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Starting before birth, each of us develops an understanding of the human predicament. We begin with our own, learning our wants and needs. We assess our skills, competitive positions, and chances of success. We determine our strengths and weaknesses, and work with them.
Until Vassal’s early adulthood, he often felt more solitary than he wished. The world seemed hostile. Later, his perception changed. He saw that we do best when we pursue our interests not only as individuals, looking out for Number One, but also cooperatively, in concert with others. He discovered the benefits of joining the crowd, of being normal or at least acting that way. By absorbing other people’s attitudes and behavior, we overcome limitations of individuality. By sympathizing with other people’s viewpoints, we transcend our egos. We subsume somewhat our separate identities. Fragile as we are, mortal amid eternity, dependent upon each other and our worlds, we benefit from that.
* * *
The self is practiced performance, and performance is practiced self. Each of us starts practicing early: in childhood, infancy, the womb, and the seed; and, before that, at the origin of our DNA’s and RNA’s double helix, and at the first replication of anything we are made of; possibly all the way back to the primary perturbation, and maybe before that.
We learn to put faces on ourselves, for display to everything that faces us. We get good at that. As we enact our lives, both as audience members observing others’ performances and onstage performing our own, we engage both with ourselves and with the other audience members and players. They and we become an ensemble absorbed in collaboration with each other. We suspend our disbelief in our performances and we ignore the artifice, while at the same time we remain mindful of them.
We observe performers on stages and screens within us and outside us. We project ourselves upon them. We open ourselves to them, and them to us. We identify with them, and thereby identify ourselves.
As audience and players, we transcend boundaries between self and other. We discover that to a great extent each of us is not a self, that there is no I. Vassal, of course, says that basically there is never a self, that there is only the condition all things share, wherein every performer is us and every performance ours.
* * *
When he was younger, Vassal felt that people did not make enough of their lives. Ignoring their better possibilities, they meekly joined audiences, crowds, congregations, and other assemblies. There they participated in group thinking and behavior that opened them to the trite, constrained narratives of established education, religion, business, politics, sports, entertainment, etc. He considered that a waste.
I am not surprised he thought that. He is independent, a self-reliant Yankee with a mind of his own. No doubt he was like that back then, too. Back then he was stubborn, as well, and contrary, as some young people are. He disliked conventional thought and behavior.
That dislike arose in him in the womb or perhaps before, as it may in all of us. We develop a somewhat prickly sense of ourselves. That matures as we endure the travails of fetushood, birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. From birth onward, as we engage with other people, we become more aware of social aspects. Those become currents that run through us. Often they are turbulent, particularly during our teens and early adulthood. That turbulence diminishes as we age, but continues to influence us.
* * *
Early in our work together, Vassal described to me some of how he experienced that progression.
“When I was a boy I loved to play basketball. I played it with my buddies in our driveways. Later I played it at outdoor courts in our neighborhood and with classmates in gym class. I was athletic. From grade school on I was taller than the others, too, which made it even easier for me. I scored lots of points, grabbed lots of rebounds, and ran and passed well. On the court, I had a good sense of the game. I kept an eye on the other players, and helped them. It was fun for us—a game, not a battle. My buddies and I scored points and did our best to keep the other team from scoring, but we didn’t care about keeping score. We just wanted to play as well as we could and have a good time doing it.
“For some reason, I guess because we were having so much fun, our indifference to winning and losing continued as we got older. That seemed unusual to other people, especially as we got to middle school and high school. But it didn’t seem strange to us. It was how we felt.
“Not that we didn’t play the game as well as we could. We did our best to develop our team and individual skills. We played aggressively, taking advantage of opponents’ weaknesses. We played tight defense, stole the ball when we could, snagged every possible rebound, set tough picks, drove to the basket, and so on. But we felt no sense of opposition to other teams, and no need to measure up to anyone else’s standard.
“Many of the kids we played against wanted to keep score, and did. We didn’t mind that, and didn’t try to talk them out of it. After we played a while, when they said that they or we had won or lost and the game was over, that was fine with us. Like I say, we didn’t care one way or the other.
“I think most kids start out with an attitude like that. More of them might continue that way if our society didn’t promote competition the way it does, emphasizing the win/lose drama. Kids wouldn’t have to worry about how they stack up in terms of talent, won/lost records, championships, individual statistics, and things like that. They could just play, unconstrained by warlike concepts of success.
