April 26, 2006

The Banality of Sedition

Communism is alive and well on the streets of Seattle....

Illustration by RapierWitt

THESE DAYS its not often that you see a member of the Despairing Classes being seduced by classic Communism on a city street, but it does happen.

Sidewalk Snapshot: It's a warm Spring evening on Pine Street in Seattle. Lengthening shadows and brightening light brings everything into sharp relief including the random collection of lay-abouts, short-order poets, tattoo artistes, and students between degrees that take up the tables outside the Cafe Laddro on Capitol Hill. Capitol Hill is one of those neighborhoods in Seattle that compiles a mainstream lifestyle out of alternatives. Even though it is indeed a hill, it has suspended the normal laws of gravity and everything loose in town has rolled up to the top of it. That includes, on this evening, me.

I'm stepping out of your "one-every-block" Seattle espresso slop shop with my Machiatto when I notice the odd couple at the table just outside the door. That's not too odd since odd couples, like spiked bright blue hair, are pretty much the norm hereabouts. I notice them at first because the youngest is wearing a Motorhead t-shirt with the mantra "Everything Louder Than Everything Else" on it in that faux German Black gothic font that got old when Auschwitz was in flower, and so had to be made new again back when heavy-metal was a fresh idea.

Glancing over Motorhead's shoulder I note that the man across from him is giving him an ideological lap-dance complete with a whole raft of tracts, papers and books being brought out and waved about and placed, with a muffled thwang, one after the other on the thin black metal of the table: Trotsky's "Marxism and Terrorism," thwang; the ever-popular Marx and Engels "Communist Manifesto," thwang; Lenin's greatest hit "What Is To Be Done?," thwang, Gramsci's "Prison Notebooks," thunk, Zinn's "People's History of the United States," clunk. One by one, they come out of the worn back pack and pile up on the table. All in all, a larger pile of ideological dung would be hard to imagine and harder to handle even with thick rubber gloves.

The man making his pile of "roadmaps to a more perfect world" is quite a bit older than Motorhead with a slim, somewhat furtive look to him. In the intense light of the evening, you can see a faint cloud of dust motes rising from him as he keeps slapping the tracts down. Greying hair in moist ringlets covers his head except for a monk's tonsure on the back of his skull. He's got a mustache and a beard that, with a little care, could be brought to a Van Dyke point. He sports small round rimmed glasses in front of thin blue eyes. His eyes, although they never waver from his prey, carry within them a permanent 1,000 yard stare -- as if he's always looking outside of the present moment at something in the distance that never gets nearer. Overall the face reminds one, as these faces so often do, of a watered down Leon Trotsky, the Christ of Communism, crucified with an ice axe but still in his tomb.

Trotsky is resurrect this evening on Capitol Hill though, and I linger at the table next to them writing down a few notes about their conversation. Except it is not exactly a conversation so much as a monologue as my Trotsky keeps, in smiling and soft tones, returning to the subject at hand which is the inevitable collapse of the evil American Empire ("Long past its expiry date..."), and the inevitable rise of world Socialism ("Everyone will have more than enough, but nobody will have it all.")

Trotsky's sporting, as all good Trotskys must, a collection of slogan buttons and a sheaf of free tracts and newspapers. The button that is the largest is pinned to his faded plaid flannel shirt and proclaims him to be a member in good standing of the ISO (International Socialist Organization, good Latter-Day Trotskyites all. ) He hands the tracts and newspapers over to his intended, all free, and points out the more salient injustices they outline: eternal racism, eternal slavery of women, eternal repression of the working man by capitalists, eternal imperialism by the United States -- the whole catastrophe. He underscores that the only escape is through the ever-imminent but forever delayed Rapture of the Left, the Revolution. After several minutes of his soft chants, Motorhead is nodding like the drinking bird over the glass.

Trotsky's tales are the sad sotto voce sagas that underscore all the old nightmares of the Gulag, the Killing Fields, and every other massacre done in the name of the Marxist Utopia. Its a litany that proves, once again, that there are some lies that lodge so deep in the hopes of man that they can never be killed no matter how many are executed to make the lie true. Today's fresh lie is that if only Motorhead will attend the "event" tomorrow, Trotsky will be pleased to take him to the exclusive "Cadre" meeting that follows so he can meet the "Comrade of Honor," one Ahmed Shawki.

In soft tones salted with a quick twinkling smile that comes and goes like the red queen in three-card monte, Trotsky continues his spiel, his seduction. Motorhead is "obviously a man of no little intelligence" even if his five facial piercings (ears, left eyebrow, lip stud and nose-ring) might make one wonder. Motorhead "needs to live in a system where social justice is the rule for all, not just the rich." Given Motorhead's ripped black jeans, worn black boots and general air of someone not likely to be hired by any business whose work involves meeting the public, this is probably more true than either of them realize. He nods again to this last proposition, and observes that he yearns for a social order that is more just to his lifestyle than can easily be found outside the subcultural hamlets of Seattle.

