Angry Old Man

A sorry religious zealot of the left


I got blocked!

“Sadly nothing but ranting and bitterness. I’ve had enough and have blocked you.”

A guy I called a friend and a mentor, someone I’ve known since the early 1970s, someone I have lots of respect for because of his skills, someone who now spends his retirement days reading philosophy, from Plato to Hannah Arendt, someone who seemed to me to have an open mind has now confirmed what I suspect is really at the core of his being: his admiration for the power of the strong leader, the kind of strong leader he always tried to show himself to be and which, to a certain extent, because of his professional duties, made him successful in his field. In certain fields and situations leadership must be clear and strong in order to get the job done because you are dealing with a group of people who need to be able to work together as a harmonious whole in order for the result to be esthetically satisfactory. That does take determined leadership and a certain strength of character to be able to assume the mantle.

But when does strong leadership morph into the autocratic reign of a dictator who has no tolerance for dissent? Dissent is seen as disobedience, rebellion which has to be quashed. Blocked. Cancelled. Remain unheard. Outside the castle wall the peasants may yell and scream, but within the king can hear nothing and the feasting goes on unabated. Outside the plague can rage and people may die. Inside the serenity is unbroken and the servants continue to serve the master.

Once, a long time ago, I asked this onetime friend who he would like to work for if he had the chance. “The King,” he said with a grin.

Serving the King

Am I an “angry old man”? Sometimes, yes, I am. My anger runs hot for a while and then cools off. Most of the time I’m not angry. Sometimes I am just confused. Right now I am bewildered. I cannot understand how I could once again be so naive as to not realize that just because someone has a skill that I respect it doesn’t necessarily mean they have an open mind.

This guy, who purports to be steeped in philosophy, cannot see how the political situation which now confronts us around the world is in need of urgent attention, in need of a reset to the basic tenets of humanism. Did not the message of Hannah Arendt resound in his brain – the dangers of fascism and authoritarianism? How can you read anything that she wrote without wanting to stop the renewed onset of authoritarianism? Or is he only reading her work to better be able to tear apart her arguments against the onset of authoritarianism? That is a possibility.

Am I “a sorry religious zealot”?

How did he come to that description of me? Read part of the email text I sent him before he blocked me:

Samuel Fuller was there at the liberation of Falkenau:
Your father and my father fought to end the Nazis.
My father was at a camp liberation.
I went to Dachau and I sat and cried because the dead speak to the human inside.
The Murdochs and their ilk want this to come back. Listen to them and you can hear them repeat the slogans.
If there is fear, then it is justified if this is the result.

In a previous email, after he had sent me an article from the New York Post which ranted that “The left is pushing fear to advance its agenda”, I answered by saying that the Post was a Murdoch rag and that Rupert was a proto-fascist. Perhaps that, combined with the images I sent him from my visit to Dachau made him uncomfortable and thus I must somehow now be a religious zealot.

(Left, sitting on the edge) Crying at Dachau: Does that make me a religious zealot?

Truth of the matter is that I went to Catholic schools for about 10 years altogether. I was never a True Believer because there was nothing that ever happened after prayer or confession that changed things for the better. Though I must admit that confession is a wonderful exercise in psychological house-cleaning. But I never had a mystical experience brought on by prayer. (Later with drugs there were some interesting moments – but I digress.) And basically I’m an atheist at heart. Or maybe you could say I’m one who tends toward the pulsating, or cyclic universe theory. Big Bang. Expansion. Cooling to almost absolute zero (nobody has gotten there yet or shown that it can be gotten to in reality) and then contraction until the next Big Bang. Then it continues like that. Bang. Expand. Contract. Bang. Everything gets reconstituted. Maybe consciousness returns. Maybe it doesn’t. No matter… or rather matter, dark matter, energy. All that stuff mixed in the blender over and over again.

When I lived in New Delhi I remember reading a book that had a wonderful illustration explaining the creation and dissolution of the universe. The first picture was of the head of a dragon, in profile, looking right, its mouth wide, spitting flames. The next picture was of the flames spinning and forming a ball which, it was explained, is the universe. Then along comes the dragon again, opens his mouth and swallows the flaming ball. And this repeats endlessly. I remember thinking at the time: “That’s an illustration of the pulsating universe theory.” It is linked to Vedic thought, but I’m not a Hindu, and not a Buddhist (which grew from Hinduism).

Graphic of the oscillating or cyclic universe (from Discovery magazine)

It’s all speculation as far as I’m concerned. Death wipes all knowledge from your brain so you will never know. No afterlife. But I guess the pulsating universe theory kind of gives me some consolation.