“Lots of people, adults as well as children, don’t like competition. In most aspects of their lives, they don’t benefit from it. They want friends, not adversaries; playmates, not opponents. The glory of any game can be in just playing it, or in playing it well by whatever standard suits you and your mates. That can involve trying to outscore other people, but it doesn’t have to.
“Playing competitively is a social construct. It comes from the wider society, not necessarily from the beast within us. It values victory, and involves defeating enemies. It’s not just about doing well by the standards of you and your team. It’s about doing so at the expense of opponents. It’s about winners getting more from the result than losers: more praise, money, trophies, sex, pride, whatever. It’s supposed to bring the winners more pleasure and satisfaction. Curiously, it doesn’t necessarily do that.”
* * *
In Vassal’s view back then, people associated winning with being superior to others. It validated hierarchies of achievement and worth. It prompted “we are the chosen” attitudes held in common with whomever the team represented: one’s school, town, country, etc. It valued domination and exploitation for the sake of one’s self and those others.
In later years, for a while, Vassal would associate that kind of domination and exploitation with our society’s dog-eat-dog capitalism, militarism, cultural and religious evangelism, and other forms of fighting for one’s interests. At first he did not analyze the game in those terms, but he had a sense of them.
“I played off and on during high school and college. I played afterward, too, when I worked in the city. But it was always playground-level, informal, never very organized. Like I say, it was fun, never earnest. Or it was earnest fun.
“To me, when I was a kid, organized sports weren’t organized right. Joining leagues, getting coached by intense adults, and playing games in front of other people, especially older people with all their rah-rah and beat-the-other-guys stuff, seemed weird and wrong. To me there was something small, wasteful, and mean about playing to people’s desires for victory. It missed the point of playing. I started to think that coaches, players, and fans of that kind of game had been brainwashed.
“In grade school, people started telling me I should join a competitive team. They thought I’d be a star player. My folks didn’t say that, but kids I played against did, and so did their dads and moms. I didn’t care about being a star, though, and I didn’t want to join that kind of team. I figured that if I did, I would be pressured to be ‘good’ in the way that kind of basketball promoted. So, I didn’t.
“Then, in high school, after seeing me play in phys. ed. classes, a couple of the teachers encouraged me to try out for the school team. Just try, they said. Again I didn’t want to, so I didn’t.
“The next year, in the fall of my sophomore year, the coach came—the coach!—and took me out of a gym class. ‘Could I talk to you for a minute in my office, son?’ Wow. When we got to his office, he sat down in a big springy armchair behind his desk, leaned back, and put his feet up. ‘Sit down,’ he said.
“I sat down opposite him, in one of those clunky wooden chairs that schools have, and I looked at him. He used to play for some university. I was six-four then. He was even taller. His legs and feet reached almost to where I was sitting. I remember there was a smear of pink bubblegum on the bottom of one of his shoes. He stared at me over those shoes, and narrowed his eyes.
“The conversation I had with him wasn’t a conversation. It was a spiel on his part, a selling job. He flattered me about how talented I was: shooting, rebounding, passing to the open man, and so on. He told me how cool it would be for me to be a sports hero. As I’ve said, that was a desire I didn’t have and didn’t want to have, but he figured that like any normal teenager I wanted to be more than an awkward, confused, partially formed adult.
“‘Doesn’t it feel great when you make a tough shot or an amazing pass?’ he said. ‘It’s like a miracle, isn’t it? And it feels even better when other people see it, don’t you think?’
“He wasn’t asking. He didn’t wait for me to answer.
“‘I think you’ve got what it takes to be a star player. I know that people in this school and this town would like to see that. Your parents would be proud of you, and so would your friends, and plenty of girls. I think we could find a place for you on the team. Would you like that?’
“He expected me to answer him. I got my nerve up.
“I had to push the words out. My voice was still changing, so I sounded like one of those toys you squeeze to make it squeak. It was a little like you sounded, Reverend Professor, when you took this job. Remember?
“Anyway, he started to get mad. ‘Are you kidding?’ he said.
“I shook my head. That pissed him off more. He pulled his legs off the desk, put his feet on the floor, and leaned toward me. He raised his voice.
“‘Don’t you like to be a winner?’
“I shook my head again. He raised his voice some more.
“He was yelling.
“‘C’mon, buddy, what’s wrong with you? Join the club!’
“He was acting like I’d offended him; like I was challenging his value system; and not just his but the school’s, the country’s, the world’s, all humanity’s.
“‘Sorry,’ I said to him.
“I wasn’t sorry. I had decided that I wouldn’t play for this asshole no matter what.
