Careers and Propaganda

I haven’t lived the way much of anyone I know has – including my children. Cait has sometimes called about her confusion with what she wants to do, how she earns money, and how those work together. Well, in college and after coming out of college, I seldom (never?) thought about a career, the future, anything beyond the next day or week. I might as well have been Billy Bob sitting on his porch and scratching, not somebody with an Ivy League education.

I don’t relate to careers, never did. I just live (often unhappily, I admit), so I don’t know what to say. I don’t have advice, because I don’t have experience with parental advice, having received little or none myself. I never asked for it, never would have thought of asking for it, never cared what my parents thought about it, never really considered that they thought beyond the immediate.

Also life was quite different in the ’50s and ’60s – not better or easier, but different. When he came up here to give a concert, Geoff Muldaur reminded me, and rightly, that we in the ’60s were blessed with a wandering freedom that’s mostly lost now. But the difference between me and my kids (or at least Cait) comes to more than that. It’s a different way of thinking. What does it mean not to consider, care about, even have an idea of a career, of being geared to tomorrow? 

(There’s a hint of that in Hermann Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund, as I remember it form years back.)

These days, what I do think about is how we can untangle what is personal to the individual, what is societal, what is broadly human, and how, in daily life, to pin them down, say anything particular about them.

I know Cait and Morgan have gone to therapists (don’t know about Erin, except for the few times we dragged her to family therapy, where she rebelled quite effectively). I have no desire to talk to a neutral someone who is not already part of my life, about my family, my problems, my relationships (a term I abhor). Someone I don’t already personally trust, someone I pay to listen to me. I see its value for others, but for me it’s off-putting if not repulsive. It’s not that I think a therapist could never help me, but that it would be a selling of my soul. I know I sound like a social troglodyte, but at least I deal with all the shit I hate in my life (most if it badly) and still keep going.

What’s my closest thing to a “career”? I’ve written stories and novels that I’ve failed to promote and, if it weren’t for self-publishing online, they’d have died with me, as I’m sure they do for the hundreds, if not thousands of those out there who can write as well as anyone published. But I think no one (even myself) knows how completely I believe in what I’ve written. It’s the only thing I’ve done in my life that I can look back on and say, unequivocally, Yes.

What would it have meant if I’d died younger? My father had a heart attack at 71 but might have gone on for at least another decade if he hadn’t been killed by a fire in his room. My four stents have, without doubt, saved my life and let me get this far, to finally realize that I can do something that could be remembered, which I never before thought possible (and early on never thought about at all).

Growing up, and for much of my life, I haven’t felt part of the human race. I was this, humanity was that. I had no sense of something to be, nothing bigger to care about.

How much has changed? My daughter calls me for advice and I can tell her nothing useful. That part of my mind is as blank as ever.

*   *   *

All sorts of people get credit for the development of modern political propaganda. But it’s often traced back only as far as the Reagan or Bush Jr. manipulators of public opinion, especially Karl Rove. 

Ha! Small-timers and Johnny-come-latelies. The true genius behind it was – and for sheer cunning remains – Josef Goebbels. Mr. Club-Foot started as one of Hitler’s fierce opponents in the early days of Nazism but later became an unwaveringly faithful convert to the little swarthy pseudo-Aryan. How come the change? Hitler’s unparalleled magnetism, or one of those so often inexplicable flipovers? No way to know for sure.

I read Goebbels’ dairies years ago, too far back to remember the details, but the impression of a massive intellect at work on deviltry ran throughout. Certainly he didn’t invent the Big Lie (Hearst and Pulitzer had their oars in a half century earlier), but he institutionalized it in the early unfolding days of mass media. Limited to newspapers, radio and newsreels, but supported by total Nazi Party control of the message, he actively – and consistently – promoted the Big Lie, on the assumption that if you did so long enough and loud enough it became the Truth.

How right he was.

(His minions took a different tack with their Nazi radio broadcasts directed at the British, especially those in toned by Lord Haw-Haw. These were meant to undermine the Allies’ confidence by exaggerating British loses, but also provided just enough “real” news that English homebodies listened in to learn something beyond the shuttered home reporting.)

Small, tight-faced in most of his photos, Goebbels had a raucous and, I have to admit, engaging sense of humor. He loved to refer to Roosevelt as Rosenfeld, not because it would really convince anyone that FDR was Jewish, but just to be sarcastic and annoying. His pettiness, though, came out in his attempts to fuck up Leni Riefenstahl while she was working on her films Triumph of the Will and Olympia, about the 1936 Olympics. (Well, anyone will likely flaunt their nasty side when confronted by a competitor.)

The current American political establishment, without the same total control of the message as presented by mainstream and social media, finds itself continually caught up in its lies. But that doesn’t stop it from promoting those lies unceasingly, thereby convincing the 35-40% of the population already inclined to accept the most preposterous balderdash as truth.The blundering attempts by such boobs as Steve Bannon to massage the message only enhance the standing of Goebbels, the grandmaster of political destruction-by-word.

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