Ideology: A Waste of Time

October 27, 2011

Which brings me to the end of ideology. H. L. Mencken remarked in an interview that “The whole country is full of propagandists who are bothering everybody.” I recall my undergraduate days at Columbia University toward the end of the Vietnam War. Several avowed communist groups on campus competed with one another to spread the party line. These ranged from genuine hard-core Maoists to Trotskyites and everything in between. The war was a disaster which lent these characters a degree of credibility. They were running with it.

The campus was in a constant state of flux and hyperventilation, of Sturm und Drang. Nobody was doing any homework. Everybody was racing around, agog with politics.

In the meantime, at the other end of the spectrum, I had founded a short-lived movement called The Douglas MacArthur Society. I still worship MacArthur as a great man and thinker, but in retrospect all these efforts spent upon politics and ideology in my salad days now seem like a horrible waste of time. Many of the student commies at Columbia made the transformation into stockbrokers. For them it was all a mistake, a phase.

Something along these lines may have belatedly occurred to Deng Xiaoping and his associates when they stopped taking Mao and communism seriously and tried instead to advance China in a less artificial way—without drama, murder, and hysteria. In retrospect, the 1989 crackdown at Tiananmen Square was a bump in the road. Without it, Apple would not be manufacturing the iPhone in China. 

At about the same time, similar thoughts must have occurred, out of necessity, to Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin in Moscow. Before ideology strangled humanity to death, it had to be thrown overboard in Russia in favor of reality and what worked.

In this regard, a letter to the editor of the Financial Times dated August 31st is worth noting. I came across it a few hours before discovering the Fowler sisters in the same stack of newspapers. The letter is from a professor at the University of California:

As a visitor to Moscow in June 1983…in an academic conference, the only question was whether the bear would go down quietly or otherwise. The shops were empty; the lines were long; the people were despondent; there was only ice-cold water to bathe in at the hotel of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The decay from within was obvious. And the Leninist babble that our Russian colleagues were obligated to espouse somewhere in their talks, no matter how irrelevant, was clearly just that: an obligation, not a belief. The system was indisputably unsustainable.

All this misery and wasted energy because of a misbegotten idea from an intelligentsia too arrogant, misguided, and hateful to think clearly. That is the epitaph for the age of “socialist” and Marxist ideas that roughly covers the past hundred and fifty years. It’s over.

Henceforth, my solution is to not think at all, but rather to go on instinct. With rare exceptions, the fashion layouts are more significant than the written page. We should rejoice in the fact that, as bad as things may be with the economy, they could be far worse. The grocery stores and pharmacies are still amazingly well-stocked. School is out. Don’t waste your time. For starters, go watch the latest video from Elle and Blair.


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