Today the Protest is a way of life. Before the year is out a publisher is bound to bring out A Guide To The Cornpleat Protester. Or, Protesting Made Easy. The Armchair Protester. The Peripatetic Protester. And, of course, one called The Dynamic Protester. Naturally a religious thinker will pound one out too - The Power Of Positive Protesting, followed by Peace of Mind Through Angry Sign-Carrying.
It's got to come. And sadly enough, what most of us are protesting against today, in general, is Human Nature itself. We're literally angry at being people. However, this is rarely admitted, and hence most protests are leveled against other men. Very few ever protest against the flaws in themselves.
Hence, if you can find the rottenness in somebody else that has always vaguely bugged you a little in yourself, protest loudly against the other guy and no one will notice you. An old forensic trick, and one that most politicians use to great advantage. The alderman with the biggest fist in the till will invariably be the first politician to campaign, loudly trumpeting: "Rout the grafters out of City Hall!"
Be careful. This is a problem that is not limited to the consciously sneaky, and has been detected in many a vehement Protester's bellows of passion.
Most Protesters I've known - and I've known Protesters all of my life, and have from time to time been one - are blessed with a sense of Righteousness far and above and beyond the call of ordinary righteousness of the plain citizen. By "righteousness" I mean here a sense that they are - intrinsically - better and more superior people than the ordinary lot.
They are more sensitive, have greater morals; they have a firmer grasp of The Issues, if not a total stranglehold on them. Even though most of them never bother to read about the issues at stake. They have a firm grasp of their side of any argument. And even that may not be so very firm. At least it's loud!
Usually the Protester will pride himself on being more Intellectual than other people. This is one of the big gambits. I have never met a Protester who did not believe himself intellectually superior, or at least more delving and probing, than what he usually calls "The People." And yet, I have rarely met a Protester who really was intellectual. And, in fact, they are generally the opposite, being much more involved with passion than with reason. And today it is easy to confuse passion for intellect, though they are at opposite ends of the pole.
Now, you can be intellectually passionate. Or you can be passionately intellectual. But it's very difficult to be intellectual and passionate at the same time. They hardly ever go in the same direction.
And the Intellectual really causes the Protester to become angry. Their real enemy is the Intellectual, primarily because the intellectual keeps bringing logic into various issues. And they'll say: "What do ‘you mean, logic!!? What kind of . . . what do YOU know?" And the next thing you know they're throwing catch-phrases like "Love" and "Freedom" around like confetti on New Year's Eve.
"What is it? Don't you have any love for your fellow man?"
Well, it's not just a discussion of Love here; we're talking about the basic issue of right and wrong. The logical extension of this principle could lead us to an enormous protest that could go on and on forever, which inevitably results in the Final Protest. And the Final Protest is War. The Ultimate Protest March.
As yet, however, this is merely an abstraction. There are other and more immediate dangers. For example, the growing belief that the Protester is always right. Simply because he is protesting, and in spite of the obvious fact that most Protesters use exceedingly devious arguments to "prove" their points. For example, a recent issue of Playboy quotes Lenny Bruce, a typical free-form Protester of our time: "Well, yes, I would hire convicts. Jimmy Hoffa hires convicts. Yes, I'm for Jimmy Hoffa ‘cause he hires convicts, and I suspect that's what Christ would do, too."
This is quoted as an example of an inspired piece of lucid commentary on the absurdity of our times, and in a way it is, since Bruce is obviously taken seriously. His argument could be called Benevolence By Association. I'm sure that this gambit is even more sinister than the thing most Protesters ostensibly are against - Guilt By Association.
Apparently, in the cool, logical way Bruce usually has of getting at the core of the issues, he sees Hoffa and Christ marching side by side carrying the banner of Tolerance. Well, he neatly sidesteps the obvious fact that if Christ did hire convicts he would obviously hire them out of vastly different motives than Mr. Hoffa's.
