This weekend, I attended a charity gala in a liberal-liberal part of my generally liberal region. It’s a good charity, by the way, no complaint here. And I was glad to be there with my elegant wife even if we were only acting as extras because we can’t afford to bid on…. Here you go, I was going to say something bitchy. I stopped myself in time. And, by the way is “bitchy” inherently sexist? I can’t very well say “doggy” every other time, or can I? Here, the very language is making it difficult to sound innocent. But I digress. The point I was trying to make is that the evening helped me remember the obvious fact that when people tell untruths, they are not necessarily lying. I keep forgetting because I have been straightening out people for so many years, I feel they should know by now. I am getting impatient. Like many old teachers, I tend to forget that there is a brand new batch of students every year!
Anyway, I found myself in closer proximity to conventional liberals than I normally do. And I enjoyed no courteous latitude to cause them to flee by inflicting pain on them. Sometimes, I just have to sit still and smile and often, suffer through the telling of their last trip to Paris. (And why am I not allowed to charge them for listening, I ask?) That evening, there is a sweet-faced woman in her fifties sitting to my left (to my left by chance, I am sure). She is one of those people I like on sight. Perhaps their faces carry the mask of many years of goodness, of thinking good thoughts, and that makes them attractive. The lady is a third- grade teacher. She is married to a lawyer who, strange thing to say about a lawyer, has a kind face too. Our host at the event, an old friend, is not beyond making trouble, out of curiosity, or to excite other guests’ interest. He must have told others at his table that my wife and I are ogres, genuine, real, not-for-cute-effect conservatives. Toward dessert, the sweet-faced lady initiates a political conversation with me.
She starts by asking me courteously what I do. I think she already knows the answer. I tell her I am retired and I blog. Following more inquiries, I further tell her that my seemingly most successful blog posting is entitled: “Why Young Women Are Stupid.” What could I do, lie? She asked. Besides, my intuition tells me that a part of her enjoys temporarily the company of a really bad boy. I give her the short version of the essay. Regretfully she more or less agrees with me about why young women are stupid. Then, because I am kind in my heart (and also because of the Vichy side of my personality), I volunteer that the political analysts with the most influence on me are both women. How about Maureen Dowd she asks? I tell her that Maureen has not had an original thought in her life. At this points the lady stops beating a round the bush:
“What I hate about Republicans,” she says, “is what they do to women.” (Bolding mine.)
‘Well, what do they do?” I ask sweetly.
She tells me of several things that Republican presidential candidates have said, plus several that she thinks they have said and that I think they have not said. She cannot come up with anything any Republican has actually done that is cruel or inhuman or worse, to women. This is more interesting than it sounds. The lady is old enough to remember the radical welfare reform, under Clinton but crammed down the liberals’ throats by a militant Republican Congress. There were going to be hungry and sick children lying in the streets, her political sisters predicted at the time. I would bet she, personally said it too. There were not, children, I mean. Maybe she knows it, maybe she does not. Maybe she half-knows it without really knowing it. She has forgotten.
This liberal teacher is angry about what conservatives (supposedly all Republicans) “do” to women but she can’t think of even one such thing. But, she is not lying, just at a loss. I fear this exchange has been in vain. So, reading her mind about what Republicans would do if they could, I volunteer this information: I tell her that there is not a single elected Republican who advocates making abortion illegal. This, at least, will force her to keep thinking.
This morning, driving from the gym, I have my car radio set on one of the FM stations that broadcast both good music and National Public Radio shows. There is a this rare thing on, a liberal talk-show. It’s rare because liberals are always boring. They run out of anything to say in weeks if not days. I catch a woman caller complaining about an acquaintance of hers, an old lady, who is forced to chose between paying for her prescription medicines and eating every day. I heard this before. I am a little puzzled because the old lady is on Medicare and her prescription medicines are heavily subsidized. (Mine are too.) And subsidization of prescription medicines is one of those unfunded benefits that have got the Federal Government in the hole for many years to come. Then the woman caller makes this clear statement:
“What kind of government do we have that can bail out bankers but fails to bail our ordinary working Americans?”
Then, I have one of my rare epiphanies. I realize suddenly that the woman means it literally, that she really thinks that it was bankers, people who own banks and who manage them like say, a bakery, that the Obama administration bailed out in 2008. It dawns on me – and it’s really like a dawn breaking through an ink-dark night – that the caller does not understand that the really important banks, Wells Fargo, Citibank, etc., are owned collectively by ordinary people through their shares. If I were in front of the caller and if I told her that “ordinary working Americans” can own the banks any time they want, she would dismiss my assertion as silly. She lives in a mental world, with thousands like her, in which rich people own banks and that’s all there is to it. And rich people also own “the corporations,” of course. Millions of American exist mentally in the pre-Karl Marx 19th century. If they were not, I wonder how many liberals would be left at all in this fundamentally fair and honest nation. If I said aloud,” Those who don’t own a piece of a bank or a piece of a corporation only have themselves to blame,” I might be thought off as a comic extremist although the statement is as true as can be.
I taught for thirty years in the social sciences, broadly defined. You would think I had plenty of opportunities to explain capitalism. In fact, I didn’t. I was seldom able to spend any significant time on the topic because another academic specialty was supposed to do that particular job, economists were. In my experience, they mostly fail; they routinely fail in a big way. I guess that economists are rarely interested in explaining the nuts and bolts and the basic definitions of capitalism. I think they think it’s beneath them. Or else, they don’t understand how far removed the concept of a market is from the intuitive experience of ordinary people.
Once, only once, Brother Fate gave me a chance to do something significant about the problem. It was fluke but it happened. I was offered the job of writing the entry “Capitalism” in the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology – 6th Edition (make a note of the edition). I did exactly what I wanted within the space allotted: Definitions and nuts and bolts and historical references. All was based on the assumption that the reader needed to start on the ground floor. When the time came to write the paperback version, there was a new Managing Editor, a well-connected, upstart, mere graduate student who proceeded to tell me that what I was writing about capitalism didn’t “correspond to what he knew.” The man was a real scholar at heart! The problem of course was that I had written in the hard copy edition an objective description, including some of the historical achievements of capitalism. And, unlike all my predecessors. I had done no kowtowing to the ghost of Karl Marx (now dead more than a hundred years and thirty years). It was unheard of, it was a gross mistake that someone in American sociology could write an entry that did not perspire poisonous sweat against capitalism. As I said, it was fluke that I was able to do it. That was one time; it felt really good. I decided then that winning against terrible odds even once was good enough, I withdrew from the paperback edition. I told the upstart editor to commit an anatomically impossible act on his own person. I felt too old to engage in a war against what I knew to be a vast conspiracy. It’s a conspiracy of leftists and of liberals who are extremely tolerant of leftists’ prejudices although they know better.
Those who know me among readers of this essay, tell me: How often have you heard me use the word “conspiracy”? And of course, I don’t mean that there was a conspiracy against me, personally. There is an ongoing left-wing conspiracy to keep the discipline of sociology and several of its derivatives with eyes firmly fixed on the year 1850 (Not a typo: 1850). And this is not a dig at old Charlie Marx himself. Marx was a creative thinker at least and he did not know what we know now: 1 Capitalism works; 2 Nothing else works.
© Jacques Delacroix 2012