thing; actually witnessing it through the better part of a century is quite another. There is something about living a long time, day-by-day, year-by-year, decade-by-decade, that illuminates the major aspects of political thought and action.

I remember the absurd ‘goose step’ of men marching through the streets of Berlin, the ugly Soviet military parades brandishing weapons during the Cold War. And now, I see Iranian soldiers prancing through the streets of Tehran. Apart from their uniforms, they are indistinguishable from their counterparts in the 20th century.

Worse yet, the ideologies for which they march and die are also indistinguishable. For example, there was no substantive difference at the root of the titanic conflict between Germany and Russia in World War Two. Communism and Nazism are essentially interchangeable, with emphasis on redistribution of wealth under one system and total control of production under the other.

Tragically, ideologies are not necessarily understood by their adherents. That lack of understanding is eloquently exemplified by the compatibility of professors and students engaged in political demonstrations that are anti-capitalism and pro-socialism. Before my generation, political attitudes reflected the appeal of socialism. The ‘working class’ favored labor unions and more or less grumbled about their employers, all the more vociferously against millionaires, and made little or no distinctions between industrialists and Robber Barons.

Those attitudes were passed onto my generation. In my high school days, the political ‘slant’ (now, better known as ‘spin’) was emphatically in favor of socialism although it was not called that. ‘Colonialism,’ on the other hand, was distinctly labeled and given extensive attention in textbooks. Universities taught that colonialism and capitalism were synonymous. History books and social study classes invariably included condemnation of the United States. That has not changed. If anything, bashing the United States has been enhanced in academia by inviting domestic celebrities and foreign ‘dignitaries’ to speak at prestigious universities.

During Hollywood’s Golden Age, movie stars concealed their political views from the public for obvious reasons, and we liked it that way. But many screenwriters were virtually anonymous to most moviegoers. They wrote screenplays with thinly veiled socialist messages. Today’s movie stars are not only open about their ‘liberal’ political views but use their celebrity off-screen to advance those views. Almost all ‘conservative’ actors are still in the closet. Some of them wait until they have retired before revealing political views that are not in step with the Hollywood mainstream. A few reveal their conservative politics. They are encouraged to do so because they think the adoration of their fans will protect them from losing part of their audience. They are wrong about that. Prejudices trump loyalty.

On screen, a considerable number of the ‘biggest’ stars enjoy playing stereotype conservatives, greedy capitalists, and rogue military leaders. (This assertion on my part is not speculative; those actors often explicitly confirm their role preferences when they are interviewed.) Playing those roles gives them an opportunity to please most of their audiences and score political points with their unsuspecting audiences. This practice is a far cry from the film, Advise and Consent, the only totally objective high-level political film I’ve ever seen. If I were an educator, I would strongly urge my students to see that film. That is one of those sources I refer to above. As an actor/director, I also recommend viewing it for its artistic excellence. If you haven’t seen it, please make an effort to do so. (Incidentally, as you may have noticed, capitalists and republicans have always been depicted in a negative light in movie scripts, even if only in ’ jest.’ Yet, to the credit of several liberal actors, they are often fond of their republican colleagues in real life.)

For me, the ‘60s were ‘the best of times and the worst of times,’ as I’m sure Charles Dickens would call them. It was a time when young people swept away repressive attitudes of the 50s, but were also attracted to blotting out reality through the use of drugs. I am among those of whom it is said, “If you remember the 60s, you missed them.” Well, not the best part of them. I was inspired by the second Golden Age of Opera at the Metropolitan Opera House while most of my contemporaries were wallowing in the mud of Woodstock and other gatherings that resembled today’s ‘flash mobs.’

I suppose I’ve always been something of a misfit. I enjoyed most of the Broadway musical, Hair, for its penetrating social insight, and at the same time was swept away by the opera, Electra, a little further uptown.

I was fortunate to have lived during the sunset of Western Civilization. Now, in the dusk of our civilization, I find it tragic to see a generation that has access to a virtual universe in the form of a pod in the palms of its hands and yet is so terribly uninformed about the world in which it lives. Academia continues to foster collectivism. Most professors and college students think like my generation’s grandfathers did! They still talk of colonialism and the evils of capitalism. The same is true of congressmen, senators, columnists, the authors of documentaries, and TV commentators.

