Talk Radio: By Jeff Golden
Karl Marx was said to be demoralized at the end of his life, certain that he'd made no real mark on the world and would never be remembered. He was wrong. One hundred and twenty-five years after his death, Marx pops up regularly on political forums of every stripe. He showed up right here a few days ago in the wake of last Saturday's column, which one reader branded "Self-righteous Marxist deconstructionism masquerading as relevant commentary." A second reader mentioned not Marx's name but his legacy — or what some take to be his legacy: "People do not want to be forced to live like the commies want them to."
So just which article of Marxist dogma was last week's column pushing? Well, I was trying out the notion of the "shtipoof" (and jockeying for credit if it ever gets approved by word-approvers as a new word), which stands for Stupid Habit That Isn't Part Of Our Future. These are consumption and lifestyle habits that no species aware of their planet's limits would intentionally design; they grew up around us over time, and they may be the low-hanging fruit for adapting to sparser times ahead.
I chose our basic transportation habits as an example: "There are roughly 250 million cars and trucks on U.S. roads. Each day most of us climb into one of them and propel its one-to-three ton mass down the road by vaporizing gallons of a substance so prized that we send out armies to kill and be killed for it. We usually burn up this fuel all by ourselves, with one to eight empty seats around us. And most often we do it immediately in front of, in back of and next to others who are burning the same precious fuel to move other heavy, mostly empty steel boxes down the road, often to places very close to where we happen to be going. At certain times of day in the Rogue Valley, and most of the day in some urban areas, we spend almost as much time burning this fuel while idling at a dead stop as we do actually traveling. Which is to say that in the process of going nowhere at all, we're converting millions of gallons of fuel every day into noxious vapors, greenhouse gases and additional pressure to mine the planet and roll tanks into other countries."
I mentioned Ashland's new CarShare program (www.ashlandcarshare.org) as one alternative for getting us from Point A to Point B.
That was the Self-righteous Marxist deconstructionism masquerading as relevant commentary.
My first reaction to this comment was simple: What a jerk. And maybe I'd prove with a follow-up column, one that nobly avoided name-calling (to demonstrate that I'm not a jerk). I'd take a second crack at persuading whoever didn't get it the first time that our national one car/one driver really is wildly unsuited to our future. Your basic I'm right/he's wrong, made easier by the fact they give me many more words then commenters get. I'd get up from the keyboard with a smug smile, readers who agree with me would nod their heads, and the anti-"communist" commenters would — well, I don't know what they'd do, but it wouldn't involve any new thinking. All of which accomplishes not much. Or I could use the rest of this space to speculate on what old Marx would have to say about 21st Century traffic, or on what Marxism is and isn't, but that doesn't grab me either.
Instead I have a question. Assuming that the Marxism comment is serious and not a Stephen Colbert-esque parody of online political chats, what is going on here? Is it just a matter of a couple of readers who don't buy the premise, who believe that we can keep driving our private multi-ton cars all by ourselves wherever we want, whenever we want, as far into the future as we want? If so, I want to hear more from them; they see something I don't, and I want to know what it is. But I think something else is in play. Anger? Fear? If that sounds dismissive or off-point, let me ask again: What's going on here?
Here's why I care. We're shackled to entrenched systems that don't work, and the weight is pulling us under. The massive political will needed to break those shackles will develop only if voting Americans speak with more clarity, insistence and unity than we ever have before. Just how likely is that, if we can't handle a challenge to our car habits without exhuming Karl Marx?
What do you think?
Jeff Golden is the author of "As If We Were Grownups," "Forest Blood" and the new novel "Unafraid" (with excerpts at www.unafraidthebook.com)