By Oleg Atbashian
This article is republished with permission from our friend Oleg Atbashian at The People’s Cube.
The two women who showed up early for my book signing at a small bookstore in Houston, TX, never even bothered to open my book. Wearing knowing smiles, they engaged me in a bizarre discussion that wound up leaping all around the known and unknown universe. They hadn’t the slightest curiosity about my ideas as an ex-Soviet immigrant in America, or what I had to say about my experience working inside the two ideologically opposed systems. As it turned out, they had spotted my flyer in the store window the day before, and the book’s title – Shakedown Socialism – had enraged them so much that they decided to return the following day and give me a piece of their collective mind.
Their act almost made me feel as if I were back in the USSR, where the harassment of people with my opinions was the norm. The shorter, pudgier woman was the soloist bully, while her skinnier, older comrade provided backup vocals and noise effects. The duo’s repertoire was an eclectic collection of unoriginal talking points, each branded with an almost legible label: NPR, Air America, MSNBC, and so on. Not only were those mental fragments mismatched in key and rhythm; the very existence of harmony seemed an unfamiliar concept to them. But compared to the hard-core screaming I used to hear from card-carrying Soviet bullies, this was almost elevator music. If I had survived the original cast, I could certainly handle a watered-down remake.
Framed on their terms, the debate zigzagged from the evils of unbridled capitalism to global warming to Bush’s wars for oil to Sarah Palin’s stupidity. Since my opponents wouldn’t give me a chance to respond, I soon became bored and tried to entertain myself by redirecting the flow of mental detritus against itself in a way that would cause its own annihilation. I did that by asking questions.
I remembered an old trick invented in the fifth century B.C. by Socrates. Instead of telling people what he thought was true, Socrates asked seemingly simple questions that put his opponents on the path of finding the truth for themselves. Seeking genuine knowledge rather than mere victory in an argument, Socrates used his questions to cross-examine the hypotheses, assumptions, and axioms that subconsciously shaped the opinions of his opponents, drawing out the contradictions and inconsistencies they relied on.
As the two women faced my questions, their knowing smiles turned to scowls. Sometimes they would backtrack and correct their previous statements; sometimes, they would angrily storm out of the room in the manner of Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg on The View with Bill O’Reilly. After a while they would return with more talking points, and then they had to answer another logical question. My friends who witnessed the scene told me later they saw the shorter bully beginning to foam at the mouth.
Some heads contain an enormous number of facts that never bind with one another to form a fertile soil from which original ideas will grow. Each piece of information exists independently from the others, all of them continuously shifting and rolling around like grains of sand, forming ephemeral dunes in the lifeless deserts of their minds.
The “open-minded” owners of such heads like to open their minds in the company of peers and admire each other’s fanciful sandy mindscapes. Every new whiff of wind or shaking of the head tosses the sand in more quirky patterns, forming new whimsical outlines. As previously covered facts are exposed and facts once exposed are concealed, a semblance of new ideas will emerge without any true change in content.
A similar effect is achieved when the content of such minds is raked by “intellectual” authors, filmmakers, and politicians – a practice they immensely enjoy, calling it a “spiritual” experience. They think of themselves as “intellectuals” while denying this title to anyone with a consistent, original mind. To have structured values is an unpardonable faux pas in their circles. Those who challenge them get sand thrown in their eyes – the punishment I was being subjected to at the Houston bookstore.
In return, I reminded my opponents about the existence of the scientific method of discovery – a logical device that had made Western civilization so successful in the past, but had now been abandoned by “progressive” thinkers. The resulting cognitive dissonance made them disoriented. In due course, they panicked and walked out, never to come back.
A few weeks later I told this story to Maggie Roddin, a radio talk show host in Philadelphia. Maggie asked me to recall some of the questions, but I could only remember a few. She insisted that I write them down to share with her audience. As I did so, more questions began to pop up. Some were new, while others I had been asking for years while trying to make sense of my American experience. The resulting list may not exactly fit the definition of Socratic questioning. But in my defense, even Socrates couldn’t possibly envision the scale of absurdity a political argument could reach in the 21st century.
Dear Americans, these are some questions I have collected in 16 years of living in your country. Please see if you can answer them for me:
- If all cultures are equal, why doesn’t UNESCO organize International Cannibalism Week festivals?
- Why do those demanding “equal pay for equal work” never protest against “equal pay for little or no work”?*Why has no politician ever run on men’s issues or promised to improve the lives of males?
- If all beliefs are equally valid, how come my belief in the absurdity of this maxim gets rejected by its proponents?
- Ever noticed that for the past thirty years, we’ve been hearing we have less than ten years to save the planet?
- Once a politician labels the truth as hate speech, can anyone trust him to speak the truth afterward?
- If a politician gets elected by the poor on a promise to eliminate poverty, wouldn’t fulfilling his promise destroy his voting base? Wouldn’t he rather benefit from the growing numbers of poor people? Isn’t this an obvious conflict of interests?
- How did the “war on poverty” end? Has there been a peace treaty or a ceasefire? Who is the occupying force and who are the insurgents?
- Why weren’t there demonstrations with anti-feudal slogans under feudal rule? And under Stalin, no anti-communist demonstrations? And under Hitler, no anti-fascist demonstrations? In a free capitalist society, anti-capitalist demonstrations are commonplace. Is capitalism really the worst system?
- If capitalism makes some people rich without making others poor, who will benefit when capitalism is destroyed?
- If the poor in America have things that people in other countries can only dream about, why is there a movement to make America more like those other countries?
- Why, on the rare occasions when Obama’s actions benefit America, does his base get angry? And every time his actions are hurting this nation, his base is happy? Who exactly are these people?
- If cutting out the middleman lowers the price, why are we paying the government to stand between us and the markets?