Much has been made of Hannah Arendt's phrase, "The banality of evil," and I suppose I'm witnessing a small satori of that kind here on the sidewalks of Seattle. But it seems to me to be a more insidious event than that. After all, there's nothing evil in speech that argues for ideas that have proven, without exception, to be evil. It is, after all, only speech and the strength of the American system is to protect all forms of speech, especially the idle blather of a coffee house revolutionary. There's nothing, really nothing, in this overheard conversation that threatens the existence of the United States. The mere fact that it can be had, five years into the First Terrorist War, underscores just how strong this nation adherence to its founding principles remains. Here on Capitol Hill dissent of even the most egregious sort, is not only tolerated but celebrated.

The conversation bothers me at the same time it fascinates me. It strikes me that what I am auditing is not so much "the banality of evil," but "the banality of sedition;" a banality we see acted out daily on our television screens and on the op-ed pages of our newspapers. The banality of sedition is now so well established that it is, well, banal and goes forward without a great deal of remark or trouble. In the last fortnight, the phrase that has arisen to mark this phenomenon is "The Culture of Treason." I'm not sure who originated the phrase, but its use is proliferating across the Internet for the reason that all such phrases proliferate when the time is ripe; it somehow rings true.

Of late, it iseems that large sections of the better educated and the most privileged among us (Democrats and Republicans alike) have decided that the Constitution is, after all, a suicide pact and have determined to say to us all:

"This way to the gas, ladies and gentlemen. Step right up into the van carrying you all away into the perfect freedom of the perfect world. Don't worry about those canisters of gas dropping in through the top. It's just to delouse you of your old, traditional ideas of what being an American is all about. In just a few minutes you'll all be, as we are now, citizens of the world. And in that world to which we are all going you'll forget the old dream of America. You'll forget, at the last, everything that was good about America. You'll also forget the true and the beautiful. In the end, you'll forget about God himself. All those old dreams and visions will fade into a gray sameness. And then you'll all be, at the last, perfect citizens of our brave new world. We've breathed deeply of this gas before you and find it is the perfect blend of platitudes, freshly roasted, for the killing of the soul. After all, you weren't using it much. So step right up. First ride's free."

The long evening light was fading down into a warm dusk outside the coffee shop on Capitol Hill. Motorhead, in a moment of awakening, remarked that "Well, I should probably get grocery shopping."

Having gotten Motorhead's assent to attend the "event," Trotsky the Comrade becomes Trotsky the Closer and skins twenty bucks out of Motorhead's wallet for Gramsci's "Prison Notebooks" ($14.95 at Amazon). The tracts and, of course, the newspaper are free. Such a deal.

The backpack is repacked with Trotsky's portable library. He and Motorhead set off up the hill and, turning the corner, move out of sight. I fold up the scraps of paper on the back of which I've made my notes of their meeting. The front side invites all and sundry to a "Solidarity Gathering" at the 45th Street Overpass: "We Support the Rape Survivor at Duke... and the Countless Others Everywhere. Come and join us in solidarity to bear witness to this terrorism against women." I make a mental note to, somehow, manage to be elsewhere.

Walking back to the Century Ballroom, I notice a large flyer that announces the "event" that Motorhead has agreed to attend. Ahmed Shawki, editor of the International Socialist Review, will speak, it seems, on "Black Liberation and Socialism." Shaki's image dominates the flyer and looks, for all the world, like a Malcom X returned to life. The look is, of course, a carefully studied one since black socialist saints are hard to come by these days. The Clenched Fist logo is in the lower left hand corner of the flyer. There are other details but I have a hard time making them out. It is, I discover, hard to read a flyer that is lying in the gutter. Especially when the light has failed.

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Posted by Vanderleun at April 26, 2006 9:47 AM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

The devil makes 'em do it the first time,
second time they do it on their own.
Lord put a handle on that Motorheaded man,
help him leave that treason alone.

(apologies to Billy Joe Shaver, "Black Rose.")

Posted by: Gagdad Bob at April 26, 2006 10:52 AM

Sad to say, but Saint Judas is the patron saint of our times.

