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Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Delusions Remembered

Jill and I are mostly forward-looking people. We don’t spend much time dwelling on the past. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t indulge in a little reminiscing from time to time. We were doing a bit of that the other day, and it was sparked by the subject of Kathy Boudin’s recent granting of parole.

This is a subject of more than passing interest to both of us. A person close to us was a friend of Kathy’s, traveled in the same underground circles, and did a bit of jail time him/herself. (I’m respecting this person’s anonymity because s/he now lives a conventional suburban family life as a working professional in a community not large enough to be very understanding about this kind of a past).

This person has said that the question that s/he lives with every day is, “How could something that felt so right have been so wrong? How could I have been so blind?” A statement from Ms. Boudin touches on this same question of self-delusion.

My activities and Jill’s during this period of national upheaval, while energetic and vociferous, did not extend past marching and sign carrying. Fortunately, we didn’t venture into the dark realm of bomb-brewing, robberies, vandalism or other dangerous, illegal actions.

However, when the dust settled from the Vietnam era, we became very caught up in the next revolution that followed—i.e., the struggle for the inner transformation of personal consciousness--the much-ridiculed, but very-influential-at-the-time, New Age.

It was this period about which Jill and I were reminiscing. We applied our own version of the question now asked by our formerly ultra-radical friend, “How could so much of what we thought was so right have been so stupid?”

Actually, it wasn’t all crap. I’m not going to bother with a rundown of the list, but there were a few things we did that provided important, beneficial change in our lives, and whose impact is still a positive force after a quarter of a century. But, for the vast majority of our past activities in this realm, most of our former exuberance seems pretty silly in retrospect—even embarrassing.

The ability of the mind to dupe itself seems timeless and nearly limitless. It’s as true of societal mind as personal mind. The obvious examples in modern times are Nazism and Communism. In our own society the McCarthy period and the Vietnam period would top the list. And now, of course, we’re stuck with the fruits of yet another delusional episode—i.e., this whole sorry Iraq business.

These delusions, whether personal or societal, all tend to flow from the same source—a primal, existential fear about accepting the fact that Life has its own flow and you can’t do much to control it.

Yes, you can try; and yes, you can exert some influence here and there; and yes, you may consider it your moral duty to do so. But be prepared for unintended consequences. Kathy Boudin would no doubt concur—as will our children when confronted with the likely fiscal reckoning that may be coming due, thanks to our society’s latest delusional joy ride.

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