The graduate

"The graduate" Continued...

Issue: "Summer of '68," Aug. 9, 2008

Creativity R Us: To a required art class in the art museum I carried a roommate's black cat and let the cat out of the bag onto the museum floor, explaining that I had just created a work of art that showed how the Black Panthers were freeing themselves from the container in which American society placed members of their race. I received an Honors for that effort, even though the cat ran away and hid among some expensive canvases, prompting a frenzied search.

During my freshmen and sophomore years I read Norman Mailer, Ken Kesey, Kurt Vonnegut, and so on. I did door-to-door campaigning for peace candidates and went to anti-war rallies in Washington and elsewhere. But I was pushing for something more, for someone who had a handle on regenerating mankind: If mankind was not to destroy itself, humanity in some way had to change. Or so I told myself, putting my personal unhappiness into grandiose terms.

Some discussed regeneration through genetic engineering. Yale professor Jose Delgado had faith in ESB (electrical stimulation of the brain) and was putting tiny sensors into the brains of monkeys to control their behavior. Est, dianetics, and primal screaming were all competing to become the way, the truth, and the opportunity for us to become the liberated, slithery beings we were meant to be. Music and drugs also offered hope for change.

So did a wide variety of religions and cults. In The Religious Situation: 1968, Huston Smith wrote that the intellectually best students were checking out "meditation, then Yoga, then Zen . . . tantra, the kundalini, the chakras, the I Ching . . . astrology, astral bodies, auras, UFOs, Tarot cards, parapsychology, witchcraft, and magic. . . . And underlying everything of course, the psychedelic drugs."

Why did I deviate from Charlie Reich's softcore patter about green change? Why, instead of embracing drugs and Eastern religions, did I begin to fall in step with hardcore Marxism's red tide? I could say I was searching for meaning-true enough-but ugly envy and hatred played a large part. I could try to cast blame on others, and shepherds promoting evil did play a part, but the prime truth lies in G.K. Chesterton's terse response when asked to write about "What's Wrong with the World?" He wrote, "I am."

After all, lots of students at that time began wearing T-shirts picturing Che Guevara-Castro's sidekick had died in 1967 at age 39-but I read and at one point even memorized part of a speech he had given to a meeting of Cuban Communist youth. Guevara said the Communist "does not keep his honor secret or reduce it to formulas, but expresses it at all times." He shows "an independent spirit whenever something arises that is not right, no matter what anyone says about it. . . . He feels anguish when a man is assassinated in any corner of the world, and he feels elation when in some corner of the world a new banner of liberty is raised."

Guevara concluded, "After making many sacrifices, yes, after perhaps having found ourselves often at the edge of destruction . . . some fine day, almost without realizing it, we shall have created, together with the other peoples of the world, the communist society, our ideal." I latched onto that: Communism, not Charlie Reich's sensing of student brains or Jose Delgado's insertion of sensors in monkey brains, was the road to regenerate mankind. I saw what I called sin (but not my own) and considered it as caused by "alienation derived from the division of labor and the existence of a private-property-owning class."

Those were words I began to mouth. I thought I believed them. I also thought that I was realistic about the costs. Of course the revolution would meet with opposition from the bourgeoisie. Of course a terrible struggle would inevitably result. Of course the progressive forces, to be triumphant, would have to be united. Of course the most efficient way to unite those forces would be to centralize all authority in the hands of those who most clearly understood the revolutionary imperative: the leadership of the Communist Party.

This would not be a dictatorship for personal gain, though, for the dictatorship is only the transitional stage required to eliminate capitalists and capitalism from the body politic. During the transitional period terrible things would be done, but shrinking from them would simply create more misery by prolonging the birth pains of the new era. Thus, more killing means less killing; more dictatorship means less dictatorship; war is peace and totalitarianism is freedom-all in the long run. Yes, communism led to much inhumanity or "sin," but it was sin going somewhere, sin that would wipe out sin.


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