Comfortable and Furious



Take away our right to say ‘fuck’ and you take away our right to say ‘fuck the government’.
—Lenny Bruce

For much of my life I studied Fascist and/or Totalitarian states and movements. I always understood the “fact” that the first step towards a dark-utopia is almost without exception the denunciation of the intellectuals. The fact that intellectuals were ridiculed, derided and ultimately rounded up and slaughtered is not open for debate. It happened, as sure as the sun rose and set, at some point in the history of all “bad” movements. Take your pick–Nazis, Chinese Communists, Soviet Communists, Castro, Mussolini and the Black Shirts, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge–it doesn’t matter. If you want to brutally enslave a people, you must take away their brightest minds and sharpest thinkers. Any individual capable of thoughts outside of the party doctrine is a perceived, if not a viable, threat and must be eliminated at all costs. Just like in 1984, Big Brother’s word is all that matters; everything or anything else is nothing more than a pack of lies. In a word, heresy. Obviously, those best equipped to think and give voice to alternatives to the dogma need to get gone. All of these “purges” of intellectuals are well documented and can be researched until roosting chickens make their way home.

But, I never understood the “truth” of it until now. Sure, it happened. But how? How did the rest of society let it happen? What were the pretexts? The first steps, the opening salvos–what were they like? Did Stalin just wake up one morning and say, “Intellectuals, Nyet!” (actually, he probably did)? Sure, I’ve read the apologists–they came for the others and I did nothing–but what was the “coming for” actually like? Again, what was the “truth” of it; the actual experience? Well my friends, I wonder no more. On May 31st, 2005, Human Events Online published their “Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries.” The list is nothing more than a bare faced, open attack on intellectualism, logic, reason, sense and essentially the Enlightenment. Rarely, if ever, has my heart sunk so low after reading an article. The only exception I can think of was Jeffery Sharlet’s deeply chilling article about The Family,” a strangley psychotic group of zealot Christians in Washington who have way too much influence over our secular nation. Truthfully though, “The Family” has nothing on this list of, to quote Mencken talking about the Scopes Monkey Trial, “bigotry, ignorance, hatred, superstition, [and] every sort of blackness that the human mind is capable of.”

Upon first glance, the “list” might not seen so bad. The Communist Manifesto? Why, that led to the Soviet Union, the Khmer Rouge, Mao’s China, Castro’s Cuba, etc. A “bad” book, fine. And Mein Kampf? Are you defending Hitler, Lieberman? Look, no one in his or her right mind can defend Hitler. If I, or any other anti-theist, “liberal” were to write our own list of ten harmful books, Hitler’s screed would be on top of it. And while it is an important philosophical text, Marx and Engel’s big book engendered about as much human suffering as the planet has ever known (even with that disclaimer, it is hard to deny the beautiful logic of “from each according to his ability; to each according to his need.” Fairy-tale shit, sure, but I dare any of you to live in Los Angeles for any period of time and let the unequal distribution of wealth not shred you to the very core). And Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book, while filled with flowery language and hilarious to read (“We Communists are like seeds and the people are like the soil. Wherever we go, we must unite with the people, take root and blossom among them.”), one would be hard pressed to admit that anything “good” ever came out of it. Again, all three of these books would probably make their way onto any thinking person’s list. If thinking people ever actually sat around and drew up lists of “harmful books.” Which they don’t.

But then the list gets frightening. At number four we find not Leo Strauss, his cruel, deluded disciples (Bloom, Bork, et al) or even the very base Turner Diaries (Oklahoma City, anyone?), but instead The Kinsey Report. That’s right, the scientific document which only maintains that the human animal is far more complex–sexually speaking–than the bible would have us believe. Honestly, imagine a time when “learning” that 100% of men jerk off constantly was an earth-shattering revelation (I put the word learning in quotes because I am still convinced that this really wasn’t news to anyone). More importantly, Kinsey showed that homosexuals were not deviants, that married people had oral and anal sex, and that for many people, having multiple sexual partners was not only thrilling, but normal. Honestly, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male is one of the more, if not the most, liberating books published in the last hundred years.

