The Moment of Truth — April 11, 1998

Gandhi, Same Shape Of Leading

Hi. I’m mejeffdorchen. Welcome to the moment of truth. The moment of radio commentary that shines like a gem from out of the pall of prevarication, manipulation and exploitation that make up the capitalist broadcast day.

Gandhi called his nonviolent political actions, "Experiments with the truth." That was all very nice for him, of course. He wasn’t on the front lines getting his head bashed in. Not that he never took a few lumps. Just that he eventually decided it was more important for him to be the leader of his movement than it was to set an example of equality. It must have been a weird decision for him. It probably wasn’t made entirely with an alert, rational mind. It was undoubtedly a little deal with the devil he made inside himself. The kind of deal we all make in our self-interest, because living a perfectly selfless life is impossible – at least under capitalism.

Still, Gandhi was willing to experiment with the social contract in ways that seem almost insane – certainly counter-intuitive in a world whose history is the history of war. He was the Picasso of politics. Yet he chose not to experiment with the social contract of his own organization. The command system he employed was hardly an innovation over that used in the military centuries of ancient Rome. The structural role he played vis-à-vis his organization was identical to that which Napoleon Bonaparte played vis-à-vis his.

Picasso himself, who in 1907 defied the limits of visual art with his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, wasn’t defiant enough to relinquish his privileged social relationship with the canvas and his audience. He was, like all artists before him, to be the genius author of his art. The medieval artist Albrecht Durer is sometimes considered the first in a long line of this type of celebrity, the first genius artist, author of his art, master of his tools, his mind, his body, and his craft. And however revolutionary Picasso’s esthetic might have been, the social position he occupied was no different from its archaic medieval counterpart. Artistically Picasso announced the twentieth century. Socially he remained in the middle ages.

I say this merely because it’s not often pointed out. In fact, in the capitalist broadcast universe it’s NEVER pointed out, because number one: it’s a complex and subtle idea; and number two: it’s true, and as we all should know by now, the truth is never broadcast on the capitalist frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum, because the truth cannot be bought, processed, packaged or sold.

It’s hard to even express. You can say, "Hey, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves." This statement is supposed to carry some meaning with it. It’s supposed to be a critique of mainstream America’s idealistic image of its origins. But as a statement without context it invites two very simplistic responses: Jefferson was a racist and a hypocrite and the worth of anything he contributed toward so-called Democracy is therefore highly suspect; or: Well, okay, so he owned slaves, well, that’s bad but that doesn’t negate his achievements.

Both statements raise valid points, but neither addresses the issue of an original thinker purposely limiting the originality of his thinking when applying it to his social privilege. Thomas Jefferson wasn’t a stupid person. He didn’t lack imagination. He could think outside the parameters of the status quo of social acceptability. But when it came to the question of his owning human beings, he chose to remain unoriginal.

Each of these examples: Gandhi, Picasso, Jefferson – has its own idiosyncrasies, its own peculiar contextual forces pushing and pulling at the core conflict between originality and self-retardation. But maybe they all have something in common. I wonder what force, if any exists and can be discovered and named, is present when a talented person declines to apply his or her talent to his or her own position of social privilege.

I don’t have an answer to this or even a punchline. I just want to ask everyone out there in that strange and wild country known as radioland to think about it this week. Notice someone whom you admire for one or another reason – not someone in your personal life, but someone who is separated from you by the invisible barrier of fame. Notice that person, that public figure, that celebrity, that guru, that athlete, that artist, that revolutionary. Then think about why you know who they are. Where do you get your news about them? Think about there position in society. How do they claim credit for the things they do? What kind of economic privileges do they have? Who do they have economic power over?

Then ask yourself this: what do they have to care about in order to remain in the social position they occupy?

And if you have time to daydream a little, just try pondering for a while the question: why do they care about that?

I’ll be doing the same. Let’s meet back here next week and compare notes. Until then this has been the Moment of Truth. I’m mejeffdorchen. Join me hear every Saturday on National Beer Presents This Is Hell with your host Chuck Mertz, right here on WNUR 89.3 Chicago’s sound experiment.