But apparently Motive plays no part in the Protester's scheme of things, as he is a great believer in Ends and certainly not worrying too much about Means. I hate to mention this, Lenny, but Hitler also employed convicts, and in fact the SS was originally composed of large numbers of them. This sort of Dynamic Reasoning is being used on all sides today by people who should know better.
It is getting to the point where Demonstration has superseded any sort of discussion. And oddly enough, most dedicated demonstrators are in favor, in theory at least, of free discussion. No doubt many Demonstrators reading this piece will immediately scream to high heaven that I am (1) Obviously a Segregationist, (2) Pro-Bomb, (3) A Right-Wing fanatic, (4) Hopelessly out of it, (5) A William Buckley admirer, and (6) A son of a bitch. Well, you may be right. On at least one count.
The sad fact is, however, that most Demonstrations throughout history have started out as something good and clarifying, and have wound up often a greater evil than the one they originally killed. I wish this were not so, but historically it has often worked out that way, and through just such perversions of truth and inversions of logic as are now beginning to sprout like dandelions in an Indiana meadow in August.
The Big Lie has become almost a prime way of life for many Right Thinkers.
It is really a problem of Intolerance, a new kind of Intolerance that marches under the banner of Tolerance; Anti-Intellectuality masquerading as Intellectuality, Anger replacing Reason. There is a new kind of demagoguery on the scene. No longer are the windhags and rabble-rousers Politicians. The new demagoguery is coming from the Literary world and the Dynamic Protesters. If a man has Anger going for him, the world of the Nice Guys and Pepsi-Cola drinkers will usually pay him obeisance.
A couple of weeks ago Jimmy Hoffa showed up on TV being interviewed by Eric Goldman, the historian. It was a sad exhibition. The poor interviewer was obviously a man of the old Liberal persuasion who believed in discussing issues and answering questions when asked. He was suddenly up against a man who was a bull. Who never discussed an issue directly, and who would always evade the issue by bringing up, in the old McCarthy fashion, an extraneous side issue. He continually yelled loudly into the microphone and glared directly into the camera, and radiated Righteous Anger at every politely phrased question. Until the poor little guy, who no doubt knew all the rules of Aristotelian Logic wound up defeated and looking like a fool.
What is important, of course, is that Hoffa recognized the fact, probably subconsciously, that the man with Righteous Anger is always the one to whom everyone will listen. And so the poor little Professor would ask a question like: "Well, now, what about this, sir? You once said that you are the most powerful man in the United States and could stop the Economy if you wanted to, and…."
Hoffa (Voice rising in shrill anger. eyes burning, looking directly into the camera) : "Well, yeah! All right! I'm glad you brought that up! What about the sharecroppers? What about them sharecroppers sittin' down there, poor little people sittin' around without even a loaf of bread to eat! ! Yeah! I suppose you've…."
And poor old Goldman is lying there in a pool of his own blood.
The one thing that Demonstration always does: it kills all argument. And this dialogue on TV is an example of the Demonstrator in action. He was not about to argue any of the issues. He always answered a charge with a counter-charge, and hence never answered a charge at all.
At this point I should present my credentials, I suppose. I have participated in several marches, including the Washington March, so don't immediately write and say I have no concern for human problems. I do. But, again, I think that one of the greatest human problems today is the growing dissatisfaction with Life itself, which leads to a pretense, somehow, that the problems in life are the result of other people's rottenness. And so people with sexual hangups and all sorts of disappointments in life which are endemic to life itself in general will be the most violent and bitter of vitriolic Demonstrators.
Are they demonstrating for Freedom For Others or against their Old Man? For Equal Rights, or against a case of Fluctuating Impotence? Against The Bomb, or against the fact of being 16 and having Skin Trouble . . . and no chick that does anything but laugh when The Moment of Truth arrives.