- If racial profiling is an abomination, what do you make of the last presidential election?
- After Eric Holder called Americans a nation of cowards, what has he done personally to help the situation?
- If diversity training benefits everyone, why do those classes mostly consist of white heterosexual males?
- Why is a huge poisonous cloud over a volcano considered magnificent – but a smokestack over an American factory is ugly and harmful?
- How many Kyoto Protocols are rendered pointless by one medium-sized volcanic eruption?
- Why is burning gas in my car hurting the planet, but setting fire to housing developments in California is saving it?
- Why does Hollywood glamorize drug addicts, criminals, liberal Democrats, and mentally challenged people? What do they all have in common?
- How come Hollywood can always find a good side in thugs, but never in businesspeople? What was the last movie that pictured a self-reliant, industrious man as a role model?
- If it’s capitalist greed that forces Hollywood to exploit the lowest human instincts, why didn’t the same greed force Hollywood to exploit America’s patriotism and make war movies showing the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan as a force for good? Wouldn’t one such film bring more green cash than all the anti-American flops in the recent years? Where was Hollywood’s capitalist greed then?
- How come those calling Sarah Palin a “bimbo” often look like part of Paris Hilton’s entourage?
- If there are no absolutes and family is an antiquated tool of bourgeois oppression, why is having gay marriage an absolute must?
- Would you know from the media coverage that there are more sex offenders among public school teachers then among Catholic priests? How come the church gets the blame and the Department of Education doesn’t?
- Why is the media so outspoken about sex abusers being priests, but avoids calling them homosexual pedophiles? Who are they afraid to offend?
- Why do those who decry modern civilization never live far from shopping centers and why don’t they grind their coffee with a stone ax?
- If we are called a “consumer society” because we consume, why aren’t we also called an “excreter society” because we excrete? For that matter we also sleep, dream, talk, think, invent, play music, raise children, feel pain, get sick and die. Many of us work for a living. Why aren’t we called a “producer society” because we produce the things we consume? Who puts these labels on us and for what purpose?
- How come the unselfish Americans hate their country out of personal frustrations, while the selfish ones defend America with their lives?
- If describing terrorists as freedom fighters is justified by the journalistic principle of neutrality, what is the name of the principle that justifies describing U.S. troops as rapists and murderers?
- When the media portrays the killing of terrorists as “slaughter of civilians,” while slaughter of civilians is portrayed as “resistance to occupation,” is the media really being neutral? Whose side are they really on?
- If Hollywood types are so opposed to capitalism, why is there a warning against unauthorized distribution of their movies?
- Why is experimenting on animals cruel, but experimenting on human embryos compassionate?
- How come industrial logging is a crime against nature, but the destruction of forests by wildfires is a natural cycle of life?
- Why do those who object to tampering with the environment approve of tampering with the economy? Isn’t the economy also a fragile ecosystem where a sudden change can trigger a devastating chain reaction?
- Isn’t the latest economic crisis such a chain reaction?
- Aren’t most of today’s social ills the result of tampering with social ecosystems?
- Why is bioengineering bad, but social engineering good?
- If Al Gore is right and our consumption of the planet’s resources is a moral issue, doesn’t that make genocide an ethical solution? How about an artificial famine? What would Al Gore choose?
- If being a winner in nature’s struggle for survival is selfish, does being extinct make you an altruist?
- Since our planet’s resources are limited, wouldn’t the ultimate act of environmental activism be to stop eating and starve to death?
- How come those who hate humanity for its faults are called “humanists” but those who love humanity for its virtues are called “hate-mongers”?
- If economic ups and downs are natural cycles, why is the downturn always blamed on unbridled capitalism, but the upturn is the result of a wise leadership of a Democrat president?
- Why is there never a media story praising capitalism for the booming economy?
- Ever noticed that those who demand “power to the people” also believe that people can’t do anything right without government supervision?
- How exactly does dependency on the government increase “people power”?
- Why is there never a headline that says “Government program ends as its intended goal has been achieved”?
- How come so many anti-American radicals are wearing American brands, listen to American music, watch American movies, and play American video games on computers designed by American engineers?
- Why do advocates for higher taxes have accountants advising them how they can pay smaller taxes? Wouldn’t you expect them instead to seek advice on how to give away more of their income to the IRS? Or at least not to hire accountants at all?
- Can you name one person who paid the IRS more than he owed because he trusted the government to put his money to good use?
- Did it occur to any of the 9/11 Truthers that a government conspiracy to murder thousands of people would have also included a plan to rub out a few troublemakers?
- If U.S. oil companies own everyone in Washington, how come they allowed Congress to grill them for the alleged price gouging – and to broadcast it on C-Span?
- Why didn’t Congress also grill Hugo Chavez, Vladimir Putin, and a guy named Abdullah Ibn Abdul Aziz Bin Abdulrahman Bin Faisal Bin Turki Bin Abdullah Bin Muhammad al Saud?
- Why are windfall profits a problem when they enrich U.S. companies that pay billions in taxes – but when Hugo Chavez uses the same windfall profits to fund Marxist guerillas in Colombia, it’s not a big deal?
- If George W. Bush was an oil-thirsty dictator, why couldn’t he in eight years get permission from Congress to drill in ANWR? And why didn’t that failure in any way hurt his dictatorial reputation with the media?
- If it’s true that the media emphasized bad news and harassed President Bush only because they competed for ratings, what changed now? Aren’t they worried that today’s emphasis on good news from the White House will destroy their ratings and make journalism irrelevant?
- And finally, if all opinions are equal, how come a liberal who disagrees with a conservative is open-minded, but a conservative who disagrees with a liberal is a bigot?
I hope you will find my questions handy. Feel free to pass them around and propose some of your own in the comments below.
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