“‘Why are you doing this?’ he said. ‘Have you got something better to do with your time? Is your girlfriend keeping you too busy? Or don’t you have a girlfriend and you need one? Are you still a virgin?’
“That was low—true, but low. I wanted to leave. But since I was just a gangly kid, not very self-confident, and certainly not bold enough to walk out on the coach, I just shrugged and didn’t say anything. He got more frustrated, and kept hollering at me, like he probably did to his players.
“‘You know what? You’re being a dumbass teenage nonconformist. That can be a problem for you later in your life, you know. In fact, I’d say it’s a problem for you already. You should do something about it before it’s too late. If you don’t watch out, you could turn into a faggot. You’ve got to start growing up right. The sooner the better! How about it?’
“I felt too intimidated to answer. I sat there looking down, feeling stupid. But I was stubborn enough to stand my ground. I didn’t look at him or say another word. He tried to get me to say more.
“‘Oh, so now you can’t answer me? Can’t talk about it? Look at me!’
“I looked at him. I didn’t blink. He twitched.
“I didn’t answer. Finally, he gave up.
“He waved his hand toward the door: Shoo!
“I walked out of there feeling upset, not at all virtuous. I wanted to feel justified in having turned him down, but I didn’t. I just felt stupid, as if I had no good reasons for anything. Also, I worried that he might be right, that maybe what made me refuse him was some hang-up of mine, some terrible fault I’d be stuck with for the rest of my life. Jeez! That didn’t bother me for long, though. After a couple of hours I got over it. My life returned to its usual track, which was not totally disagreeable to me.”
* * *
“Like many teenagers, I overdramatized myself to myself. I romanticized my life. I fancied that I was a rebel, like James Dean, Brando, the early Elvis, and the Beat poets and writers. After that episode with the coach, I thought I might even be some kind of profile in courage. Those were JFK years, the early ’60s. I’d read his book, Profiles in Courage. I admired him for it, as many young people did. Like everyone back then, I didn’t know that though he claimed to be its author and won a Pulitzer Prize for it, he didn’t write it; or that he was a devout Cold Warrior who lied to the public about the Cuban missile crisis and was going to help get us stuck in Vietnam; or that he was wishy-washy about civil rights; or that he liked to impress his presidential weenie into bimbos and female subordinates who weren’t his wife.
“I don’t know if any of that would have disillusioned me about him. Probably not. I liked his words, especially his eloquent exposition of issues, and what seemed to be generous ideals. I also appreciated his wit, his smile, his looks, and his elegant style. Like most people, I’d been indoctrinated by our schools and news media in the ‘great man’ model of leadership—theistic, paternalistic, you know the drill. It gets trotted out for every election and award ceremony, and people eat it up like they’re pigs at a trough. Back then I was one of those pigs. Along with many other young people, I figured that a politician who could talk as inspirationally as JFK did had to be one of those special people. I didn’t yet realize what BS that model was. Only later, when I was in college, did I determine that it was just another fairy tale perpetuated by our self-serving powers-that-be.
“Like Kennedy—or his public persona, at least—I was full of hope. I didn’t know yet about the inevitable gulf between what leaders say and what they can accomplish. I didn’t know how limited their influence is. I didn’t know the extent to which they don’t initiate tides in the affairs of men, especially about important things. They’re at the mercy of those tides. They ride them more than generate them. That’s the best any of us can do. I was naïve about that, same as I was a few years later about voting.
“As I say, I tried to delude myself that I was a young profile in courage. But I didn’t feel good about who I was. Like most teenagers, I felt good now and then—smart, confident, proud—but most of the time I didn’t feel that way. I just felt compelled to do as I did. I was driven by my hormones, ignorance, and inexperience, not by high ideals. That was a rocky period for me. My rebellious self-image was a veneer, a weak attempt to improve how I saw myself and how I appeared to other people. It dressed up the angst I carried around inside me, but it didn’t really help. It was a fake front and I knew it.
“The next year, junior year, in English class, my burden started to get a little lighter. We read Ibsen’s play Enemy of the People. I was ripe for it. It was a revelation to me. I took it to heart. As you probably know, in most of Ibsen’s work he challenged the values of the society around him. In Enemy of the People, the doctor in a small town gets pressured by his community to do something immoral. He doesn’t submit. The townspeople criticize him. He faces up to them and defends himself. At a town meeting, he tells them, ‘The majority never has right on its side. Never, I say! That is one of these social lies against which an independent, intelligent man must wage war. . . . The majority has might on its side . . . but right it has not. . . . I propose to raise a revolution against the lie that the majority has the monopoly of the truth.’
