Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Rich Have No Right to Their Wealth:I

I call your attention to the following lines from the Guardian, a well-respected British newspaper, cited by Mark Karlin of Buzzflash:

Fast-forward to Scott Walker today. Representing a new breed apart from Wisconsin's earlier Republicans, he is seeking to reopen the asset-grabbing, Gilded Age-style. A plague of rent-seekers is seeking quick gains by privatizing the public sector and erecting tollbooths to charge access fees to roads, power plants and other basic infrastructure....
But who is one to steal from? Most wealth in history has been acquired either by armed conquest of the land, or by political insider dealing, such as the great US railroad land giveaways of the mid-19th century. The great American fortunes have been founded by prying land, public enterprises and monopoly rights from the public domain, because (to paraphrase Willie Sutton) that's where the assets are to take. Throughout history, the world's most successful economies have been those that have kept this kind of primitive accumulation in check. The US economy today is faltering largely because its past barriers against rent-seeking are being breached.
Nowhere is this more disturbingly on display than in Wisconsin. Today, Milwaukee - Wisconsin's largest city, and once the richest in America - is ranked among the four poorest large cities in the United States. Wisconsin is just the most recent case in this great heist. The US government and its regulatory agencies are effectively being privatized as the "final stage" of neoliberal economic doctrine.
This is the pass to which we have come: the wealthy draining the rest of us dry. This, I am sure, is what is really behind the attacks on public sector unions: a drive to privatize what is left of the public's possessions and to break all possibility of organized resistance. In this regard, the huge resistance in Wisconsin is heartening—there was a huge demonstration only yesterday, and obviously the opponents of Walker's drive to wreck public unions and the public sector are not giving up. That is the sort of determination that is needed.

May I modestly suggest a simple slogan that encapsulates what the majority of people in this country, not to mention the world, need right now: The rich have no right to their wealth! The rich have no right to their power! Think about it. I will return to this in later posts.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Discretion—or cowardice?

On the recommendation of a friend and fellow community member, I have deleted from this blog and from my Facebook page any specific reference to a church organization to which I belong, and which is in fact an important part of who I am. I have done this because of concern over raising a furor in that community over some of my commitments and views—above all, of course, my membership in the Communist Party USA.

I do this with considerable reluctance and regret. Is this an act of discretion—or merely of timidity and, indeed, cowardice? I am saddened that I cannot be open about important parts of who I am with all of the communities I am part of.

Of course, it is not only at this point that I have this problem. My self-identification as a Jew would be hotly contested by many Jews, on the grounds that my baptism constituted a repudiation of my Jewish identity. And no doubt there are many in the Catholic Church, including perhaps some bishops, who would insist fiercely (perhaps even to the point of excommunicating me) that my Party membership amounted to a repudiation of my Catholic and Christian faith. I plan to address these issues in this blog in the future. For the time being, I have to say that I must draw the line somewhere; I must say, "here I stand" and let the chips fall where they may.

This is of particular importance to me as a Communist, because too long our Party has labored under suspicion of being some sort of secret conspiracy. We only play into this notion by not being open—although of course there are situations where discretion is legitimately called for. Given the number of people in our country who, according to recent polls, are ready to identify with socialism, our Party should be, and needs to be, many times larger than it is. Part of the reason for our small size is, I am convinced, our reticence and caution about publicly identifying as a members—and, if necessary, taking the consequences. If we are ever to make membership in our Party seem normal and natural to the large numbers of people who in fact think as we do, we need to treat our membership as normal and natural ourselves, even if, for a time, it leads to some difficulties.

Of course, it is also true that the largely (though, I would argue, not entirely) appalling record of Communist parties in power, coupled with our own refusal (and I include myself in this) to face this reality, continues and will continue to be a problem. This too I intend to address in future posts.

So, where does one draw the line between discretion and cowardice? In this instance, I will let myself off the hook. My decision is prompted not so much by any motive of personal gain (save that of remaining in the organization I am referring to) as by a desire to spare this community from the turmoil that would surely result from being more open. Still, it rankles.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Having worked up the nerve to start a blog, I am going to begin by being outrageously self-revelatory; any readers ought at least to know what they're getting into.

