Conversations Between Michael Albert and Noam Chomsky Pt. 2
In January 1993 Michael Albert and Noam Chomsky recorded a series of conversations which were later distributed by Z Magazine. Here we present a transcription of some material from the 1993 tapes, essentially verbatim, in three parts. Some of the topical material is now historical, of course, but the rest is as timely as when first discussed. It is divided into three parts: Part I -- Part II -- Part III
Suppose somebody could convince you, at the level of your belief in most things, that it's impossible to change the country. Suppose they convinced you that the basic institutional structure that we have now is going to be in place for the next two hundred years, adapted sure, but the basic structures as they are. Would you behave any differently?
You would behave exactly the same way.
The same way. In fact, you don't even have to make it hypothetical. When I got seriously involved in anti-Vietnam War activities, I was a hundred percent convinced that absolutely nothing could be done, and there was plenty of reason to believe that. I was giving plenty of talks, but they were usually in living rooms to a group of neighbors that somebody would get together. They were usually pretty hostile. Or in a church where there would be four people including some guy who wandered in because he didn't know what to do, and two people who wanted to kill you, and the organizer. Into 1965 and 1966, if we wanted to have at MIT an antiwar meeting, we would have to find six topics. Let's talk about
If you thought this was going to continue forever, you would still do it. I think it would be useful to explain why.
A number of quite simple reasons. For one thing, if somebody convinced me, it would be because I'm totally irrational. There's no way you could convince anybody of such things rationally. We cannot predict the weather two weeks ahead, and we even understand why we can't.
It's a hypothetical question. It gets to motivations. Obviously neither one of us believe it, and neither one of us believe you could prove it. You couldn't convince anybody rational of it.
You couldn't say anything convincing about it.
Nevertheless, supposing because a great many people not understanding that point, do feel this way or tend to feel this way sometimes and get depressed at moments. The question is, in any event, what gets you up each morning to do the things that you do? Is it that you think in terms of winning a little ways down the road, or is it something else?
It's hard to introspect, but to the extent that I introspect about it, it's because you basically have two choices. One choice is to assume the worst, and then you can be guaranteed that it will happen. The other is to assume that there is hope for change, and then it's possible that by acting you will help effect change. So you've got two choices. One guarantees that the worst will happen. The other leaves open the possibility that things might be better. Given those two choices, a rational person doesn't hesitate.
I used to think about this back when I was becoming political, in the mid-sixties. I played the hypothetical game a little more fairly than I think you are right now. I said to myself, OK, suppose it's haves and have-nots. Not very many haves, a whole lot of have-nots. Forever. Which side do you want to be on? And it's not an easy question. At the time it was trivial. In the sixties, that was an easy question to answer. You wanted to be on the side of the have-nots regardless of prospects. I think this had a lot to do with lifestyle and values and who you identify with. The other stuff, being a have, just wasn't attractive. Now I think it's a much harder question. But that's one kind of motivation that people can have for being radical. The other kind of motivation that people can have for being radical is the inclination that you're going to win tomorrow or in your lifetime or in a reasonable span of time. It seems like the first motivation breeds a different kind of person in some sense than the second. They're called purists, morally motivated, ethically motivated, and scorned a bit by some of the other types, with some reason. Because--and this was the other thing that I began to realize early on--trying to make social change isn't like trying to play socialist basketball. In working for social change, the score counts. It doesn't do to play well or congenially but lose. The combination of both of those motivations--scorning being a have but also seriously wanting to win--in one person seems to me to be rather difficult.
You mentioned two possibilities. One is a description of your own group's experience in the sixties. You didn't expect to win a huge victory tomorrow. Some people expected we'll go out and strike at Columbia ... And everybody will love each other and that's the end of power. We both know perfectly well that plenty of people believed that. There were other people who recognized it was going to be a long struggle but who were joining with like-minded people who shared their cultural values and their lifestyle and everything else. There's also a third type: You've got me. I was not part of the cultural scene. I certainly didn't expect a quick victory. I kept my old-fashioned bourgeois lifestyle, and I haven't changed it to this day. And there are people like that too. If we go on there are many more types of people. People can come in a lot of varieties. But it seems to me that it always comes down to the individual decision: What am I going to do? Here are my options. Of course, my personal options are broader than those of most other people, because I happen to be very privileged. But everybody's got some option. You ask yourself, Will I not use them at all? In which case I can be sure that suffering will continue and oppression will continue and discrimination will continue and get worse. Or will I use whatever options I have, try to work with others to change things? In which case things may get better. It seems to me that ultimately that's what things come down to, no matter who we are. And given those choices, a decent person is only going to go one way. That's exactly why society and the official culture doesn't want you to understand that you have those choices.
