I remember that around at least six years ago (goddamn, time flies!), right around the time that I was starting University, I had already decided what my stance on the political spectrum would be. I must have been between 17 and 18 years old, fresh out of high-school and hell-bent on picking a side. But let me back-track a bit to give you some context.
For as long as I can remember, politics have always been discussed at family meetings (including our extended family), the dinner table, outings, and especially during those long nights fueled by Rum, heated discussions and a deck of playing-cards. Obviously, I was not always interested, but I remember that even as a kid I could hear the adults talking about Elections and Corrupt Politicians and Wars and other things that although were incomprehensible to me, appeared to hold a great deal of importance to the flabby adults rambling on about it and turning red from ire and too much drink. But it wasn’t until high-school that I became vaguely interested in politics, and it was mostly because I figured out that by taking a certain side or by stringing a few chosen words together, it was possible to piss many people off – and to do so without having to lift a finger.
I remember one time in my grade 11 or 12 politics class an incident with my teacher that I would now say was more or less a defining moment in my life. Well, a few weeks before the incident I had been sitting in a Chinese restaurant on the China-town strip on Spadina Road (in Toronto) with my father, mother and little brother who refused to eat Chinese food and would only fill up on sweets and tea until we left the restaurant and he got a pepperoni slice. While we waited for the food, I was telling my parents a little bit about what we had been discussing in class and about other things that I had heard or read. Then at one point, I remember that I asked them what it meant to be a socialist or a communist. Of course they did not have a nice, short, compact answer (thankfully); rather, they first asked me why I was interested in knowing about it, what I knew about it, and then went on to give me a brief overview of what they knew of the Cuban Revolution and other such movements. I was smitten with what they were telling me, but when they asked me if I thought I was one, I told them that I couldn’t say so yet; that I thought I possibly would want to be one, but that I’d first need to learn properly what it was and what it meant to be one. We went on talking a little more about that, school and other things as we devoured some of the best Chinese food in Toronto (too bad I don’t remember the restaurant’s name).
Ok, skip a few weeks ahead. I was sitting in class, still rattling with the questions I had asked my parents and the things that I had read since then. Mind you, during the latter part of high-school I was hitting the bong pretty hard, and most of my classes after lunch consisted of either naps or “writing time” as I scribbled some half-baked ideas on my notebooks. But on this particular day, though very stoned, I was paying attention to what the teacher was saying. I had my arms folded across the desk and my chin resting on them, and my half-opened, red eyes were fixed on the hazy figure moving and talking in front. She started giving an overview of what we were going to talk about in the following weeks, or something to that effect. Then she started mentioning things like “capitalism” and “socialism” and “revolution” and “dictatorships”. I lifted my head and tried shaking myself a little more awake to listen better. Then she said it. I don’t remember her exact words (perhaps because I’m still hitting that bong), but the gist of it was that Fidel Castro was a dictator who drove around in golden BMW limousines while the rest of the Cuban people died in hunger and misery. Now, despite the political views of anyone that may be reading this, and whether they believe that or not, I found it arrogant and, most of all, utterly irresponsible for a teacher to state such ludicrous opinions as fact (when even stating them as opinion would be questionable) in a high-school classroom. So I began to protest as I simultaneously lifted my hand up to signal that I was questioning something she said.
“Wow, wow, wow,” I started, trying to sound sober. “You can’t go around stating your opinions as fact, miss! I don’t even think that what you’re saying is true…” And I went on saying some other things. Now this was in high-school, so I may have been a bit blunter, but there was never any swearing or blatant disrespect but for the fact that I interrupted her tirade. Well, she was furious. She cut me off right away and told me that I had to put my hand up if I wanted to speak, to which I tried frantically responding that she was wrong and shouldn’t be saying things like that and blah blah blah. Ultimately, she told me that I shouldn’t be so rude and openly contradict teachers in a classroom, and then she gave me detention after school. I tried protesting a bit, but obviously it was to no effect. I didn’t say much else after that, particularly because I was paranoid being so stoned and for the dope that I was carrying in my pockets, so I just said, “I don’t think that’s fair, but ok…” and shut up.
When I got home extra late that evening after being held for an hour or so I told my parents what had happened, infuriated, and they replied, also infuriated with that hard-headed, immature teacher of mine. I don’t recall the exact details of their meeting, but my father tells me that shortly after that (perhaps the next day) he had a one-on-one meeting with her where they discussed that incident, among other things. I don’t believe that I was aware of that meeting, because the following day, as I sat in class, too stoned to hold a grudge with anyone, something the same teacher was saying caught my attention again. However, this time, it was not the content of what she said but rather the words that she was using: they were the exact words that I had heard my father speak a million times before. She began saying something about when people get old they often forget about what they were like in their youth and the mistakes that they may have committed; and that it was the gift of the wise adult to tactically deal with such situations; and finally that it is characteristic of the wise adult not to feel vindicated but rather happy when young people show any interest in what they are saying, even if they happen to disagree. It was like hearing my father speak, almost verbatim, in fact, because I had already heard that lecture many times before. She went on teaching the class regularly, but when we were done she told me to stay for a while so we could talk. She apologized for having given me detention, admitting that it was the embarrassment of being contradicted so bluntly in front of the others that pissed her off, and not the fact that I spoke out of turn. For my part, I also apologized for having spoken without raising my hand first, but I assured her that I would do it again if she said things like that another time, lest she shows where she got her facts from. And that’s how we left it. We never spoke again after that, except in class. Actually, I returned to the school on one of my days off three or four years later to visit some teachers and I ran into her. We had an amicable and brief conversation, though there was obvious tension. I have never seen her since.
But it was during that classroom that I realized that there would always be people exposing those opinions as facts, particularly about Cuba and about anything that had to do with Socialism. I did not start considering myself a socialist then, but I certainly took on an interest about the theories of socialism and capitalism, finding myself very naturally attracted to the first. It was at that moment also that I realized that by taking a side, I could piss people off, for better or for worse. This became more and more evident throughout University, where heated debates between advocates for both sides always left me wanting more, until eventually I started taking place in them. As the years went by, I began to understand all those things that the flabby adults would speak about and I even began contributing my own fractured and still not fully formed opinions during family visits.
During University my views solidified. Though I couldn’t say I know everything about it, I have arrived at a conclusion that only through Socialism can the Human Spirit flourish; that capitalism, despite its obvious benefits, ultimately leads to the impoverishment of the largest sections of any society that adopts it; and most importantly, that I live in a system that is inevitably filled with people that, like that teacher, will try to impose their views on the easily influenced rather than presenting facts to help us arrive at our own conclusions. Unfortunately, political views are just as capable of destroying as they are of creating relationships, connections, friendships and alliances. However, in my opinion, the biggest lesson I learned with that unfortunate experience in high-school and my subsequent time in University, was not that I like Socialism over Capitalism (that would have become evident as soon as I began reading up on those things). Rather, it was the fact that I realized that seeking the truth – or verification or clarification – behind politically charged statements or opinions can end up infuriating those who hold them, particularly when they themselves began holding these opinions as a result of others inculcating them inside their heads with preaching; and particularly when certain views are held for personal gain, economic or otherwise. And in my experience, when speaking with others of the benefits and shortcomings of both socialism and capitalism, the Truth is something to be dug out from deep under personal prejudices and complexes.
In my opinion, Socialism is alive and well in the 21st Century as it becomes more and more evident than Capitalism is a Goliath falling on its knees and decimating the society around it as it does.
So now I always fight my fights from the Far Left, with paper and pen as my Rifle and Knife.