Posted by: RKV at April 26, 2006 2:45 PM

For some reason, I am reminded of the early Genesis song "The Knife". It sounds like a typical "lefty-revolution" song, until you realize (when you take a close look at the lyrics) that Peter Gabriel et al. may in fact be criticizing the revolutionaries' shortsightedness; they certainly don't make the Revolution sound any more honorable:

Stand up and fight
For you know we are right
We must strike at the lies
That have spread like disease through our minds
Soon we'll have power
Every soldier will rest
And we'll spread out our kindness
To all who our love now deserve
Some of you are going to die -
Martyrs of course to the freedom that I shall provide

Not to mention the cry of "WE HAVE WON!!" near the song's conclusion; it sounds not so much triumphant as ominous. One can only conclude that lyricist Gabriel was quite aware where such thinking leads.

Posted by: Michael Andreyakovich at April 26, 2006 3:03 PM

That "faux German Black gothic font" is normally known as "Fraktur and is a pain for the modern German-reader to decrypt.

Posted by: Consul-At-Arms at April 26, 2006 3:56 PM

I won't be riding to utopia in that van.

My dream instructs me to blow it up.

You are a great teacher.

Welcome to the resistance.

Posted by: DirtRagsRanch at April 26, 2006 5:29 PM

Yes! Isn't Capitol Hill wonderful? Much like a visit to the zoo. An opportunity to view some near-human life forms having only a minimal contact with reality.

I've been visiting the "Huffington Post" website now and again; reading the articles and checking the comments. It's quite like an on-line Capitol Hill.

I love the way you write, Mr. V. That's why I'm slowly working my way through your archives.

Posted by: Richard in Port Orchard, WA at April 26, 2006 5:43 PM

Didn't Freud write something about "Civilization and its malcontents"? I am reminded of this somehow.

The amusing thing here is that Mr. Motorhead is mixing his rock/punk/metal visual cues, as it were. Or so it seems to me, having seen all that stuff the first time around.

Posted by: Eric Blair at April 27, 2006 5:18 AM

Marxists, socialist pyschos, liberal demorats, animal rights nuts, enviromental wacko tree huggers, arab terrorist killers, illegal alien invaders supported by La Raza- It is all so sad. These sick evil mental midgets tying the Gullivers Travels USA giant down with thier psyhcosis. It is getting tiring swatting these infected insects buzzing around our collective heads, but don't use the DDT!

Posted by: Legion at April 27, 2006 8:08 AM

Second to Richard above: I love the way you write, especially the 1st paragraph.


Posted by: Mike Walsh, MM at April 27, 2006 8:26 AM

Like many Seattleites, I was born in that neighborhood and so were two of my children. So sad to see it taken over by the America haters. Motorhead will find some crazy business or the other to consume the part of his life not already wasted by the toxic sludge he's advertising now. And his older seducer, whether motivated by gay undertones or political alienation, needs to be confined until he wises up or dies.

Someone's opinion on a bumper sticker "The Gene Pool Needs Chlorine" could apply to Capitol Hill. Scrub the whole thing down and put back only what does credit to the gorgeous views there.

Posted by: AskMom at April 27, 2006 9:09 AM

"THESE DAYS its not often that you see a member of the Despairing Classes being seduced by classic Communism on a city street, but it does happen."

Not sure how I came to your site recently but I find your posts reminiscent of growing up in a lower middle catholic neighborhood / schools. It is a better than thou attitude that I missed for many years. Not even sure what religious beliefs you have? Lumping Zinn with the others is not fair but fair is not the issue - what is the issue? Do you know better or are you better? Are their worlds silly - could yours be silly to another? I really do miss the point of the piece, the haughty dismissiveness confuses me. Please clarify.

Posted by: james at April 27, 2006 11:40 AM

There is none so blind as you who will not see.

Posted by: Doug In Colorado at April 27, 2006 12:50 PM

Doug, another puzzling comment? See what? How many here can say they have accomplished what Zinn has? Any?

Posted by: James at April 27, 2006 3:58 PM

Ah James. You too talk in riddles. What do you think Zinn accomplished? Writing a biased, limited and deceptive "history"? Helping spread a madness that killed millions? None here have done that. Nor would they have wanted to.

And the "haughty dismissiveness" is not confusing. Just dismissive, for those who carry their own confusion perpetually with them.

Class is over now. You may go.

Posted by: AskMom at April 27, 2006 8:42 PM

Just to clarify a point or two. James asks:

" Do you know better or are you better? Are their worlds silly - could yours be silly to another? "

1. I do know better.
2. I am better.
3. Their words are worse than silly, they can be and have been deadly.
4. My words would seem silly only to those who believe the words of people like Zinn are wise and "accomplished" in anything other than making the world progressively worse with their "work."

Hope that clears things up for you.

PS: No Catholic I in birth, baptism, upbringing, or schooling. If you are, as you seem, somewhat young and enamored with the "accomplishment" of those like Zinn I think it fair to say that, to my eternal regret, I helped invent you.

Posted by: Gerard Van der Leun at April 27, 2006 10:32 PM
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