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Stargazing


 Chapter 5 

Stargazing 

 

Another excerpt in the serialization of Parts One and Two of the memoir Remembering Tomorrow by Michael Albert, this time chapter 5, distributed in this 40th year since the New Left and May 68.

 

 

 Debating Hump 

 

And I’ll stand o’er your grave 

Til I’m sure that you’re dead. 

—Bob Dylan 

 

MIT is one of the most famous and prominent institutions of higher learning in the world. Famous people come and go. The major MIT auditorium, Kresge, where the Living Theatre performed, was also for me the scene of a far more personally demanding experience. I had been elected president of the MIT student body and Hubert Humphrey, Vice President of the U.S., was coming to town. It was arranged that he would debate three students in Kresge. We all were to appear on stage, but the others agreed it was to be a showdown between myself, representing the local movement, and the Hump, which was my name for Hubert, representing the devil as incarnated in Lyndon Johnson and U.S. imperialism. 

 

Before the debate I was alone in a room behind the Kresge stage. Humphrey, with his impeccable liberal credentials, was in another room, probably with his bodyguards and aides-de-camp, also behind the Kresge stage. This wasn’t Ali versus Frasier, but still I sat in a chair with my hands grasping the arms feeling like they were digging into the wood. I don’t know what to call the emotions I felt. Fury, fear, rage, catatonia. It was a little bit of everything. The Hump was probably next door having a drink. 

 

I often speak publicly nowadays, sometimes to ten, fifty, or a hundred people, sometimes to a few thousand. I always feel a little squeamish before starting a talk, though after I start the nervousness and stage fright quickly recede. But for the Humphrey debate I was completely wired and scared silly. I had prepared by researching a bunch of case-study examples of international events and conditions, choosing them to rebut anything that Humphrey might bring up while we debated. So I had lots of facts and connections about Vietnam and the war, but also about India, Latin America, the U.S., and so on. As it turned out, the debate was a massacre. When I got on stage and saw Humphrey, I was ready to rumble. Humphrey wasn’t. Hubert underestimated the situation, and got beat down. 

 

I was dumbfounded. I could not understand how the vice president of the U.S. could be so intellectually empty, verbally slow, and unprepared. No doubt Humphrey wasn’t as mentally moribund as I took him to be—and maybe I was better at this sort of exchange than I gave myself credit for—but HH certainly wasn’t the massive intellect and cruel soul I had anticipated. I wrote that it was like debating a talking marshmallow. How could the U.S. imperial juggernaut proceed with people as mushy as Humphrey at the helm? I later decided there were two main answers to that question. The first was that people like Humphrey weren’t at the top levels of power. The second was that even mush-heads, when they command an imperial juggernaut against meager opposition, win most battles. 

 

 

 

Fearing Killian 

 

With his businesslike anger and his bloodhounds that kneel 

If he needs a third eye he just grows it. 

—Bob Dylan 

 

On another occasion, I encountered in the main hallway of MIT James Killian, who was not only chairman of the MIT Board of Overseers but also director of the Ford Motor Company and of numerous other Fortune 500 corporations. Killian was a living, breathing, ruling-class actor who played starring roles in the long-running drama “Empires Are Us.” 

 

Humphrey played at vice president. Killian was full of vice and was also a president. In just a few minutes of chatting with Killian I was chilled to the bone. It wasn’t his words—it was that this guy was the Bold Marauder. Killian seemed to me violent, amoral, and pathological, but also competent. He was like Hannibal Lector. Perhaps it was an artifact of the preconceptions of capitalists that I carried in my own mind, but while I saw civility in Killian, I didn’t see a soul. What I decided is that there are people up top who lack moral character and have sufficient amoral mind to get hierarchy’s dirty jobs done. I realized they were more present at the heights of corporate rule than at the heights of political rule because if you didn’t have a quick mind plus steel nerves plus uncaring blood in the corporate world, you lost. In corporate institutions, more or less equally armed people struggle for market share and pathology triumphs. In the political