Monday, July 06, 2009

Gore Vidal Day - redux

in November of 2008, I did a Gore Vidal Day blogpost showing videos of Vidal in interview-non-interruptus. But who was this 'limousine liberal', as some have called him? Here's a more telling interview with Gore Vidal from the June 1969 issue of Playboy magazine, pages 80-82, that's just come to my attention. Yes, that's from forty years ago (!)

The interview ends with some telling comments about the Labour Party, from that era. In my recent Aaron Russo blogpost, there was an accusation that the Rockefellers funded Women's Lib to 'break up the family', as also expressed in this Gore Vidal interview, as is the reduction of the world population by nuclear war, famine and disease. I've filed this under eugenics, for obvious reasons.

VIDAL: ...how are we to survive on an overpopulated planet? Even if we fully exploit our food resources--including sea farming--and develop effective and equitable international systems of distribution, it still won't be possible to feed the coming generations. So there will be famine and disorder. Meanwhile, we are destroying our environment. Water, earth and air are being poisoned. Climate is being altered. Yet we go on breeding, creating an economy that demands more and more consumers to buy its products--and endless, self-destructive cycle. But though most thoughtful people are aware of what we are doing to ourselves, nothing is being done to restore the planet's ecological balance, to limit human population, to create social and political and economic institutions capable of coping with--let alone solving--such relatively manageable problems as poverty and racial injustice. Who will tell Detroit that they must abandon the fossil fuel-burning combustion engine? No one. And so the air goes bad, cancers proliferate, climate changes.

PLAYBOY: Do you think drastic reform is likely to be effected by our present system of government?

VIDAL: No. And I find that hard to admit, because for all of my adult life I've generally accepted what we call the democratic process. But it no longer works. Look at Congress. Last year, 81 percent of the people wanted strong gun-control legislation. But 70 percent of the Congress did not, on instructions from the National Rifle Association. Congress, President, courts are not able to keep industry from poisoning Lake Erie, or Detroit from making cars that, aside from the carbon monoxide they create, are murderous weapons. To this degree, at least, the New Left is right: The System cannot be reformed. I part company with them on how it's to be replaced. They are vague. I would like to be specific--"programmatic," to use a word they like even less than "liberal."

PLAYBOY: And what is your program?

VIDAL: I would like to replace our present system with an Authority--with a capital A--that would have total control over environment. And environment means not only air, earth and water but the distribution of services and products, and the limitations of births. Where the Authority would have no jurisdiction would be over the private lives of the citizens. Whatever people said, wrote, ate, drank, made love to--as long as it did no harm to others--would be allowed. This, of course, is the direct reverse of our present system. Traditionally, we have always interfered in the private lives of our citizens while allowing any entrepreneur the right to poison a river in order to make money.

PLAYBOY: Isn't what you're proposing--a dictatorship demanding absolute control over the most vital areas of our lives and yet granting absolute social and political freedom--a contradiction in terms? Isn't it inevitable that the power of your Authority would sooner or later circumscribe the private life of every citizen?

VIDAL: Though the Authority would, in its own sphere, be absolute, it would never be the instrument of any one man. There would be no dictator. The thing should be run like a Swiss hotel, with anonymous specialists going about their business under constant review by a council of scientists, poets, butchers, politicians, teachers--the best group one could assemble. No doubt my Venetian ancestry makes me prone to this sort of government, because the Most Serene Republic was run rather like that and no cult of personality ever disturbed those committees that managed the state with great success. It can be done.

PLAYBOY: Would you explain what you mean when you say the Authority would be able to limit births?

VIDAL: I mean just that. Only certain people would be allowed to have children. Nor is this the hardship that it might at first appear. Most people have no talent for bringing up children and they usually admit it--once the damage is done. Unfortunately, our tribal propaganda makes every woman think her life incomplete unless she has made a replica of herself and her loved one. But tribal propaganda can be changed. One can just as easily convince people that to bring an unwanted child into the world is a social crime as grave as murder. Through propaganda, the Japanese made it unfashionable to have big families after the War and so--alone of the Asian countries--kept their population viable.

PLAYBOY: Your ends may be commendable, but let's discuss the means. What would happen to the citizen who didn't wish to live in your brave new world--to the devout Roman Catholic, for example, who refused to accept your population-control measures?

