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Rage against the machine.

By Elliot J. Nitkin
(The original was written in the run up to the 2016 election. Updated November 2, 2019) 

f you want to rage against the machine … buy art.   Buy a well-painted, well-drawn, well-sculpted, well-written, intellectually provocative, socially challenging, status-quo denouncing piece of art.   Do it as an act of rebellion.

Do it to remind yourself that challenging prevailing thought is power.  

Lately all I want to do is rage against the machine.  

I wake up every day to news of bombings, the insanity of the American election and Brexit.  I read article after article about how the environment is about to collapse and it is the sole fault of industry, but not the consumer. 

Stupidity compounded by stupidity, promoted by power brokers, whose goal is to capitalize on uncertainty and animosity.  To be clear, the machine is not inherently the corporate right nor the leftist anti-establishment.  It is a world driven by populism.

The machine is the organization of demagogues who eschew reasoned discourse for bombast.

Its fuel is stupidity.

Instead of discussing the efficacy of reasoned action, demagogues publicly adhere to vacuous doctrine fabricated to meet the needs of the ubiquitous media sound bite. 

We seem to have forgotten the challenges, and lessons, of yester-year.  Gone are the days when we feared communism.  Capitalism triumphed, but rational decision making never seems to have entered the race.

Ironically, in retrospect, the Cold War seems to have been more "manageable". 

We have replaced it with the fear of world terrorism, and it is a true and legitimate fear.  I don’t question the legitimacy of the fear, I question the legitimacy of the solutions.

Although Communism made for some exceptional humour, it never really was the threat that many thought. Its greatest value was to pose as a foreign agent determined to undermine our “decadent” capitalist leaders/oppressors. 

As a scare tactic, it was a potent adversary.

Stalin was a brutal dictator who killed more of his own people than Hitler. Mao Zedong was pure evil and an equally efficient mass murderer. The launching of Sputnik rightly scared the West to its core.

I am certain that they would have conquered the world given half a chance.

But what we learned with the fall of communism is that they did not have half a chance.  Like ISIS and al-Qaeda, they killed their own, almost exclusively.  Their society was based on a structurally flawed premise.

For that reason, Communism could never have fulfilled the promise of western fear. But that didn’t stop America from trying.

Remember the damage done by the House Un-American Activities Committee?  McCarthyism?  The hunt for communists under every bed in America?  Hedda Hopper could destroy you with the swipe of her pen.  She was the most vicious columnist of perhaps of any era, gleefully destroying people because they disagreed with her.

The destruction of personal lives, the suicides of not only the rich and famous but of schoolteachers, veterans, scientists - average people who lost any means of putting food on their table - were rampant.

Do we really want that sort of person back in public life, because if you do, Ann Coulter would probably be quite willing to volunteer.

I prefer to follow a modern-day Dalton Trumbo.

He was the most notorious name on Hollywood's blacklist because he refused to refute communism to Congress. He felt he should not have to in a democracy.

He was so subversive he even thought that people should be paid a fair and living wage that allowed them to share in the American dream.

For these subversive beliefs he was served with a professional ban by a fear-driven, anti-communist right-wing. He counterattacked with a skillfully organized underground movement of writers who continued to entertain America.

I don’t believe in communism. But I am against it because it is and was, based on an untenable understanding of the human condition.  Individuals need to experience individual accomplishment.

The communist adherence to society as a whole over individual rights, doomed it to failure.

So is world terrorism.  We have to remember that:  they eat “their own.”

We have to facilitate that feast by fomenting internal dissent and exhausting them from within their ranks.

Promulgating stupid government policy and using the fear of terrorism as a reason to promote racism will only serve to weaken our own society.  We must question the efficacy of this thinking.

So how did Dalton Trumbo rage against the machine?Art.

He and his writers created some the most popular and profitable movies of the day.  He was so effective that he won two Oscars, one for "Roman Holiday" and one for "The Brave One", under a pseudonym.

His canvass was the movie screen; his paint brush was a typewriter.

His final victory came after an appearance on television where he identified one glaring problem with his detractors:  The House Un-American Activities Committee, created to prosecute spies in the government and remove subversives, had failed to achieve any of its goals.  All it had done was destroy people’s lives.

He used logic and reason to defeat tyranny.

In case you are wondering if there were movies we would really have missed had Trumbo been silenced think about these:

  1. Roman Holiday. 
  2. The Brave One. 
  3. From the Earth to the Moon. 
  4. Spartacus (That's right Spartacus, one of THE classics). 
  5. Exodus. 
  6. The Sandpiper. 
  7. Johnny got his Gun (Metallica made it famous actually). 
  8. Executive Action. 
  9. Papillion.

And of course, had no one been able to question the anti-communists in a movie script, Barbara Streisand would not have been able to play my mother in "The Way We Were".

That would truly have been a tragedy.

So, go buy that piece of art that has subversive undertones. Buy the piece that ostensibly depicts a flower, but secretly looks to you like genitals. Put it on your office wall and don't tell your boss. Let your boss think it’s a nature scene and enjoy the seditious joy of rebellion.

It will forever remind you that you can follow your mind, that the machine does not own you.

Rage against the machine and you rage against stupidity, because in any war based on fanaticism, being submissive is suborning purgatory.