Here’s two of ’em. Thank God we still have the gent on the left — visually, not politically — among us.
Had an interesting experience the other day. The backstory is tedious, but suffice to say I was in a room with a couple of other echt West Siders, one of them a local liberal Democratic politician in a small way — let’s call him Aurelius — the other, Manutius, a guy in the publishing business.
Manutius and I were getting acquainted and I happened to mention the name of Noam Chomsky, entirely in passing, while telling some anecdote of my schooldays, a time when Chomsky bestrode the narrow world like a Colossus.
Aurelius, who had not thitherto been much involved in the conversation, snapped instantly to attention. “Chomsky? The guy who said we deserved Nineleven?!”
It was a context where contentiousness would have been out of place, so I contented myself with the mild reply, “He said that? Really?”(*)
I had the feeling Aurelius was ready to come right back at me, but Manutius saved the day. It turned out that he had been Chomsy’s editor, at some point and on some project, and he thought the world of old Noam. Since Manutius works for a large corporation, his imprimatur was sufficient to stifle Aurelius’ objections, and the awkward moment quickly passed.
Now you have to understand that Aurelius is not some mouth-breathing Fox News ignoramus; in spite of his unfortunate involvement in New York City politics, he’s a clever fella, well-schooled, well-read, and a liberal to the marrow of his bones. And he’s funny and amiable, with a very engaging fund of self-mocking humor.
So this was an odd moment. It was as if the restless ghost of Christopher Hitchens had suddenly taken over his vocal apparatus.
Of late I’ve started to reflect that the ancients’ belief in demonic possession wasn’t so dumb. We’re really very far from being unitary executives in our own heads. It’s a chaotic parliament in there, with no rules of order to speak of, and from time to time some particularly brazen-throated monomanic will take the floor and refuse to yield.
Ever known anybody suffering from anorexia? They’re like that: sensible, perceptive, subtle, humorous — on every subject but food. Once that topic comes up, they stop making sense, and contradict themselves three times in every sentence. The voice timbre changes, the body language changes. The impression is hard to resist that another personality has taken charge.
It was a little like that, just for a moment, with Aurelius the other day. One had the sense that Aurelius’ Community Board comperes had taken him over. They’re all staunch old Zionists and Cold War liberals, if not outright neocons — though Aurelius himself is none of these things.
This is one of the reasons why I hate the Democratic Party. Affiliating with it, identifying with it, even to the extent of rooting for its candidates, or even just voting for them, is to invite an incubus into your brain.
(*) Of course as we all know he’s never said anything of the kind.