The list further devolves from there. Next up is Betty Friedan and her self-evident tome The Feminine Mystic, the book that launched modern Feminism. Friedan had the chutzpah to assert that women were not better off staying at home and only living vicariously through the achievements of their husbands and sons (Freud’s Penis Envy in a nutshell), but rather that women have the right to expect lives of their own choosing, satisfying intellectual pursuits and most importantly, the right to economic self-sufficiency. Equal pay for equal work would come/will come later. And the list doesn’t stop there. John Dewey–the man to first suggest that strict vocational training is not the best way to teach children, but rather critical thinking skills and interdisciplinary studies will lead to better educated, more creative people and a healthier democracy. August Comte, the founder of Secular Humanism (for all intents and purposes) is called out. As is the very brilliant Fredrich Nietzsche, a true intellectual giant of the highest order. Why Nietzsche? Apparently these fuck-wits can simply not wrap their heads around his brilliantly argued critique of ancient dualisms. “Good and Evil,” “Order and Chaos” and “Spirit and Body” are just Aristotelian constructs based in arbitrary morals which don’t actually exist! Also, his assertion that “God is dead” really hurts their feelings. Even John Maynard Keynes, the economist who laid the groundwork for the “pump-priming” that FDR used to save this country during the Depression, is lambasted.

And the Honorable Mentions are even worse. Infinitely worse, really. Chief among them is Ralph Nader’s breakthrough work, Unsafe at Any Speed. Say what you will about Nader’s behavior over the last decade and a half, but it impossible to deny the fact that many of us (including me) are alive today only because of his book. If you have been involved in a serious car-accident in the last forty years and lived to tell about it, thank Ralph Nader. Essentially, he showed that in any accident, two forces are at work; deceleration and shear. As far as we know, deceleration alone cannot kill people (Air Force Lt. Col. John P. Stapp survived a rocket sled test in 1951 where he experienced 48 Gs of deceleration. Basically, he ran himself into a brick wall at 500+ mph). Shear, however, is deadly. In automobile accidents, shear is getting impaled on a steering column, fracturing your skull on a steel dashboard, opening your jugular as your are flung through a glass windshield or being crushed to death when your car flips over and the roof is the metal equivalent of paper. All of these flaws (plus several others) killed people by the tens of thousands every year in the United States (I can only speculate at the total world wide) and the automakers knew it. They simply didn’t care. Adding three-cents per vehicle to their bottom line was much more important to them than installing padded dashboards. Essentially, auto manufacturers were deliberately selling consumers deadly products because it was more profitable. The cost to the consumer was only his life. Have you ever wondered why it is that NASCAR drivers can slam in to walls at 190 mph and walk away from the crash? This is old technology people. So damning was Nader’s book that GM tried to, “Get something on this guy … Get him out of our hair … Shut him up,” by first hiring detectives who failed to find anything unsavory about Nader and then stooping so low that they actually hired prostitutes to try and seduce Ralph. Everything failed and Nader won a $425,000 settlement against General Motors that he then used to really put their feet to the fire. And save the rest of us. The man is an out and out hero.

Also included on the list is Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. This entry, like the Nader one, particularly chaps my hide. For those who don’t know (and you should be ashamed) Carson is generally thought to be responsible for the environmental movement. The idea that human behavior (in this case the unchecked use of pesticides and other poisons) is fucking dangerous! Here’s a good synopsis from What’s the Matter with Kansas? I mention Frank’s book because as far as I have read, Kansas best illustrates how this ugly alliance has stolen the heart of America. How religious freaks are so obsessed with single issues–like say abortion–that the following assessment of our once great nation can be made:

But on closer inspection the country seems more like a panorama of madness and delusion worthy of Hieronymous Bosch: of sturdy blue-collar patriots reciting the Pledge while they strangle their own life chances; of small farmers proudly voting themselves off the land; of devoted family men carefully seeing to it that their children will never be able to afford college or proper health care; of working-class guys in Midwestern cities cheering as they deliver up a landslide for a candidate whose policies will end their way of life, will transform their region into a “rust belt,” will strike people like them blows from which they will never recover.

And it is the intellectuals, as well as intellectual tradition, that makes observations like Frank’s possible. The simple, yet essential, act of saying, “No, I don’t think that’s true. And here’s why,” is quickly and not so quietly being expunged from our nation. Already, Texas oil billionaires who pray in quaint wooden churches are depicted and seen as “of the people,” while your local history professor is seen as a “threat to our very way of life.” And of course, in post 9/11 America, threats must be dealt with. If the current course of our nation remains uncorrected, intellectuals will be heading the way of the dinosaurs. Or worse: intellectuals will be headed the way of how many Christians now view the dinosaurs; as having never even existed. Guess who’s next?