September 19, 2011
While researching an article about wealth inequality, I came across a chart that showed the average corporate CEO’s IQ was 153, while the average manual laborer’s IQ was below a hundred. Something squirmed inside me. I didn’t want to hear this.
While reading Timothy Leary’s Jail Notes in preparation for interviewing him, I ran across a passage where Leary describes how the Black Panthers held him hostage in Algeria. I resisted what this implied. I didn’t want to know that blacks could act like slave owners, too.
While immersing myself in Orange County’s Vietnamese gang culture for a Playboy article, I was continually impressed with how these war-shattered Asians had come here penniless but owned businesses and mansions within a decade. This didn’t jibe with my belief that blacks and Mexicans were their equals.
While interviewing white nationalist Tom Metzger, I thought I’d pinned him with a real “Gotcha!” question: “You’re not big on equality, are you?” Metzger said he wasn’t, and neither was anyone in power. “When they say ‘All men are created equal,’ I laugh,” he told me, “because nobody in power believes that.” My guts told me that Metzger was probably right on that count. Maybe the idea of equality had substituted for religion as a modern opiate of the masses. Maybe it was a rancid fiction peddled by people who felt superior to everyone.
After I’d interviewed a homeless man on Hollywood’s streets, he kept calling me and asking me for money. Since he was ambulatory and relatively young, I started to think that maybe he was only a victim of his own laziness.
After interviewing one famous rapper after the next, I had to concede that most of them were as dumb as tree stumps. I also had to admit that many aspects of the black culture I’d worshiped from afar were dumber than a box of rocks carved from stone. And though I’d thought they’d been exploited and kept down by capitalism, this didn’t stop rappers from posing on record covers fanning themselves with $100 bills and wearing gold chains down to their balls. And the idea that their plight in America was solely the white man’s fault couldn’t account for the fact that conditions were far worse back in the Motherland than they were anywhere in Compton.
It wasn’t long before my entire ideological edifice came crashing to the ground.
So there I was on an East LA street corner, trying to buy weed from one of the Stoner gang members over whom I’d lost my job trying to defend. Like I said, I was still in my twenties and still green enough to think I was doing him a favor by bringing a little cash into his ’hood. As he threaded his tattoo needle and avoided eye contact, he icily informed me that he and the rest of the Hicks Boys were pissed about my article. He said I’d misquoted him, even though he was wrong—I had everything on tape and I’d quoted him correctly word-for-word.
He said I was lucky the rest of his gang was still asleep, because the minute they all woke up, they would mob me and beat my white ass into the ground.
It occurred to me that the only reason he wasn’t a large-scale oppressor was a simple lack of opportunity. If he’d grown up rich, he’d be every bit as corrupt as the faceless country-clubbers I’d been trained to hate. So instead of manipulating the currency, he stuck to petty robbery and lopsided beatdowns.
Even if I’d fought him one-on-one, this was a public corner in East LA, and within moments I’d be fighting all of La Raza. So I got back in my car and shouted, “The reason you’re stuck here is because you’re too stupid to do anything else!”
To this day, I don’t know whether I’d always felt that about him or whether I suddenly realized it as he threaded the needle and threatened my life.
I was not prejudiced, which implies passing judgment before reviewing the evidence. I was now postjudiced—I had reviewed the evidence and concluded that many people simply weren’t worth saving.
As I peeled away in my 1968 Cougar from that dirty street corner, I left my leftist beliefs at his dirty feet. His Kampf wasn’t Mein. Power may corrupt, but powerlessness can make you a nasty asshole, too. Spend enough time around “the people,” and you realize it’s a fool’s errand trying to defend them. I realized he, and so many like him, had no potential waiting to be realized. For the first time in my life, I also realized there’s a reason the Third World came in third.