I hear a cacophonic choir of mobs: corporate mobs, labor union mobs, political mobs. Ironically, Americans, a people who rejected European politics, are now seeking to follow in the collectivist footsteps of a collapsing Europe! This phenomenon is epitomized by the terrifying mindlessness of flash mobs as well as by organized ideological groups- – -often, a combination of both, here and abroad. Beneath their exterior forms, mobs are motivated by the same instinct as that of jungle marabunta.

There is a profoundly unhealthy symbiotic relationship among corrupt corporations, labor unions, politicians, and millions of ‘little guys.’ Their complicity in global chaos is characterized by their pointing to one another as the root of the global fiscal crisis. As I listen to their shrill and incoherent accusations, I cannot help but think that Marxist theory patently states that collectivism doesn’t seek to destroy civilization: its goal is to take it over. He explicitly stated that the way to a socialist society is to let capitalists create an industrialized civilization, and then take it over.

An eternal optimist, I hope the current generation will stem the tide of collectivism by closing the gap between out-of-date ideologies and the Information Age. Humanity cannot afford another Dark Age.    

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The Third Reality

TV is often the catalyst that drives me to my computer to write a blog. That’s true of this blog. I’ve just dashed from TV to computer in response to a statement made by a well-known commentator who is distinguished for his logical approach to political issues.

In context of a larger discussion focused on freedom, he casually referred to the alleged sexual relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings as one in which Sally Hemmings “[Had] to do what Jefferson wanted.” Putting aside the issue of slavery itself, I was struck by the subjective judgment of an otherwise objective commentator.

In contrast, when I first heard of the Jefferson/Hemmings sexual relationship, I didn’t connect it to the social structure of their time or of any other time. I just thought of it as something that might have happened between a man and a woman, not between a master and his slave. Without deference to Jefferson’s reputation as a statesman, orfor that matterconsideration of Hemmings’ bondage, I simply stored the historical fact that he and she were parents of a child.

Despite ample documentation about names, dates, and Jeffersonian family history, I have no way of knowing what their relationship might have been like at the private level. That would be true if they and I were contemporaries, even close friends. Sex defies description. It has the variety of a kaleidoscope, the aspects of a chameleon, and the fun of a roller coaster, especially when it comes in a love package.

It is also the most intimate of human experiences. Whether sex is practiced by a pair or by a group of people, beneath the surface there is a reality that only an individual can sense in the extreme privacy of his inner thoughts and feelings. But even in that deepest of sanctuaries, one’s unspoken sense about sex is often inexplicable to himself, let alone to the ‘outside world.’ That is the first reality.

The second reality is a relationship wherein individuals engage in role-playing so that they may breathe life into a mutually shared sexual fantasy. This reality is exclusively centered on the self.

The third reality is sexual fantasy itself, no matter what form it takes. It may take a relatively unconscious form of romantic sex or that of deliberate and extreme role-playing on a conscious level, including switching roles from encounter to encounter for its own sake. Whatever the case, sex without love is always enigmatic and dualistic.

If Jefferson and Hemmings had sex without love, all they shared was a fantasy. Love, with or without sex, is not a fantasy. It is not centered on the self. It is not transitory. Its reality is singular.

There is no way of knowing which reality Jefferson and Hemmings shared. Add to that the fog of two centuries, and you are left with only fragmentary facts about their relationship. Despite all we know about the facts, Sarah and Thomas might well have been in love.

As Maxwell Anderson put it in Mary of Scotland,

It’s not what happens

That matters, no, not even what happens that’s true,

But what men believe to have happened.

One might paraphrase Anderson’s poetry,

It’s not what happens

That matters, no, not even what happens that’s true,

But what men prefer to have happened.

Access to unequivocal facts is greater than it has ever been in the history of humankind, but facts by themselves tell you little about the third reality and nothing about love. I always keep that in mind, especially when confronted by ‘controversial’ issues.

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