This is a serious question in our day. The question is: What is Life? Can it be "all straightened out"? Yes, a lot of people actually believe it can be. And their answer usually concerns the elimination of large numbers of other people. These people abhor violence in others but cherish theirs and call it "passion." And so, right on down the line, people are using the very same traits in themselves to fight against those traits in others..
The New Demagoguery - the Moral Demagoguery of the dedicated Liberal - states roughly this: "I am a more moral person than you, more concerned, and since I am a more moral person my thoughts are more moral than yours, and since my thoughts are more moral than yours, I am right! I do not have to listen to your arguments since you are immoral."
And so it goes, on and on. Does Robert Welch, for example, believe he is more moral and more concerned about the state of the world than, say, Norman Mailer? It is hard to tell. They both kick up so much dust and throw so many great and beautiful-sounding words around that you'd never know. And there is very little to choose between the two as far as Ego Magnification is concerned.
This is a current problem with what is called "Satire," a favorite word among the Hip. Satire is a form of Protest. It always has been, but today it takes the form of ripping into other people's specific idiocies. And the resultant is called Satire, whereas in actuality most of the Satirists of today are not Satirists at all. They are rolemicists, a very different breed of cat, who work from an anchored point of view which they are convinced is Right and Proper and Moral, and who use their cartoons, books, and plays to blast the opposition.
Jonathan Swift, in contrast, was a true Satirist. He dealt with all men's hangups, including Swift's. He talked about Mankind.
What passes for Satire today is really Political Cartooning. It can be very funny, true, but is generally exceedingly dishonest because the one thing that the one-line gag does not do is admit to any sort of extenuating circumstances. It is a Slogan. It does not tell the whole story, ever. It usually works with materials taken out of context and slanted in such a way as to preclude any argument on the other side.
Joseph Heller, as an example, "satirizes" War and yet carefully avoids the mention anywhere in Catch-22 that there was a Hitler. Did he really satirize War, since Hitler really was a prime part of the conflict?
I am afraid that what used to be really serious issues that face all of us have been subordinated to and become part of the general area of Show Biz. The Bit. A comic, for example, will use a piece of material simply because "It gets a laugh," with no regard as to whether or not what he has said is true. It's easy to call the Pope a fag and get a big boff, but is he? It doesn't matter. It went over great on the LP. It's easy for Kubrick in Dr. Strangelove to imply that all generals are paranoiac maniacs worried about impotency. Are they? Who cares - the reviewers all loved it. It will all go down as responsible Satire.
The Protest Bit is rampant in Showbiz. Barefoot, keening, pinched Folksingers are knocking down fifteen grand a week wailing the sorrows of the Downtrodden and the Depressed. Their ideas are usually startling in their originality and blinding in their banality. "Segregation is Wrong!" A very profound idea, and one that has not occurred to many people. One singer has made a whole career on that bit alone, coupled with: "War is Rotten !" Yes, we know, son. ROTC really was a bitch back at Swarthmore.
Today the discovery that War is bad seems to be a new idea. Well, maybe to the 9-year-elders it is, and they're the ones who buy the records and shout the loudest at the Hootenannies.
Today it is easy to amass a big general following and a very large name in the mass media by simply being against all the right things and for, of course, the right things. I am not ascribing ulterior motives to most of the Protest leaders, except to point out what generally happens to a man who starts out angry, really angry about something. He's sitting there, festering, muttering to himself: "I am really bugged about this !"
He walks around, talks to a few people about it, and is really mad. This is the Pure Stage. And this is the state we generally think pertains forever, but it does not. The next thing that happens is, somebody usually says: "You know, Charlie, you're really saying very funny things about this mess. Why don't you go down to Harold's Friendly Tavern, and when the jukebox is off why don't you get up on the stage and tell those things to the people ?"
Four weeks later Charlie headlines the Ed Sullivan Show. His second LP is a smash; he's got four agents, five PR men, sixteen months of solid bookings, and an act called: "Charlie Chowderhead at Carnegie Hall - An Angry Night With An Angry Man !"
