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Left Till the End

I’m older now, but still runnin’ against the wind.

–Bob Seger

Did you ever go to a class reunion and feel everyone in the room has moved on except you?

Recently, on separate occasions, I met with old pals, mainly guys, who like me went through the sixties sex-dope-‘n’-rock’n’roll scene and its street-fighting politics. Once, we marched, fought neo-Nazis hand to hand and hurled ball-bearings at police horses riding us down.

We’re middle-class, now; some comfortable, some not so. But what strikes me, painfully, is how, with age, several have moved to the right, grown conservative or war-hawkish or both. They’ve matured, while I seem to be stuck in the same old groove.

The so-called aging process, plus a steadier income, which wised them up, just makes me dig in my heels. I’m still way too in touch with the irresponsible teenager I used to be ? who ran around with Crayola scrawling on the windows of St Agatha’s church and B’nai Shalom Israel synagogue and Chicago Tribune, “BANISH CAPITALISTS FROM THE EARTH AND GODS FROM THE SKIES!”

I hate ruining friendships over politics. But there are only so many “dangerous” subjects you can avoid, no matter how hard you try. It really does get sticky. Examples: the English Labour stalwart who’s gone apeshit at “the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism”, and also thinks that student protesters, of which he was one once, should get “kettled” and spanked. Or the ex-socialist writer who gets into my face with the “not rising, but risen tide of Islamic jihadism!” Or the former Israeli leftwing kibbutznik who’s now a fanatic Milton Friedman free-marketeer. The ex-student organizer who thinks Julian Assange should be shot at dawn. A former civil rights hero who’s become a Zionist triumphalist. And so it goes, especially on the third rail of American politics, Israel.

With EM Forster, I believe friendship vastly more important than ideology, so backpedal, cowardly, from fights. Anyway, who am I to talk? Over time, I’ve grown more cautious and conservative. Don’t talk to me about violent street crime or “Call of Duty” video games (street crime by proxy) or rap lyrics (“Me So Horny, Put Her In The Buck!”) or ear-blasting public noises in general. I’ve even wobbled on capital punishment ? though, in light of California’s over 700 inmates on death row, have returned to my younger self who identified with the caged criminal not the robed judge.

In general, I’m talking more about my male than female friends, who ? I could be wrong about this ? have stayed the course more resolutely or stubbornly or blindly, depending on your bias. It seems to be a male thing, this turning. Examples of once leftish types getting crabbed and conservative in their later years include Kingsley Amis, John Osborne and John Braine, as well as Saul Bellow.

In his January 2008 inauguration speech, Barack Obama quoted scripture, urging us to “put aside childish things” (Corinthians 13:11). We now know he meant we should do the adult thing and run like hell from full-frontal confrontation with those who intend doing us great harm, like corporate outsourcers, White House economic advisers, CitiBankers, hedge-fund speculators and Paleo-Palin Republicans. Conceding the high ground even before it’s contested is Obama’s signature move.

I don’t much believe in role models, in the same way I don’t believe in head coaches or offensive coordinators instructing their quarterbacks via the helmet radio. Quarterbacks should make their own decisions, and we should make our own way in the world by screwing up and learning from our blunders. But sometimes, when my stomach turns queasy at yet another retreat from life, which gets tagged “bipartisan compromise”, I call upon examples of intransigence like Pete Seeger and the much-missed bombardier-professor Howard Zinn and Daniel Ellsberg ? no spring chickens ? who stubbornly, awkwardly, stayed young.

Obama should re-read Ephesians 6:12-18, as I’ve very slightly updated it:

For we wrestle ? against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places ?against those who would destroy Social Security and a living wage.”

CLANCY SIGAL is a novelist and screenwriter in Los Angeles. His most recent book is A Woman of Uncertain Character. He can be reached at clancy@jsasoc.com

 

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Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Black Sunset

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