COVID-19 & Hegelian Thought, I Guess
23 May 2020
My PSCI 203 Final: A Dialogue
For my PSCI 203 final, I was given the opportunity to write a dialogue. Here was the prompt:
“Frantz Fanon, Audra Simpson, Karl Marx, and Bill Connolly walk into a bar. You’re the bartender. Much discussion ensues, with the bartender a full-fledged participant. Write the dialogue.”
Here is the result. I think it’s mildly entertaining.
COVID-19 & Hegelian Thought, I Guess
By Victoria Michalska
[The screen fades from black to reveal the setting. It’s literally the bar from Cheers. It’s late, the bar doesn’t even appear to be open (why would it be during a global pandemic?), but a young blonde woman sits behind it on a barstool, dozing off, as we see from a close-up shot. Having her feet kicked up on the bar like that probably isn’t very hygienic. Sometimes it just feels nice to sit in a place that is filled with the energy of chatter and socializing, even if there’s nobody there. She opens her eyes slowly, we change to a wider shot, and we now see that before her sit four patrons. She blinks repeatedly. The figures are ordered by their respective peak years. MARX, FANON, CONNOLLEY, and SIMPSON sit on the barstools in front MICHALSKA, from left to right. The figures are still, absolutely neutral, and suddenly come to life, shifting into more comfortable positions, their eyes conscious and alive. MARX furrows his brow at the girl before him. Young people are always so arrogant.]
MICHALSKA: My lord, it’s a gaggle of leftists.
CONNOLLEY: [He laughs.] Now, that’s a funny term to use.
SIMPSON: What, do you have something against leftists?
[MICHALSKA wipes her eyes.]
MICHALSKA: Oh, okay, this must be a dream sequence or something. [She mutters some nonsense to herself as she removes her feet from the bar.] Do you want a drink or something? I don’t mind the company, even if you guys aren’t even all that real. [She turns to the shelves behind her, fumbling about, looking through the bottles.]
MARX: Your position in society dictates your notion of reality, child.
[MICHALSKA turns around, a bottle of vodka and glasses in hand.]
MICHALSKA: Well then, aren’t I lucky to have enough awareness to know that I’m merely entertaining an illusion at this point? [She places the bottles on the bar, and starts pouring: one for herself, setting it aside, and one for the bearded man in front of her.]
MARX: Not everybody has that luxury. [MARX looks at the shot that this girl just poured him.]
MICHALSKA: Just like not everybody has the luxury of essentially being the father of communism. [She looks at the group of people before her, still holding the vodka.] I hope you guys are real enough to not let me drink alone.
CONNOLLY: Vodka? Oh, I’m not sure about hard liquor. I like wine. Do you have any wine?
SIMPSON: I wouldn’t mind wine either.
[FANON eyes the two. MICHALSKA tries to hide her irritation at their pickiness, and turns around to look through the bottles again.]
MICHALSKA: I’ve always thought that one’s choice in liquor is indicative of their class status. You know, the wealthy drink expensive wines, the traditional take their culture’s prime hard liquor, and the poor drink out of plastic bottles. Oh, I’m rambling. Hold up, here’s a bottle. [Her speech is muffled as she looks through the shelves again, and pulls out a bottle of some sort of wine. She looks at the label, trying to discern the text on it.] I can’t really tell you much about it other than that it’s red. I can’t really read the script on the label. [She uses a corkscrew lying on the bar to open it and pours three glasses of wine, placing them in front of FANON, CONNOLLY, and SIMPSON.]
FANON: You assume I want wine?
MICHALSKA: Do you not?
FANON: This is fine.
[MARX drinks his shot as MICHALSKA watches.]
MICHALSKA: Do you think it’s time for the uprise of the proletariat, Marx? The pandemic has caused a steady sense of uncertainty and considering the increasing focus on the news, death rates, economic class… I could see it happening, maybe.
MARX: Are the classes of today not able to exist side by side? Do you look at the outside world and see a condition where violence becomes truly permissible and it becomes time for a revolution?
MICHALSKA: I wouldn’t know. I haven’t been outside. My social media seems to indicate that class has become more obvious than ever: who is and isn’t an essential worker? Do you have the financial means to avoid work? How comfortable are you when you do choose to stay home? The virus appears to be killing African Americans more than others. We appear to be slaves to the capitalist system more than ever.