He is working The Bit.
His costume has undergone a subtle change. Gone forever is his Sears-Roebuck suit. It is Levis now, and torn white shirts, and of course the assumption is always made, by the people who Dig, that he is now angrier, if anything.
Well, it's very hard to know whether this is true or not. Most of the anger that Charlie feels these days usually is about club managers, split-week bookings, and royalty percentages.. And that son of a bitch in Pittsburgh who pirated one of his bits. He's angry all right, but not about the same things as his audience.
This can be fairly harmless except for one significant reality. The minute that human problems are made Show Biz bits, the reality of the problem has been reduced by that much.
Large numbers of people sitting in Carnegie Hall (at $4.40 per) digging a comic making remarks about Race Relations and Truth always have the feeling - the nice warm glow - when they leave that they have done something Constructive about the human mess. Oh, yeah?
And so they go home, buy the LP of the Evening At Carnegie Hall, play it for their friends in Stereo, read the right magazines, dig the right folksingers, and feel that they are making a definite contribution and statement about the world.
Where does the Reality of a Protest end and the Show Biz aspect take over? At what point does Intolerance become Humor and masquerade as Tolerance?
I suppose in the end we are all becoming irritated with being Man. It probably started with Freud and the first discoveries of what Mankind was, and we didn't like it. It's been growing ever since. And so we have arrived today at the point where we are protesting against being what, literally, we are, whether we like it or not.
Most of the people I know who think they are deeply concerned over the various Big Issues of our time are in an odd way the least digging crowd I know. They really don't dig life. Life is a drag to many of them. In fact, some of them will put their reputation for Hipness on the line by telling you how many times they have attempted suicide.
"Look, there's a guy who tried it four times. A four-striper. And the chick with him is only a three-striper, but I understand she's got big plans for Monday morning. The Oven Bit."
The same people will look you right in the eye and talk about some poor little clown in Darien, and say: "That man is dead. He doesn't know how to live! He's a vegetable," he says, brushing the leaves out of his eyes and shuffling his roots.
Good Grief, where will it all end, Charlie Brown?
Have you ever felt that you're living in a world that's full of madmen, on both sides of every fence? Including yourself?
Meneken wrote a letter one time to F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was living in Paris and drinking himself to death. Mencken wrote: "I don't know how you can live there. You are missing the greatest circus in the world!"
And the show is still going on. The bears are in one ring; the clowns are in another. There's a guy hanging by his teeth on the high wire, and a chick working with hoops on the swinging flagpole.
Protest, man, swing! Be part of the greatest circus anywhere, any time, under any canvas! Go, man, go!
Joseph Heller Replies
I am grateful to Paul Rrassner (formerly the editor and chief writer of the Realist) for the invitation to set aside my work in order to reply to Jean Shepherd's lengthy, vicious, and unprovoked attack on me. I have already noted that, since his marriage, Paul has been putting less and less of his own work into the Realist, and I suppose it is necessary for all subscribers to pitch in when asked, if we want to postpone that inevitable day when an issue will arrive consisting entirely of extracts of court testimony.
To begin with, Jean Shepherd is completely mistaken in his remarks about my book. Catch-22 doesn't "satirize" war or even attempt to; it may, in fact, be impossible to "satirize" war, just as it is probably impossible to satirize winter or hunger. I am almost embarrassed to point out that the subject of satire, as of nearly all novels and plays, is customarily people and their conduct, and one of the ideas I sought to develop is that the conduct of certain people and social groups in time of peace is not much different from the conduct of these same people and social groups in time of war.
If Shepherd could bear to look at the book again, he might perceive this time that the novel isn't even really about the war; certainly it is not about the causes or results of World War II or the manner in which it was fought. To state it more accurately, and most simply, I should say that Catch-22 is about the contemporary, regimented business society depicted against the background of universal sorrow and inevitable death that is the lot of all of us but William Buckley, and this is something I like to think Jonathan Swift would have understood immediately and appreciated.
