News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Review of Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts about the Sixties -- by Peter Collier and David Horowitz
Life is a comedy for those who think, and a tragedy for those who feel - Anonymous
This book contrasts well with Paul Johnson's Intellectuals, and both are highly recommended. Johnson lays down a history of mostly European left-wing intellectuals and the hype, intellectual dishonesty, and rhetoric employed either to maximize opportunities for spare change; or to co-opt well-meaning folks looking for a safe cause to wrestle and the opportunity to ride herd with the downtrodden and oppressed, poke their busybody noses into their business and otherwise have an excuse to themselves downtread and oppress them. In other words, the typical left-liberal power-grab: cloaking oneself in the Messiah complex, liberating one's ego and libido, and going for broke while the going's good.

Destructive Generation offers telling anecdote-filled histories of the germination and flowering of several United States West Coast radicals and radical groups during the 1960s. Interestingly, rather than show the European or East Indian facility for generating lush personalized worldviews complete with ideologies, mantras, and sacraments, the more natural West Coast tribe proves a blank in this regard.
Indeed, West Coast leading radicals prove to be no more than a herd of West Coast avant-garde followers, filching ideas from Marx and French Marxist thinkers and then setting up what George Orwell called smelly little orthodoxies. In other words, more proof positive that they were followers by instinct and intensely conservative, and thus mental blanks through and through.

As if more proof were needed, these ideologues, though they themselves proved very adept with getting their minds around nonsense and swallowing it whole-hog and wholeheartedly, and though finding that parroting was an underrated talent, discovered unluckily that proselytizing and otherwise seducing the intellects of others was something that God hadn't cut them out for. As a result of this congenital incompetence, rather than pursue the doomed cause of spreading the Good News, worrying up apostates, and calming them down with conversion to the Cause, they found themselves forced to adopt somewhat more primitive means and adapting themselves to the virtues of the short-cut: i.e. murder, extortion, bombings, and, climbing further back up the tree, fashion statements, sexual politics, talking points, college yells, and fighting words. In other words, retrograde methods; but methods which happily worked eminently well in the zeitgeist of the age: the junior high school playground and gang banger crowd.
As a dissatisfied youth living in the sticks, I occasionally wondered fondly about growing up in the 1960s, an age of free spirits and free-think. Now better acquainted with the glorious epoch, its wonders and wizards, it seems so tediously familiar and holds no more yesteryear attraction than another night with the homeless in a shelter on a slab of cardboard. Been there, done that.

This book also bulwarks my early suspicion that left-wingers are primarily educated conspiracy-theorists with an overdeveloped will to power and a lack of ideational talent. Life is indeed a comedy for those who think and who can put cause and effect together in an non-judgemental non-moralizing manner; an enlightened can-do contrast to the permanently angry academic left-winger who can't understand why noone listens and views folly without understanding and who only knows with his heart that it's tragic and that those wiseacres who laugh are insensitive and morally unsound.

Left-wing thinkers (and not their attendent herds of groupies) are seemingly without exception hustlers. Rousseau, Marx, Jean-Paul Sartre, Foucault, Noam Chomsky and so forth: clowns with limited talents but overloaded by Providence with a great ambition to distinguish themselves from their fellow equals and who perforce take to a surreptitious cloaking of themselves in the mantle of the Immortal Prophet, cut-and-paste out of hand-me-downs from Moses, Proudhon, and Orwell their own Revelation and Gospel, and then spit on their hands and get down to the shovel and spade work of the lecture tour and the nicer work of engineering movements and deploying the accompanying mobs of fans.

Chapter 1 of this book deals with Fay Stender, West Coast leader-follower cum activist-apostle and legal advocate for down on their luck Bay Area African-Americans. She worked sweatshop fashion year after year generating legal reprieve for mobs of African-American criminals, falling in love with several and shedding a tear for many more. In the end she received her eternal reward via the fantastically high recidivism rate (on par with Norman Mailer's rescue of an African-American political prisoner of the racist US police state, with said dissident within two weeks of his blessed release from the pogey re-adjusting to civilian life via stabbing to death the fellow taking hats and coats at one of Mailer's parties). She was shot five times by the advocate friend of one of her rescued heros and lovers and was left for dead. She survived, but paralyzed from the waist down for the remaining one year of her life, during which time she renounced her efforts to emancipate African-American victims railroaded by racist cops, saying what she had done was utterly mistaken and exhorting others not to repeat her mistakes. At the first chance available, by which I mean at the first opportunity available to clear out from San Francisco and the cop stare of her fellow busybodies, she successfully committed suicide.
At the wake and in the newspaper eulogies, she was praised for her great works. Of course. The mantra of the fanatical right or left: don't let the facts get in the way of important truths.
She offered herself up as an excellent example of how the inferior mind, with a will to power and an overweening ambition for spiritual fulfilment, expresses itself through the prism of the monomaniac and workaholic personality.