I am a person of ferocious ambition. I'm a writer, so there's no way around that: anyone who writes, at least anyone who writes for an audience (and that's most of us), must have the outrageous audacity to suppose that others will put time and perhaps even mental effort into reading her or his outpourings. Time is the most precious commodity to most people, and writers want to take a lot of it. I started my writing career (if what I have can be called a career) as a poet, and had some success with that; I was even one of the six featured readers at the 1974 Portland Poetry Festival, alongside Marge Piercy and other poetic luminaries, and was published in at least one magazine of national reputation, Poetry Northwest. For reasons I will probably discuss later, I went from poetry to fiction in the early '80s—and haven't much to show for it: a couple dozen short stories, one published and perhaps one other worth publishing; six novel manuscripts, none published, of which perhaps two may be worth publishing. Though I started in science fiction, I am now a historical novelist, and a recent issue of Historical Novel Review stated that writers need three things to succeed: talent, luck, and persistence. I don't know whether I have any of the first, I have not yet had any of the second, but I know I have plenty of the third. I decided early on that if I did not have any success in my writing career, I would have no other career at all; and I have stuck to that determination for several decades now—one result being that I have not had anything that could be called a career in the usual sense.

What has kept me going all this time without any visible outward success? Ambition; or rather, ambitions. For if I look into myself for the nature of my literary ambition, I find two components to it. There is an ambition to create and share something of beauty and truth; and there is an ambition to be famous, to be acclaimed, and even to be rich—a drive for satisfaction of an insecure ego. The first I am convinced is good; it is a reflection of the creativity of God. The second I am equally convinced is thoroughly evil, indeed demonic, spiritually and psychologically destructive; for it is among my foundational beliefs as a Christian such an ambition is "worldly," an attachment to this world that, if not combated, draws one away from God and one's true self. In this I am guided by my spiritual mentor John of the Cross, who teaches that only by rejecting all such attachments can one attain to union with God.

The problem, of course, is that I cannot neatly separate these two ambitions that drive me. I have always sought to detach myself from the second, but this seems scarcely possible as long as I pursue the first. For it is an inevitable—and to my mind unfortunate—concomitant of any artistic endeavor that success in it will, at least to some small degree, result in the artist becoming known; to communicate (and that is the legitimate purpose of any art), one must have an audience; and so the ego, the false self, or whatever one chooses to call it has the opportunity to gorge itself on the attention this of necessity brings. Even if one creates anonymously, still, to the degree that one's work attracts an audience, one will still have the satisfaction, even if secret, of seeing oneself applauded—or at least gaining some attention.

So I have lately wondered—no, more than wondered, asked myself longingly—whether I should perhaps chuck my literary ambitions altogether and simply enjoy my life as it is. That would bring a number of benefits. First, it would allow me to live entirely in the present. Most of my life, I have lived, even if unwillingly, according to some lines of Pope: "Hope springs eternal in the human breast; man never is, but always to be, blest." That is, I have always looked forward to some future success. What if I gave that all up, and simply took my success as what I have now? For I have a great deal—a loving wife, a wonderful daughter, reasonable financial security, a good place to live—and above all my faith and spirituality, which are there for me even if all else fails. Second, it would be a great help in attaining the detachment I need to further the deepest end of my being: union with God. Third, I could give up what is still a great source of anxiety: the terror of the blank page that I face every morning; and it is a terror in large measure because, for all my struggles to be true to God and my deepest self, there is still so much ego riding on what I am able, or not able, to put down on that page. Fourth, I could do more both for my family and for the people and causes I care about—I would have time both to expand my business (I am self employed) and to give my abilities, such as they are, both to church and to politics. When I think of this, it seems like a great release, a great freedom.

And yet—I am not quite ready. Why not? I think it is not simple egotism—that is, not simply an unwillingness to give up the second ambition (which is of course not likely in any event to be satisfied—even if such a hunger could ever be satisfied—and certainly not the extravagant degree that my more grandiose fantasies presage)—but a real, and, I think, legitimate—desire to fulfill the first ambition: to create something of truth and beauty. At least that is still with me, although I know too that part of my reluctance to give up is sheer stubbornness—even if I ultimately fail, I would rather go down fighting than admit defeat, admit my own inability—and there is a more than a little in that of the attitude Milton attributes to Satan: "better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."

The kicker here, of course, is that I still have no idea whether what I am producing so assiduously is anything of beauty and truth, or if indeed it is readable at all. Going from the rejections from agents (and I have a whole pile of them) is a questionable business—there are so many reasons for agents and publishers to turn work down that no firm conclusion can be drawn from rejection slips. Is the game worth the candle? Is the value of whatever I have created or may create worth the anxiety and distraction this brings to my life? Should I give it up even if I might create something of value? Or is the longing to give up my writing work merely an expression of cowardice or sloth? (I am learning that sloth is more a "besetting sin" with me than I had realized.)

So there it is. It is perhaps somewhat outrageous to begin my blog with what may be no more than a whine. And perhaps blogging is itself merely a drive of the false self, the insatiable ego. Or perhaps someone will find something of value here. In any event, in future I promise more "outward directed" reflections.