Is that true that a decent person's only going to go one way? I'm remembering a friend of mine who was an organizer in the sixties. We went through the antiwar movement. Then came a little bit further along and there was a trend toward doing community organizing, moving into a neighborhood, trying to organize people in that neighborhood. This individual was going to move into a neighborhood in Dorchester, in Boston, a working-class area and try and do organizing. He finally decided not to do it and somewhat later went back to graduate school and then became a psychiatrist and now, I'm sure, has progressive values at some level--I haven't seen him in years and years--but is certainly not involved in any significant way in political activity. The choice that he made was a very self-conscious one. He looked around him and he said, the impact that I personally am going to have is so small because I'm not so and so or so and so, he'd name some other people who had prospects of maybe in his eyes having more impact, because of whatever set of factors about, so that it simply isn't worth giving up what I think I'm giving up.
I don't know who you mean, but I know plenty of people like that. That person now, let's say he's a rich psychiatrist somewhere ...
He's probably reasonably well off.
He's got a lot of options. For example, he's got money.
This is like a person going to Harvard Law School. The probability that he'll do something good with his income after the years of earning it...
I agree. But he's simply deciding at some point not to face the options. He's always got them. He may decide, Look, I can't make enough of a change myself because I'm not good at it or whatever, so I'm just going to do what I like and enrich myself. But having done so, you still have plenty of options available. In fact, movement groups have existed in part because people who were doing other things were willing to fund them. Something as trivial as that. You can go way beyond that, of course, and still live your elegant lifestyle and do the work you want. We know people who have divided their lives that way. Of course it's extremely easy to say, the heck with it. I'm just going to adapt myself to the structures of power and authority and do the best I can within them. Sure, you can do that. But that's not acting like a decent person. You can walk down the street and be hungry. You see a kid eating an ice cream cone and you notice there's no cop around and you can take the ice cream cone from him because you're bigger and walk away. You can do that. Probably there are people who do. We call them "pathological." On the other hand, if they do it within existing social structures we call them "normal." But it's just as pathological. It's just the pathology of the general society. And people, again, always have choices. We're free people. You can decide to accept that pathology, but then do it honestly, at least, if you have that grain of honesty to say, I'm going to honestly be pathological. Or else try to break out of it somehow.
But for a lot of people I think it appears that there's an all-or-nothing choice. It appears that there's the choice of being normal--pathological as you describe, but a normal member of society with its normal benefits and costs and so on, but at least a reasonably average or perhaps elite existence that's accepted. Then there seems to be another "all" choice, to be a raging revolutionary. The reason why it's so hard for many people even just to take a leaflet from a protester, or to give a donation at a relatively low level which means nothing financially, which is less money than they're going to spend on dinner on Friday night when they go out, or to do some other act that is materially trivial, seems to be because there's a psychologically really powerful effect. The effect seems to me to be that at some level people know that to dissent is right, and at some level people know that to do it somewhat leads to doing it still more, so they defensively close the door right at the very beginning. They have a very hard time finding a place in that span of possible involvement that allows them to be a functioning human being with a degree of fulfillment in society and also lets them contribute to dramatically changing society.
You're right. Just giving your contribution of $100 to the Central America support center or whatever is a statement that you know that that's the right thing to do. Once you've stated it's the right thing to do, how come I'm only doing this limited thing since I could do a million times more? It's easier to say, I'm not going to face that problem at all. I'm just going to forget it entirely. But that's like stealing the ice cream cone from the kid.
But it says something to the left, or to movements and to organizers. It is at some level unreasonable to think that in the absence of hope or in the presence only of small hope and not a clear understanding of how one's going to make progress, that people are going to shift all the way from being average, normal, everyday folks of one type or another over to being political revolutionaries, people who see things in political terms. If there's no set of choices in the middle that are comfortable and that allow people to operate and to retain some of their lifestyle, then it's not likely that too many are going to do anything. You almost have to be religious to make the jump.
But the reality is there's a whole range of choices in the middle.
But people don't see them.
