“It’s been emotional.”

Ari Paul

— Vinnie Jones, “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking
Barrels”

The other day, my friend Paul beckoned me
over as he was standing on the Diag, arguing politics with a
follower of Lyndon LaRouche. Paul needed backup to take on the
ideologue. It was useless. The kid had been brainwashed. Paul and I
walked away.

Leftist ideologues make me sad because I know that
people’s dogmatic beliefs stem from them dealing with their
own personal issues, thus compromising the virtues of their cause
and stifling their personal growth. How do I know? I’ve been
there.

It all started with a roller-coaster ride of elementary
education, from an all-white suburban school, to an all-black
under-funded school, to a progressive school (where I would
graduate from high school) housed in the old Coca-Cola mansions
along Atlanta’s Ponce de Leon Avenue. With an intellectual,
left-leaning Jewish family upbringing, this sense of an
enlightened, almost religious duty to seek social justice fused
with my own association with the underdog (I was never very popular
in school) led me to revolt. It all started in eighth grade, where
I, along with a band of others like me, rebelled against speech
codes. We wore black arm bands and the teachers hated us. That made
me happy.

Then along came high school. Geeky, awkward and angry, I
didn’t really know how to handle myself. I detested my
suburban home life, but I felt intimidated by my urban and
sophisticated educational surroundings. I was mediocre at sports, I
wasn’t an A student and I was no good at music. In a class of
only 90 kids, I needed to make a name for myself.

So I became the angry communist kid. Riding in my car, blasting
Minor Threat, wearing a hammer-and-sickle T-shirt and screaming at
every available moment about NAFTA and class conflict. Ah-ha, now
people knew who I was. They knew I was the angry kid, alienated by
the world they created.

My headmaster recalled an old adage to me on my graduation,
saying, “If a man was not a socialist by 20, he didn’t
have a heart, and if he was still a socialist by 40, he
didn’t have a head.” I’ve abandoned the
simplicity of ideology, understanding that a finite answer
isn’t a solution to anything. So after high school and years
of causing trouble in Ann Arbor, do I just leave it all behind?

I’ve seen AIDS patients kicked out of their homes.
I’ve seen a girl pepper-sprayed by cops for doing nothing and
I’ve seen a man beaten by cops for simply wearing a dress,
both during nonviolent protests in New York. I’ve overheard
American soldiers talk about how eager they were to take on some
“Arab motherfuckers.” I’ve heard accounts by nuns
doing mission work in South America of terrorism meted out by the
School of the Americas, located less than two hours from my
parent’s home.

I’ve seen Israeli war veterans decried as enemies of the
Jews by college Zionists because they disagreed with Israel’s
current aggressive foreign policy. I’ve been called a
“dirty Jew” by a right-wing Christian extremist and a
“self-hating” Jew by a right-wing Jewish extremist.
I’ve met a journalist who received a rifle butt to the head
for exposing U.S.-sponsored war crimes in East Timor. I’ve
seen mothers outside the presidential palace in Buenos Aires,
demanding to know what the government has done with the bodies of
their “disappeared” sons.

How on Earth can I forget about these things?

People want easy, solid answers. Ideology gives one a sense of
false comfort, and that is what destroys people and weakens
movements. While fighting for justice, one must always be
personally invested, but using social justice as a cure-all for
one’s own purposes hurts us all. I’ve seen it all over
this campus, and elsewhere, and it is what creates factionalism and
infighting. So what I hope for the next generation of do-gooders is
to grow beyond this.

My headmaster also added that the adage, attributed to George
Bernard Shaw, was a mistake. If you use your head and your heart,
he said, you can be whatever you want at 40. Thus I keep fighting
for justice, and struggle to learn more about how to do so.

So that’s the Ari Paul story, and that’s my last
public dispatch to the good people of this university. A big thanks
to the Family Paul, the Edgewood Avenue punks and skins, everyone
who has sent me hate mail, SOLE, Daily scribblers past and present
and the Lassiterian milieu for my stint as a public agitator. Your
contributions to me have been invaluable, and I probably
wouldn’t have survived high school and college without
them.

Paul can be reached at
“mailto:aspaul@umich.edu”>aspaul@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *