Sunday, April 24, 2011

Four Men Who Will Save the World, Part 3

The 1950s have a reputation for being a decade of conformity, but it may be difficult for people in the 21st century to realize just how stultifying 50s America (and, I suspect, 50s Earth in general) could be. It was an era in which the entire planet was ruled by what we may call the 3Cs--capitalism, communism, and Christi- anity. Yes, there were other ideologies in existence: a few hundred million Hindus, a few hundred million Moslems, the growing Black Liberation movements in Africa and the US, the tiny but influential Beats. But the hegemony of those who had authority within each of the Cs--let us call them "the Masters"--was overwhelming to the point of being nearly absolute.

Communist authoritarian- ism is well-known and justly despised, but the authoritarianism of the other 2 Cs was every bit as oppressive. Perhaps more so, as their Masters had had more practice. To give a minor example from personal experience: when my father was an undergrad in the early 50s he was forbidden to take a copy of Das Kapital out of the university library--despite being a sociology major. He was also required to swear to the infamous Truman loyalty oath, but the professor who was supposed to administer it refused to do so and dad--who found the oath repugnant and didn't want to swear to it--ended up never taking it.(Many who refused were branded communists and had their careers ruined.) Dad was no martyr for the cause of liberty and didn't see himself as such, but if you multiply these insults be a hundred million or so you get a society no much freer (though much more prosperous) than your typical police state. And that's what Eisenhauer's America was, as the overthrow of Mossadegh, the rise of Nixon, the terror of McCarthy, and the murder of Lumumba should make clear.

On a less personal level, anyone familiar with the history of American cin- ema knows the role played by the Hayes Office and the Legion of Decency, and the stranglehold they had on American popular culture. And then there's the role that both capital- ism and the Southern Baptist Convention played in promoting racism . . . and still play, if the move- ment to honor Nathan Bedford Forrest (co- founder of the KKK) is any indication. I could go on at length here (though Lies My Teacher Told Me goes on longer, and better), but regardless, there's plenty of documentation available to show that by 1965 the Masters of the 3Cs had most of the planet firmly in their grip, with a chilling effect (to put it mildly) on global culture. And that the Masters were no more inclined to loosen that grip than are the current regimes in China, Singapore, Missisippi, the Vatican, or Wall Street.

That said, it's important to realize that the vast majority of those laboring for the Masters were perfectly happy to do so. They didn't consciously think of them- selves as oppressed, and I'm guessing most of them still don't. I don't think this bland acceptance can be chalked up entirely to propaganda, brain-washing, or any of the usual ways many of us explain the hold an ideology other than our own may have on its believers. I don't think people are quite as naive, gullible, or stu- pid as they sometimes seem, any more than I believe bigots are simply irrational and have no descernable reasons for their delusions--or that all humans are Fundamentally Bad. I do think, however, that many people are easily bought--especially if they don't realize they're being bought.

So how do the Masters retain their hold over their followers? It is their ability to appeal to certain emotional needs that all humans have, through another 3Cs--a program we may call "contentment through conformity and continence." Each ideology bought off its believers and stifled potential dissent by promising those under its control lives of mild, moderate happiness, of simple pleasures and more- or-less fulfilled expectations (assuming the expectation weren't too high). A dacha on the Black Sea and a Lenin medal on your chest . . . a vacation in the Bahamas and a house in the burbs . . . coffee and donuts in a cozy church basement and a promise of reuniting with loved ones in the afterlife . . . these pleasant satisfac- tions could come to anyone willing to conform to the dictates of authority and contain their passions within certain acceptable bounds. (Acceptable to the Masters, that is.) And why not? You've gotta pay the piper, true? Don't we all have to earn our pleasures? It's not as if the universe handed them out on a silver platter. Arbeit mach frei--jah?

And if the dacha was a bit shabby? The vacation a wee bit boring? The love of Jesus something less than all-consuming? At least it was better than what THEY got. You know: the sinners. The counter-revolutionaries. The lazy, the stupid, the poor. The losers.

And anything is better than being a loser. Anything is better than being left out. Anything is better than being alone.

Needless to say (in the 21st century), the Masters paid for their power, and their servants for their servitude. And the price was, and is, survivor guilt.

Yet as Stewart Smalley might say, "But that's . . . OK." For to sweeten the pot, and to make that guilt a bit more palatable, the Masters promised their servants some- thing else. Something more. Something that, for a brief moment, actually was delivered. . . .

But not by the Masters. Not by Marx, nor by Jesus, nor by Adam Smith. It was delivered instead by the four men who will save the world.

to be continued

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