Thursday, December 7, 2006

A Strained Homonym

I guess that you could say that I've always had an issue with capitals.

My name, for example -- I haven't capitalized it since I was sixteen years old. The affectation started with an obsession with e. e. cummings, a pretentious act of adolescent rebellion, the linguistic equivalent of dying one's hair green. When I entered show business, it struck me that a memorable quirk could be professionally advantageous -- so I hung onto it. (Besides, I suppose that I have some objection to my name being classified as a proper noun. There ain't nothin' proper about me, thank you very much.)

Likewise, I've never had much fondness for capitols, either, those industry towns whose industry happens to be the government. I infinitely prefer the bustling nightlife and exuberant cultural scene of Minneapolis to the staid, static wasteland that is St. Paul. I've always distrusted the consolodation of power.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that those are both reasons why I've long resisted making the jump from being a small-"l" libertarian to a large-"L" party supporter. While I align myself with them philosophically -- I find their platform to be just about the most coherent and ethical political ideology I've ever encountered -- I was never quite able to bring myself to join up.

Ironically, one of the main forces that led me to the party -- a profound distrust of authority -- is also one of the things that's kept me from signing on the dotted line. I'm not a joiner by nature. I'm too damned stubborn, too damned skeptical, and Lord knows I've been burned too goddamned many times by just about every organization I've aligned myself with, religious, political, or professional. I mean, Christ, I supported the Democrats for most of my teen years, and that didn't exactly have stellar results.

There's a professional concern, too. I've commented that the greatest casualty of 9-11 was decent comedy writing, as countless skilled comedians eschewed punchlines in favor of trying to re-invent themselves as tiresome political pundits. I've come to believe that my status as an outsider has been advantageous to me as an artist -- since I'm not invested in either of the two major political parties, I'm free to heckle both from the sidelines. Once you swear yourself to an Absolute Truth, you lose some of your unpredictability, some of your effectiveness, some of your, dare I say it, individuality -- not to mention taking the first tiny step to becoming a dictator yourself.

But this afternoon, I finally signed up. Why?

Well, a number of reasons. It's true that I'm in agreement with the bulk of their philosophy, but more importantly, they're in agreement with mine. It's not that I read the literature and tried to conform my opinions to theirs, it's that I read the literature and realized that they were saying things that I'd been thinking -- not to mention writing about, and performing -- for years. There's also the fact that we're coming off of midterm election season, and that's always a pretty emotional time for me. But I think the greatest reason is my return from three countries (or two, or one, depending on how you define it) -- Taiwan, Hong Kong, and, most notably, China.

Seeing China up close was a -- troubling experience. Of course, there were the obvious things -- the state-sponsored propaganda, the omnipresence of the police -- but what really disturbed me, I think, was how effectively they were able to put up a smiling face -- that I could be sitting at a table with men and women earnestly discussing the failure of capitalism of democracy.

On November 24, the day I left, Wan Yanhai, the country's leading AIDS activist, disappeared under mysterious circumstances -- almost certainly murdered by the police. The thing is, within the country itself, I would have had absolutely no way of knowing about this -- it was only after I left that I found it reported. And that's just one destroyed life among many.

It's been correctly ascertained that China is now a Communist country in name only. Their leadership was able to realize that that path would lead them to certain economic self-destruction. So we're seeing the rise of private enterprise, under the control of an authoritarian government. Stalin coined a term for that merger of state and corporate power -- he called it corporatism.

But in the West, we had a different name for it. We called it fascism, and in its day, it nearly brought the free world to its knees.

One of my fellow Minnesotans, Sinclair Lewis, famously said "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." Now our reliance on a two-party system has left our government vulnerable to a takeover by religious fundamentalists. This is one of the most alarming -- not to mention unprecedented -- events in our political history.

I'm equally alarmed by the rise of the religious left, who are trying to adopt the language and tactics of their opposition, apparently dismissing Christ's injunction to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, render unto God that which is God's" -- perhaps the most eloquent call for the separation of church and state in history. The first priority of Jesus of Nazareth was saving souls (in fact, as I recall it, he was crucified in part for his refusal to enter the politics of the day). He urged men to give of themselves to the poor, because it was spiritually good for them to do so. He did not urge men to create a government that would forcibly redistribute other people's wealth amongst the populace.

So why did I join the party? And why am I writing this blog? In part, because I've come to realize how small I am in relation to that, how limited I am as a single voice -- and, perhaps, a foolish desire to measure myself against the rising darkness of our time. I recognize that you can't fight collectivism with collectivism. But that doesn't mean that you have to stand alone.

I believe that the key question of all politics was posed nearly two thousand years ago, by a satirist named Juvenal: "Quis custodiet ipso custodies?" or, "Who watches the watchmen?" Glancing around at the American political landscape, the answer, I believe, *is* the libertarians. The digital revolution, and the rise of the internet, is changing the way we access information. That's easily the topic of an essay in and of itself, but the point is that voices that have traditionally gone unheard are gaining a larger and larger audience.

I'm still struggling to figure out what my role in contemporary politics is. Even if the nature of military life wasn't in diametric opposition to my disposition, my physical disability would presumably keep me from the battlefield. I know myself too well to believe that I could ever pose as a credible electoral candidate. It's true that I have certain abilities, and that most of my work has an expressly political subtext (not to mention, something of an overbearing, preachy streak) -- but I find the bulk of explicitly political plays to be offensively condescending. I have no intention of becoming a party shill in my work -- I recognize that that would be both financial and artistic suicide.

I'm still trying to figure it out. But for now, I'll be doing it as a (l/L)ibertarian. Capit(a/o)ls and all.


Lee said...

It's all about filing protest papers; giving that extra digit to the Party for people who hate Parties.

I know long after I am ejected as chair and sink further into being a mean-spirited, doomsaying rational anarchist, I'll still toss my support behind the LP 'til they win (when/if I vote, that is), because it's by far the least of many, many evils.

Or, up until the LP comes 'to power', at which point I'll join a more anarchistic underdog party yet. :)

the good fight, cat.

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