VIDAL: If he didn't want to emigrate, he'd simply have to accept the Authority's restrictions. The right to unlimited breeding is not a constitutional guarantee. If education and propaganda failed, those who violated the birth-control restrictions would have to pay for their act as for any other criminal offense.

PLAYBOY: With imprisonment?

VIDAL: I don't believe in prisons, but there would have to be some sort of punishment. Incontinent breeding endangers the human race. That is a fact with which we now live. If we don't limit our numbers through planned breeding, they will be limited for us in the natural way: famine and war. I think it more civilized to be unnatural and voluntarily limit population.

PLAYBOY: What would become of the family if only a few people were allowed to have children?

VIDAL: The family is an economic unit, not a biological unit; and once the economic need for it is gone--when women are able to get jobs and support themselves--the unit ceases to have any meaning. In today's cities, it is not possible to maintain the old American idea of the family--which was, essentially, peasant; a tribal group working together to create food. For better or worse, we are now on our own, and attempts to revive the ancient family ideal...will fail. As for the children that we do want, I'd like to see them brought up communally, the way they are in certain of the Israeli kibbutzim. I suspect that eventually, the whole idea of parenthood will vanish, when children are made impersonally by laboratory insemination of ova. To forestall the usual outraged letters declaring that I am against the "normal" sexual act, consider what I'm talking about: the creation of citizens, not sexual pleasure, which will continue, as always. Further, I would favor an intelligent program of eugenics that would decide which genetic types should be continued and which allowed to die off. It's within the range of our science to create, very simply, new people physically healthier and intellectually more competent than ourselves. After all, we do it regularly in agriculture and in the breeding of livestock, so why not with the human race? According to the somber Dr. William Shockley--the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who once contravened liberal doctrine by suggesting that we should look for genetic differences among the races--our preservation, through advanced medicine, of physically and mentally weak strains is now making the race less fit with each generation.

PLAYBOY: Your critics would charge that the utopia you propose is actually a nightmarish world reminiscent of Nazi Germany and of George Orwell's 1984. How would you answer them?

VIDAL: Most things human go wrong. The Authority would probably be no exception. But consider the alternatives. Nuclear war to reduce population. World famine. The coming to power of military dictatorships. The crushing of individual freedom. At least the Authority would guarantee more private freedom to its citizens than they now enjoy.

PLAYBOY: Realistically, do you see any chance of such an "enlightened" dictatorship coming to power?

VIDAL: Dictatorship, no; enlightened, yes. Could it happen? Probably not. It takes too long to change tribal thinking. The majority will always prefer a fiery death, howling tribal slogans. A pity--but then, it is not written in the stars that this peculiar race endure forever. Now may be a good time for us to stop. However, since I believe that one must always act as though our affairs were manageable, I should like to see a Party for Human Survival started on an international scale, to try to persuade people to vote willingly for a life-enhancing as well as life-preserving system.

PLAYBOY: Your detractors, on both right and left, would argue that the proposals you've just made reflect a characteristic Vidal trait: intellectual arrogance and a basic elitist contempt for the people and their ability to govern themselves. Do you think they have a point?

VIDAL: I do not admire "the people," as such. No one really does. Their folk wisdom is usually false, their instincts predatory. Even their sense of survival--so highly developed in the individual--goes berserk in the mass. A crowd is a fool. But then, crowds don't govern. In fact, only in America do we pretend to worship the majority, reverently listening to the herd as it Gallups this way and that. A socialist friend of mine in England, a Labor M.P., once said: "You Americans are mad on the subject of democracy. But we aren't, because we know if the people were given their head, they would bring back hanging, the birch and, of course, they'd kick the niggers out of the country. Fortunately, the Labor Party has no traffic with democracy." I want the people to be happy, but more than that, I want them to be humane--something they are not, as everyone from Jesus to Karl Marx has had occasion to notice.

2 comments:

A.H. said...

Here's an audio recording of a conversation between Gore Vidal and Jay Parini at the recent Key West Literary Seminar. Vidal discusses his work as a historical novelist, his thoughts on the American educational system, and comments on a host of heroes and villains– from Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Tennessee Williams, to George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, and Bernard Madoff.

Mike Philbin said...

thanks for posting this link, Arlo

Mike