And all of us have made them. None of us are saints, at least I'm not. I haven't given up my house, my car, I don't live in a hovel. I don't spent 24 hours a day working for the benefit of the human race or anything like that. I don't even come close. I spend an awful lot of my time and energy ...
And you don't feel guilty about whatever else is it that you're doing, linguistics or ...
That's not so clear. But at least I certainly devote an awful lot of my energy and activity to things that I just enjoy, like scientific work. I just like it. I do it out of pleasure. And everybody else I know ...
Do you fool yourself into believing that doing that increases your effectiveness as a political person?
No, that's ridiculous. It has no effect on it. And I don't do it for that reason. I like it. I mean, I can make up a story ...
I think people have a hard time doing this. And that's why a lot of people do nothing politically dissident.
That's true, but if we were to go back to that small class of people who are visible, every one of them does this. Every single one.
Almost by definition.
Because you're not going to be effective as a political activist unless you have a satisfying life. There may be people who are really saints. I've never heard of one.
By definition they're not saints, because they're getting so much satisfaction out of the political activity, they're not saintly at it.
Not from the political activity. It may be that the political activities themselves are so gratifying that's all you want to do, so you throw yourself into that. That's a perfectly fine thing to be. It's just that most people have other interests. They want to listen to music. They want to take a walk by the ocean. Any human being is too rich and complex to be just satisfied with these things. You have to hit some kind of a balance. The choices are all there. And I think you've identified precisely why it's psychologically difficult for people to recognize that choices are there. Because once you recognize that the choices are there, you're always going to be faced with the question, why am I not doing more? But that's the reality of life. If you're honest, you're always going to be faced with those questions. And there's plenty to do. In fact, if you look back over the last period, there's a lot of successes to point to. It's amazing how many successes there are if you really think about it. Take something which very few people have been interested in. Take the issue of East Timor, the massacre. I got involved in that about fifteen years ago. People didn't even want to hear about it. Things finally got to the point where the U.S. Congress barred military aid to Indonesia. That's a tremendous change. You could save hundreds of thousands of lives that way. How many people can look back and say, Look, I helped save hundreds of thousands of lives? And that's one tiny issue.
I'm inclined to think that most of the people who are involved in that effort, instead of feeling elated or feeling at least a degree of satisfaction over their accomplishment, rather probably view it as a horrendously long campaign with very little achieved. It's like looking at the milk glass and saying it's half empty instead of half full. Except we see it empty even when it's almost full.
Suppose you're on your deathbed. How many people can look back and say, I've contributed to helping ... just one person not get killed?
I'm not disagreeing with you. I think you're right, clearly. But there's something that causes people, maybe it's something about our culture, to not see it.
I'm not so convinced of this. The sixties movements, roughly speaking, were almost overwhelmingly young people. Young people have a notoriously short perspective. It's part of being twenty years old. You don't think what's going to happen tomorrow. I've seen it around students, around children, even. I remember myself. You don't think what's life going to be like twenty years from now. Your perspective is short. The fact that it was a youth movement dominantly had good and bad aspects. One bad aspect was this sense that if we don't achieve gains quickly we might as well quit. But of course that's not the way changes come. The struggle against slavery, let's say, went on forever. The struggle for women's rights has been going on for a century. The effort to overcome wage slavery, that's been going on since the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, and we haven't advanced an inch. In fact, we are worse off than a hundred years ago in terms of understanding the issues. Well, OK, you just keep struggling.
Let's go back to one of the things that you mentioned along the way when you were talking about academics and what role they play and what they're doing and what their time goes to. You brought up briefly in passing postmodernism and these various other--either you can call them insightful forays into knowledge, or fads. I know, and probably most people listening know, at least somewhat, about your reaction to it. But let's go over it anyway. Where does it come from? Why does a person who has a tremendous amount of educational background, knowledge, experience, time to spend--spend it on something akin to astrology?
I don't want to overgeneralize. I think there is important and insightful work done in those frameworks. I find it really hard to figure out because I've got to labor to try to tease the simple, interesting points out. But there are things there. I think we're making progress there. But I think there's a point that's much more general. The fact is, it's extremely hard to have good ideas. There are very few of them around. If you're in the sciences, you know you can sometimes come up with something that's pretty startling and it's usually something that's small in comparison with what's known and you're really excited about it. Outside the natural sciences it's extremely hard to do even that. There just isn't that much that's complicated that's at all understood outside of pretty much the core natural sciences. Everything else is either too hard for us to understand or pretty easy.