“What a guy! At the final curtain, he tells his faithful family that in the course of his difficulty he has ‘made a great discovery’: ‘. . . that the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.’ I loved that. I felt that I was like him: far above the madding crowd, holier than others, devoted to the highest principles.”
Toward the end of high school, in the mid-1960s, Vassal wanted to become more than a romantic rebel. To channel his discontent, give stronger voice to his anger, and add gravity to his persona, he became even more critical of our society. He began to revel in the sore comforts of dogma, stitching together an ideology that combined typical, mistaken interpretations of Marx, the Founding Fathers, the Transcendentalists, farm and labor populists, and similar guiding lights. He espoused the resulting ideology to himself, occasionally to like-minded friends, and sometimes to his teachers, in papers that he wrote for school. He employed self-righteous terms that suited his age and temper. Only some years later, as he neared graduation from college, did he begin to recognize the extent to which he had been viewing society through the restrictive lens of a narrow understanding.
“My convictions were based on my unrealistic opinion of what adults could do with the world,” he says. “That was age-appropriate of me, but silly.”
Many opinions he developed in high school were as harsh as they were naïve. He believed that in every arena of their lives, most people, especially adults, behaved like cowards. They were a wretched flock that worshiped false gods and conformed to social norms more slavishly than they had to. They debased themselves, sold themselves short. As I have reported, however, he was beginning to believe that their behavior was less their fault than that of our elites, the pillars of our society, the Establishment that dominated everything.
* * *
Vassal says that by releasing his invention he is performing a civic duty. Mostly he is joking, as he has no such intent. But as he knows, that release, which tonight he is executing on a vast scale, is an extravagantly social act. It is sure to impact the institutions and conditions his views have encompassed. Remnants of those views, and successors to them, have provided some of the aegis for tonight’s release.
I have mentioned his past opinion that our media, teachers, religious leaders, and others served as brainwashers for the elites that sponsored them. Though largely blind to what they were doing, they were apparatchiks whom our elites used to impose servitude on the rest of us.
I have also mentioned his opinion that our elites felt entitled to profit from the efforts of everyone else; that though outwardly beneficent, they proceeded hell-bent on self-aggrandizement. They considered that to be honorable, in everyone’s best interest. They persuaded themselves that they were acting generously toward people who resided beneath them on the socioeconomic scale. They failed to recognize the nature of their power and the force of their tyranny. In Vassal’s opinion, such was the inevitable cruelty of people of means and influence, regardless of whether their cruelty was intentional.
He believed that among other evils, in further pursuit of their aims, our elites initiated bloody wars, usually unnecessary ones. Those years were the era of the Vietnam War, in which our elites employed hundreds of thousands of our young people, mostly our poorer ones, to fight as their surrogates.
“Then, as now,” he says, “most children of the well-to-do wouldn’t be caught dead in the military. They got draft deferments and moved into safe professions and desirable careers. Too bad about our young soldiers, especially the tens of thousands who came home to their families in body bags. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Asians we killed over there.”
On the home front, as ever, our elites domesticated our citizens by various means, including, as I have mentioned, typical capitalistic wage slavery. They wanted to sustain the prosperity that had come their way in the wake of World War II. They recognized that they would profit most if they not only rewarded us for our enslavement, but also persuaded us to like it. Toward that end, they dangled attractive goods within our reach: modern houses, big cars, useful electric appliances, televisions, transistor radios, hi-fi systems, etc. They convinced us that those goods were hallmarks of higher living standards, and that acquiring and using them constituted success we should feel proud of, a pinnacle of achievement.
To further secure our fealty, our elites turned a small portion of their excessive profits into our wages and benefits. They used our educational system and news and entertainment media to instill in us grandiose notions of our importance as individuals, citizens, and as a species. They promoted the illusion that humankind, with its reflective consciousness, moral pretensions, and technological prowess, maintained a unique, brilliant, and preeminent presence in the universe. As we advanced that presence, an approving deity, acting through our beneficent elites, lavished rewards upon us. Not coincidentally, many of those rewards—consumer goods, homes, vacations, higher educations, etc.—cost us much of our paychecks, profiting our masters even more.
Among other outcomes, the notions that our elites promulgated fed our nation’s and its allies’ sense of exceptionalism, which I have mentioned. That, Vassal believed, contributed to our military, economic, and cultural empire-building, which reached its greatest extent back then and, for much of the world, helped define the post-World War II half-century. Our tax dollars supported that hegemony, pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into our military-industrial complex, providing immense gain to its owners.