Shepherd is also mistaken when he says the hook "carefully avoids the mention anywhere ... that there was a Hitler." The awareness and opposition to Fascism, oligarchy, tyranny - totalitarianisms of all kinds, ours as well as theirs - is clear and consistent throughout; and I thought I had expressed myself perhaps too explicitly on the need fur defeating Hitler in the debate with Major Danby that takes place in the closing pages.
Nowhere in the book, I am sure, is there any uncontradicted intimation that the war against Hitler should not have been fought or that the men who were fighting it were being deceived on that one basic Issue.
When Danby says to Yossarian: "This is not World War One. You must never forget that we're at war with aggressors who would not let either one of us live if they won," Yossarian replies: "I know that." And adds: "Christ, Danby, I earned that medal I got. ye flown seventy goddam combat missions. Don't talk to me about fighting to save my country. I've been fighting all along to save my country. Now I'm going to fight a little to save myself."
And the decision he makes at the end is based on the circumstance that although the danger from German aggression has all but been defeated, the dangers to himself have not diminished at all.
What Shepherd seems to miss is that Hitler was not only a cause but an effect, a product of conditions which still exist in large part, and it is with these that I am, and was, more personally concerned. After all, Hitler was dead almost ten years when I wrote the novel, hut McCarthy and Nixon were not (which is not to say that these fellows were as bad as Hitler, but they were certainly had enough).
And there are still many patriotic Americans today who would wage total war against Cuba, Negroes, Jews, the Viet Minh, deGaulle, the ACLU - and who would quite happily imprison and gas all of us who disagreed with them. It occurred to me in a discussion with an Italian journalist not long ago that a Patriot might be defined as a person who loves his country and hates his countrymen- - but now I too am digressing.
What I think is most disturbing in Shepherd's paragraphs is the reference to "extenuating circumstances" and the implication that extenuating circumstances might ever serve as a justification or a defense for immoral, inefficient, or illegal behavior. There are extenuating circumstances for everything - Hitler could manufacture them by the carload - and even the most irrational actions will be based on a rationale.
And then there are his comments about Swift and satire, and I believe he is in error here, too. If he could bear to look at Swift again, he might change his view that Swift sought to tell "the whole story" or presented materials that were not "slanted in such a way as to preclude any argument on the other side," or even that "he dealt with all men's hangups."
I do not think, in fact, that it is the function of satire to present all sides of a question; that is the function of David Susskind and Section 4 of the Sunday Times. I'm not sure, even, that it is the function of satire to convey information, but, instead, to convey an attitude about information, and it may be that satire can only be successful in situations where both the information and the attitude are already shared by the satirist and his audience.
What does emerge, though, is that Shepherd is on stage, and before he is through with his act, he is guilty of every fault he lists, including self-righteousness. He lumps together comics, folk singers and civil rights demonstrators, and, through the sloppiest of syllogism>;, arrives at the conclusion that what they are all really protesting against is themselves. He may not be able to distinguish between a colored college student and a Mississippi cop, but the difference was made very clear last summer to those participating in the Freedom Rides. The one with the police dog, Jean, is the cop.
He is scornful because there is nothing new or original in the ideology of modern protest, as though that mattered. A protest is an action, not merely an idea, and the nature of protest will change when the nature of evil changes, or the nature of pain. Or perhaps we all should cease reacting to the danger of war, not because the danger has disappeared, but because someone once did object to it. The protest isn't new enough any more.
Finally, there is that humorless analysis of a humorous remark by Lenny Bruce, the strange coupling of Norman Mailer and Robert Welch, and all that malarkey about passion and intellect being at opposite ends of the pole. They are not at opposite ends of the pole, or even within the same circumference of definitions. One of the opposites of passion is indifference; and one of the opposites of intellect is stupidity.