FANON: And that, from a fundamental level, is due to the oppression of white, European colonizers on the colonized, actually.
[MICHALSKA lets out a sigh.]
SIMPSON: Native Americans are also suffering from the coronavirus at much higher rates as well, please do not forget. It’s literally systematic.
MICHALSKA: I read your work, Audra. Isn’t this what you wrote about, though? Settler colonization caused an unhealthy shift in Indigeneous diets, and while I admit that there is certainly systematic accelerators relating to unequal access to healthcare and clean water, the unsuccessful campaigns intending to educate these populations about the importance of a healthy diet must have something to do with the results we see with the difference in deaths. I always say that self-awareness is key… We’re only animals, after all, and you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Isn’t that a saying or something? Not to dismiss the significance of systematic processes, but, seriously. This is a matter of nutrition. And isn’t there something to be said about the pragmatism related to accepting new technologies and cultures? And we shame the old, southern man for his racist tendencies taught to him systematically, but we’re expected to allow for Native communities to hold onto their cultures, which were also taught to them systematically by their elders? I mean, this is the problem I always have with any ideology focusing on tolerance… When does it end? We need lines in the sand… Or at least some sort of amendment to our ideas… Or maybe a different approach to them? [MICHALSKA has run out of breath. She closes her eyes for a moment, touching her cheek. Wow, it seems like that was emotional. Thank god she’s just talking to herself in the end.] What’s more important? The privilege that the elderly and immunocompromised lack because of their susceptibility to COVID-19 or the privilege that the poor and marginalized lack because of their inability to socially distance because of their dependency on their jobs to feed themselves and their families?
[The people sitting at the bar are silent, and we see their slight bewilderment at the sudden outburst of the young girl in front of them. The camera gets a close up on the flushed face of MICHALSKA, and she slowly opens her eyes. We change to a wide angle and we see that we’re sitting in the Korova Milk Bar, the bar from A Clockwork Orange now. It’s still empty except for our leads.]
CONNOLLEY: Are you suggesting that racist, fascist tendencies are morally acceptable?
FANON: It’s all the colonizer mindset! The old white man you mention exerted his colonist power over African Americans and it is that which makes him deserving of the violence involved in suppressing his racist behavior! It is the violence committed by the oppressor himself from the start that results in the liberating force that allows for the oppressed to respond violently! Don’t you see the connection between the “educational” campaigns and the attempt to establish colonialist values and attitudes, masked as decolonization?
[MICHALSKA glances around just to sink in her new environment.]
MICHALSKA: I never said that, Connolley… I just find a lot of holes in ideologies and theories that focus on who is being changed by whom and whether or not the power they have is balanced. Sometimes the people in power are right. Sure, sometimes what we use to decide who’s in charge is unfair and nonsensical, but other times it makes sense. My mom was a pretty fantastic authoritarian figure in my life as a child, and I seem to be doing okay… sure, not perfect, but it’d be unrealistic to ever expect perfection and perfect ideological consistency from anybody. I’m glad she at least taught me not to touch my face.
[Everybody is silent for a moment. Seems like this girl’s out for blood. She’s really rambling to herself at this point.]
MICHALSKA: I just think of Arthur Koysler’s Darkness at Noon, really. I read it a while ago and it showed me how any extreme obsession with ideology could result in fascistic tendencies, even if the ideology itself isn’t necessarily traditional or conservative. Maybe that’s my issue with a lot of politics nowadays: it’s about extremes. And Fanon, not all conflict is race-based. That’s my main problem with you. While I guess your ideas on violence hold some merit, considering how rebellions (like ideas) can spread between people even if they’re not particularly successful initially, I do think your narrow scope focusing on the African struggle limits your theory on conflict and violence. There is more conflict beyond racial conflict, and as far as I know, your theories don’t encompass those, really.
CONNOLLEY: [He motions with his hands as he speaks clearly and audibly.] Fascistic tendencies? Trump dreams of being a fascist! His actions often mirror the behaviors and leadership of Hitler, the ultimate fascist! Does he seem to have a particularly coherent ideology to you? He’s a fascist without an ideology!