* * *
Most significant, in Vassal’s view, our elite masters bred in us a false sense of our freedom and potential. Applying traditions and techniques that keepers of power and the purse had used successfully for generations, they excited us with possibilities. They sold us on the cornucopia of consumerism, creating in us material desires we could never fully satisfy. They not only owned the companies that financed, produced, marketed, and sold us the contents of that cornucopia, but they also employed us in those and affiliated companies. The trickles of money that they paid to us flowed back to them in torrents.
Most of us, he observed, were unaware of those dynamics. In part that was because our elites permitted us the humble consolations of a modern identity. By means of our country’s doctrinaire educational system and our lulling, propagandistic mass media, which they owned, they encouraged in us a superficially free-spirited individuality—an individuality informed and guided by groupthink, infused with communal loyalty and patriotism, and characterized by herdlike solidarity. They cultivated in us a sense of shared personal values and common interests, including our religious beliefs, political convictions, sporting allegiances, tastes in goods and entertainment, and our national, regional, and ethnic pride and prejudices.
To bind us still tighter to their interests, our masters encouraged our involvement in what they convinced us was a participatory democracy. That, too, contributed to their control over us, further strengthening their socioeconomic domination. We lived happily enough with that. The chains that bound us continued to feel comfortable enough.
In young Vassal’s rather paranoid view, then, we were victims with little sense of our victimization. Our masters encouraged in us a conviction that we, like them, were privileged; that thanks to the glorious system that we all shared we were more secure and prosperous than we would have been otherwise. Lucky us! They fattened us enough to acquire value for them, then they drove us like livestock to the stockyards, the slaughterhouse, the butcher’s block, and the meat case in the neighborhood market. They domesticated us heart and soul, from the beginning of our lives to the end, and profited at every turn.
* * *
We were not without benefits, but in Vassal’s opinion they were too few and too limited. Beginning around the turn of the twentieth century, the wealthy plutocrats of the time, after resisting, allowed us to establish labor unions and other middle- and working-class progressive movements. Those they soon co-opted. On behalf of us, the victimized masses, those movements cut deals with them. Those deals provided us with barely adequate pay and an insufficient social safety net.
That mitigated our oppression some, but, in Vassal’s fevered view, not enough. He considered those deals to be bargains with the devil, sufficient only to keep us living and working for the elites, who continued our subjugation. The benefits allowed to us were restrictive. Our pursuit of material wares, good health, and other forms and simulacra of happiness seemed worthwhile to us, and to some extent that pursuit was essential to us, but its rewards were too slight. It was a driving force of our ongoing discontent. “Our concept of happiness,” says Vassal, “can be a rack upon which we groan.”
So it was that to lead as good a life as possible, we slaves submitted to the sovereignty of the people who owned us. We accepted their premises about our nature and possibilities, and we deferred to their authority. We colonized ourselves and each other on their behalf. Often that involved indoctrinating and training newcomers, including children, immigrants, women, and others new to our workplaces. We took such instruction, and gave it, everywhere: in our schools and places of employment, in our public activities and entertainments, and in our private lives. That submission was necessary if we wanted to survive in the fetid feedlot that our masters provided to us.
* * *
To his litany of influences with which the Establishment oppressed us back then, a resentful Vassal might now add the latest consumer objects, along with other modern diversions, comforts, and conveniences. But as I have reported, he has mellowed. He no longer bears animus toward our oppressors. He no longer considers them oppressors. He now believes that to the extent there are exploitive elites among us, their influence is weak, diffuse, and largely unintentional.
He says, “Our kleptocrats, plutocrats, oligarchs, Establishment nobs and poobahs, and other elites are role players in our system, same as the rest of us. They are no more masters of circumstance than any of us, and they’re as much the victims. They’re no better off than anyone else, and except in moments of delusion they know it.”
In his opinion now, our elites’ supposed advantages are not really advantages. Greater financial and job security, better health care, more leisure time if they want it, nicer places to live, better vacations, more expensive and desirable possessions, bigger seats and better food on airplanes, more influence on politicians and other movers and shakers, and other perquisites amount to much less than we and they may think.
“We all live until we die,” he says. “In the meantime we’re at the mercy of how things are for our kind. Except in what I consider minor regards, none of us can manage things to our advantage much more than anyone else.”
