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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Left wing utopianism: an infantile disorder*

I used to work for a company that did events production throughout Catalunya. We set up lights, sound and stages for everything from conferences to rock concerts. Almost all of my coworkers were of the “left-wing” persuasion.

There were the punkis, who, like any other kind of conformist wore the uniform of their group: elaborately torn clothes, died hair, dreadlocks sometimes, but usually sporting mullet haircuts (which ironically enough is a “hip” hair cut here in Barcelona - little do they know that it is the emblematic white trash hair style in the the United States). Many of them were squatters, living in occupied buildings so the derisory paychecks they received were actually not that bad, considering they didn’t have to pay the rent (in contrast to me, for example). Some of these guys were actually cool. With them I could talk casually without pretensions, maybe even smoke a joint on a break. Some genuinely decent, liberated minds. But I would have to say a majority of these guys espoused every possible left wing proto fascist cliché you could imagine. In embracing what they think are lofty utopian ideals, they shun and stomp on the natural evolution of ideas.

I was the only American working with them (them being Spanish, Catalan, Argentinean, Portuguese …). I didn’t want to be the typical (I thought) arrogant American. No American travelling abroad can be completely unaware of the bitterness harbored towards us. I, like most any other American I know, go out of my way to understand and assimilate local culture. The fact that I had learned Spanish without going to school, in Spain; understood and could even speak a little Catalan; that they had no idea where I stood politically, made no difference at all to them. I had to put up with daily verbal assaults for the mere fact that I was born in a country they loved to hate.

I just didn’t look the look. Nor was I from Rosario or Lisboa or Valencia or Milano (it’s hilarious when Italians criticize me based on American politics when they have a sociopath like Berlusconi).

I concluded after two unsuccessful years of trying to show them a different face for Americans that they are groupies, like so many of the people they differentiate themselves from. Race and nation groupies.

Which of course is ironic because in order to feel so righteous (much like the American neo con movement) they need to compartmentalize the world into good and bad. They of course are the righteous few risen above they unseeing masses, carrying the banner of true humanism. Anarchism (the lack of any government) appeals to many of them because it is an ideal; but like so many ideals, it is unattainable. It would be nice, I think in certain starry eyed romantic moments, to do away with the superstructure that defines our lives and start again. It would be nice if I didn’t have a boss, and didn’t have to get to work on time. But there is a hierarchy in even the dingiest punkiest squatter house. There’s the look, the music, the half baked philosophical jargon too. The world can be changed in a snap, with a burning dumpster, a letter bomb and clever slogans.

I measure my words because of course not all these folk are that feeble minded. But it wasn’t a day that went by that I wasn’t called out for being an American – and that of course entailed all the stereotypes and political baggage this current world offers. I didn’t know, of course, that the war in Iraq was really about corporate maneuvering and geopolitical strategy and that many innocent civilians were dying horrible fiery deaths because they were “collateral”. I probably had a whole closet full of guns I secretly smuggled with me from the states, and I saluted a flag upon waking up everyday. I was a sexual puritan hypocrite deeply offended by Lewinsky’s cigar bobbing and Janet’s exposed nipple. I fell into the vision of America they loved to hate.

But by basing me on a stereotype they were contradicting their self-proclaimed humanism.

Then there were the college bound coworkers that were either on summer break or dropping out. I went to school in San Francisco, so I know what kind of propaganda gets pushed on students. For instance the PC movement and the need to call blacks African Americans, Indians Indigenous Peoples, retarded people special. Just ridiculous stuff. Once those words drip down like mascara even the righteous lexical activists will bare their ugly teeth. We’re humans; we’re animals; we fight to survive and inherently distrust all that is different. A word is a virus that will mutate according to time and context. No one can rewrite thoughts.

So school bound alternative Catalan boy with fashionably shaggy hair sits opposite me at lunch. He calls himself a socialist, or a communist (with no real understanding of these concepts other than a Che Guevarra t shirt logo … he doesn’t understand how they are different and how small minded people have taken their concepts to extremes). We make small talk as is usual amongst coworkers, and he hears my accent. Naturally, as small talk goes, he asks me where I’m from. “America” I say. I say this because here I am an Americano, because anyone here that refers to “America” knows that it means the United States. But apparently only everyone else besides Americans has the right to say that word. He can’t help smirking after he asks me, rhetorically, “Well, do you know that there is a South America?” Ever since he’d seen Godard’s pedantic tour de force, “Éloge de l'amour ” he’d been dying to lay that one on an ignorant American. Or wait, should I say North American, no wait maybe now I’ll be offending the Canadians. Damn… I guess, well shit, I don’t have a right to exist.

Another school bound coworker tried to single handedly revise history. He told me that it would have been better for all of Europe had the Americans not intervened in World War II. It would have been much better had the el Generalisimo, il Duce, der Führer and later Stalin had their ways with the whole of the continent, later the world. After all they were “Europeans”. American intervention was part of the grand capitalist conspiracy to subjugate the European people. Had the Americans remained on their side of the puddle, the Europeans would have been able to decide to their own fate, and, fast forward to now, the Americans wouldn’t be dominating the world. It’s all very simple to this guy. It’s all black and white.

Everybody’s hackles are raised because of the immediacy and transparency of the news these days. Then again, if you examine any particular country in minute detail, you will find filth and corruption. Americans are in the unique position of being observed by the rest of the world with a magnifying glass.

But, do you believe everything you see on TV? Do you really think you can bottle up 300 million people? I met a lot of people who do. And to tell you the truth, these are the people I’m most afraid of. Given the right circumstances, who knows what they’re capable of?

In large part, the world has evolved the way it has in the last 150 years because of snotty Europeans. Because of radical armchair revolutionaries who thought they could change the world with one fell swoop of the pen transformed into the sword of the downtrodden. Because of left wingers turned conservative fascists, because of genocidal self-hatred, and oh yes because of European colonialism (America learned well). The commonwealth carved up the Middle East, the communists had their way with mother Russia and the eastern block, the national socialists … I could go on …

And you’re preaching to me?

I guess we non-entities, that is the average American, are stuck somewhere in the middle. All this moralizing and idealizing makes us nauseous. Chekhov wrote: “I am not liberal or conservative … I just want to be free” – and I couldn’t agree with him more.

* I lifted this from a section heading in Vollman’s short story, the White Knights. It’s taken out of context. I just liked the way it sounded.