MICHALSKA: Well, to start, I think the word “fascist” is being thrown about far too much. Essentially all of y’all talk about it. It’s nearly meaningless at this point. Anybody who ever imposes their power on something or somebody else could be considered a fascist, even if it’s just asking them to engage in conversation, considering that literally committing any action involves dominating and perpetuating your own ideology, which is inherently tied in with your race, nationality, ethnicity, etc., by nature of those all being socially constructed, which you are socialized into. So now, everything is political. The personal is political. Even Marx says that. It doesn’t seem very fun, though.
MARX: [He’s stroking that bushy beard.] I do say that.
[MICHALSKA glances at CONNOLLEY and laughs, mocking his hand gestures.]
MICHALSKA: Nice fascistic hand gestures, by the way. You’re really trying to manipulate your audience, you aspirational fascist.
[CONNOLLEY looks irritated, and as MICHALSKA squints her eyes from laughter, the setting once again changes to now the Founding Fathers, the bar from MICHALSKA’s guilty pleasure science-y detective show, Bones. SIMPSON clears her throat.]
SIMPSON: So now what? Are you going to blame individuals for their inability to break out of historically-manufactured systems of oppression?
MICHALSKA: Look, I think the four of you all obsess over systems of oppression– maybe it’s in different ways and different focuses, but it’s always a very binary approach typically focusing on a rather specific element, from race to economics to colonizer status. That’s great and all. I bet y’all could write fantastic history books: actually, you all kind of did. They were great reads (sometimes). Honestly, Marx, you’re probably the most correct in my eyes, considering that of all the made up social constructs I just named, economics are probably the most fundamental to human existence. [She pauses, thinking.] Okay, that was a vague sentence but resources were being allocated among people long before race and ethnicity were officially named, is what I’m saying. Anyway, being able to understand the systematic nature of life is a powerful thing: consider that the entire field of science is just an attempt to understand the systems present in nature, from planetary systems to human anatomy to individual atoms.
CONNOLLEY: You’ve got a fantastic Jordan Peterson-like style of avoiding questions.
[Apparently MICHALSKA’s temper has not been doing particularly well since being isolated from her peers.]
MICHALSKA: I am admitting to the merit of your works! Listen, stripping down all of your ideas could always be boiled down to a constant us vs. them mentality, constantly in conflict and passed down generationally. Y’all have different ideas of how we can escape this system, but honestly, I think that’s something we can never escape. Hierarchies are inherent to any social species, and will always exist… I believe that to be true, at least. With time and critical thought, we should be able to realize and dismiss the characteristics that aren’t actually significant in determining the value of an individual’s ability to contribute to society, but the hierarchies will always exist… The same week we read the work of Simpson, we read about Nichols’ settler contract. His work was dense and kind of dry, but one thing I definitely retained were the methods of the settler when it came to attempting to seemingly decolonize them or something. It was either assimilation or usurpation, which is, pragmatically speaking, a rather efficient way of working about it. But it is the nature of the oppressed to want true sovereignty, so they’ll always be combating that assimilation, according to Nichols. I’m not sure about most of his theory but I think that in any relationship and on any scale, there is something from the master-slave dialectic present. I haven’t read that much Hegel, but as far as I know, he seems to know what’s really up. And Nichols’ ideas show the two potential results when it comes to an authority controlling other beings, I think. I mean, we shouldn’t really need to get much more specific than that when it comes to Hegelian thought and the general scope of political theory. Like I said, self-awareness. We’re all born with advantages and disadvantages and it’s all just about playing to your strengths and knocking down authorities that are impractical and dumb. How we decide what is impractical and dumb is beyond the scope of this, what I assume to be, a sleep deprivation-driven hallucination… Something about a capitalist economy but a society driven by communist values focused on equality. I haven’t figured out how it’d work, but thank god it’s not my job to do that. [She yawns.]
MARX: Actually, my work is based on Hegel.
FANON: So is mine.
[Now we’re in a cartoon world. Hey, it’s Moe’s Tavern from The Simpsons.]
MICHALSKA: Great! But you see, I guess maybe that’s why I’m not necessarily in love with political theory even though I do think learning about you all was remarkably important and enlightening. In the end what really matters is what we see happening before us in praxis, I think. That’s one poli-sci term I enjoy.
[MICHALSKA gets up from her stool, and brushes off her hands.]
MICHALSKA: Anyway, it was great talking with y’all, but I think I might have a better sleep in bed. [Exit stage left.]
[The lights dim to black.]