He observes that our way of life—he no longer calls it a system—is better than anything else we have come up with. For most of us, it fulfills enough of our needs and desires. Within that, the profit motive works fairly well. Though it enriches only a small minority of us, its incentives, encouragements, and rewards help us along. And our governments, despite their limitations, pick up remaining slack about as well as possible.
“We are hungry creatures who always need more,” he says. “Our way of life enables us to meet that need. It’s what we’ve developed to suit us, and it works. It changes as time goes by, but not much and fundamentally not at all, just as we ourselves don’t change. That’s a good thing, I now believe, not a bad one, much less an evil one.
“Not that there aren’t drawbacks, many of which are the same ones I saw back then. Obviously, there’s room for improvement. But that’s always true, of everything. We work at that, and fall the usual distance short of achieving what’s ideal. That’s us. It’s the best we can do.
“I would never have said that in the old days. But I don’t look down on my prior convictions. They’re as valid as any. They’re right for whoever they’re right for. I’m sure there are people who hold them now, and people who will hold them in the future. Back then, one of those people was me. I was young, caught in my interior weather: my pubescent and postpubescent egocentricity and all that. But I’m no better a person now than I was then, and my convictions aren’t any better, either. We’re all like that.”
* * *
Back when he thought of himself as a rebel, and loathed society, he did not yet realize how much our survival as a species, and our welfare as individuals, depend on our cooperating with each other. He did not yet understand the extent to which we must share our resources and apply our skills for each other’s benefit, however imperfectly. He also did not see how being devout consumers motivates us in helpful ways.
“Our consumerism contributes to our aspiration and ambition,” he says. “That has some negative consequences, which I used to emphasize. But it also breeds social cohesion and is essential to the health of our economy. It gives us jobs, desirable goods and services, discretionary cash, easy credit, and other trappings of prosperity. It spurs us to help ourselves, which includes helping others to find it in their interests to help us.
“Not to mention the psychological rewards. Things we buy, whether we need them or not, make us feel better. Each purchase seems like an achievement, however slight; also a reason, however frivolous, to live longer and to keep feeling upbeat and hopeful. The warm feeling we get when we buy something or receive a gift wears off, but that’s part of the process. It makes us desire more and strive for more. As I say, we always want and need more. If we didn’t, we would experience no happiness and feel no sense of gain. We wouldn’t be human.”
* * *
He no longer thinks that we worker-citizens are too deferential to our bosses and other leaders, that we are sheep and they our shepherds.
“I used to think our society was sick. I thought people should have the vision, brains, and courage to rebel against the system that oppressed them, and build a better one. But I was just a high school kid and then a college kid, too young to know much about that.”
During high school and college, like most people his age, he possessed some skills and aptitudes but had few accomplishments and beliefs, little experience, and only a vague sense of his place and direction in society. He did not recognize his advantages: a good education, which, despite the brainwash, helped him; also the wealth and other entitlements of the upper-middle class life he had been born into. Instead, like many of his peers, he thought he was a right-thinking rebel fighting against an oppressive order.
“I was growing up, getting past childhood, becoming an adult. I wanted to do that as fast as I could. I wanted to leave the old me behind and become the new one, whoever that might turn out to be.
“Meanwhile, I continued to think there were big problems in our society, especially all the greed and injustice I observed. Those were inhumane, unfair, and unnecessary, and they were everywhere. I was outraged. I thought nobody should have to live with them. The right and wrong of them was obvious to me, and I knew who to blame: our despicable elites.
“I hadn’t yet realized that problems like those reside within each of us as much as outside us. To me, they seemed to be out in the world, clearly identifiable there, not at all inside me or others who agreed with me. We were innocents. We should do what was right, band together and get out there and fight the bad guys. We should defeat them, and establish a new and better way of doing things. We should institute fundamental, far-reaching reforms. That was naive of me, as I say, and unrealistic, but I didn’t know that yet.”
We come of the void
into an age darker
than we like
It looks like it can but it can’t
Throughout those years, afflicted with adolescent unease, unhappy with his status quos both inner and outer, Vassal remained rebellious. As he says, he had not yet grown up. But he began to mature. His youthful rage and cynicism began to become his gentle but resolute skepticism toward everyone’s understandings and assumptions, his own as well as others’. He began to no longer mind pressures to conform. Rather, he began to regard those pressures as shadow play of his own creation, and to no longer disdain the people and media he had thought imposed them. More and more, he recognized that he was one of us all, not the outsider he had imagined himself to be.
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