Friday, October 25, 2013
I woke up to the cold this morning -- the first real cold of the season, made worse by my refusing to close the windows yet. I am reluctant to admit defeat about anything, even to surrender to a change of season. Although when I surrender, I surrender completely.
The brisk wakening, however, brought back images of life in my cold water flat in Passaic, and the struggle for survival each change of season actually meant. My friends – a pack of artists who accidently created an artist’s colony in the middle of the ghetto by moving into one small apartment complex – all resisted turning on the heat until the last possible moment. Heat was a gas burner installed on the side of a very old fashioned stove, the bill for which sometimes equaled the monthly rent. We set artificial dates when we would turn on the heat as our official change of season, doing all we could to stay warm until that date popped up. Some of us, even resisted turning the heat on after that, though the threat of frostbite generally forced our capitulation.
Because I earned the least and because I am stubborn to a fault, I generally was last to give in.
But it was a good fight to me, one that made sense, refusing to let greedy utilities further impoverish honest hard-working poor people or artists.
This tendency spilled over into every part of my life, often to my own detriment, my refusing to let powerful entities push people around, or to let exploiters get away with their schemes. I was always known for throwing a monkey wrench into the works, making sure that if the small guy couldn’t win, neither did the oppressor.
Right and wrong, fair and unfair, matter because civilization is based on the belief that everybody gets their turn.
Marxism and communism weren’t destroyed by military might. They were eroded from within as capitalism’s worst features of cheating sank into the leadership, and exploited the worst feature of humanity: this need for some people to get ahead over other people by any means possible.
It is one thing to earn a place in society, it is another to climb over the backs of others to get there.
I’ve spent my life making certain that exploiters don’t win.
Of course, some battles are unwinnable. And some methods of conflict turn good guys into bad guys.
That’s the problem with terrorists, whether they be the Weather Underground I knew intimately in my younger days, or the groups that rise up now: Once they adopt evil methods, they become evil, regardless of how noble their cause.
So I might freeze to death because I won’t turn on the heat, and may become a permanent outsider. But as another Marx, Groucho, once pointed out (probably paraphrasing Mark Twain), I wouldn’t belong to any group that would have me as a member – meaning, I would lose my dignity and self-respect doing what it would be necessary to find acceptance.
Being part of an in group matters far less to be than being able to live inside myself.
Of course, I might make matters a little better if I closed the windows.