My Political Manifesto , or, "Lookit the Nut Wit' Da Sign!"

The BBC is talking about the death at age 91 of Helen Gavronsky Suzman, apparently the best known Caucasian anti-apartheid activist in South Africa. I've never heard of her before this, but something she said in a recording struck me as so simple and profound that I'd like to attach it to any description of my politics.

It's weird that Americans don't have "politics" the way Europeans do; there's even a bestseller making the rounds about how we vote with our gut and not with our heads. (The thought that our stomachs have a brain almost as powerful as our cerebrum is a scary thought I'll save for a science-fiction story). This is what happens in a culture when schools function as employment agencies for coaches, and you let them teach civics and history as a seat-warming exercise-- before you scoff, I knew at least one high-school librarian who spent his day drawing up football plays.

I was complimented by a French Swiss once and I had to tell him that I really wasn't that smart, but just had the habit (unusual for an American, apparently) of thinking about why I believe what I believe.

Before this, I've been content with Brendan Behan's summary, that I first read at a bar in Chicago: "I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer." This sums up the goals of good government, and implies the need to build a lasting peace (which, despite the chest thumping of warriors, will always be harder to build than war. Emotionally and materially cheaper in the long run, though.)

But there was something missing, that kept this from being a complete political manifesto, at least for me. Behan's phrase tells us what to build, and leaves policy up to us, but doesn't deal with the Problem of Evil, the killer ape within, what Jungians call the Shadow (and for once, I'm not talking about Lamont Cranston). This is the oversight that collapses philosophical anarchism (what do we do with those who won't co-exist peacefully?). James Madison addressed the problem in The Federalist Papers: "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." Our refusal to acknowledge the shadow killed the Sixties just as dead as CIA-sponsored drugs-- the Summer of Love was stabbed to death at Altamont, chopped into pieces by the Manson family, and shoved in a trunk by the Unicorn Killer. What, then, must we do?

I look through my other rule books: Camus, Confucius, Orwell and Paolo Friere, and re-read the political attitudes etched in my bones, in The Once and Future King, Travis McGee and the superheroes, Pogo and Heinlein and Hannah Arendt, Angel and "Rumpole of the Bailey". All these things have shaped my thinking, help me define my moral compass (buy me a Guinness and I'll go on for hours), but there's no simple phase that can fit on a sign and still be understood out of context. Even Travis McGee admits that his own manifesto, a banner embroidered by countless maidens, keeps trailing on the ground and getting stepped on.

Suzman to the rescue this morning, one last note of a grace from a woman I never heard of. Here, then, is the Helen Suzman amendment to the Brendan Behan manifesto. It was a simple answer (with profound implications) to the question of what started her on her long road :

"I hate bullies and I like simple justice."

1 comment:

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

Until the Clinton administration, I had the assumption that all politicians are corrupt in some way,growing up in Chicago allows that cynicism. I never heard of that woman, either, but its a big planet. I recall taking a civics class in 5th grade at Charles Gates Dawes, but I'll be damned if my three nieces have the class on their agenda.