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7/11/20

True Confessions

     I used to be a Socialist.  Well, sort of anyway.  As much of a socialist as an 18 year old in the middle of Mississippi in 1970 with a brand new high school diploma could be.  There I was with my long hair, bell bottoms, new saxophone and a hastily developed attitude of moral superiority that seemed to grow with every day that went by.  My circadian rhythms were completely backwards because on weekends I usually went to bed around 4 or 5 am and slept till 3 or 4 in the afternoon because most of the stuff I was interested in being a part of was happening at night. Especially Friday and Saturday nights.  Mama said that nothing good ever happened after 10 pm, and she was probably aware that at that age “nothing good” was exactly what I was on the lookout for. My parents had been pretty strict, but I had worn them down over the years and when I turned 18 or so they were used to me being out late playing on the weekends because for better or worse I had decided to change the world through music and that meant late nights in some places they would rather I not be. It wasn’t nearly as glamorous as I made it out to be but at that age it was a taste of freedom I had not known before.

  Woodstock had gone on without me just a couple of years before, and I remember the feelings of frustration when my mother wouldn’t let me take her VW bug to New York to at least try to get there through the traffic and blocked roads.  I mean really, I had been driving for over a year and I told her I would be careful and we all knew that bad stuff only happened to other people, so what was her problem anyway?  I had, as much as possible in the center of Mississippi, developed what I later described as a semi-hippie attitude to go along with my semi-hippie attire (including bell bottom fringe and worn sandals), and money wasn’t really an issue because I had no bills. The $40-50 a week I made being a rock and roll star covered my expenses pretty well, and Mama made sure I had plenty to eat. Daddy had threatened to charge me for sleeping and eating in his house but hadn’t gotten to that point yet.

     I had convinced myself, with teenage assurity, that I had an enormous number of solutions to societal problems but couldn’t seem to get anyone to ask me the questions that would allow those solutions suitable widespread presentation and implementation. It probably didn’t help my case or my presentation that I considered my mere presence as beneficial to both my family and the world, and seldom suffered from the self doubt and lack of assurance that I read about in books. Like most teenagers, though, I wasn’t politically active because politics was an ugly game, and because my parents wouldn’t even consider letting me participate in demonstrations and protests.

     I was also convinced that LBJ’s Great Society was a good thing, and that giving money to everyone that needed it was part of responsible government policy. That was before I found out that a lot of the money they were giving away was going to come from my paycheck. I spent a summer driving a forklift and stacking plywood at a company in Oxford in between rock bands, and I was at first convinced there had been a processing mistake with how much the government took of my weekly check and, after learning that “no, young man, there’s no mistake” from the company bookkeeper, astounded but resigned to the fact that this legalized appropriation was the price of being allowed to work. That was pretty much the moment I began to believe that maybe socialism wasn’t such a great idea after all.

     A lot of my ideas about how things should work had come from sitting around late at night with friends and colleagues in college dorm rooms or off campus housing discussing politics and religion and monetary theory in great depth and detail.  We were all completely inexperienced in practical applications of pretty much anything, but without exception sure of the purity and purpose of our intentions and convictions. Our teachers encouraged us to question things, and we had no trouble following their lead. We were all convinced that “the man” was screwing things up and we could show him (them?) how to fix it all just as soon as we got into a management position...like maybe after working a year or two first.

     We did read a lot about different forms of government; you know, like plutocracy, republic, democracy, theocracy, Marxist, Socialist, dictatorship and Disney, and decided that maybe labels weren’t  a good thing, and that we could all get along if we just all believed in love and gave peace a chance...man. As I got a little older and had to start working full time in order to eat and have electricity and a car and gas - you know the pattern - I started reading things that I wanted to know about instead of stuff I had to read for a grade. One interesting comment that stuck out for me was attributed to William Casey to the effect of “a man at 20 who is not a Socialist has no heart, and a man at 40 who is a Socialist has no brain.” 

     Socialism is an idealistic theory that can’t function effectively in reality because it fails -actually ignores - the fact that all humans are fallible, and when given choices between self interests or altruism will eventually, given enough opportunities, succumb and choose self interest.  Once someone in charge decides they deserve a little extra the whole theory reveals itself as the house of cards it is, the supporting idealism falls by the side of the road and life becomes pretty miserable for everyone except those at the top.  Time and time again history repeats itself, but then someone always says “yeah, but this time will be different” but it never is. Like Yosemite Sam once observed “people is dumber than anybody.”

     One of the other strange things I discovered about Socialists is they never seem to want to give their own money away, but have no qualms or compunctions whatsoever about freely distributing yours.  I learned in elementary school that effective leaders modeled the behavior they wanted others to display.  If that’s true for Socialists, why does Bernie have 3 houses and make millions of dollars? Why do Alexandria and Ilhan not distribute their funds to hospitals or the poor and needy? Could it be that their goal is only Socialism if they get to be in charge of distributing other people’s money? There used to be a kid in our neighborhood like that.  We weren’t allowed to use his football unless we played by his rules that he made up as the game went along. We only played that game once, and never fell for it again. Seems to me that the history of Socialism is full of examples just like the kid that owned the football and made his own rules and always rigged the game to his advantage.  It’s a pretty good deal if you’re the one in charge and not doing without food and electricity and toilet paper or having to eat your neighbor’s pet, but not much fun for anybody else. I must also admit to being a little confused as to why they would want to tear down a system that allowed them to rise to their current positions.  I mean really, isn’t being a representative for your state a pretty significant step up from bar tender or unemployed refugee? Would scrapping a system that not only allowed but encouraged that much upward mobility be a good thing?

     Strangely enough, though, as time went on the more money I made the more money I noticed being taken out of my checks and the less convinced I became that other people deserved part of it without my input.  This gradual change in my belief system coincided, strangely enough, with the addition of experience and maturity, and while neither expanded to the extent I might have hoped I have managed to live longer than I ever expected to, so there’s that.  Now don’t misunderstand - we pay taxes and give money and goods to charities of all types, but we choose those charities and how much of our income we distribute. Taxes are pretty arbitrary, but I look at them as a necessary cost of doing business, and pretty much balanced out by being born in America.

     I also have noted similarities in my attitudes and idealism and beliefs at 18 and those who call themselves socialists today.  Very few have any work experience, very few are contributing members of society, even fewer actually pay the taxes they are willing to designate for free this and free that and the current “if you live here you deserve someone else’s money” programs, and most seem convinced, as I was then, that the way to change a light bulb is to stand on a ladder, hold the bulb up and wait for the world to revolve around you.

     So maybe the answer to anybody screaming about the unfairness of capitalism is to let them have their little socialism fantasies for the 4 or 5 years of college and wait until they graduate or flunk out and have to get a job and life changes their mind. Perhaps they should have the privilege of living in a socialist country for a year or two just to reap a little bit of what they are trying to sow. Maybe while they’re at it they could pay for all the stuff they broke while having their little tantrums about having their way or holding their breath until they turn blue. Like the little kid having the tantrum in the grocery store, the only way they can win is if nobody steps in to be the parent and just gives them what they want to make them stop. Mama had a saying for that situation too. “If you don’t correct it, you are teaching it.” These tantrums are the height of selfishness and juvenile behavior, and need to be corrected. Immediately. Somebody has to be the adult around here. It’s probably too late to teach them what it means to get the switch they’re gonna get used on them, but somebody has to stand up and tell them no...and mean it. I don’t think timeout is going to work at this point.


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