Ann Ginger, Fay's lifelong legal colleague and head of the Meikeljohn Institute, says: "She was searching for meaning that was greater than the money she could earn, and greater than the legal principle she could establish. She wanted her life to have meaning, so much so that when her clients did not have as much meaning as she wanted them to have, she endowed them with meaning." The writer Gregory Armstrong, who later worked with Fay on the George Jackson defense, agrees: "She was like others on the Left in those days -- she was very hungry. She was in pursuit of the great dream you'd do anything for."

In pursuit of wish-fulfillment, "Fay was understanding of [the black movement's] feelings because of the legacy of white oppression, Jewish landlords, and that sort of thing. I said, ' I absolutely will not tolerate this. I'm not supporting an organization that's anti-Semitic. There's nothing to understand for my point of view.'" Fay disagreed with equal vigor.

In other words, whatever it takes to get the job done. A white lie here, a dissemble there, an evasion practically everywhere. And of course, that favorite of all masters of rhetoric, the Big Lie and liberal use of the cry McCarthyism! when faced with opponents armed with logic, arguments, history, and other complicated stuff. Given that Fay Stender was unable to defend the conduct of her defendants, she "put the 'system' itself on trial. [Huey] Newton went on the stand and lectured the jury about racism with the disarming earnestness of a young divinity student espousing a muscular Christianity. He told about his past -- how as a high school graduate left illiterate by his education he taught himself to read out of a dog-eared copy of Plato's Republic [Biff - pure chutzpah comedy, and yet it was so truly believed...]; how he recruited former street criminals for his political movement. He and [another member of the legal team] fashioned for the trial a persona that resembled a contemporary Frederick Douglass. Within months, Newton had become a cult figure, whose poster in black beret and leather jacket sitting on an African rattan throne, with a spear in one hand and a rifle in the other, began decorating college dorms all over America.

The 'political defense' Gary and Fay conducted gave perfect expression to the radical viewpoint of the time and became a model for the trials of Angela Davis, the Chicago Seven, and others that followed."
Roberta Brooks is quoted as saying: "They ripped her off on some level, she felt.... She told me that she and Huey Newton had been very close, and then when she saw him at a party after he was released on the basis of her appeal, he didn't even speak to her. Her attitude was, 'Jesus Christ, I sacrificed all those years. I sacrificed spending weekends with my family to go down there to San Luis Obispo to deal with this case, and then I see him in a room and he doesn't speak to me.'"

The ingratitude of the downtrodden? Not hardly surprising. Of course the helped often resent their benefactor. After all, we're all social animals and climbers. First of all, the down and out habitually express hostility as a street survival skill. Secondly, once helped up, the benefactor ends up getting in the way of further progress. They become a competitor and a familiar one at that; and there's nothing like familiarity to breed contempt in those habituated to the dog eat dog world of the mean streets. Thirdly, the benefactor becomes an embarrassing witness who can testify to the former low state of the helped.

And fourthly, since the end of WWII, poverty, whether at the level of the individual or the state, is almost always the result of retrograde psychology and has next to nothing to do with the limitations of the physical environment. Someone who is chronically down and out, a member of the so-called oppressed classes, is in fact someone incompetent with moving up in the world. Nobody's keeping them down. They usually suffer from such things as inappropriate parental guidance as a child (ex: the Third World) or bungled brain chemistry. Either way, they lack self-discipline and an understanding of reciprocity, amongst other things. In both cases, if the person is already an adult, they're virtually incurable; either because of the near-impossibility of teaching an adult anything requiring a new perspective or because of bad brain chemistry which expresses itself sooner or later as criminal insanity.

But back to Huey Newton, his reaction was simply a mirror image of Rousseau and Karl Marx, both of whom showed little gratitude for the generous monies donated to them. Rousseau was the one with the social skills and he went whole hog with them, playing the game to the hilt via reverse psychology. People with a gift for the gab finding themselves in a tight spot end up resorting to this sort of thing sooner or later.

