NOTE: This post is the second part of a short series. For best results, you might want to read part 1 if you haven’t already had the chance.
As a college undergrad, I had to take a semester of political science so I reluctantly decided to get it out of the way early. I was reluctant because of my experience in high school government class that I related yesterday; I was very wary of what I would be taught. Yet since then, I had read an awful lot of books on government and politics, books from Das Kapital by Marx, to Rules for Radicals by Alinsky… to Mein Kampf by Hitler. Did I forget to mention that I was a geek in school? Oh yes, if I wasn’t on a baseball or football field, I was reading something… anything… pretty much everything I could get my hands on. Could that be why I was never much of a social success?
On the very first day of the semester, I sat down in Poli Sci 256 and waited. The instructor entered the room, a graduate assistant only a few years older than I was. When the time came, she stood and gave us her name and office number, and then handed out the syllabus. Of course she called off all of the names on the cards for each student to ensure everyone who was registered for the class was present, reminded us of the drop dates, and then began. The first thing she said in a class lecture was this:
“I am a socialist, and by the time the semester is over, you will be too.”
This class was going to be a drag…
For the next 20 weeks I heard a great deal about how the multi-national corporations and the military-industrial complex were oppressing the proletariat and how the ruling Capitalist classes were laying waste to not only the masses, but even to the planet itself in their constant efforts to amass obscene fortunes and world domination. Oh yes, I learned how these detestable pette bourgeois elements and their reactionary allies were the very scourge of America and a threat to our very futures as students and other enlightened people. Lucky for me I had spent a year and a half devouring books on politics; this, actually very nice, young lady was a little more than just a socialist. Come to think of it, what she was teaching would be closer to Stalinist than anything else. Of course, she also spent a lot of time talking about that political spectrum: Left-Center-Right.
Nevertheless, on the two midterms, I regurgitated what she wanted to see… Then came the final. The good news was that she told our class that we need not study anything.
On the day of the final exam, we were directed to move the desks to the sides of the room, and arrange our chairs into a circle. Then we were told that we will each have three minutes to answer the following statement:
“Why I am a socialist.”
I quickly calculated that I had about 30 minutes before it was my turn… what should I say?
When I was called on, I said something like this:
“I am a socialist because socialism will provide me with food, clothing, a place to live, education, medical care and security.” (I thought it might be a nice touch to follow directions a little bit). I continued: “Of course these are the things I would get if I were in prison, but I do not want to be in prison. What if I want a yacht, or a nice car? Socialism as we’ve learned about it, cannot, must not show me that kind of favoritism; I do not want favoritism, all I want is the chance to achieve my dreams.
“As we’ve learned it, socialism cannot give me that chance.
“If the socialist system cannot allow me that chance, then like any good revolutionary, I will seize the chance to achieve my dreams. I may not succeed, but I would rather die in the effort than be made to live the life of an inmate.”
The students who had gone ahead of me all had nice reasons for being socialists; those who went after seemed to like the “die trying” approach…See what happens when you let a kid read whatever they want?
Yes that’s right; they become “counter-revolutionary hooligans” just like I did!
On that particular day, I wasn’t doing anything other than responding to what I perceived to be a pernicious lie. That lie had nothing to do with socialism per se, it was about presenting a very limited set of data that was represented as complete, and setting up a predetermined conclusion. Ironically, in both this and the high school examples, it was done by instructors who were both big advocates of “academic freedom”. I learned that academic freedom didn’t apply to me, unless I was very careful. (This was also true when I was a professor.)
It is also true that without realizing it at the time; I broke the “groupthink” of the class simply by providing an alternative that fit within the narrative of the instructor, which was radical action. The students who followed me wanted their chance to realize their dreams too and 20 weeks of pure propaganda went out the window; I learned much in that class.
Afterwards, I was invited to a private audience in the instructor’s office the next day…
…where I learned that she had been “impressed” with my revolutionary zeal, even though she had been “disappointed” by my “capitalist self-centeredness”. I received an “A” in the class anyway.
In the recent election, did you hear terms like “right wing” and “reactionary” and “extremist” used? I did. Have you noticed how certain political groups are so shocked and dismayed at the outcome? I have; even the EU is holding an “emergency summit” to discuss the situation…
On a much larger scale than in my Poli Sci class, Donald Trump has broken the groupthink; many political insiders are shaken to the core, but it really isn’t because of his policies (whatever they are), it’s because he didn’t follow the rules of “political correctness”. Nothing in this world is what it appears to be.
Tomorrow I’ll tell you another story from my youth. If you are brave, I’ll see you then!