Part Seventeen - Such a Foolish Notion
Inscription over the crew's quarters of the death ship:
He Who enters here Will no longer have existence,
His name and soul have vanished And are gone forever.
Of him there is not left a breath In all the vast world.
He can never return, For where he stands there he must stay.
No God knows him, and unknown will he be in hell.
He is not day; he is not night. He is Nothing and Never.
He is too great for infinity, Too small for a grain of sand,
Which, however small, Has its place in the universe.
He is what has never been And never thought.
B. Traven, THE DEATH SHIP
Unseen and unheard; known to exist, but invisible to the eye; blamed for all that the blamers are responsible for; glorified and dehumanized, all the while not seen as individuals. Lost in the haze of contradictions of terms; responsibility with no control, control with no responsibility. Walking alone among many, many walking together alone, does the death ship every find its port, or are all ports its home? Does each breath and eat the same? Does life have meaning if meaninglessness is its existence? Is there a purpose to common life? Are there hopes and desires, among the inferiors? Is there intelligent life to be found among those that toil? Does the death ship sail by muscle alone? Does the muscle ever think of better things? Such a foolish notion it seems.
Trapped in the confined spaces of one's own place. Nothing to contribute but the labor that benefits others. Seen only as followers of leaders who lead the followers no place at all. Shall we follow the right path or the left path, or no path at all? Can the followers, follow themselves and blaze their own path? Such a foolish notion it seems.
Can they that are unheard have something to say? Can they have ideas that have merit? Can they have dreams worth dreaming? Can they do for themselves, what others believe only they can accomplish? Such a foolish notion it seems. What is a real class analysis? Is it something created by someone with an "ism" behind his or her name? Long dead intellectuals who never lived that which they analyzed; is this where the analysis of our class comes from? Do we hold these truths as self-evident; that those that live within a class have no understanding of their own existence? Where does historical dialectical materialism speak of the real pain of hunger and want? Where does scientific socialism speak of the blood spilled upon the ground from a dying worker? Or of forced overtime and a family neglected? Do the high-minded folks really believe that working stiffs do not understand their conditions? Adam Smith and Karl Marx are just opposite sides of the same coin. Conditioning and control, prejudice and place; what is the difference between all that seeks the same thing? Changing the faces of the governors changes nothing for the governed.
I am but a heretic, many will say, for I believe that true class analysis must come from within that class itself. For the death ship is only understood by those that sail it.
Though the theoreticians and philosophers will write endless meaningless words about concepts that they apply to working life. These words are meaningless because working is not a concept but a reality, and that reality is found in the experience of living it.
Intellectual leftists write great manifestos and give detailed speeches aimed at working people and what they define as working people's problems, then they will wonder why working people are not enlightened by their words and never come around. Does the answer lie in the inability of working people to see their greatness? Or is it that their ideas have little relevance to the working class experience?
I am not a highly educated, high-minded philosopher. My understanding of things does not come from comprehending abstract concepts. I am just a yardbird; a working stiff that has not been conditioned by academics. My understanding comes from what I have seen, and what I have learned from the experiences of others I have known. No "-ism" can be applied to my name, for my knowledge comes from collective experiences. My class analysis does not originate with me, I stand on no pedestal.
A Native woman explained to me that there are basically three types of people in the world.
First, there are those from the academic world, the intellectuals. They speak in the 3rd person and explain things through abstract concepts. To them intellectual concepts are more important than direct experience; thus they are isolated from a direct relationship of ideas based upon living experience. When confronted with experience they reject the wisdom accrued in that manner, in favor of their own concept of reality.
Next, there are those that identify with intellectualism, but the reality of living has forced them to accept experience as a means of accrued knowledge They would prefer to exist in the intellectual world, but fate has not been so kind to them.
Last, there is the great mass of people whose lives; ideas and what not are based upon direct experience; either their own experiences or the experiences they have learned from others. They will explain their ideas in the 1st person and what they believe in is based on the life they have lived.
There is very little connection between the first group, the intellectual world, and the last group, the world of experience. For all practical purposes these two groups of people are hardly able to communicate with each other. For the most part, neither groups of people have set out to build a barrier between each other; rather, what divides them is constructed by social conditioning, and continues because of a lack of understanding the problem. The intellectuals, if they wish working people to hear their abstract ideas, they must translate them into personal experience and relate those ideas directly to the daily lives of workers.
No social or economic idea is worth a damn if it cannot be directly related to people's lives. Also, intellectuals need to learn to respect wisdom gained though experience. Take the following example: if you need your car fixed, do you take it to someone who can explain, in theory, how the car should function, but has never worked on a car? Or do you take it to a person with the experience needed to fix it? I can't image anyone taking their car to a theoretician rather than an experienced mechanic. Why is it that this same common sense does not apply to many social movements?
Even within working class organizations that intellectuals have become involved in, they place theory over collective experience. For example, one organization that I belong to changed the whole structure of their defense committee at the instigation of those with theoretical concerns who had no direct experience in defense work. They placed a higher value upon their theories than the collective experience of 95 years of real defense work. Let me ask you this, would you rather have the theoreticians defending you if you were in need, or those with the experience in that work? If you pick the theoreticians, I hope you like your prison cell.
By placing theory superior to experience, the intellectuals are reflecting the values of the class system. It is their statement that they wish to hold on to their privileged place in that system. Given this reality, why should any working person listen to what they have to say, for to do so would be to acknowledge themselves as inferiors. As a non-academic marine pipefitter, I cannot tell you how many times I have had my ideas and views dismissed, not on their merits, but because they are based upon experience rather than theory. This has been very difficult for me because I have been active in many social issues.
A world based upon the reality of how things are really done; such a foolish notion it seems to many. Can the death ship sail into the confinement of theoretical ideas? Will it still have existence within such limitations? Or is the reality of the death ship illusionary in theoretical concerns? Too much is unseen, unheard and unthought-of in a world gone mad by its own fantasies and justifications. Am I just an inferior that will not stay within my assigned place? Lord, lord, I've got them foolish notion blues again.