Monday, October 27, 2008

Say the Word . . .

Remember the Beatles song that had the lyrics "say the word love"? Although I didn't know it at the time, the song was arranged as a Gospel tune (perhaps faux Gospel would be a more apt description). In these waning days of the almost-eternal U.S. presidential election, we now hear several variations on this chorus (i.e., mantra); one of them is "say the word socialism." Hearing the word socialism, we are supposed to make a face of horror, like Macaulay Culkin in "Home Alone," scream, grab our wallet or purse, reach for a weapon of minor destruction (rifle or pistol), and call 911, not necessarily in that order. When we hear socialism, we are supposed to conjure up sepia tone images from newsreels of the Stasi and East Germany and the color gray (spelled g-r-e-y in the welfare state of the U.K. until Margaret Thatcher "cleaned things up" -- so goes the neocon mythology) or listless mine workers or assembly line drones or alcoholic couch potatoes living in cement blocks or Quonset huts or Swedes sitting around, well, looking blond and bored. Of course, if you mean distribution of wealth, a more genteel term, you have the uber-capitalist Adam Smith (no relation to Anna Nicole Smith, that I know of) backing you up as well as the entire history of the Internal Revenue Service code. You can look it up. No, the word socialism is pink-baiting, meant to scare, meant to bring fears of The Other (although Those Others in, say, European socialist countries did not start this mess), meant to thump one's capitalist chest. Well, um, comrades, the words capitalist and socialist -- whatever they said in the textbooks or dictionaries -- just got a rewrite inthe last several weeks. They mean zero, zilch, in traditional terms, unless you are pressing an emotional hot button. They mean n-o-t-h-i-n-g. Unless you are into good, old-fashioned political propaganda (but at least admit it and then enjoy the ride).

Oh, we have a word for that button-pressing: demagoguery. (I learned the word, long ago, from William F. Buckley, Jr., the recently deceased high priest of American conservatism.)

While we're on the subject, Catholic voters are hereby reminded that popes have repeatedly warned of the dangers of pure capitalism or pure socialism. That's my point: they don't exist. Except in Utopia. And I remind you that Utopia, as expressed in Thomas More's wonderful satire, is Greek for "nowhere."

There are some other choruses that we are tirelessly hearing. One of them is "lower taxes." It is trite. Do I want more money in my pockets? Of course I do! After all, I live in highly taxed New York State. Is our money wasted? Yes. Are there "earmarks"? Indeed. And everyone loves the bacon when it comes to their district. Then Congress is doing a great job! But I ask you: where is the end of that arc? No taxes? none? All money kept by solipsistic me me me me? People in California may recall Proposition 13 about 30 years ago. They got lower taxes. Then they cried because the library was closed two days a week or because health care was not available at a public hospital or the DMV was closed every other day, et cetera ad nauseam.

Now, "Say the word endum," um, sort of like addendum, but not quite.

3 comments:

Ralph said...

I love that song...one of John's best! Rubber Soul was the first LP we kids had in our house in 1967. I still like it, and that song...

The political eason is wearing on me like a ton of bricks. I have my choice, for valid reasond. However, I refuse to deal with one word answers or invective. Even though it is all around me...

Anonymous said...

"Utopia" means "an ideally perfect place," not "nowhere."

Perhaps you're thinking of "Erewhon," a backward spelling of "nowhere" (except for the transposition of the letters "w" and "h"). It's the title of a book by Samuel Butler.

I've never read either of these books, so I'm not trying to be snotty. Just thought you would like to know.

Anonymous said...

from the Online Etymology Dictionary: utopia: 1551, from Mod.L. Utopia, lit. "nowhere," coined by Thomas More (and used as title of his book, 1516, about an imaginary island enjoying perfect legal, social, and political systems), from Gk. ou "not" + topos "place." Extended to "any perfect place," 1613. Utopian originally meant "having no known location" (1609); sense of "impossibly visionary, ideal" is from 1621; as a noun meaning "visionary idealist" it is first recorded c.1873 (earlier in this sense was utopiast, 1854).