So suppose you're making $50,000 a year as a academic in that field?
You've got to have a reason for your existence. The result is that simple ideas are dressed up in extremely complex terminology and frameworks. In part it's just careerism, or maybe an effort to build self-respect. Take, say, what's called "literary theory." I don't think there's any such thing as literary theory, any more than there's cultural theory.
And obviously you can read a book and talk about it.
Yeah, if you're reading books and talking about them and getting people to ...
You could be very good at that.
You could be terrific at it. Take, say, Edmund Wilson. He's terrific at it. But he doesn't have a literary theory. On the other hand, if you want to be in the same room with that physicist over there who's talking about quarks, you better have a complicated theory, too, that nobody can understand. He has a theory that nobody can understand, so why shouldn't I have a theory that nobody can understand?
The interesting thing is that the physicist will write about that theory in a popular book and explain it without a whole lot of rigmarole. It won't all be explained, but a great deal of it will be.
A great physicist of the modern period could write a book that you could give to your twelve-year-old kid and she'll understand it and learn something from it. In fact, I see it myself all the time.
What's the reason why literary theorists can't do that? Is it because there's nothing there?
That's my assumption. Either there's something there that's so deep that it's a kind of qualitative change in human intelligence, or there isn't a lot there. And it's not just literary theory. If somebody came along with a theory of history, it would be the same. "Theory" would be a sort of truism. Maybe "smart ideas." Somebody could have smart ideas and say, Why don't you look at class struggle? It's interesting. Or, Why don't you look at economic factors lying behind the Constitution? Pick your topic. Those are interesting smart ideas. But you can say them in monosyllables. And it's rare outside the natural sciences to find things that can't be said in monosyllables. There are interesting, simple ideas. They're often hard to come up with, and they're often extremely hard to work out. Like you want to try to understand what actually happened, say, in the modern industrial economy and how it developed the way it is. That can take a lot of work. But there isn't going to be anything too complex to talk about ... the theory will be extremely thin, if by "theory" we mean something with principles which are not obvious when you look at them from which you can deduce surprising consequences, check out the consequences, and then confirm the principles. You're not going to find anything like that.
So we can imagine two libraries, a library of literary theory books, postmodernism and so on, and another library over here with Marxist/Leninist books in essentially the same building.
I don't understand that either. I read all kinds of things which talk about dialectical materialism. I haven't the foggiest idea what it is.
It's a word like "postmodernism."
To me at least, yes. I've said this occasionally in interviews and I get long letters back from people saying, You don't understand. Here's what dialecticalism is.
And it's incomprehensible again.
Either it's incomprehensible or it's true, but totally obvious. People can be tone-deaf, too, they can't hear music. So like maybe I'm tone-deaf about this stuff or something. Everything I find in these fields either seems to be interesting but pretty obvious, once you see it, maybe you didn't see it, somebody has to point it out to you. But once you see it, it's of obvious. Or else the subject is just incomprehensible. In other fields it's quite different. If I pick up the latest issue of Physics Review, I'm not going to understand one word. But there's two differences. First of all, I know perfectly well what I would have to do to get to understand. And in some areas, I've even done it, although I'm not particularly good at it. But I can do it. The other thing is what you said before: I could ask you to tell me what this is about. I can go to some guy in the physics department and say, Tell me, why is everybody excited about this stuff? And they can tell it in a way which I can understand and adapt it to my level of understanding and also tell me how to go on, if I want to. In these other areas, say, dialectical materialism, or postmodern literary theory, there's just no way to do either of those two things, which leads me to only two conclusions. Either I'm missing a gene, like tone-deafness, which is conceivable, or it's a way of disguising maybe interesting ideas in an incomprehensible framework for reasons which ultimately turn out to be careerist. I don't want to criticize the people for being careerists. It's hard to live in this world, and you want to have self-respect. That's understandable and justifiable. And it turns out to be true that in most domains if there are hard things to understand, they're way beyond us.
Another trend in thinking or in how people approach society and try and understand it is the approach that's called "conspiracy theory," which we've both encountered, of course. It has gained a great deal of popularity, particularly on the West Coast. I wonder not so much in the specific instance of, say, JFK or other conspiracies that are discussed, but more broadly in terms of, What's the right way, what's the most useful or effective way to try to understand what's going on in society and to prepare oneself to interact with it? Is there something about conspiracy theory as compared to, what? an approach emphasizing institutions and their implications? that's an obstacle, that represents a hindrance on understanding the world to change it?
