Howard Zinn, RIP

Since we’ve just lost someone who probably contributed more of value to the world than all forty-odd dead presidents together, I’m turning this column over to Howard Zinn.

* Zinn on the value of electoral politics:

Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes-the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.

But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools.

*Zinn on the “national interest”:

A careful reading of history might give us another safeguard against being deceived. It would make clear that there has always been, and is today, a profound conflict of interest between the government and the people of the United States. This thought startles most people, because it goes against everything we have been taught….

Our culture demands, in its very language, that we accept a commonality of interest binding all of us to one another. We mustn’t talk about classes. Only Marxists do that, although James Madison, “Father of the Constitution,” said, 30 years before Marx was born that there was an inevitable conflict in society between those who had property and those who did not.

Our present leaders are not so candid. They bombard us with phrases like “national interest,” “national security,” and “national defense” as if all of these concepts applied equally to all of us, colored or white, rich or poor, as if General Motors and Halliburton have the same interests as the rest of us, as if George Bush has the same interest as the young man or woman he sends to war.

Surely, in the history of lies told to the population, this is the biggest lie. In the history of secrets, withheld from the American people, this is the biggest secret: that there are classes with different interests in this country. To ignore that — not to know that the history of our country is a history of slaveowner against slave, landlord against tenant, corporation against worker, rich against poor — is to render us helpless before all the lesser lies told to us by people in power.

If we as citizens start out with an understanding that these people up there — the President, the Congress, the Supreme Court, all those institutions pretending to be “checks and balances” — do not have our interests at heart, we are on a course towards the truth.

*Zinn on prefigurative politics:

…to organize ourselves in such a way that means correspond to the ends, and to organize ourselves in such a way as to create kind of human relationship that should exist in future society. That would mean to organize ourselves without centralize authority, without charismatic leader, in a way that represents in miniature the ideal of the future egalitarian society. So that even if you don’t win some victory tomorrow or next year in the meantime you have created a model. You have acted out how future society should be and you created immediate satisfaction, even if you have not achieved your ultimate goal.

*Zinn on the proper model of education:

Skepticism is one of the most important qualities that you can encourage. It arises from having students realize that what has been seen as holy is not holy, what has been revered is not necessarily to be revered. That the acts of the nation which have been romanticized and idealized, those deserve to be scrutinized and looked at critically.

I remember that a friend of mine was teaching his kids in middle school to be skeptical of what they had learned about Columbus as the great hero and liberator, expander of civilization. One of his students said to him, “Well, if I have been so misled about Columbus, I wonder now what else have I been misled about?” So that is education in skepticism.

*Zinn on popular outreach:

We… see, though it is unsettling, that we were not born critical of existing society. There was a moment in our lives (or a month, or a year) when certain facts appeared before us, startled us, and then caused us to question beliefs that were strongly fixed in our consciousnes….

This would seem to lead to a simple conclusion: that we all have an enormous responsibility to bring to the attention of others information they do not have, which has the potential of causing them to rethink long-held ideas.

*Zinn on post-scarcity:

I think [an anarchist world] would be a world in which people would not have to work more than a few hours a day, which is possible with the technology available today. If this technology were not used in the way it is now used, for war and for wasteful activities, people could work three or four hours a day and produce enough to take care of any needs. So it would be a world in which people had more time for music and sports and literature and just living in a human way with others.

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