In the summer of 1965, my parents made the potentially life-stopping decision to escape from what was then the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (CSSR), to give themselves and their progeny (including moi), a chance for a life in freedom and dignity. And, yes, in a capitalist society where, unlike in caste-ridden socialism, you can actually rise through the permeable boundaries between the economic classes by dint of your effort.
On an aside, escape from a socialist country was (and remains) not just illegal but completely unthinkable because, we must understand, socialism is on the right side of history, and therefore opposing it must needs be a sign of an antisocial reactionary mindset, hopeless moral decrepitude, mental illness, or all of the above.
My parents worked hard and stealthily through May, June and July to get ready. They told no one, not even family, because one of the more endearing aspects of socialist society is that you cannot trust anyone. (Too many truly progressive, truly moral, truly mentally hale folks around who cannot abide others’ desire to better themselves, and will report you to the peace- and freedom-loving authorities.) We finally drove off under cover of darkness, legally crossed boundaries into Hungary and then Yugoslavia, and spent almost a month looking for ways to manage an illegal crossing of the Iron Curtain (mines, machine guns, dogs and all). Having once succeeded, we emigrated to the United States and proceeded to become moderately successful. (All this is serialized elsewhere in this blog.)
All this time, I had mistakenly thought that our success – escape, emigration, future in America – was largely due to my parents’ uncompromising devotion to freedom and their desire to work like animals, to take any risk, to achieve it. But, explains Guru Barack, this is precisely the wrong conclusion, undoubtedly borne of an antisocial reactionary mindset, hopeless moral decrepitude, mental illness, or all of the above.
In fact, per Obama, my parents must have had very little, if anything, to do with it. It was all the other folks who had made it possible for us. It was the CSSR socialist authorities who knew ahead of time what my parents wanted to do, and therefore had created a regime from which it would be necessary – for our kind – to flee. No, my parents, weren’t any active agents of our escape at all – just more or less passive participants. Instead, the glory should be apportioned roughly as follows:
- It was the Czechoslovak, Hungarian and Yugoslav border guards who had failed to search our car well enough to discover unmistakable signs of attempted escape (after all, why would a doctor take his license and medical school transcript with him on vacation, not to mention all the family birth certificates, and such?)
- It was the Yugoslav cops who had never pulled us over.
- It was the Austrian police who, after we entered Austria illegally, had believed our story and released us on our own cognizance.
- It was (again) the all-beneficent Czechoslovak socialist state which, by locking its citizens in on the plantation since 1948, had caused the Czechoslovak immigration quotas to the U.S. to be wide open, allowing us to come to America a mere four months after our escape.
- It was the loving and beneficent Czechoslovak secret police (StB) agent who had come to visit us in Vienna to try and entice us to return, but took No for an answer.
- It was an American doctor named Rypins who had written a well-organized review of medicine that my father had crammed from and then passed the ECFMG exam the first time around.
- It was the hospital in Port Chester, New York that had hired Dad in 1966 to serve his internship and residency.
- It was the State of Washington which had providentially organized a dearth of doctors in 1968 so Dad’s new practice could quickly prosper.
This list could go on forever: indeed, one must even give particularly honorable mention to the SS which, after six years of slave labor and concentration camps, had failed to finish Dad off. But thanks to Guru Barack, the point is clear. Individual effort accounts for naught, the collective is the only thing that allows an individual to succeed, even to live.
Okay, I’m done laughing (and weeping).
The notion that “society has your back” and the individual is a passive cog that rises and falls only at society’s whim is philosophically so infantile that I genuinely feel ashamed for Obama. If he really believes this, if he thinks that his “revelation” has actually contributed to intelligent discourse in this country, then he is not qualified to lead a potty detail, let alone a democratic nation, and he must be got rid of as rapidly as possible.
Of course there is a complex interplay between an individual and society. This has been so axiomatic from the most ancient of times that I have never read or heard anyone of any consequence deny it. You might say that society is like water in which the individual swims; the degree to which he is mindful, the rate at which he flaps his fins productively (all gifts imparted by parents, teachers and other individuals) and the way he manages to avoid shoals and sharks are rough measures of his progress.
But there are unforeseen circumstances in which the individual falls prey to the shoals and sharks. In any mature view of society, this is understood and accepted. No one has total control over circumstances, and the best effort is sometimes cruelly thwarted. Imagine, for instance, an Olympic runner who is trying to cross the street when a nearby car runs over a nail, blows a front tire, goes out of control and takes off the athlete’s legs. Imagine an entrepreneur with a great idea who invests everything into making the idea a reality, only to find out that someone in another country had done it two weeks before.
Essential Point No. 1. Individual ideas, individual creativity, individual effort and individual expertise in the face of all obstacles remain the sine qua non of success. The political, economic and social system in which such success is possible (but not guaranteed) is known as democracy, whose economic component is known as capitalism.
Unless, of course, someone starts pouring Portland cement into the water in which the individual is swimming. Then, of course, the individual has very few concrete options, and only the all-powerful hand that wields the bag with the cement can help. Which leads us to…
Essential Point No. 2. If you create a society in which the individual can barely move, you get individual helplessness and dependence on the all-powerful hand that pours in the cement (rules, regulations, ukases) to thicken the water in which the individual swims. Except, of course, for the lucky, loyal few who get to do the pouring and who are then free to enjoy the unearned privileges of absolute rule over masses of the helpless.
And this is what Barack Obama is seeking for us – and for himself and a lucky few of his backers.
And, as the laboratory called Earth has demonstrated to us time and time again over that past hundred years or so, this is the true face of socialism.