We want to find out the truth about the way things work. There are doubtless cases in which people get together, in fact, every example we find of planning decisions is a case where people got together and tried to figure something out and used their power or the power that they could draw from to try to achieve a result. If you like, that's a conspiracy. So with that definition everything that happens is a conspiracy. So if the Board of General Motors gets together and decides what kind of Chrysler, Ford, something, to produce next year, that's a conspiracy. Every business decision, every editorial decision ...
Ultimately made by people.
If my department gets together and decides who to appoint next year, okay, it's a conspiracy. That's not interesting. Obviously, all decisions involve people. If the word conspiracy is to have any sensible meaning, the question becomes whether there are groupings well outside the structure of the major institutions that go around them, hijack them, undermine them, pursue other courses without an institutional base, and so on.
So that would be the notion of conspiracy theory. Things happen because these groups exist and do them, outside the normal structures of society.
Because these groups or subgroups act outside of the structure of institutional power, they are special, and we call them conspiracies. But as I look over history, I don't find much of that. There are some cases, like a group of Nazi generals who at one point thought of assassinating Hitler. That's a conspiracy. But things like that are real blips on the screen, as far as I can see.
Supposing there's some number of them, what do you gain from spending a lot of time trying to unearth them and uncover them and understand them?
If people want to study the group of generals who decided that it was time to get rid of Hitler, that's a fine topic for a monograph, or maybe somebody will write a thesis on it. But we're not going to learn anything about the world from it. That will show how the people acted in particular circumstances, etc. Fine.
You say we're not going to learn anything about the world from it. That's true almost by definition. The whole idea is that these people act in a sense outside the normal functioning of the world, so studying them teaches us about them, but not about typical and recurring patterns in history.
They were acting outside because of unusual circumstances, exactly. And what's more, it's only a shade away from the Board of Directors of General Motors sitting down in their executive suite and making their regular decisions. It's just a little bit away from that because they happened to depart somewhat from the major power structures. But we're not learning much about how the world works, in fact, nothing that generalizes to the next case. It's going to be historically contingent and specific. If you look at modern American history, where these issues have flourished, I think such cases are notable by their absence. At least as I read the record, it almost never happens. Occasionally you'll find something, like, say, the Reaganites with their off-the-shelf subversive and terrorist activities. But that's kind of a fringe operation. Probably the reason it got smashed pretty quickly is because the institutions are too powerful to tolerate it. Take, say, the CIA, which is considered the source of lots of conspiracies. We have a ton of information about them, and as I read the information, they're pretty loyal bureaucrats and do what they're told. As far as the Pentagon goes, they'll push their interests, and the services will push their interests, but in pretty transparent ways.
So this is systemic, not conspiratorial. You have two arguments. One is, even if it exists, even if there are occasional or even frequent conspiracies, examining them is going to teach us about that event. Not much about history or the way things work. The next claim is, well, there aren't even that many in the first place.
What they usually are is what you'd find in a big corporation, or in a faculty, or any other structure you're in.
You think it's generally a normal outgrowth of the operations of an institution.
An institution has a certain structure of power. It has certain resources. It has an authority structure. It fits into the general society in certain ways, and if it tried to break out of those ways it would be undermined and destroyed. If General Motors decided to become a benevolent organization and produce good cars at the cheapest rates with the best working conditions, they'd be out of business tomorrow. Somebody who isn't doing it would undermine them. There are reasons why institutions operate the way they do within a bigger framework. Suppose, say, Clinton, in a dream, was really going to behave like the British Labor Party thinks he is, namely the revolutionary who is going to bring about a social revolution. In one minute, bond prices would start to decline slightly. The interest rate would go up. The economy would start to collapse, and that's the end of that program. There are frameworks within which things happen.
That's because he would be operating as a isolated individual with no power base, just because he wants to, perhaps with a few allies, a conspiracy running againts the grain, and getting nowhere.
Exactly. And the people who have the power would say, I don't like that, so I'll pull my money out of Treasury securities and put it somewhere else. And it goes down and you've got a response. In fact, if he doesn't understand it, he could have read a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago explaining it in simple words, just in case anybody got any ideas. But you don't have to say it. Everybody understands it. We have tremendous concentrations of power throughout the society in the economy and the political system and the ideological system. They're all very interlinked in all kinds of ways, but the degree of power and authority and domination is extraordinary. If any renegade group tried to break out of that, they would quickly be in trouble and cut off. You can see it happening, right at the top. Take, say, Nixon and Watergate. Watergate was just a triviality. In terms of the horrifying actions that the government carried out, Watergate isn't even worth laughing about. It's a tea party. It's kind of interesting to see what kind of issues were raised.
