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Political Science in Nashville, 1974
June 30, 2016
by William P. Meyers

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Don't be surprised when young people are politically confused. Or old people.

In the previous blog I told how I arrived in Nashville, Tennessee, in September of 1974, and found a job despite it being a recession. Here I am going to try to tell about my political, economic, and social thoughts at the time. Keep in mind I am working from memory, which tends to get skewed by later events.

I was born in 1955 to a conservative Roman Catholic, Marine Corps family. My father was from Chicago, my mother from Texas, but I was raised in the South, mostly in Jacksonville, Florida, which was George Wallace country. At the age of 12 I believed Jews, Blacks, and Protestants were inferior peoples. But there were cracks in the walls of my ignorance and prejudice. I was a science boy and beginning to suspect that the Catholic Church was a sham.

And bits of information drifted in, accumulated against the walls my parents and teachers had built in my brain, and started me down the road to ruin. Books and TV revealed different worlds. I began to see I could choose between competing authorities. The Marine Corps vs. The Monkees. The Church vs. Science. Straight people vs. Hippies. And what were black people rioting about?

It was a slow crumble, but by the time I was 17 I was against the Vietnam War, for Civil Rights, and a confirmed if secret atheist. Thinking I was smarter than I really was, I decided I would go to college and study Political Science. Surely it was just a matter of figuring out why things were wrong and then showing people the blueprint for a better society, then building it.

At college I quickly learned I was not the first to have such thoughts. All sorts of people thought they had the right ideas for building a better society. Foremost of all were the Marxists. My college was not pro-Marxism, but the Political Science department certainly offered a lot of criticism. And to criticize them, we had to read a lot of what the various Marxists wrote about themselves, and what academics wrote about them.

Of course the Marxists fell into many factions, like Democratic Socialists, Leninists, Stalinists, Trotskyists, Maoists, and etc. And socialism had a bunch of less-well-known non-Marxist variants. And then there were the Progressives, who thought capitalism should be tamed, not destroyed. I had some good Political Science professors, but it seemed the more I learned, the less I certain I was that anything would work.

After two years of that, in Nashville, I had no course work. I did not join any political groups. I worked at a pizza joint where Piano Man always seemed to be playing on the jukebox. I went and heard Dr. John and the New Riders of the Purple Sage and other concerts. But in my free time I thought about society and politics and tried writing about it.

The Vietnam War was almost over, but I had no way of knowing that. I had not registered for the draft, and no one had come to arrest me. The war was so wrong, in so many ways, I thought men like Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson were pure evil. Lenin said modern war was the result of the system of imperialism. But it seemed to me that nationalism and racism played a big part in our particular war.

I had worked as a volunteer for George McGovern (like Bill and Hillary Clinton, and unlike Bernie Sanders), and believe if he had won he would have ended the war back in 1973. Would it take armed revolution to bring down the U.S. war machine? Was the problem trying to work through the Democratic Party? Was the main problem the ownership of the media by capitalists, allowing them to sway any election the way they wanted?

Even then I realized the underlying problem was the American People Themselves. There were too many racists, nationalists, religious crazies, uninformed people, and the like. Why, when I was raised a nationalist, religious, racist crazy person, had I been able to figure out I had been lied too? Why couldn't everyone figure it out? Ah, the problem of human stupidity.

I knew that a lot of children are simply not exposed to alternatives. In any ethnic, religious, or national culture, you may not get exposed to alternative views. How could you expose the average American to better value systems? Would that be enough?

I actually was not much concerned about economic justice, except that I thought blacks and women should have the same economic opportunities as white males. Having been raised in an unhappy family, I did not see a middle-class income and a house as the key to happiness.

I would say overall I leaned towards the need to create a Marxist type of socialism. I wanted a government strong enough to break up the Churches, the reactionary press and media, and to reform the school system. I was in favor of any means necessary to get there, including armed revolution. But I could not see how an armed revolution in the U.S. could work, given that most of the population would no more support that than they had supported the McGovern campaign.

I was well aware of the problem of armed revolutions: they typically result in failure and repression. When they succeed they tend to be led by authoritarian men who are a mixed blessing at best, as illustrated by Lenin and Stalin. The victors tend to become a new ruling class, then you are back to where you started.

I had no plan of political action. I thought of joining a Marxist group, but did not. After a few months I started wandering around the country again, and camped out in a remote wilderness area for a couple of months. Then I went back to college, where it was evident that Political Science was taught from the point of view of controlling the American people, not of liberating them.

Because I had volunteered for McGovern, I got a call from the Jimmy Carter campaign asking me to volunteer for them. The war was over, the prospect of revolution in the United States was receding rapidly. I now wish I had worked for Jimmy Carter, whatever his flaws from my leftist perspective. But I had decided the Democratic Party was the enemy, the left flank of the establishment, while the Republican Party was the right flank.

How depressing could the political landscape be? It was so bad I tried Buddhism for a couple of years. It took the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 to galvanize me back towards political action.

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