A Good Trip to the Left Coast

by Rich Rubenstein on January 27, 2011 · 1 comment

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Earlier this month I spent three days in and around Los Angeles, talking to audiences about REASONS TO KILL and seeing the sights.  Temperature: 82 F., with a few milky clouds scattered unobtrusively about.  T-shirt-and-shorts weather, with the whole world seemingly outside.  A friend who had grown up in Palos Verdes took me to Santa Monica Bay to see Easterners looking for mansions and Californians looking for whales.  Ate fishburgers in Redondo Beach.  Checked out Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wayfarer’s Chapel: nice work, Frank!  Flew back to DC and landed in an ice storm.  Ah well . . . .

The book talks were especially rewarding, at least for me.  (A tape of the gig at Vroman’s great book store in Pasadena will be posted on this site shortly.)  Performing at  the Steve Allen Theater in East Hollywood was a real kick, since the skeptical, humane, multi-talented, and funny Mr. Allen is one of my all-time heroes.  (“If there is a God,” said Allen, “the phrase that must disgust him most is ‘Holy War’.”) The Center for Inquiry sponsored that talk, and audience members asked the sort of questions that make you want to write a sequel.

At one point, for example, I was talking about conscription — about how the Vietnam War taught war-makers to try to minimize dissent by eliminating the draft.  I was carrying on about the importance of today’s all-volunteer military when a hand shot up.

“Yes?”  I pointed to a man near the rear of the theater.

“Now we have an economic draft.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that we don’t call people up to serve in the armed forces any more.  We just make sure that there are no other jobs for them to do and no other way to pay for their education or their medical expenses, so they have to go in.  And they call that “volunteering”!

If there is a second edition of my book, that statement goes in — in caps!

Another example: I had spoken about our tendency to identify troops fighting abroad, even those who have no business occupying some other country, with the whole American people, so that we consider any attack on them to be an attack on all of us.  When this happens, I said, the distinction between aggression and self-defense is washed away, and patriotism becomes infected by the racist idea that an American life is worth 100 times more than the life of any “native.”

Another hand waved — this one belonging to a woman more or less my age.

“But isn’t this really a form of team spirit?” she asked.

I looked at her questioningly, and she continued.

“I think we are taught to identify so strongly with the sports teams that represent our school, or city, or country that we think it is we who are out there on the field, and they who are trying to defeat us.'”

Yes, I finally answered, there is something to this.  Maybe this is one reason that sports events have become the sites for the most grotesque displays of militaristic patriotism, from flag-waving introductions of troops at the start of the game to fighter overflights at halftime.  I told the questioner, though, not to make too much of the idea, since there are lots of folks around the world who go crazy for their soccer or basketball team without becoming militarists.  But only yesterday a British friend of mine who is a great expert on European fascism informed me that fascists over there often recruit their street-fighters from the ranks of the soccer hooligans!

Hmmmm, indeed.

The best thing about running around the country promoting a book is that you actually learn something from audience members.  Maybe next time I’ll do the promotion first and then write the book.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ryan Black January 28, 2011 at 4:36 pm

“Maybe this is one reason that sports events have become the sites for the most grotesque displays of militaristic patriotism…”

And that same militaristic patriotism is brought into elections and campaigning by both the media and the candidates. They tend to focus more on WHO is winning, instead of who has the most comprehensive plans to solve problems. I mean literally, the GOP just took the house on a platform based on decreased spending and lowering the national debt – and yet, I haven’t heard of a single program they plan to cut. Not before the elections and not after…


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