A teaparty except for one thing, which is that it was aimed at elites.
It was aimed at elites. He broke out of the normal workings of power. He called Thomas Watson of IBM a bad name. He tried to undermine the Democratic Party, which is half the business power in the country. Sure, he was called on the carpet and tossed out in three seconds. Not because he had violated some moral code. Essentially he was not attacked for the atrocities that he carried out. The FBI killed Fred Hampton in his administration, a straight Gestapo-style killing. That never came up at Watergate. Take the bombing of Cambodia, one of the most dramatic things, this thing called the secret bombing of Cambodia, which was "secret" because the press didn't talk about what they knew. They killed probably a couple hundred thousand people. They devastated a peasant society. It came up, but only in one respect: Did he tell Congress about it? In other words, were people with power granted their prerogatives? That's the only issue that came up. You can see what happens when somebody even marginally breaks out of the system. They're quickly put back in their box, because they're servants. Real power lies elsewhere.
And even there, it's not individuals. General Motors is an institution and the people who run it don't have that much power either.
The head of IBM just got tossed out. Why? They didn't have enough profit last year. You either do your job or you're out. Power lies elsewhere. When the American corporate system decided the Vietnam War wasn't worth it for them any more, they had gotten what they were going to get, they basically told Johnson to go back to Texas. He was fired. He was told, You're not going to run. Pull out. Now they have somebody else. Within a system that works like this, it would be pretty remarkable if there were anything remotely like what the various conspiracy theories conjure up. When you look at them, they just collapse, not surprisingly.
With perhaps one exception: King's assassination.
It's interesting. That's the one case where we can imagine pretty good reasons why somebody would want to kill him. I would not be in the least surprised if there was a real conspiracy behind that one, and probably a high-level one.
Assuming it was Hoover, then, the mechanism is there, the means are there, everything is available. Nobody would be upset in the government.
I don't think there's been a lot of inquiry into that one. If there has I'm not aware of it. But that's the one very plausible case. You're absolutely right. In the case of the one everybody's excited about, Kennedy, nobody has ever come up with a plausible reason.
It's an interesting question. Why do you think when you hear these people who believe in the efficacy of looking at conspiracy and trying to understand it, the amount of energy that goes into the Kennedy case almost can't even be measured, it's off the scale, but the amount of energy that goes into the King case is relatively small.
It's a pretty dramatic contrast, because the case of the King one is prima facie very plausible. The case of the Kennedy one is prima facie extremely implausible. So it is a question that you want to ask.
Perhaps if you have a conspiracy approach to things, the more implausible it is, the more outside of the normal grain it is, the more of a conspiracy it is, the more attractive it is to you. I don't know.
There are things in a way conspiring to make the Kennedy case an attractive topic. One is just the glitter of Camelot. The Kennedy administration was in many ways very similar to the Reagan administration in power.
The glitter of Camelot is specks of blood...
But the point is that the Kennedy administration did one smart thing. They buttered up the intellectual class, as compared with the Reaganites, who just treated them with contempt. The result was they got a terrific image. They gave an appearance of sharing power that was never real to the kind of people who write books and articles and make movies and that sort of thing. The result is that Camelot had a beautiful image, lovely imagery, and there's been great efforts to maintain that image. Somehow they succeeded in getting a lot of people to believe it. You can go down to the South, to a poor, rural, black area and you'll find a picture of Kennedy. In fact, Kennedy's role in the civil rights movement was not pretty. But somehow the imagery succeeded, even if the reality wasn't there. And it's certainly true that a lot of things have gone wrong in the last twenty, twenty-five years. Plenty of things have gone wrong, for all sorts of totally independent reasons, which one can talk about. The civil rights movement made great achievements, but it never lived up to the hopes that many people had invested in it. The antiwar movement made achievements, but it didn't end war. Real wages have been declining for twenty years. A lot of things have been happening that aren't pretty. And it's easy to fall into the belief that we had a hero and we had a wonderful country and we had this guy who was going to lead us to a better future ... we had the Messiah and they shot him down and ever since then everything's been illegitimate.