Your humble scribe used to spout the same sort of obnoxious stuff as a teenager and at college. And, I meant it too. I probably still would if I had the temerity to mouth it again today. Or, take a good friend who, when I berated him for being unreliable repaying a loan, accused me of being stupid for relying upon him in the first place. He whined that I had always known he was unreliable. Ergo, he felt perfectly absolved of my charge and free of any obligation to repay me. Clearly, it was my fault for relying upon him. And, when all is said and done, he was right. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. If only the left could commit this adage to memory, so many of the dream-schemes and intellectual short-cuts so beloved of our socialist friends would lose their romance and appeal.

Another right-wing quote the left needs to pay heed to is: "If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you; that is the principal difference between a dog and a man."-- Mark Twain

An excellent description of Huey Newton appears in Destructive Generation and is taken from Gregory Armstrong's memoir The Dragon Has Come:

He is young and slender. His face is smooth and unmarked, like a boys. "I'm really pleased to meet you, man. We got a lot to talk about. I got a lot of questions." Everything about him is flashing and shining and glistening and his body seems to ripple like a cats. As he moves forward to take my hand, I literally feel myself being pulled into the vortex of his energy. There's no way I can look away. He gives me a sudden radiant smile of sheer sensual delight, the kind of smile you say for someone you really love. As we take each others' hands, I have a sense of becoming almost a part of his very physical being.

How strikingly unoriginal. Every successful sexual athlete learns this game. Even I learned this game, picking it up from a couple of player-friends after mocking them for years for giving undivided attention to bimbos while on the prowl. But, bimbos (i.e. second-string sexual predators with a monomania for bagging life-long meal tickets, but who lack the charisma or wherewithal to generate attention on their own) eat up attention when given undivided to them.

As Paul Johnson writes about another highly prominent, well-paid, well served, and well-regarded member of the downtrodden classes: Most people are resistant to ideas, especially new ones. But they're fascinated by character.... As part of his technique for securing publicity, attention and favor, Rousseau, who was no mean psychologist, made a positive virtue of that most repellent of vices, ingratitude. To him it seemed no fault. While professing spontaneity, he was in fact a calculating man; and since he persuaded himself that he was, quite literally, the best of moral human beings, it followed logically that others were even more calculating, and from worse motives, than he was. Hence in any dealings with him, they would seek to take advantage, and he must outwit them. The basis on which he negotiated with others, therefore, was quite simple: they gave, he took. He bolstered this by an audacious argument: because of his uniqueness, anyone who helped him was in fact doing a favor to himself.

Been there, done that too.

Huey Newton was more but also much less than Rousseau. He's more 'fairly' compared with Michael X., who V. S. Naipaul described as "a typical Trinidad conman." Also interesting is Naipaul's description of Gail Benson, an ofay American do-gooder who swooped down to the Caribbean to assist post-colonial darkies rid themselves of The Man, the Great White Oppressor. As with Fay Stender, she also was fetched up to Glory via trying to lift up the oppressed. In the case of Gail Benson, she was knifed to death in a Trinidad commune. Naipaul's assessment of her was: "as shallow and vain and parasitic as many middle-class dropouts of her time; she became as corrupt as her master; she was part of the corruption by which she was destroyed."

To her credit, Mother Theresa, a vastly superior craftsperson, a virtuoso of the craft of lifting spare change, never made this sort of mistake, and always sought audiences with oppressors (Lady Di, the Duvalier despots of Haiti, millionaire stock brokers in the dock, etc.). Mother died of old age with all the medical hi-tech conveniences at her disposal that she denied her charges. Mother may not have been adventurous and glamorous but she certainly showed common sense in her running of a sturdy business empire and in the generation of an indestructable corporate image.

Anyway, each chapter of this book could launch an essay from these gabby lips. Even David Horowitz shines. He's persuasive and thought-provoking while commenting on his apostasy and pilgrimage to the right. I wish I could say the same for many of his rants at and his smug appearances on Either way, an excellent accompaniment to Paul Johnson's Intellectuals...

Biff Cappuccino

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:20 PM

    wow, "The ingratitude of the downtrodden? Not hardly surprising. Of course the helped often resent their benefactor. After all, we're all social animals and climbers. First of all, the down and out habitually express hostility as a street survival skill. Secondly, once helped up, the benefactor ends up getting in the way of further progress. They become a competitor and a familiar one at that; and there's nothing like familiarity to breed contempt in those habituated to the dog eat dog world of the mean streets. Thirdly, the benefactor becomes an embarrassing witness who can testify to the former low state of the helped."
    - maybe i'm only 16, but thats the most calculated, cold-hearted thing i've ever heard