“of the left” I can agree with to a certain extent. I am definitely anti-capitalist. Capitalism evolved from feudalism, so I guess it’s a bit better, given the Enlightenment and freedom and democracy getting revived. However, the Overton Window has shifted so far toward authoritarianism that even Social Democrat and Green political parties, both of which support capitalism, are considered to be “of the left.” Communists don’t get any respect these days, not even from parties like the Linke in Germany, and anarchists are seen as jokers or madmen who are in “cloud-cuckoo land” as Mad Maggie used to say. [ – Elvis Costello – Tramp The Dirt Down]

What bothers me most about capitalism is the inherent cruelty that is woven into its doctrine of profit maximization. Social Darwinism is at its core. Here in Hamburg the trade ethic of the Hanseatic businessmen was to arrive at a win–win game not a zero–sum game. Why? Because they want the trade to continue. It can only continue when both parties win. Modern neoliberal capitalism has evolved into a zero–sum game. I win. You lose. “The Winner Takes It All” as ABBA melodically put it. But if the winner does take it all, where does that leave the loser? With nothing of course. Add to that the doctrine of self-responsibility for everything, and not only are you a capital L “Loser,” you are also now responsible to make something out of the nothing you have been left with.

The guy who used to be my friend uses Social Darwinism as a prop. He would like me to think of him as “the King of the beasts.” Trouble is that if you really want to use Darwin’s model to explain your success in the neo-liberal capitalist system, then you should revise your pictographic reference because the most successful beasts these days are rats and cockroaches and sharks, and recently, viruses. Lions are being shot by the little Trumpensteins of this world and will soon be extinct in the wild.

Germany hasn’t gone as far down the road into radical Social Darwinism as the United States. The elite are still educated well enough to heed the warnings that Bismarck issued, urging his fellow elites to remember how things went in the French Revolution. Share with the underclass and your head will remain attached. Let’s hope that the elites continue to act with that in mind.

Maybe the basic cruelty that inhabits the soul of the capitalist is what motivates “my friend” to admire strength and to adhere to a belief that because of success in his career, the material reward and honors it has supplied him with, it makes him the better person. He is skilled in his profession. He is intelligent. I sincerely admire his abilities. And his function as a mentor for my own development has always been appreciated. Through work and complements his role as mentor has been repaid in various ways and I know that made him realize that his presence was appreciated. It is certainly not his abilities that I find discomforting.

Despite all the friendly exchanges through the years, I know much about his life that, well, is not what I would want to talk about in a public forum. Once, I asked him about success: “Can’t you be successful if you are moral?” “Sure,” he said with that same sly grin, “it just takes longer.” His personality enables him to deal with the system in a way I could never deal with it.

My personality is such that I knew I would never survive in Los Angeles, in the Hollywood that is at the center of the city. I’m not a rat, cockroach or shark. I’m also not good at discerning what is façade and what is the real face that is presented to me. I’m much too naive. You need to understand the system and be able to navigate through it, use your skills for the profit of others and not be sorry. There are hundreds, probably thousands of supremely creative people in Tinseltown, and I’m sure that many of them have been able to create and survive well without adhering to the dogma of Social Darwinism. I couldn’t do that, so I left the city and I left the country and found a home in a place that still adheres more or less to the win–win game. It’s been good for me. I’ve been able to have some modest success and live in peace.

I’m not rich. But that was never my goal. The freedom to create what I want to create has been at the core of my being. Almost a hundred radio plays, lots of albums, and plenty of work as a words-man for the entertainment industry. “Oh,” you say, “he sold his talents as well.” Yes, just like my “friend” I am for hire and I can work very well as a professional. That’s not a problem. In fact I admire the professional, whatever the field. And that was one of the reasons I admired my once-upon-a-time friend. It’s what surrounds the professional, the shark-infested waters the professional has to swim through in the entertainment Mecca of the world that I, personally, cannot abide. Here, the waters are also filled with sharks, but there are shark nets to keep them away from us bathers.

Being blocked has been, in one way, a liberating experience. Many years ago, when I left Hotel California and got away from the direct influence of “my friend” I felt happy to not be under what I had already discerned was his rather authoritarian regime. I needed my freedom and leaving was how I found it. First Lisbon, then Hamburg. A couple of times I went back to visit, renewed my direct contact, but was no longer under a spell. My old mentor, like the statue in the dream interpreted by a previous Daniel (31-35), has revealed himself to have a heart of stone and feet of clay.

More the pity.

Danny Antonelli lives in Hamburg, Germany


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