Wednesday, February 3, 2016

social agreement -- the power and price

I have to admit I am a coward, a fraidy-cat, and a mental wuss, and never more so than when confronted with a broadband social agreement, of whatever virtue, that chews up individuals and spits them out in the name of some ill-defined and poorly examined mental juggernaut. Where the hugs and huzzahs start, the pee tends to run down my leg. I don't feel superior ... I just feel scared. Literally.

The French wit La Rochefoucauld observed approximately that "the intelligence of the group is inversely proportionate to its number." He, of course, had the luxury to be a wit rather than a victim, but that doesn't change the appropriateness of the observation, at least from the vantage point of this dribbling coward.

What brought this to mind was watching the 1999 documentary, "Scandalize My Name" on television last night.
Hosted and narrated by Morgan Freeman, Scandalize My Name: Stories From the Blacklist is a heartbreaking film that shows how the hate and hysteria of the McCarthy era lead to a huge loss in the artistic community. African American actors and musicians particularly were blacklisted for speaking out against racism. Historically speaking, HUAC was not only paranoid about preventing the spread of Communism, it was also incredibly racist and held back the Civil Rights Movement in America through intimidation and blacklisting.
Here is the Xfinity version of the entire film. I'm not sure if others can watch it or not, but I couldn't immediately find a more widely-accessible version.

The movie has to do with black artists (actors, musicians, singers, etc.) but the time frame alluded to -- 1950's -- whispered and shouted all sorts of artists into obscurity and sometimes suicide. What the fear of communism did to 'uppity niggers' it likewise did to anyone of any color. This is not to diminish or demean the depredations -- the new and improved depredations -- suffered by blacks. "Horrific" is not to strong a word ... and even by the time I joined the Army in the early 1960's, "communism" was a powerful persuader.

Around my mother's house from time to time in the 1950's, there was adult talk about who had implicated what friend or acquaintance before the House Unamerican Activities Commission. People were scared ... scared enough to betray any who might seem to need betraying. The conversation ranged from condemnation to understanding of those who squealed or otherwise broke the bonds of kinship.

The crowd gathers and is warmed by its own fervor. "Communists" then as, to some extent, "terrorists" now, deserve everything they get. The fervor rises: If you agree with me and I agree with you then it all becomes true and good and wise and ... fucking scary. We gather. We agree. Gore that ox ... as long as it's not mine ... as long as it is happening to someone else!

The "someone else" turned out, implicitly, to be me when I signed up for the Army. I had thought I still had the row after row of U.S. Attorney General's "subversive" organizations that appeared on my DD 214 and asked if I belonged to any of the below-listed groups. But looking through my files, I can't find that list and so rely on Wikipedia and its severely truncated list to which it appends, "This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it." As I recall, I fessed up to belonging by signature to one or two of them and fearing that my need for a top secret security clearance would thereby be jeopardized.

The attorney general theoretically represents all Americans and the laws that apply to them. But some pigs are more equal than others. No 'subversives' need apply. No commies. No terrorists. No rabble-rousing thinkers. Against them, the full weight of the group that so warmly endorsed group-think would be brought to bear.

Scared? You bet I was scared. Scared then. Scared now. I am scared of the people who are "right."

List as of 1959

  • Abraham Lincoln Brigade April 29, 1953
  • Abraham Lincoln School April 29, 1953
  • Action Committee to Free Spain Now April 29, 1953
  • Alabama People's Educational Association April 29, 1953
  • American Association for Reconstruction in Yugoslavia April 29, 1953
  • American Christian Nationalist Party April 29, 1953
  • American Committee for European Worker's Relief April 29, 1953
  • American Committee for protection of Foreign Born April 29, 1953
  • American Committee for the Settlement of Jews in Birobidzhan Inc September 28, 1953
  • American Committee for Yugoslav Relief, Inc. April 29, 1953
  • American Committee To Survey Labor Conditions in Europe July 15 1953
  • American Council for a Democratic Greece (formerly known as the Greek Amerivan Council; Greek American Committee for national Unity), April 29,1953
  • American Peace Crusade
  • American Polish League
  • Black Dragon Society
  • Cervantes Fraternal Society
  • Committee to Abolish Discrimination in Maryland
  • Committee to Aid the Fighting South
  • Committee to Defend the Rights and Freedom of Pittsburgh's Political Prisoners
  • Committee for a Democratic Far Eastern Policy
  • Committee for Constitutional and Political Freedom
  • Committee for the Defense of the Pittsburgh Six
  • Committee for Nationalist Action
  • Committee for the Negro in the Arts
  • Committee for Peace and Brotherhood Festival in Philadelphia
  • Committee for the Protection of the Bill of Rights
  • Committee for World Youth Friendship and Cultural Exchange
  • Committee to Defend Marie Richardson
  • Committee to Uphold the Bill of Rights
  • Congress of African Women
  • Daily Worker Press Club
  • Detroit Youth Assembly
  • Elsinore Progressive League
  • Families of the Baltimore Smith Act Victims
  • Federation of Greek Maritime Unions
  • Florida Press and Education League
  • Freedom Stage, Inc.
  • Friends of the Soviet Union
  • Garibaldi American Fraternal Society
  • German American Bund
  • Harlem Trade Union Council
  • Hellenic-American Brotherhood
  • Hungarian Brotherhood
  • Independent Socialist League
  • Industrial Workers of the World
  • Japanese Association of America
  • Jewish Community of Cortlandt
  • Jewish Culture Society
  • Knights of the White Camelia
  • Ku Klux Klan
  • Labor Youth League
  • League of American Writers
  • Mario Morgantini Circle
  • Michigan Council for Peace
  • Michigan School of Social Science
  • Nanka Teikoku Gunyudan
  • Oklahoma League for Political Education
  • People's Educational and Press Association of Texas
  • Shinto Shrines
  • Virginia League for People's Education
  • Youth Communist League


1 comment:

  1. I never joined anything. I was way to cool to join things. But my business partner had been a member of the communist party back in the 60's. And we did the remodel of the socialists library in Berkely, California.

    My partner now, drank the kool-aid as they say, and a large portion of her military career under Reagan is still classified. And like so many, is disgusted at having been used, not entirely regretful, but somewhat.

    I imagine those who catalog enemies of the state know what i think of things. But also know that i've no influence and am not actively engaged in anything more than circling the drain slowly. I still fear them for others. And i suppose i would succor those being distressed by the misfortunes of governance if i could. But as these things go, i'm certainly no threat to anyone.